Archive for the ‘Hilary Swank’ Category

The Homesman

27 Mar

The Homesman directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Western. 122 minutes. Color 2014.


The Story: With the aid of a disreputable bum, a spinster must transport 3 mad women back home to Iowa,


An interesting story, and well written, but damaged by casting, costumes, and production.

Let’s get the worst out of the way, and save the best for last.

Nebraska is set in northern New Mexico, which, of course, it does not resemble one bit. The great plains do not go there, even on Sunday. What we get instead is parched earth to the horizon – although I recall northern New Mexico as quite green. This dislocation does not harm, but then the production shifts to what is supposed to be 1850 Georgia, which looks instead like an historic theme park tricked up for tourists. Since the first three fourths of the film have been earthy and stark, this is disastrous, and who suddenly appears at the rectory door but Meryl Streep all gotten up to go to a costume party. She wears a dress oh so freshly pressed and never worn before or since.

Nor does her performance overcome this, for her hold on the role is uncertain, and she moves it at once in the direction of your customary woman of good intentions, Miss Helen Hayes. Streep’s very presence overbears this part of the film and wrecks the finale, which itself is clumsily directed and shot.

None of this would be worth mentioning were not something worth mentioning more, which is that the main character is played by Hillary Swank. She is supposed to be bossy, pious, and plain as a tin can. But we see Swank is none of those things either by art or nature. In the extras everyone describes her as wonderful to work with, and I bet she is. That does not make her good in a role where she should in fact be obnoxious. And she is by no stretch of the imagination or makeup homely. Those suitors who reject her give us wonder. She seems quite acceptable, kindly, capable, never annoying, and handsome at the least. Swank’s presence denies the film its human drama. It needed Mary WIckes.

The great gift of the film is its story, which is well worth watching, and also the remarkable places the strange wagon containing the three lunatics traverse. And Tommy Lee Jones makes a brilliant old reprobate of his Mr. Briggs. It’s one of his best efforts. See Homesman. It’s different. Except you will recognize this film’s similarity to The African Queen. Jones is better than Bogey, Hepburn than Swank. John Lithgow plays Robert Morley. The three mad women play the torpedo. And Meryl Streep plays Lake Tanganyika.



The Resident

20 May

The Resident – Directed by Antii Jokinen. Thriller. A young female doctor rents an old apartment and finds it is haunted – and not by a ghost. 1 hour 31 minutes Color 2010

* * * * *

Hilary Swank is always cast as a proactive skinny female. A girl who decides to be a boy. A woman who wants to be a prizefighter. An uneducated waitress who decides to become a lawyer to save her brother from prison. Proactive is her inner position, what she brings to the table for us to eat. It’s always obvious, and she is always well cast and cast in interesting well-produced pictures. This is one of them. Because she is skinny she looks susceptible to being pushed around, though, so it’s not an easy ride for her. She is physically strong, muscular, and as convincing as a powerhouse as Barbara Stanwyck was and for the same reasons: she is physically fit. However, as an actress she tends to play up her “helplessness”, which is a mistake, but then so does Jodi Foster, whom she also resembles. Never play fear, Hilary, play determination; it’s more believable.  Especially since she has a face with which, s with Joan Crawford, it is impossible for her to register a subtlety. Here she plays a EMR surgeon, a perfect part for her, and I for one was so glad she knew human anatomy so that she could place her coup de grace accurately when the time came to bring it into play. She rents a dandy old Brooklyn apartment and is immediately uneasy because she feels she is being watched, and, badness knows, she is. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the watcher, the landlord who has a fix on her. You think he possibly really loves her until the point where he pleas for pity, never a safe move for a screenwriter. But we are well on in horror by that time.  The film is magisterially directed by Antii Jokinen and filmed by Guillermo Navarro. The whole picture is much the creation of its set designers, Guy Barnes, J. Dennis Washington, and Wendy Ozolos-Barnes who have made for us one of the most extraordinary series of arteries and secret panels, and peepholes one has ever seen in a N.Y. apartment building– and by its bent score by John Ottman. It is very well acted, and its cast even includes the beautiful Lee Pace (one of the two greatest actors in film today) who has a real-right-on moment with a sling; watch for it. I rented the film because of his being in it; his part is small, but it adds a ruthless and necessary fillip to the coup de grace when it comes.





29 Apr

Conviction. Directed by Tony Goldwyn. Biodrama. A waitress devotes herself to free her innocent brother from prison. 107 minutes Color 2010.

* * * *

Such pictures are like horse pictures: the outcome is foreordained, but one watches to see by what procedures the story will pass to the end towards which it tends. The first part of this picture holds up because of the writing, after which the writing emotionalizes the story, so that whatever happens becomes generalized and routine, and so the actors have nothing specific to work with,and we become an audience reft of responses to choose among because they are all pre-fabricated by the script, we are only allowed to respond one way. Without choice there is no participation for an audience. And, as things decline one notices that the musical score drains the drama. The film is well directed, edited, and cast, a cast which includes the irreplaceable Minnie Driver and the titanicly gifted Melissa Leo. The great Juliet Lewis appears as a lady who lies in court, and then admits it, and she is simply remarkable. Oscars should crowd one another out on her mantelpiece. Sam Rockwell plays the rapscallion brother who is unjustly convicted, and his performance is just marvelous. The cocking of his head, the pursing of his lips, the inner decisions taken – everything he does is directed by a live loose wire inside him, and at the same time as you wouldn’t want to be around him too long, still you’ve got to like him because he’s so much fun. Most of his work is in the early part of the film and thus does not suffer from the growing flaccidity of the script. The burden of the film falls upon Hillary Swank, and she is very good in the first part of the picture, but then she has a load to carry and, through no fault of her own, the burden of it is bogus. Her accent, her working-class energy is right on the money, but no actress, however gifted, can fill in a blank already filled in. Still, it is a remarkable story about a remarkable feat of conviction. The turns and twist of the law almost strangle one as they unfold. Betty Anne Waters actually did save her brother, actually got a high school diploma and a law degree to do it. Good for her and good for this film being made.



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