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Archive for the ‘MANHUNT’ Category

The Rover

22 Jun

The Rover – directed by David Michôd. Crime Chase Drama. 142 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★

The Story: 10 years into dystopia and world chaos, a man seeks justice, and justice seeks him.

~ ~ ~

One of my two favorite actors in the world, Guy Pearce holds the screen with a focus so intense, you stay with him through thick and thin, although you have no idea what, if anything, is at stake. If you want to know what it takes to carry a movie, watch Pearce here. He scarcely moves a muscle, he scarcely shows a feeling, because what he has in mind must be – mustn’t it? – more precious than his life. With Pearce it is not, and never has been, that less is more. It is a question of him somehow having subtlely mainlined a character, and then honored the essential.

In saying this I am speaking of a talent that cannot be learned. I don’t know how it is done. Perhaps he doesn’t know either. It is probably inborn. But he does know how to do it. As you can see as you watch him be Houdini, or Edward, Prince Of Wales, or the detonation expert of The Hurt Locker, or Andy Warhol, or the cad husband in Mildred Pierce, what you see is a character brought into being with a minute shift. Pearce may appear as he appears, he may sound as he sounds, but the soul-flavor of the other person is in him, and that is what is being given. He knows how to do this, naturally, as some people know how to sing – which he happens also to know how to do, if you have ever seen him in The Slipping-Down Life. He is the one modern actor I suggest you watch and study and enjoy. He is not often cast in comedy, although he did not long ago play the petty villain in a Walt Disney Dog Movie. As with any good and interesting actor, I would love to see him in one of those Restoration Farce roles Olivier took such delectation in.

While the story here focuses on him, you are willing to put up with your own ignorance as to what is at stake – but as soon as he is joined by Robert Pattinson, an artistic wreck takes place. You get a consummate master faced with a consummate ham. The story drains as soon as this actor appears playing the backward brother of the fleeing antagonist.

Pattinson, like bad TV actors, makes much play with his mouth. Will it never stop thrashing about? He makes much play with his body, which flies flaccidly in all directions. He makes much play with his eyes, which never stop roaming except when they do long enough for you to wonder when they will start roaming once more. He withdraws focus from his eyes. He slurs his speech – which is never forgivable because never necessary – so you cannot understand what he is saying. What’s more – and this is the quandary beyond all quandaries – he plays an Australian low-life with an accent from Lil’ Abner (although Pattinson himself is from England.). All this with heavy makeup on his teeth and a half beard and you have?  You have a pitch for pathos, that’s what you have.

The excess of effects is just galling. And the result is that attention is distracted from the story – for you cannot feel compassion for him as a human being – and that is the actor’s job in this part, because the story is exactly the same as the story of Maleficent; that is to say, it is the story of a person who hates someone eventually coming to care for them. You’ve got to see how someone can come to care for him, and you can’t. The startling and beautiful ending to this movie is lost in the anarchy of Robert Pattinson’s show. All an actor needs do is one thing. For this part all Pattinson needed to do was play: To survive I Don’t Need To Know Right From Wrong; I Just Need To Believe What You’re Telling Me — Is That Right? Instead he does nine things, none of them available to the audience because none of them entertainable by them.

 

Prisoners

27 Sep

Prisoners – directed by Denis Valleneuve. Police Procedural Suspense Thriller. Two little girls are abducted and cannot be found. 153 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

This picture trips up over the train of its final complexities. Even the great Melissa Leo cannot render the unnecessary exposition scene at the end. Motiveless malignancy is all you need. Rationales do not have to be given for human nastiness. Nastiness is a gift of God, and we all are capable of it, and that we are unites us with Medea, Richard III, and Iago in a way that excuses and personal history and reasons for villainy keep us away. Alibis don’t make an audience empathetic. They make us dismissive. Don’t tell me why Iago did it. He did it because, no matter what his “reasons,” he had the  means, the will and the bent to do it, just like the rest of us. If you find out his motives you diminish his size. Such is the case here.

But I go on too long, for otherwise what else but praise can be due to the director and writer for bringing this marvelous picture show to us. And what good fortune to have Roger Deakins film it in dank color. What a pallet he has! What a way of harvesting light.

The performances of all – Leo, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, and Maria Bello are terrific. They rise to the writing like the grateful actors they are, recognizing good material at long last.

