Talking Movies

February 28, 2013

Arbitrage

A Golden Globe nominated Richard Gere plays a high-flying Wall Street magnate  juggling crises financial, emotional, and ominously legal in screenwriter  Nicholas Jarecki’s feature debut.

Photography By Myles Aronowitz

Robert Miller (Gere) is the CEO and founder of investment firm Miller  Capital. He’s about to sell his company to the fabulously wealthy James Mayfield  (Graydon Carter), but needs the deal to happen urgently before the $400 million  hole in his accounts, hidden by his pliable auditor, is discovered. His personal  life, juggling his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and his mistress Julie (Laetitia  Casta), is stressful enough. But between trying to stave off his wife’s  suspicions, visit his mistress’s new art exhibition to avoid her hysteria, and  finagle the forensic accountants, Miller finds himself asleep at the wheel,  literally. He enlists the help of an old lieutenant’s son, Jimmy (Nate Parker),  to cover up his deadly accident, but it seems certain either his  daughter/business partner Brooke (Britt Marling) or embittered NYPD homicide  detective Bryer (Tim Roth) will unravel Miller’s lies.

Richard Gere is a puzzling actor. He’s occasionally self-satisfied but can  generate audience sympathy out of thin air in films like Red Corner and The Jackal, but, as the necessity of doing so  in films like those indicates, he just can’t seem to recognise good scripts.  Gere does have some barnstorming rants here, and he’s brilliant at saying  abrasive things and then instantly apologising; as if the stress Miller is under  causes his social filters to malfunction. But Gere alone cannot carry a film  dripping cliché. His mistress Julie is the most irritating, high-maintenance,  art gallery owning French stereotype imaginable. It is simply impossible to care  about her, when you want to slap Miller for carrying on with her given how great  his privileged life is. And this is the script’s fault as Casta excelled as  Bardot in 2010’s Gainsbourg.

The slowly tightening legal vice  around Jimmy as he tries to stonewall his way out of admitting any involvement  with Miller’s situation is compelling, but not nearly as tense as that in Side Effects. Jarecki also nicely heightens  the suspense of Miller trying to meet the elusive Mr Mayfield to settle the  buyout of his firm in person like men. But this film doesn’t really shed a light  on high finance like Margin Call (or  even Wall Street 2’s central speech)  did. There’s nothing wrong with melodrama, Dickens and Ibsen are melodramatic;  what’s unforgivable is turgid melodrama. And, when Sarandon finally comes into  her own near the end, her grandstanding reveals that, for all Marling’s gameness  in showing how Brooke’s suspicions of her father’s honesty cause her to unravel,  this is melodrama about a tycoon masquerading as biting social commentary.

Jarecki was dropped from directing his 2008 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ The Informers. This proves his  competence directing, but his script offers many individual gems without overall  impact.

2.5/5

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June 6, 2012

Red Tails

George Lucas produces and semi-directs a pet project about the heroism of the black fighter pilots of the Tuskagee Squadron in WWII’s segregated US Airforce.

Nate Parker’s earnest Marty ‘Easy’ Julian leads a rag-tag band of fighter pilots on low-rent missions over Italy attacking German transport trains. His best friend and most insubordinate officer is Joe ‘Lightning’ Little (Rise of the POTA’s David Oyelowo), the best pilot in the squadron but given to glory-hunting manoeuvres. Samuel ‘Joker’ George (Elijah Kelley) is, surprisingly given his moniker, the sensible one, while Ray ‘Junior’ Gannon (90210’s Tristan Wilds) is the youngster aching to be renamed ‘Gamma Ray’. Their commander Colonel Bullard (Terrence Howard) faces down official racism at the Pentagon from Colonel William Mortamus (a cameoing Bryan Cranston) in his battle to secure better planes and more prestigious missions for his segregated Tuskagee Squadron. But can his men, wrestling with their own personal demons, live up to the strain of acting as paragons for their race?

Lucas started developing this movie in the late 1980s. Anthony Hemingway finally filmed John Ridley’s script only for Lucas to direct reshoots of new material written by Aaron MacGruder (creator of The Boondocks). Sadly MacGruder’s acerbity is hard to spot whereas Lucas’ trademark saturation CGI is everywhere. There are numerous set-pieces in this film that would be very exciting if not for their complete air of unreality. If you’re watching a patently fake plane dive-bomb a patently fake train traversing a patently fake landscape your mind has already checked out, and that’s the opening sequence… Easy’s occasional struggle with alcoholism and Lightning’s implausible engagement to an Italian woman (NCIS: LA’s Daniela Ruah) despite their inability to communicate across their linguistic divide exemplify the script’s weakness. The much debated historical inaccuracies then undermine the worthy rationale of this venture.

There are some nice touches, like Jaime King’s voice floating over the camp as Axis Mary, and the much feared new Messchersmit jet-planes roaring into the fray like sci-fi creations, but the actors are better than the material. Ne-Yo as the guitar-picking ‘Smoky’ and Wire star Andre Royo as the long-suffering mechanic ‘Coffee’ offer fine comic relief, Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr as his right-hand man are nicely authoritative, and Lee Tergesen and Gerald McRaney offer nicely counterpointed turns as the Colonel pushing racial equality and the purely pragmatic Lt Gen who offers a prestigious mission guarding bombers on the strict condition that, unlike the white pilots they’re replacing, they forego all chance of dogfight glory and protect the bombers. The film loses all momentum in its third act, before Lars Van Riesen’s absurdly comic-book Nazi villain ‘Pretty Boy’ attacks to provide a rousing finale that’s sadly familiar.

Red Tails is not worth a trip to the cinema, but it’s a very watchable film that will fit comfortably into Sunday afternoon TV schedules.

2.5/5

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