Aidan Quinn

Unknown (2011, Jaume Collet-Serra)

Unknown is not a bad continental thriller. Liam Neeson is an American scientist in Berlin who wakes from a coma to find no one remembers him. As often happens in these situations, he finds himself a pretty sidekick (Diane Kruger) and a sympathetic native (Bruno Ganz) who try to help him unravel the mystery.

The film benefits a great deal from John Ottman and Alexander Rudd’s score, Flavio Martínez Labiano’s photography and the Berlin locations. Director Collet-Serra only has a handful of bad sequences—he likes the CG-aided slow motion a little too much—but he’s otherwise a perfectly mediocre thriller director.

Having Neeson for a lead helps too. He’s able to bring an air of respectability to the project, which would otherwise feel a little too pedestrian otherwise. January Jones—as his forgetting wife—doesn’t bring much substance too her performance and Aidan Quinn—as Neeson’s replacement—looks a little lost. Quinn gets this bewildered look from time to time, like he can’t believe he’s in this kind of picture. Neeson—who’s been doing these genre pieces for over a decade now—looks a lot more comfortable. Though it does occasionally seem like a thematic sequel to Darkman, which isn’t so much bad as unintentionally amusing.

There are twists, there are turns. There’s an ornate car chase (with unnecessary CG). The finale isn’t exactly predictable, but I’ve seen it before….

Unknown’s a diverting couple hours; Neeson and Kruger (oddly, a German playing a Bosnian) make it worthwhile.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; screenplay by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, based on a novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert; director of photography, Flavio Martínez Labiano; edited by Timothy Alverson; music by John Ottman and Alexander Rudd; production designer, Richard Bridgland; produced by Leonard Goldberg, Andrew Rona and Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Liam Neeson (Dr. Martin Harris), Diane Kruger (Gina), January Jones (Elizabeth Harris), Aidan Quinn (Martin B), Bruno Ganz (Ernst Jürgen), Frank Langella (Rodney Cole), Sebastian Koch (Professor Leo Bressler), Olivier Schneider (Smith), Stipe Erceg (Jones), Rainer Bock (Herr Strauss), Mido Hamada (Prince Shada), Clint Dyer (Biko), Karl Markovics (Dr. Farge) and Eva Löbau (Nurse Gretchen Erfurt).


Perfect Witness (1989, Robert Mandel)

Perfect Witness is a standard TV movie, even if it was on HBO (I’m not sure what got it on HBO even… language, maybe?), even if it does have a great cast. During the opening credits, it’s names like Brian Dennehy, Stockard Channing, Delroy Lindo, Joe Grifasi, and Aidan Quinn. Robert Mandel directed it. It should have been better, instead of just the standard TV movie (lengthy–four to five month–present action and more complicated plot, though I don’t know why legal TV movies have always had complicated plots… it’s not like TiVo has been around forever).

Mandel does a so-so job. He disguises Toronto quite well for New York, but the TV movie is not something he’s suited for. He’s only got one really nice moment in the whole thing, which is disappointing, especially since Brad Fiedel does the score and Fiedel can always deliver good moments. The score’s nice, better than the movie deserves, but there just isn’t the material for Fiedel to strengthen.

Quinn’s fantastic. The movie works because of his performance, nothing else. Dennehy is okay, good in parts, but his character is practically a villain, which Dennehy isn’t playing. Channing is okay too, but unimpressive in the emotional female role. Lindo and Grifasi both have small, nice parts. The only important lousy performance is Laura Harrington as Quinn’s wife. She’s real bad.

I suppose there have to be other TV movies like Perfect Witness out there, completely competent time wasters with better-than-they-deserve casts, but I was really expecting something from Mandel and Dennehy, who’d worked together just a few years before on F/X. And not having a Grifasi and Dennehy reunion (they played Mutt and Jeff cops together in F/X) is just tragic.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Mandel; written by Terry Curtis Fox and Ron Hutchinson; director of photography, Lajos Koltai; edited by Wendy Greene Bricmont; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Richard Wilcox; produced by Elaine Sperber; released by Home Box Office.

