DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Shooter, The Departed, American Gangster, The Brave One, The Bank Job, 21, In Bruges, Righteous Kill, Eagle Eye, Nobel Son, Push, Knowing, Lonely Hearts

 

Title:  Shooter

Release Date:  2007

Nationality and Language: Canada, English

Running time: 124 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Paramount 

Director; Writer: Antoine Fuqua, based on novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter (movie critic for The Washington Post), screenplay by Jonathan Lemkin

Producer:  Lorenza di Bonaventura

Cast:  Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pena, Danny Glover, Late Mera

Technical: Flat 2.35 to 1 anamorphic, Panavision

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  rich v poor, religious conflict, oil, military

 

The setup seems important. Inner circles in the government plot an attempted assassination of the president that actually will result in the death of a visiting archbishop from Africa (Ethiopia), apparently as part of a coverup of earlier massacres in Africa (Eritrea)  associated with a contractor’s laying of an oil pipeline. Although the geography is different, this concept sounds like an assemblage of some recent history associated with corruption and the Middle East. Then you have the hero/ fall guy, Marine Seal Bobbie Lee Swagger played by Marky Mark Wahlberg. (Yes, this is one of those movies where you expect to see Anthony Hopkins, Gene Hackman, and Tommy Lee Jones at the same time, but they don’t show up.) He had been a mercenary sharpshooter in the massacre (stunningly filmed in the opening sequences, apparently in inland British Columbia),  and three years later he lives as a recluse with his devoted dog (who fetches him beers), in a cabin in Wyoming’s Wind River Range (actually B.C. – this is one of those DGC movies). The government pays him a visit and wants to hire him to scout out possible assassination points on a presidential trip. He visits Washington, Baltimore (there is a technical sequence error here in the movie – as it shows a shot of the Sesquehannah River from an Amtrak car, but you don’t cross that until the train heads for Philly. Indeed, Philadelphia is where the movie winds up for much of its duration, much of the action taking place in Independence Park at 6th and Market (complete with Septa), with the Byrne federal court building where I attended the COPA trial a block away, as well as famous Bourse Hotel.

 

Of course, most people know the story. Swagger is framed for the assassination of the archbishop, and makes his escape (starting in the Schuylkill River), and then zigzags across the country several times in a stolen truck, forming his tag team with disgraced FBII agent Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) and former belle Sarah Fenn (Kate Mera). He always shows up with the right weapons (of course, he had an arsenal in Wyoming, probably illegal under Clinton’s attempt at assault weapons control) and camouflage. Eventually there is a mountaintop showdown involving a senator (Ned Beatty) who gives his spiel on the fact that the war is not between Shiites and Sunnis or Republicans and Democrats, but just between the haves and have-nots – and Marky deserves a chance to become a have again. Trouble is, they killed his dog. I really wanted to see the dog at the end. The climactic seen has Swagger shooting off the trigger finger of a rival, and then a whole arm from almost the shoulder. Yes, body parts roll, just from high velocity rounds.

 

For all the action that the film piles on, moving the "hero" from one crisis to the next every three minutes or so,  it is surprisingly engaging and credible, partly because of the precision on-location movie making.  There is an interesting reference in the script near the end to a theory of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas, that the real plotters were cut down secretly on the Grassy Knoll, and that Lee Harvey Oswald was just a fall guy like Swagger.

 

The Departed (2006, Warner Bros., Plan B/Media Asia, dir. Martin Scorsese, R, 149 min, based on a Hong Kong film "Internal Affairs", p-1/a-1/r-1) is a real trip of a Mafia movie, this time, the Irish Mafia in Boston. It may be a bit of a setup as a lot of the cast seems to come from Boston, and the film is a wild get together of old friends, down to the "Southie" script. "Do you want to be a cop or look like a cop?" "I can keep my job; I'll just arrest innocent people."  Two young Massachusetts state police cadets (Matt Damon, Leonardo Di Caprio) graduate and go to work as undercover officers, one of them a plant by the Mafia. The other reviewers tell us which one. Well, OK, Billy Costigan (Di Caprio's character) agrees to not stay out of prison (following the advice of a comedy friend of mine in Minnesota) in order to spy on the mafia, then he gets out. The two men approach a confrontation as they both have relationships (of course) with the same female police psychiatrist, played by Vera Farmiga. Jack Nicholson is his usual evil as crime boss (or is he?) Frank Costello, and brutal in many scenes. Hairy-throated and fattish Alec Baldwin plays Ellerby, who at one point panders to the homophobic jingo in the film by saying that you get married to prove that your not a fag and that your c__k works. In fact, the homophobic words are almost a steganographic code for communicating other messages, that even mention "the Fenways." The police culture here seems even more hostile to gays than the military, even if seems a bit of a put on. Marky Mark Wahlberg is Dignam; Martin Sheen is the police boss Queenan. The ending turns into a wild Shakespearean tragedy.  