And to carry the sleigh we have the tandem horses of Jake Gyllenhaal as the investigating detective and Hugh Jackman as the father.

Jake Gyllenhaal is as moody as his sister is merry. He is the knight of doleful countenance, a melancholy Dane for our time. It is always necessary to see any picture he is in. He has that in common with few other actors of his generation – perhaps only Joaquin Phoenix. Gyllenhaal grounds the detective in personal probity – a quality scripted for the character but which he plays without irony opposite Wayne Duvall, cogent as the sloppy captain of the force. But there is something inside Gyllenhaal which animates this probity, a search for gutsy justice against exhaustion, failure, and opposition. He irons everything out.

What mainly needs ironing out is the father played by Hugh Jackman. This is the surprise performance of his career, and he has never to my knowledge demonstrated himself to be an actor of genius. Always good, mind you, always juste in his craft.  Never have you seen Jackman at this pitch. Never have you seen him capture a character particular – not general – and an American particular, but also, never have you seen him go to such extremes as you might only find in a female actor, in Geraldine Page, perhaps, or Anna Magnani. He is something to behold, and I hope you do behold him. He is extraordinary.

The film is thrilling.

And beautiful.

 

The Company You Keep

19 Apr

The  Company You Keep –– directed by Robert Redford. Manhunt Drama. A member of the Weather Underground lams from the law to find the one who can prove his innocence. 125 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

The story is beautifully cast –– and why shouldn’t it be? – with a series of actors playing parts which revisit the terrorist activities of the early 1970s as each one reflects upon the parts the movement played and his part in those parts. Susan Sarandon starts off as the match who ignites the fuse of detonations involving her allies from the old days. Sarandon plays it as an honorable grown-up handing herself over to the law, and peaching on no one, because Weathermen never betrayed one another and she’s not going to start now.

She is interviewed by a local newspaperman, played by Shia Leboeuf, whom she trusts. LeBoeuf is admirably irritating, to his editor played by Stanley Tucci, and to everyone else, which is just right for this role. And his implacable hunger for the rest of the story leads to each of the old-timers. Richard Jenkins brilliantly embodies a man who makes flaccid excuses for his dead ideals by entertaining his students with the exploits they led to. Nick Nolte plays a man who has done well and is still willing to pitch in to help a friend in trouble from the cause. And Robert Redford plays the man on the run.

He is sought on two sides. The FBI in the person of Terrence Howard wants him for the famous bank robbery in which he was supposedly involved and in which a teller was killed. And the reporter himself seeks him for a good story. They pincer him.

The chase leads to Julie Christie, an ideologue from the old days, still fervent. However, the final scene, very much like the final scene in the recently released Sally Potter film Ginger and Rosa, is badly played and shot. Baffling.

It requires the tension of a great debate. All the issues that united them then need to be displayed, and they are, for the film is very well written, but in this scene others make several destructive mistakes.

One is that it appears they also spend the night in sex together – which is irrelevant, or ought to be.

The second is Julie Christie’s hair, which is wrong for the character. We see her hair straight when she is young. Now its curls mask her face. She cannot be seen. Someone should have said No to Julie Christie, except that to do so to her about anything is probably unthinkable. I couldn’t a done it. We’re all still too much in love with her.

The third great harm is that the scene needs to take place out of doors in full daylight, instead of in front of an unconvincing fire in a cabin by a lake where, again, it is too dark to see it.

The fourth and worse harm is that neither actor is allowed to really engage with the other, which is the fault of the director and photographer, who do the scene in a series of reaction shots. The scene collapses.

But the movie is interesting up until this the penultimate point. And Redford is quite good in the film throughout. Notice what he plays. He does not play The Hero or The Important Person Invincible. He plays someone failing at every attempt.

Actually, that’s not playable by an actor, any more than the other two are.

But watch him as he believes he is being let down by Jenkins and Nolte. He does not get mad. No. He is wounded. He is scared. Very good choice. And, while if you sit there calculating how old would have Redford been in the ‘70s, and does it seem likely he would have a nine year-old daughter, it is still one of the better pieces of acting he has done. Our attention to his beauty – the more sad being gone now – has been supplanted by our interest in his well-being as a character, which is just as it should be.

The film engaged me up to the end, which I have spent too much time on descrying and decrying. It has lots of entertainment value, and wonderful performances to behold.

