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Posts Tagged ‘the departed’

Revolutionary Road: Could Lead to Oscar Blvd.

Posted by goldwriting on December 23, 2008

revolutionaryroad “Let’s take a cruise together.”

“Umm…actually, I have this thing about boats. They’re not really my thing.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Throughout movie history there has been a wide variety of classic couples, people you yearned to see on screen together again and again: Bogart and Bergman, Gable and Leigh, and Lancaster and Kerr to name only a few. But in 1997 another young couple cemented their right to being included on that list, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, in James Cameron‘s  record breaking film, Titanic. Even though the pair were one of the very few things in Titanic not awarded with Oscars or Golden Globes that year, they still lived on inside the hearts of the audience members who went back to see the romantic duo lean over that railing and declare their reign over the world. It only took eleven years for them to find a project to work on together again, but DiCaprio and Winslet have proven it was worth the wait.

Revolutionary Road is the story of a young passionate couple who meet, connect and yearn to spend their lives striving for the limits of experience. The story takes a only a brief look into their initial introduction to each other, instead opting to quickly jump years forward into their marriage only to find the passion has dissipated and their struggle now is against their suburban mundane existence. The couple, once wild and free, now find themselves deciding whether to stay in their current situation and try to make the best of it or to risk it all and run away to Paris in hopes of rekindling their love of life and their love for each other. It’s a war of contentment and  security versus passion and fulfillment and both sides fight dirty.

There was always one big threat looming over this film, that we, the audience, would look up at the screen and only see the Leo and Kate we remember from Titanic. The love struck duo fated to be together, but torn apart. All we would see would be longing glances full of love and hope and the rest of this new story would be lost in those memories. So, with that looming in front of director Sam Mendes, Mendes made a brilliant choice to jump very quickly into the deeply troubled marriage, nearly opening the film in a vicious fight on the side of the road. The anger and vitriol spilled on each other in that opening argument is more than enough to wipe away all previous visions of wistful gazes and romantic cuddling. DiCaprio rages against the self-imposed cage he’s stuck in, giving us the intensity and raw aggression we’ve come to expect from him (from performances such as The Basketball Diaries, Gangs of New York, The Departed, etc.). Now tie that aggression with the always impressive strength and surety of Kate Winslet and you’re locked and loaded for a true battle of the wills. Only actors who are completely trusting of each other could reach the fever pitch Leo and Kate achieve, which allows not only for touching moments of love, but also incredibly sharp attacks that cut deeper than any knife ever could.

Behind the dynamic duo there is a bevy of talented actors, including Kathy Bates, Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour, and heading into this film they had to know they were only bringing the trimmings and decorations to a party made for Leo and Kate, but one person decided to crash the party and steal some of the spotlight for himself. Michael Shannon plays John Givings, Kathy Bates’ son who happens to be on a short term visit from the local insane asylum. Now he doesn’t bash into the scenes ranting and raving, but his particular type of craziness allows him to cut through the bull and call people out on what is really going on underneath their shiny plastic veneer. Shannon has only three scenes in the film, but during each one of them you can’t take your eyes away from him. He is not only the spark-plug for those moments, but he becomes the lightning rod for the entire movie during a dinner scene which will go on my list as one of the best scenes on film in the last five years. The only shame in Michael Shannon’s performance is that he didn’t get a nomination for it. Here’s hoping the Academy voters are smarter than the Hollywood Foreign Press.

As much as I can rave about the wonderful acting on display in this film, those jewels are only achievable through the eyes and sensitivity of a talented director like Sam Mendes. Mendes keeps his tradition from American Beauty alive of painting picturesque communities of sterility and perfection, but all the while hinting and flashing light on the cracks growing underneath. There is always a deeper truth underneath the veil his characters show to the world and that’s where his real talent lies, making those people remove the masks in a believable and truthful fashion. I was on the lookout for subtle preferential treatment for Kate since she’s married to Mendes in real life, but both parties refused to pull any punches, once again proving the entire team’s commitment to powerful and honest filmmaking. Also proving that point is the completely anti-Hollywood ending, which I obviously won’t go into, but according to screenwriter Justin Haythe there was some push for it to be softened or changed, but Sam locked arms with him and demanded that it stay true to the original novel it is based on. If more people showed even half as much commitment to all the other film projects out there, the quality level we would reach would be unimaginable.

