Talking Movies

November 13, 2014

The Drop

Bullhead director Michael R Roskam makes his Hollywood debut with a slow-burning crime thriller featuring James Gandolfini’s final film performance.

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Bob (Tom Hardy) is a slow-moving soft-spoken Brooklyn lug who works as a bartender for Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), who is, to people’s permanent surprise, actually Bob’s cousin. But while the sign over the door says ‘Cousin Marv’s’ really the cousins work for the scary Chechen mob brothers Chovka (Michael Aronov) and Andre (Morgan Spector), who use it as a drop for cash from their other operations. When someone is crazy enough to rip off the drop-box Bob and Marv find themselves under pressure from Chovka to recover the stolen money. Complicating matters further for Bob is his finding of an abandoned abused dog, which leads to a tentative romance with Nadia (Noomi Rapace). It also leads to harassment from neighbourhood psycho Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), the suspected killer in a cold case that has Det. Torres (John Ortiz) circling…

Having provided the source material for Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island, novelist Dennis Lehane finally pens his first feature screenplay (after writing episodes of The Wire and Boardwalk Empire) expanding his own short story ‘Animal Rescue’. This film has Lehane DNA: a palpable sense of blue-collar community, characters with lives beyond the plot-points; especially Marv’s tetchy house-sharing with his long-suffering sister Dottie (Ann Dowd); a doom-laden sense of horrors to come. But, somewhat inexplicably, it also has large amounts of Dead Man Down and Drive in its make-up. Noomi Rapace once again appears bearing scars of past traumas and manipulates a taciturn anti-hero. Shocking violence in a good cause is subverted in the best Winding Refn manner, and then sort of subverted back… There’s even a regrettable Equilibrium flashback in the instantly humanising effect of a puppy.

Roskam directs all this with some aplomb, with an emphasis on facial close-ups and gritty exteriors. Ortiz and Schoenaerts shine in support as the good and evil stalking around the central trio, with Schoenaerts in particular conveying tremendous menace and instability. An early scene where the Chechens unveil some grisly handiwork as a visual pep-talk serves up the steak that allows the film to largely unnerve on sizzle till its finale, to appropriate Stephen King’s analysis of Psycho, and Roskam lets the tension build slowly as Bob and Marv try and chase up some money only to find that events are spiralling out of control. Lehane holds back mightily on letting us inside Bob’s head, or letting us know what Det. Romsey (Elizabeth Rodriguze) is up to, as if he’s addicted to Shutter Island’s method of revelations through outrageous misdirection.

James Gandolfini’s last performance mixes resignation and frustration, and the film that houses it is a curious mixture of overly familiar elements and escalating suspense anchored by Hardy’s lumbering, kindly, but enigmatically unknowable presence.

3/5

May 2, 2013

Dead Man Down

Niels Arden Oplev, director of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, makes his American debut with a thriller starring Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace.

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Victor (Farrell) is a low-ranking criminal working alongside fellow foot-soldier and friend Darcy (Dominic Cooper) in the gang headed by Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard), a sharp-suited villain who specialises in clearing buildings of tenants for the Mob. Hoyt is coming apart at the seams due to a three month barrage of cryptic notes, and surveillance photos with his eyes crossed out. And that’s before Paul, the trusted lieutenant he tasked with identifying the mystery stalker, turns up dead in the basement of Alphonse’s mansion. As Alphonse goes on the offensive Victor strikes up a low-key romance with his high-rise neighbour Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a beautician horribly scarred by a car accident who now shuns the world and lives with her mother Valentine (Isabelle Huppert). But embittered Beatrice may hold the key to solving the mystery of who is harassing Alphonse…

Dead Man Down’s best feature is its patient drip-feeding of surprising information in the first act. There is one truly extraordinary scene in which a victim is revealed to be a predator, and Terrence Howard’s villain on the make interestingly has something of Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday about him. Oplev defamiliarises NYC to an astonishing extent; making it a city of warehouses in deserted urban locales, docklands overgrown with green trees, and lush vegetation surrounding high-rise apartment blocks. There are a number of nail-biting sequences in the film as Darcy takes over Paul’s investigation and gets closer to the truth which got him killed, but somehow Oplev doesn’t milk the tension from them Fincher would, while his action sequences are staged efficiently rather than dazzlingly. Really this is TV’s Revenge, writ large, and not quite as attractively.

Fringe writer JH Wyman’s dialogue clunks almightily at times, not helped by Oplev shooting those scenes with lengthy pauses where the piano tinkles helpfully to suggest emotional epiphanies are being had by characters who don’t look like they’re even thinking. Oplev incredibly sabotages a scene where the voice of a dead girl says “Daddy got rid of all the monsters”, by showing us a board of photos of all the mobsters still to be killed. We got it, stop flourishing your Diploma from the Oliver Stone School of Subtlety. Wyman’s script has good intentions, but just when you’re thinking about quotes by Confucius and Gladiator on revenge the finale changes gears completely, almost as if a draft by Luc Besson of the Colombiana showstopper had got mixed up with the final pages of Dead Man Down, and profundity is banished.

You couldn’t say that Dead Man Down is a bad film, but you could only give it a very qualified thumbs-up because it so aggravatingly wastes its abundant potential.

2.5/5

April 12, 2013

Trailer Talk

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 1:49 pm
Tags: , ,

In the first of an occasional series I round up some trailers for films opening in the next few weeks.

Dead Man Down

Colin Farrell seems to have established an unusual and unenviable pattern whereby he puts in fine supporting performances in big films, great lead performances in small films, and bland lead performances in big films. Bearing that in mind it’s appropriate to be interested in Dead Man Down where Farrell takes the lead in a smallish crime drama. Along for the ride as a gang comes apart while seeking revenge is Terrence Howard, who’s also been doing himself an injustice lately; wasting a very committed turn on Red Tails; and Noomi Rapace; also grabbing a chance for redemption after a bland lead in a big film in Prometheus. The real excitement is that Rapace is reuniting with Niels Arden Oplev, her director on the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Expect some gut-wrenching tension before the Hollywood explosions.

The Great Gatsby

The more trailers I see for this film the more concerned/aghast I become. I venerate F Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, and Baz Lurhmann’s choices as revealed in this latest trailer seem to bespeak a totally disastrous adaptation. Leonardo DiCaprio is a good choice to play the enigmatic titular old sport, as is Joel Edgerton as his nemesis Tom Buchanan, but what can they do when faced with Lurhmann’s remarkable inability to handle subtlety? Gatsby is not about swooping thru raucous parties and zeroing in on high camp comedy scenes, and this latest trailer seems to suggest that the entire movie is in thrall to Susan Sontag’s definition of camp as a love of the artificial. Not a single thing onscreen seems physically real, even the actors sort of shimmer in soft focus, so how can their emotions convince?

21 and Over

Will 21 and Over be this year’s Project X or not? It’s hard to tell from the trailer… The Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott More, who also scripted The Change-Up, turn director with a raucous comedy. On the eve of an important medical school interview, straight-A college student Jeff Chan Justin Chong is surprised by his two best friends, ambitious Casey (Skylar Austin) and party-loving Miller (Miles Teller), who take him out to celebrate his 21st birthday. The usual humiliation, chaos, over-indulgence and utter debauchery ensues. I’ve slowly realised that I largely despise the American R-rated comedy scene, unless Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill are involved. And it’s because while those two writer/actors are as crude as the rest of Team Apatow or Lucas/Moore they have an unstinting devotion to absurdity which this trailers hints at.

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