Starring Brian Dennehy (James Falcon), Aidan Quinn (Sam Paxton), Stockard Channing (Liz Sapperstein), Laura Harrington (Jeanie Paxton), Delroy Lindo (Berger), Joe Grifasi (Breeze), Ken Pogue (Costello), Markus Flanagan (Woods), David Margulies (Rudnick), Nial Lancaster (Danny Paxton), James Greene (Paddy O’Rourke), Colm Meaney (Meagher), Tobin Bell (Dillon), Tony Sirico (Marco), Sam Malkin (Stefano), Kevin Rushton (Rikky), David Cumming (Kevin O’Rourke) and David Proval (Lucca).


Stakeout (1987, John Badham)

I think home video–tape and disc–has done a great disservice to John Badham and his legacy… as in, with this digital (or analog) evidence, one has easy access. Instead of coming across Stakeout at 11:30 P.M. on a Thursday night, pan and scanned, cut for content, and full of commercials, I can sit and watch it on DVD (finally widescreen) and observe just how much better a lot of it works in the late night context.

Stakeout is a cop sitcom, with occasional moments of violence, which I imagine one can thank Badham for including. I mean, it gets so violent at times, particularly at the end, it’s jarring. Stakeout establishes itself, early on, as two things–first, an opportunity to watch a hungry Aidan Quinn tear up the screen (did I really just type, “tear up the screen?” I mean, he does–it’s a really physical performance, he’s jumping all over the place for attention–but it’s still a lame line)–and second, as a harmless comedy. The cops joke around all the time (there was apparently very little violent crime in Seattle in the late 1980s) and most of their attention is spent on summer camp pranks.

Stakeout works for two primary reasons–the script and the cast. The script’s got some really endearing, funny scenes and it’s paced in such a way… well, if one were watching it late night and had gone to get a soda or a microwave burrito (or just fallen asleep for a bit), he or she might be confused and think Richard Dreyfuss at one point meets Madeleine Stowe’s mother. Kouf’s real good at creating a working reality for the film–with an unseen ex for Dreyfuss and a barely seen wife for Emilio Estevez–only in the mind of the viewer.

Dreyfuss is solid in the lead, Estevez is excellent as the sidekick though, the real surprise of the film. Stowe’s good, she and Dreyfuss have chemistry, but she occasionally tries an accent. I think it’s supposed to be Mexican Irish, but it comes off bad. Quinn’s fantastic, like I said before, and so is Ian Tracey as his sidekick (I wonder if the film were ever a juxtaposing of the two duos, with the primary leading the other down a reckless path… probably not). Dan Lauria and Forest Whitaker are funny as the prank cops….

Badham does a decent job throughout, helping with some of the endearing quality through his establishing shots (really, this one is a big complement). During the chase scenes and at the end, his work is the best. It’s dumb, “T.J. Hooker” action and he does it well. The big problem–Stakeout goes on about fifteen minutes too long–gets a quick fix, with Badham and director of photography John Seale (doing his best work of the film) create a really good ending to the film, which made me think about how Badham “movies” (I hate how he wants them to be called movies) ought to be seen, not watched.*

* The difference, of course, being in the viewer’s amount of control. An uncontrolled viewing is seen (theatrical or televised) and a controlled viewing (home video) is watched.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; written by Jim Kouf; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Tom Rolf; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Kouf and Cathleen Summers; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Det. Chris Lecce), Emilio Estevez (Det. Bill Reimers), Madeleine Stowe (Maria McGuire), Aidan Quinn (Richard ‘Stick’ Montgomery), Dan Lauria (Det. Phil Coldshank), Forest Whitaker (Det. Jack Pismo), Ian Tracey (Caylor Reese), Earl Billings (Captain Giles), Jackson Davies (FBI Agent Lusk) and J.J. Makaro (B.C).