 

American Gangster (2007, Universal / Imagine / Relativity / Scott Free, dir. Ridley Scott, article by Mark Jacobson, 157 min, R). In the beginning, in 1968, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) notes that already the middleman is going away, and most consumer prices are deflating as he looks at some color TV sets in the Bronx. Later he says that white men need wealth, and own their own companies. So then does Frank, who makes a heroin business in a form of "extreme capitalism" by piggybacking on the Vietnam war, getting the dope from SE Asia, of higher grade and lower price (hint; he gets GI's to help). When cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) finds a cache he turns it in, but gets treated almost as if he were a character from a Coen Brothers film, and switches to the prosecutor's office. Ironically, Nixon's pulling out in early 1973 will help bring an end.  In the denouement and plea deals, there are some twists and bedfellows, and 75% of the NYPD drug enforcement unit will go down. There's a line "he's not a wop, he's black; he's above the Mafia." The movie is shot in simple 1.85:1 to keep a certain focus on the characters and closeups; this is Harlem and Jersey in its dingy reality, not the slick city of "Law and Order."  It has a stunning opening scene with a Lucas setting a man on fire and then shooting him, in a tenement. The film has a TV broadcast excerpt of Nixon's speech starting his war on drugs, and that led to a draconian 1973 New York law, which was plastered all over the subway stations when I lived there. "Don't get caught holding the bag." Then, libertarians say, end this insane war on drugs. 

 

The DVD has both the theatrical and unrated version (with 18 extra minutes) on one side, with software to control how the DVD plays the selected version (unrated may not work on all machines). Ridley Scott and screenwriter Steven Zaillian discuss the script, which got up to 167 pages with 350 scenes; the final version is 135 pages. The screenplay took 18 months to write and required enormous amount of research after a lot of discussion of the storytelling concept. The concept is really two character-driven narratives at once. This was very much a collaborative creative effort. Scott says that this is not normally his kind of film. It's interesting that a cop would be seen as less trustworthy after turning in money. Scott discusses the technical and editing problems of using a wider screen Panavision anamorphic lens for this sort of film.

 

The Brave One (2007, Warner Bros. / Village Roadshow, dir. Neil Jordan, wr Roderick and Bruce Taylor, 122 min, R) has radio talk-show host Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) going on a vigilante rampage (attracting New York Post headlines) after her fiancee is murdered in Central Park (and she is beaten up) by thugs when they let their dog run loose a bit. One of the thugs actually camcords the event as a public snuff. She makes a case for the Second Amendment. She stumbles on a pharmacy robbery and blows away the burglar, and even takes the store security tape. She blows away four goons on the subway when one of them, after calling a nice-looking post-teen man a "faggot," holds a knife to her throat. (The scene looks like West 4th Street Station, which I remember well; once, in 1978, I entered the station just after a woman had been pushed onto the track and lost a leg.) Then she tracks down the assailants, and even gets her dog back. In the meantime, she has tried to go back to work at the radio station, and stumbles for words, with the station having to switch to filler material. Terrence Howard ("Hustle & Flow") plays the cop, and the movie heads toward a fake climax that I found hard to believe. There is an end, shall we say, after the beginning and middle.  The "gay" man plays a role in the investigation. When I lived in New York in the 1970s, there were people who talked of vigilantism (even at the office at NBC where I worked as a computer programmer), and saw that as the only way to protect oneself. 

 

The Bank Job (2008, Lions Gate / Relativity, dir. Roger Donaldson, 110 min, R, wr. Dick Clement and Ian le Frenais, UK/Australia). When Martine (Saffron Burrows) leads Terry Leather (Jason Staham) to a bank heist on London's Baker street in 1971, Terry and his minions have no idea that, by tunneling through a whole block of London, they will uncover a Profumo or Watergate-like scandal involving the Royal family. No one is ever prosecuted, although some people get "eliminated."  The look and speech is all British, and this is gritty London, yet the opulent style of filmmaking (it's 2.35:1) is more like that of an American crime thriller. The movie, despite its "independent" origins, is making a round at all major theater chains. There's quite a bit of heterosexual S&M and lap dancing, a world not quite a cheesy as "Eastern Promises" perhaps. It would seem that the movie needs a paperback book: the incident is true, and the public ought to have more record of it. Some of it remains classified until 2054, as if this were Britain's "Pentagon Papers" or perhaps "Scotland Yard papers."  Filmmakers have not challenged the British or other European governments for misconduct the way they have American government, until now.

