Saturday, July 18, 2009
There were three reasons I wanted to see this movie: 1)Rourke as a hitman, 2)Levitt as a hitman, 3)I enjoyed the Elmore Leonard book on which it was based. The first was the only thing that really panned out.
There is really only one redeeming quality to Killshot, and that is Mickey Rourke's subdued hitman. His character is partnered with a loose cannon criminal played by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Levitt is an amazing talent, but he utterly fails at lending authenticity to the larger than life villain. It starts with the accent and continues through to his twitchiness. The character is supposed to be annoying. But I don't imagine he was supposed to be utterly ridiculous. The story, while entertaining in novel form, loses its step on screen. Carmen, the film's heroine played by Diane Lane, is intimately fleshed out in the book, but her character onscreen feels utterly slight and Lane doesn't do her any favors. Likewise Thomas Jane, as her rough and tumble husband, adds to the ridiculousness of the cast. I like Jane. More recently, I enjoyed his lead performance in The Mist. Here, he's just a lug with a square jaw. I want more. Ditto for Rorario Dawson in her small role. Just skip it altogether.
My bar was set low.
I had heard mostly mixed reviews out of this 09 thriller. It was in and out of theaters before I could see it as it should have been. Still, the film's pedigree (director Tom Tykwer, actors Clive Owen and Naomi Watts) at least warranted a rental. I was pleasantly surprised. Owen is typically solid in his loner heavy role. Watts is solid. Tykwer is uncommonly subdued in his direction, though I thought it was fittingly in service to the story and action. Oh...the action...consists primarily of a go-for-broke shoot out in the Guggenheim Museum. The scene is startlingly violent within the context of all that comes before and follows it, but wonderfully choreographed and executed cinematically. It's stripped of any slow motion or camera tricks or balletic dives and sweeps of modern film. It's thrilling, and in opposition of one good friend's opinion, not mindless. It's key to developing the story and Owen's character - marking a breaking point in his limits. The story itself, while not groundbreaking, was intriguing enough to hold my attention and eerily topical despite being based on the misdeeds of an international bank in the late 80s and early 90s. I love the ambiguous ending, the cynical approach to justice, and the aesthetic beauty of the architecture. There are times when characters speak pseudo-profoundly in circles, but the film is at its core very accessible and entertaining.
My bar was set high.
Public Enemies is at times mesmerizing and at others overwrought. Each of the principal actors seems to struggle to find their character's voices (figuratively and literally) before hitting their strides. The dialogue can sound foreign at some points and lyrical at others. It's the film's weaving in and out of these increasingly vague extremities that left me lukewarm. What I did love was some of the supporting performances. Jason Clarke as Dillinger's right hand man was subtle and natural in a land of big characters. John Ortiz (he of the "bigger is better" school of acting) lends a quiet touch to his criminal. Stephen Graham and Billy Crudup both take big bites into their characters and somehow remain credible and engaging. I also loved the cinematography. The action and drama is beautifully framed, though I think in this case Michael Mann should have shot on film instead of his beloved HD. There's an odd graininess to the picture that makes the period lose some of its authenticity. As public enemy #1, Depp offers glimpses of brilliance. When there is worry behind Dillinger's arrogant facade, I was riveted. When Depp showboats, it's to the character's detriment. Marion Cottillard does her best to flesh out her gun moll, but there isn't much gravitas that can be drawn out of the character (save for her bitterly defiant interrogation and face-off with Dillinger's killer). Christian Bale looks a bit lost in his supporting role. It's a spare role necessitated by the director's need to cover the other side of the story, so there isn't much room for Bale to shine. It's a good movie that seems to brush off greatness.
This was a very French movie. And though I cannot quite articulate what that means, I am certain that is an accurate statement. There is much to love about this ensemble family drama. Mathieu Almaric adds another richly textured performance to his resume. Although his character is the black sheep cynical loser of the family, he is strangely appealing both with his beady eyes and tiny frame and his relentless and seemingly inherent desire to unsettle his family's gatherings. The rest of the cast is refreshingly natural, headlined by cinema icon Catherine Deneuve. Her scenes with Almaric are wonderfully unpredictable. Indeed, it's Almaric's one on one scenes with each family member that are the keepsakes. Writer/director's stylish and narrative flourishes that distanced me from really connecting with the movie. There were times when I was paying full attention and felt the writer/director was hurling drama over my head. While the French family's dysfunction and morality differs from my own, there were pieces of me hidden in each family member - the distraught Paul, the contemptuous Henri, the lost Simon, the enigmatic Junon, etc.. I could benefit from a second viewing.