 

The Statement

19 Feb

The Statement – directed by Norman Jewison. Manhunt. A former French collaborationist is tracked by two entities, one determined to bring him to justice, the other to murder him. 120 minutes Color 2003
★★★
The fatal error of the film is also its only abiding attraction, which is the casting of Michael Caine as a man we might have cause to hate. But we could never hate Michael Caine. He’s too much of a honey. We are asked to view him as a war criminal. whereas all we can do is sympathize with this wretched human being at his lowest ebb. We are asked to view him as a once-ruthless assassin, but now, all we can do is stand back in pity and wonder at the abjectness of his devotion to the Catholic Church whose sanctuaries for him play so many roles here. We are asked to see him as a cold assassin, but all we can do is empathize with the tears of his condition, as one might that of someone suffering from a terrible disease. He is such a darling actor, that even when he is kicking a dog, we say to ourselves, Well it doesn’t really count. You never want him to get caught, and you never believe for a minute that he was ever that dreadful betrayer of the Jews.

But, if the part had been properly cast, we would still be at the mercy of the flaccid story-telling of the director the writer, who allow the manhunt to become lost in too much responsibility to detail, one sanctuary too many really. We being with a thriller and watch it deconstruct into the thuds of a documentary. And we must sit through the Extra Features to hear from that director who the person was who was trying to kill Caine and why, and learn that the final scene is telling us that this person would be soon punished. None of this is clear in the film. The assassins are murky characters – is Ciarán Hinds a cop, a member of the FBI? Is his boss, John Neville, a politico, a Jew, a churchman, a member of the Chevalier? All this is unclear. So we lack two established rivalries for the manhunted.

What is abundantly clear is the too creamy camerawork of the south of France, so out of sync with the needs of this material. We also get the pseudo-Hitchcock moves of a director experienced enough to develop his own. We are treated to the tedium of helicopters landing and cars arriving and leaving. The film becomes clumsy, as though suavity would violate the memory of the Jews this man murdered.

But we have Tilda Swinton as a French magistrate, and we have Jeremy Northam better still as the French Police Colonel who accompanies her in her pursuit. The chase takes us into the presence of other fine actors. Alan Bates is Uncle to Swinton in a scene of heavy warning beautifully played. Frank Finlay is completely convincing as a French vintner and former friend of the fugitive. And Charlotte Rampling is particularly fine as his dowdy wife.

I loved Michael Caine in this. It is the best thing I remember him doing in film. If you like him, and I sometimes do, I think he will surprise you by what he offers. But, just remember, the offer is attached to a story that has an expiration date that becomes overdue long before we come to the end of it.

 

The Impossible

01 Feb

The Impossible – directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Manhunt Survival Drama. A family vacationing in Thailand is washed away by the 2004 tidal wave that devastates the country and separates them cruelly. 117 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★
Melodrama means a form of drama with a strong musical accompaniment. We think of the form nowadays as a parody of drama, old fashioned, and ridiculous. We also think of it as a form of drama designed so that music could be written to it. The closest link in literary forms to melodrama is the form called satire. This linkage is what makes Dickens so rich a concoction.

Here, however, the music supplants the drama. We are awash in the drama. But then the drama is washed away by the music. The musical score demolishes all dramatic involvement in the proceedings whenever it is heard.

And it is not necessary.

The story before us here is simple in its construction and execution and strong. The largest water tank in the world was build in India to film the scenes of flood. And we certainly believe the catastrophic situation that befalls Naomi Watts and her eldest son young Tom Holland as they are carried miles into the hinterland, helplessly tossed against the debris which surrounds and endangers them. Watts is badly damaged, her son less so, but he is only a boy.

Her other two sons are rescued by their father, played by Ewan McGregor. He then combs the chaos of the country for his wife and son, after the flood recedes.

This is the story. It is the story of a manhunt. We know they will be reunited, because publicity for the film and its coming attractions have spoiled that part of the story for us, or, lured us to the promise of sentimental reunities.

But the directorial execution of the details of their finding one another is so exquisite, so correct, so thorough, so illuminating, so real, so encompassing, and so interesting that the entire story could be told without a single violin.

I can only recommend the film if you wear earplugs. The score is asking you to empathize with the music rather than the situation. This is why melodrama is ridiculous and outmoded. Its tendency is to turn catastrophe into corn.

Aside from that, the film is honorable on all counts and worth your attendance, indeed.

 
 
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