 

21 (2008, Columbia, dir. Robert Luketic, book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich, 123 min, PG-13). "Winner, winner, Chicken dinner." So goes the slogan for this movie about college kids going to Vegas to clean up with card counting. It's supposed to be a true story, but here there is a real plot, with a perfect screenplay three-act structure, and it's interesting how compressed the events get toward the end. The story has to cover a lot of ground. Young British actor (talking with an authentic Southie accent here) Jim Sturgess plays "good with math" MIT student Ben Campbell, who needs to dazzle the Harvard Dean to get a scholarship for medical school. (He could have taken ROTC or gone to West Point and gone to medical school free. And saved lives in Iraq. That occurred to me. The Army would jump to have someone like this.)  He starts out with an assistant manager job in a clothing store for school money (he "slept with the boss" (male) but the rest of his escapades in the movie are straight -- so Army, how about him?). Well, he gets invited to what looks like a math club, at it seems that math professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey, who is riveting) has a business plan to sweep Vegas. Remember, counting cards is legal, so casinos have to enforce "private" policies against it with strong-armed tactics (Laurence Fishburne and Jack McGee are the "thugs"), at least according to the movie. (Campbell manages to change Blackjack into the Vegas equivalent of chess.) There are other plot elements: a gift from his naive mother, new facial recognition software, the TSA's airport screening weaknesses, and a new robotics invention, disguises (which wouldn't fool "body analysis" or even good biometrics) and even lap dances. And, a middle ages story of how a major math theorem was stolen and published under a pseudonym (good material for a Dan Brown novel). There is a critical scene in Vegas where teammate Fisher (Jacob Pitts) teases Ben with the idea that he is so familiar and omnipresent, someone everybody knows already.

 

By the way, there was a quiz show in the 50s called "21" and I recall the run of a contestant named Harold Craig.  Also, Shia La Beouf proved on Leno that there are grown-up things to do on your 21st birthday. In the movie, Ben gets invited to the "math club" around his 21st birthday, just before the bash. He took organic chemistry as a freshman.

 

What carries the film, of course, is, besides the faced-paced plot (reminding one of the Oceans movies) but Sturgess's charisma as Ben. You know he will dazzle his way to success. And (like Chicken Man or "Chicken Dinner") he's everywhere. 

    

Compare to "Charlie Bartlett" (and maybe even "Kids in America").

 

In Bruges (2008, Focus, dir. wr. Martin McDonagh, UK) A hit man Ray (Colin Farrell) accidentally kills a boy in Britain and is sent to the picturesque, canal city of Bruges, Belgium with "gay" Ken (Brendan Gleeson) to hole up and hide until getting instructions. In the meantime they get involved with all kinds of local characters, including a girl starring in a "dream film" with dwarfs.  When the call comes they face real dilemmas and ironies The "big boss" Harry (Ralph Fiennes) actually thinks he has some honor himself in ordering Ken to make the hit on Ray, which leads to enormous chases and complications. At one point Ray talks about the coming war among minorities (probably a reference to the lack of Muslim assimilation in a sleeping Europe), even shifting down to the dwarfs. At the end, Ray may survive, realizing that Bruges has become as much a prison for him as any normal jail. Yet, somehow the film makes you want to take a KLM flight back to Schipol (oh, that's Amsterdam, also with canals). This is a film that at first looks like more manner than substance (the music sound track is quite modal and pounding) unless you let yourself think about it. It did well in the DC area and was popular with an older crowd. 

 

Righteous Kill (2008, Overture, dir. Jon Avnet, R, 101 min, USA). Al Pacino and Robert De Niro face off as buddy NYPD detectives, one of whom could be a serial killer for "righteous" or vigilante causes. The film is somewhat stagey drama, but occasionally reminds us of the mood of Se7en. Blogger discussion.   

 

Eagle Eye (2008, Dreamworks, dir. D. J. Caruso, story by Dan McDermott, 118 min, USA). Shia La Beouf is set up and recruited by the CIA in a scheme to overthrow the government with a fake terrorist attack. Unbelievable special effects. Blogger.

 

Nobel Son (2008, Freestyle Releasing / Unclaimed Freight, dir. Randall Miller, 102 min, R) While father (Alan Rickman) gets a nobel prize, deprived son (Bryan Greenberg) and an unknown half brother fake a kidnapping.  Blogger

 

Push (2009, Summit Entertainment / Icon, dir. Paul McGuigan, UK/China, 111 min, PG-13) Sci-fi setup where "heroes" with various polarized powers, descendants from a Nazi experiment, are hunted down by government in Hong Kong.  Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning. Blogger.

 

Knowing (2009, Summit Entertainment / Escape Artists/  Goldcrest, dir. Alex Proyas, story by Ryne Douglas Pearson, PG-13, Australia) Nicholas Cage plays an MIT professor whose son finds a numerical codex, from a school time capsule, that has predicted past disasters and predicts Armageddon -- real soon. And the space people land, all right. Some of the best UFOs (fractal shapes) ever seen in film. And this is one of the largest "independent market" films ever made. Blogger.

 

Lonely Hearts (2006, Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn/Millennium, dir. Todd Robinson, 105 min, R) John Travolta and James Gandolfini play detectives tracking down a murderous couple played by Jared Leto and Salma Hayek around 1950. Blogger.

 

Related reviews:.  Death of a PresidentThe Men Who Killed Kennedy  Charlie Bartlett, et al

 

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Email me at Jboushka@aol.com