Archive for the ‘Vera Farmiga’ Category

The Judge

26 Oct

The Judge – directed by David Dobkin. Courtroom Drama/Family Drama. 141 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: A slick lawyer returns to defend his alienated father from a murder charge.


“I only defend the guilty because the innocent can’t afford me” is the repost Robert Downey Jr. gives to the untidy lawyer calling him shyster, and it’s all you need to know, because the fact that Robert Downey Jr. is playing the big-city lawyer will tell you all the rest. Downey, with his large, lambent, devil-angel eyes brings his inner mischief to the role. He plays heads on with Robert Duval as his cantankerous dad, the small town judge who is on trial for first degree murder. These are two superb actors, and they make the most of their big fat roles, but nothing they do can rescue the longueurs into which this film falls through over-extension both in length and attempted breadth.

We have rich actors on all sides: the cruelly brilliant Billy Bob Thornton plays the prosecuting attorney and he is given a meaningless scene explaining what he is doing working in that small town. Vera Farmiga plays Downey’s high school sweetheart twenty years later and she is given a meaningless daughter. We are expected to take an interest in matters that have no depth, no dramatic truth, and no place except as extraneous exposition. After all, how fascinating is a herring – even one that is red? Downey is given two brothers, and neither of these, well-played though they are, add to the central situation, which is a father-son situation solely.

It is another example of a film, essentially a courtroom drama, that doesn’t know that things need to pick up in the third act. Instead we have far too many scenes and a courtroom denouement which is disgracefully sentimental, legally impossible, and coated with the sprinkles of a score after enduring which one requires a cold shower. The picture is beautifully shot by the great Janusz Kaminski. The settings and physical properties of the film are first rate. The great talents of Downey and Duvall and Thornton and Farmiga are worth watching for the first two acts, but the picture wearies itself before one’s eyes. You want it to be good, but the screenwriter has betrayed the novel by following it too closely – at least that’s my hunch.

But the real problem is that the film is trying to validate a lie, that lie being that traumatized  relations between family members are resolved by their own efforts. When the unforgivable has occurred, the idea that a two hour and ten minute movie can erase it is claptrap. There is a wonderful scene in a bathroom with Duvall and Downey, true, and to watch Downey and Duvall negotiate this lie without running stark mad is a spectacle worth witnessing. We dishonor the contents of the unforgivable in swallowing such tripe. For shame on the film-makers for asking us to.


Higher Ground

04 Sep

Higher Ground – Directed by Vera Farmiga. Drama of the Spirit. A thirty year old woman in a religious community comes to grip with her beliefs. 109 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Vera Farmiga  puts one in mind of our beloved Jill Clayburg. She has the same beauty, openness as an actor, humor, feminine grace, spontaneity and daring. It is a pleasure to be in her company, and one feels secure in that company. Her performance here is lovely. And, while the film is about her character, every actor around her is lovely too. It is a pity that the bigoted Berkeley audience I saw it with laughed at some of the characters of the religious community, because the director, also Farmiga, does not ridicule or demean them. They are treated honestly as folks who are truly engaged with the beauty, especially the musical beauty, and community of their faith. It is a faith, however, which pastes communal belief on every soul, but Corinne, the character Farmiga plays, awakens more and more to the fact that her own soul is not being seen, particularly by herself. She is lost in the charade of avowing a God who never visits her, and it troubles her. Her family and friends are all immersed in this one-size-fits all religion whose orthodoxy is not a resurrection but a recipe. And yet that community is as deeply engaged in that faith as they can be, and they are to be respected for it. In this world it seems it is the men who suffer most, because they adore their wives and yet have nothing to say to them. Corinne’s father, her husband, and her best friend’s husband, are clearly in agony and are helpless. I recommend the picture highly. Farmiga knows how to open up the camera to the actor and the actor to the camera. I have never seen a story of this type told before. Fred Zinnemann’s The Nun’s Story did not have the depth and common interest of Higher Ground, for it was about medical versus religious work; its conflict was not about her profession of faith but whether she should become a professional in it; its main character was remote, in an order, whereas Farmiga is just a mom sitting in a station wagon going nuts because of a God who does not come the way they say He should. One feels for her. It is everything.






Source Code

01 Apr

Source Code — Directed by Duncan Jones. Techno-Suspense.  An American helicopter vet from Afghanistan is involuntarily volunteered for a series of 8-minute missions into the past in order to derail a dirty bomb.  1 hour 33 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Science fiction usually avoids the imaginative creation of characters that true fiction requires. Dickens would be lost in the genre. And the characters it employs want subtlety. No, the writer writes for polemic effect — a disaster we are all to blame for somehow, a threat our set-in-concrete innocence really deserves. So “fiction” is a misnomer, isn’t it?  As is “Sci” — for the genre demands not science, but the invention of machines that can do strange things. All you have to do is state the strange thing, and you can presuppose a machine that does it.  It’s not a matter of science but of technology, which is not the same thing at all. And so I dub this piece, techno-suspense; not a new genre but one rather more aptly named perhaps. The machine is a gadget invented by Jeffrey Wright, which can return an individual (suited to the task by being already dead) to a time just before a terrible calamity occurred, a calamity which is over, cannot be taken back, but at least, in finding the perpetrator, a repetition (bombs run in twos, like Nagasaki and Hiroshima) might be, in the nick of time, avoided. It’s quite good. He has only eight minutes each recession, and each time he learns a little more, grows up a little more, become a little more capable. Jake Gyllenhaal plays this bloke beautifully, of course. Gyllenhaal is at the peak of his masculinity, which is always a pleasure to behold in a male, and he is really the only important male talent age thirty with any weight in major roles working in film today. The machines in which he is trapped are three. One is a speeding train, one is a kind of crashed, derelict pod in which he waits instructions, and one is the office from which those instructions fall upon him into the pod. In the pod he is alone. In the train he is vis a vis with a fine young woman, Christine, played by Michelle Monaghan, in a pleasant mixture of bemusement, beguilement, and befuddlement, all of which hit the spot with this particular part. The gifted Vera Farmiga accompanies him in the office; they never meet, of course, but they talk. Despite being mesmerized by her beautiful eyes, I think Vera Farmiga misjudges her role. She plays her ace right away. She plays that the character is of two minds and unsure, but her unsureness is unsure, making her look incompetent in the role and also her acting. This character would not be incompetent, would not be unsure. She might grow into a different view of the machine which she runs, called Source Code, but she would not start out that way. She is perhaps miscast. Or perhaps mis-directed. And Jeffrey Wright should not wear a beard — come out from behind that bush, Jeff; it won’t serve. A character’s effectiveness is diminished tenfold by every hair on his face, except those immediately beneath his nose. The piece as a whole holds one’s attention, the special effects are as they should be, and the three sets are particularly apt and imaginative. One goes along with it. Gyllenhaal we go along with only because he is a young man, not because there is anything inherently go-along-with in him, as there was in Jimmy Stewart, say, or Jack Lemon or Tom Hanks. But see him walk. See him flirt. See him knock the guy down. Pretty good, I say.


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