Recommendation: I’ll put this as plainly as I can: Before seeing this I was a locked in vote for Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture of the Year, now I’m not so sure. My new fear is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is going to make this choice even harder, but for the moment I am blissfully unaware of that option.

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Body of Lies: Political Punch Without a Point

Posted by goldwriting on October 12, 2008

You mean to tell me the hidden Harry Potter novel is NOT in this folder?

There are certain things a country does when it goes to war, the economy usually booms into action, the populace rally behind the sitting President and Hollywood starts production on films portraying America as the patriotic force of good against whatever evil it is we are currently fighting with. And so it went during the early years of the Iraq War, but as time dragged on everything started to slip away. The economy slid into one of the worst depressions on record, the general populace turned on the sitting President with such vitriol and distaste it is a wonder he’s still in office, and lastly Hollywood began to show another side of the conflict, one where we were not cast in the best of lights. The movie going public usually eats this all up with a popcorn flavored spoon, but eventually there is a line crossed where the audience just doesn’t care anymore. We’ve moved on, the war has become old news and we don’t want to be reminded anymore about how badly we screwed the pooch. But films take a long time to go from start to finish, so this weekend we were graced with one more wartime vision, Body of Lies, this one from greatly acclaimed director Ridley Scott and powerhouse actors Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Russell plays Ed Hoffman, an arrogant, egotistical CIA operative constantly wired to the cell phone in his pocket and somehow managing to pillage information from halfway around the world while still attending his daughter’s soccer game. Leo takes the role of Roger Ferris, the rough edged man on the ground who provides Ed with his intel and carries out whatever orders flow through those encrypted phone lines. As with anyone who stays in those situations for too long, Roger is getting strung out and he starts to wonder if these secret missions and assassinations are really the correct course of action. Ed does what he can to talk sense into him, make him see the bigger picture, but Roger begins to think the two of them are picturing different things. Old loyalties are tested and broken, while new ones are forged in the heat of a silent war. Once again, it’s shown that every man must choose his own destiny and find out what he truly believes.

The main thing getting in the way of this film’s success is the timing. No matter how much action you put in, no matter how much drama you layer over it, the fact remains this is yet another Iraq War movie and the audience just isn’t there anymore. We have grown weary of seeing our enemies, the ones fighting against us and the ones claiming to be fighting for us. There will always be a place for war movies in the annals of cinema, but the market right now has become glutted with them, especially with the extra helping on documentaries on the subject. Deep down we all go to the movie theater to be momentarily distracted from what we see on the news every night and right now the voice of the people is speaking loud and clear on that point.

Yet, even if this movie had been released earlier by three or four years, I’m not sure it would have done much better. Ridley does his best here to set up tension and a good sense of paced action, but with only an hour gone from the opening shot I was already beginning to wonder how long we had left. The film seems to drag itself towards an end, which when it finally arrives has little to no impact. The story lacks a sense of closure, which possible stems from the reality of the situation in Iraq. There is certainly a ride to be had by watching this, but I’m not sure you finish the ride feeling any different than when you got on.

The excitement surrounding Russell and Leo getting to work together was palpable when the casting was first announced, but they both deliver only during certain scenes. Russell relaxes into the skin of Ed Hoffman, a man who can’t be bothered to think about the humanity of his actions because he has the safety of the world on his mind. Yet barely underneath that is his own desire to be recognized as the one who saved it. In particular moments of the film, Russell really flowed with the brimming confidence of Ed, but in other scenes he came off rather uncaring and unmotivated. Leo got a touch luckier in his role because all the drama and conflict really resides in him. He showed some good chops while playing the political game between Ed and the local contacts, but it never came up to the power of Leo’s earlier stuff, like The Basketball Diaries, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or most recently The Departed, which he will forever be measured against. The one person who actually stepped out of the film and truly gave a measure of weight when on screen was Mark Strong, who played Hani the head of the Jordanian Secret Service. His cool demeanor was a translucent mask over an intimidating and unremorseful nature. Hani saw the world very plainly, those who were with him and those who were against him, and you knew which side you wanted to be on.

Recommendation: I can’t honestly say there is much here we haven’t already seen in the last couple of years with films like The Kingdom and Lions for Lambs. If you really want power and performance inside a war story, Ridley is still your man, just go rent Black Hawk Down instead.

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Here are links for two of the posters for the movies I mentioned in this review:

Buy at Art.com
Buy at Art.com

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