The Stars Fell on Henrietta (1995, James Keach)

I wonder if, in the early 1970s, anyone could tell Robert Duvall was going to end up playing the scruffy-looking, ne’er do-well with the heart of gold over and over again. He doesn’t particularly act in The Stars Fell on Henrietta. He just shows up and does his thing. His scruffy-looking thing. There’s some attempt at giving him a character–he really doesn’t have any depth–but for the most part, that attempt has to do with his never-spoken love for his cat. The cat’s cute, but it’s hardly enough. There’s some nice stuff with Wayne Dehart, who plays his co-worker in the beginning of the second act (the acts are clearly defined in Stars, usually with fade-outs). It’s 1935 Texas, so Dehart being black and Duvall white gives their relationship some inherent interest, but Dehart’s real good, putting a lot out there, so much Duvall doesn’t have to do much, which is good… because, like I said, Duvall doesn’t do much in Stars.

But Dehart leaves and Duvall ends up with Aidan Quinn and his family, where most of the story and most of the problems lie. Quinn starts the film grumbling and for the first act, it seems like the grumble is his interpretation of the character. Once the grumbling goes away, Quinn is good. Frances Fisher plays his wife and she’s good, but her character’s hardly in it after a point, which is too bad because her performance is probably the best and her character had the most potential for drama. The film’s narrated from the present day–in some ways, not that narration, but in lots of others, it reminds of a really depressing Field of Dreams, especially since the film starts out with the narrator telling the audience everything is going to be bad in the end. For the first eighty minutes, it does too. One bad thing after another happens, so much so I was suspicious of every scene.

The Stars Fell on Henrietta is a pretty picture. It’s a Malpaso production, Clint Eastwood producing it (and I kept wondering how it would have been if he’d taken Duvall’s role), and there’s the wonderful Joel Cox editing and the perfect Henry Bumstead production design (startling, in fact). The non-Eastwood regulars are good too–David Benoit’s music is nice and Bruce Surtees does a good job with the cinematography, though he’s obviously not Jack N. Green… Director James Keach uses the prettiness–especially the music–to make up for what the screenplay doesn’t provide: good character relationships, an ending, humanity. Everything is nice and tidy and the film constantly ignores potential for rich drama, or just fast-forwards through it.

It’s an empty experience. The end credits rolled and I appreciated the fine score and couldn’t think of one thing the film showed me.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Keach; written by Philip Railsback; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Joel Cox; music by David Benoit; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Clint Eastwood and David Valdes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Duvall (Mr. Cox), Aidan Quinn (Don Day), Frances Fisher (Cora Day), Brian Dennehy (Big Dave), Lexi Randall (Beatrice Day) and Billy Bob Thornton (Roy).


The Assignment (1997, Christian Duguay)

Since it’s Robert Ludlum week here at The Stop Button (actually it’s not, these two were a coincidence), I watched The Assignment, which is an unofficial adaptation of Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy. Again, I read Ludlum back when I was in junior high–maybe early high school–and I remember seeing this film and wondering why it wasn’t credited to him, since it lifts the major twist in the books. Googling reveals no answer and I suppose it is possible The Assignment–coming out of Sony’s now defunct low budget wing, Triumph Films–might have passed under the radar. Or not. M. Night Shyamalan is renowned plagiarist and I don’t think he’s ever been publicly sued. But Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass has certainly seen this film, because he lifted his lauded car chase from it.

Christian Duguay never made it. It would have been hard, given he directed the first two Scanners sequels, but he’s an excellent director. I remember reading–back around the time either this film or Screamers came out–he used steadicam for every shot. Not the shaky steadicam, the “realism” steadicam, just steadicam. The shots have mobility and urgency. He also used CG to allow for interesting camera movements (like crawling down the Wailing Wall). He’s an excellent director. The Assignment’s script fails him, but Duguay is fantastic. There’s a ten or fifteen minute action scene in this film–a long chase from foot to car–and it’s brilliant, one of the finest sustained action scenes ever produced. But even his domestic directing is good. It’s because of this direction–and the acting, more on it in a sentence or two–it’s so obvious The Assignment could have been better. It could have been, with the right script, the Manhunter of espionage movies. Instead, it just shows the super-budgets of Matt Damon’s Bourne movies don’t make them better films.

