Saturday, May 10, 2008

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD (Sidney Lumet, 2007, USA) Sidney Lumet delivers his finest film in over 20 years; his last great film was THE VERDICT (1982) starring Paul Newman with a blistering screenplay by David Mamet. Here Lumet directs with a classic flourish giving the actors enough room to breath and develop into believable characters; the deliberate pacing and long takes help the viewer bond with Andy and Hank. The structure is rather straightforward with some flashback overlap as we experience the robbery from different perspectives. They just don’t make movies like this anymore! You will find no CGI, camera gimmicks, sappy score, or flash-cut editing tricks…all conventions of modern cinema that often hides the fact that a story is vacuous and empty of any real meaning. The family drama is left mostly unexplained and I think the mystery heightens the tension and makes the ending much more believable. Ethan Hawke is solid as the younger brother Hank but this is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s film and his is an Oscar worthy performance. Marisa Tomei is beautiful (as always) as Andy’s bubble-headed wife…but this draws my only strong complaint: the female characters are rather bland, one-dimensional, and lacking any unique personality. I would like to have some insight into their mother’s personality instead of her use as just a plot point. Albert Finney makes the final leap of disbelief possible for the view with a strong passionate performance as Andy and Hank’s grieving father. I just noticed on the IMDB website that Sidney Lumet has never won an Oscar! Tragedy! I guess he has good company with Hitchcock (Best Films don’t count…the award goes to the producer). Overall, a great film that your humble narrator highly recommends. (B)
CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR (Mike Nichols, 2007, USA) Mike Nichols confuses the viewer with this “comedy” that is too close to the truth to be funny and not exaggerated enough to be satire. The film depicts our political system as ignorant and disconnected from the voters but seems to take this for granted, as if it’s OK and should be accepted. Charlie Wilson is everything despicable about American politics with his flamboyant excesses and vices…at the taxpayer’s expense. Tom Hanks brings his classic “everyman” likeableness but his character is no Mr. Smith. And Julie Roberts is typically bland and unconvincing as Joanne Herring, the woman who truly wields the political power (re: flaunts money) and convinces representative Doc Long to fund this “just war” against the Soviet Union. Wilson just has to trade votes with members of the ethics committee and they’re off and running towards their own selfish agendas…a big f**k you to Democracy. Philip Seymour Hoffman is churlish as the FBI agent who oversees the project but even he can’t make this film entertaining. Nichols could have made a militant parody, an over-the-top production that skewers American policy and politics but instead chooses the conservative route. He delivers a mild mannered derivative docu-drama that fails to navigate the moral morass of its narrative and sheds no light on the current war in Iraq by way of learning from our mistakes. If you are in the mood for a good political satire, rent BOB ROBERTS. (D)

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