Obviously, the difference between The Assignment and the Bourne duo is easily identifiable. The Assignment was made for a rational, thinking audience interested in character development and… narrative quality. The script is poor, not bad. There’s a difference. The acting in The Assignment finally reminded me why I like Aidan Quinn so much (I managed to finally get his wavering accent from Blink out of my head). Quinn is fantastic in this film and the role requires him to cover an incredible range of emotion. He’s just great. Ben Kingsley does a good job too, but it’s really Donald Sutherland who has the most fun. I’m not sure how “good” Sutherland’s performance is in The Assignment, but he’s an absolute joy to watch. An actress named Claudia Ferri–who’s in nothing, of course–is great as Quinn’s wife. The acting is so good and there are some dialogue I can’t believe was in the script, you feel like the actors just had to be improvising because it fit their acting so well.

This film is another one where some creative handling of the timeline would help–starting in the middle of the story, not going linear and explaining everything. To some degree, with Quinn playing two roles, they trick the viewer, but it’s not enough. There’s not enough of a hook, or at least as good of a hook if they’d jumbled the timeline. Even though The Assignment has the writing problems, it’s still worth seeing. It’d be worth seeing for either Duguay or the acting alone, but with both… again, all it really needed a good script polish….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Duguay; written by Dan Gordon and Sabi H. Shabtai; director of photography, David Franco; edited by Yves Langlois; music by Normand Corbeil; production designer, Michael Joy; produced by Tom Berry and Franco Battista; released by Triumph Films.

Starring Aidan Quinn (Annibal Ramirez/Carlos), Donald Sutherland (Jack Shaw), Ben Kingsley (Amos), Liliana Komorowska (Agnieska), Claudia Ferri (Maura Ramirez) and Celine Bonnier (Carla).


Blink (1994, Michael Apted)

Do you know how much a romantic, early morning mist, Brad Fiedel-music scored ending costs? More than Blink‘s got. What’s up with Fiedel never getting jobs? Guy’s great.

What’s funny (sad) is that I really thought Aidan Quinn was good in the film. He’s good in one scene, when his irritating “Chicago” accent isn’t going. James Remar’s in it a bit and he’s good, though he needs a haircut.

Oddly, I should have known how Blink was going to be… just looking at Dana Stevens’ excellent filmography, City of Angels and For Love of the Game. Bleech.

Michael Apted does an excellent job, particularly after the film gets into the last forty minutes. The first forty minutes are very concerned with making it a “Chicago” movie. This attention requires not only Michael Jordan footage, but a Cubs game as well. Apted being English, I can’t imagine who set the film in Chicago.

As for Madeleine Stowe.

Every once in a while here at the Stop Button, I lament the state of film. I complain that certain actors have disappeared, that certain actors have gone unappreciated. James Remar is a good example of that. Stowe took a four year break from film following Twelve Monkeys and she’s never recovered. She took another three year break after her first comeback in 1999. Now she’s doing DTV… Stowe’s absence from major film is a great loss. She really needs to do a Woody Allen picture. I think Woody would know how to use her. Woody or Clint. One of the two….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Apted; written by Dana Stevens; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Rick Shaine; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Dan Bishop; produced by David Blocker; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Madeleine Stowe (Emma Brody), Aidan Quinn (Detective John Hallstrom), James Remar (Thomas Ridgely), Peter Friedman (Dr. Ryan Pierce), Bruce A. Young (Lieutenant Mitchell), Laurie Metcalf (Candice) and Paul Dillon (Neal Book).


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