Ed Harris

Absolute Power (1997, Clint Eastwood)

Absolute Power has a number of narrative issues. Well, less narrative issues and more narrative slights. As the film enters the third act, director Eastwood and screenwriter William Goldman decide the audience has gotten enough out of the movie and it’s time to wrap things up. It’s a shame because the film goes into the third act at its high point.

The first thirty minutes of the movie have Eastwood playing an old man cat burglar who sees something he shouldn’t. There’s a little character establishment montage during the opening credits for Eastwood–he likes to sketch, he doesn’t know how to work a VCR, he’s solitary but still takes care of himself–then it’s into the break-in sequence, which leads to a really tough murder sequence. It goes on and on, getting worse and worse.

Then there’s a cover-up sequence, where Eastwood really shows off all cinematographer Jack N. Green is going to do with Absolute Power. Even with its issues, the film’s beautifully made, beautifully acted. Green’s photography, with its occasional soft focus, is stunning. Absolute Power’s entertaining because of the actors, but Green helps out a lot with presenting their performances. Because eventually everyone’s fighting for time.

You know, a better defined present action and subplots probably would’ve helped. Because everyone’s just present. Eastwood and Laura Linney, as his daughter, get some hints at his weak parenting, but it’s not like Linney’s got anything to do but be around for Eastwood and his thriller storyline. Same goes for cop Ed Harris. Well, eventually he gets to flirt with Linney a little and all of a sudden, it’s like Eastwood’s goal for Absolute Power is just for everyone to enjoy themselves. There’s so much charm in the scenes between Harris and Linney–and Harris and Eastwood–narrative slights don’t really matter.

But it’s also about ability. The other half of the film has Secret Service agents scrambling to cover up a Presidential indiscretion and some of these scenes aren’t the best. Goldman’s got to do a bunch of exposition, but not too much for anyone to ask logic questions. The acting gets it through–Judy Davis, Dennis Haysbert, Scott Glenn, Gene Hackman. All of them are phenomenal, but all of them come at their parts differently. And most of their scenes are together; Haysbert just waits. And Eastwood loves showing Haysbert’s patience. He’s got fewer lines than Glenn–as another Secret Service agent–but he makes more an impression. He’s terrifying. Glenn’s good, but sympathetic. Davis and Hackman both get to go wild; no one plays menace better than Hackman and it’s almost like Davis’s playing protege. It’s very helpful having that acting depth since there’s nothing but action or actions for them in the script.

E.G. Marshall’s good in a smaller part as a wealthy mover and shaker. He gets some of the film’s worst lines but Marshall just makes them work. Even in the third act, when Absolute Power is racing downhill to get finished as soon as it can, Marshall is patient in his performance. His deliberateness makes all the difference. Or, enough difference to keep things afloat until Eastwood can get to the incredibly gentle finish.

Awesome editing from Joel Cox. The thriller sequences are phenomenally cut. And Lennie Niehaus’s score is good. It does quite a bit of work throughout the film, though it can’t hold up the third act. Nothing can. It’s just too much all at once.

Eastwood, as an actor, gets some good scenes and then some fun ones. He and Linney are fantastic together–maybe the cutest thing about the film is how similar Linney and Eastwood seem after the film spends time with them. When it comes time for ominous line deliveries, they give them in the same way. Eastwood initially gets away with it because he’s Clint Eastwood, but by the end, they get away with it because she’s his kid and he’s her dad, after all.

Harris is fun. He plays great with his partner, Penny Johnson Jerald, who isn’t in it enough. Though almost no one is in Absolute Power enough. Not Jerald, not Davis, not Hackman, not Marshall. Especially not with how much story Goldman and Eastwood are telling. Again, they manage to get away with it, but it’s a rush. Goldman’s script is too spare, especially given Eastwood’s preference in the family drama over the thrills.

Absolute Power has that adaptation curse–too much content but not enough story; still, it’s masterfully produced, with rich performances.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the novel by David Baldacci; director of photography, Jack N. Green; edited by Joel Cox; music by Lennie Niehaus; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Eastwood and Karen S. Spiegel; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Luther Whitney), Ed Harris (Seth Frank), Laura Linney (Kate Whitney), Scott Glenn (Bill Burton), Dennis Haysbert (Tim Collin), Judy Davis (Gloria Russell), E.G. Marshall (Walter Sullivan), Melora Hardin (Christy Sullivan), Penny Johnson Jerald (Laura Simon), and Gene Hackman as the President of the United States.


Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley)

The first half of Glengarry Glen Ross is phenomenal. David Mamet’s screenplay is lightning fast during this section, moving its characters around, pairing them off for scenes or moments–the brevity is astounding. Half the movie is over and it feels like just a few minutes. Then the second half hits and the pace is still good, but the energy is different. It meanders. Apparently the only thing keeping director Foley going was having different locations and different camera setups–many questionably framed for pan and scan; in the second half of the film, set entirely on one set, Glengarry Glen Ross starts to fizzle. The actors keep it viable for as long as they can, but then it becomes clear Foley’s just composing for one actor, one performance, not all the actors, all the performances. The film never solidifies and it’s so fast, it’s almost over before it becomes clear Foley’s not going to bring it together. He instead relies on James Newton Howard’s peppy smooth jazz score. It’s never a good idea to rely on smooth jazz, peppy or not.

Every performance in Glengarry Glen Ross is outstanding. Foley’s problem isn’t giving the actors time to act, he does fine with that aspect of his directing. Sure, even in the first half, he isn’t directing their scenes perfectly, but he’s definitely giving them room to act. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Alec Baldwin. They’re all great. Pryce and Baldwin don’t have particularly great parts, but they’re great. Baldwin gets a big speech, which he nails. Pacino, Lemmon, Harris and Spacey get the meatier parts (Spacey the least, Harris and Pacino just through force). Lemmon’s the lead for most of the film. Only not so in the second half, which Mamet might be able to cover if Foley knew how to stage the second half. He avoids doing an adaptation of the play–Glengarry Glen Ross was a play first, also by Mamet–for the first half, only to be forced into it in the second half and have no idea how to do it. Arkin doesn’t get much meat, but he still turns in a great performance. The performances are impeccable.

And impeccable performances, along with strong dialogue, keep the film going for quite a while. There aren’t even any danger signs until Harris and Arkin’s subplot in the first half, when Howard E. Smith’s editing seems to be elongating and distracting their conversations instead of curating and appreciating them. Glengarry Glen Ross isn’t a mystery. There’s a mystery in it–sort of–and Foley stumbles when trying to integrate it. All the humanity in the film is from its actors essaying the screenplay. None of it comes from the filmmaking itself, which is a big problem.

Again, Pacino, Lemmon and Harris are all phenomenal. None of them have great characters to work with–they have some great material, but not great characters. As an example of excellent acting, Glengarry Glen Ross works. As a film? Not so much.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Foley; screenplay by David Mamet, based on his play; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Howard E. Smith; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Stanley R. Zupnik and Jerry Tokofsky; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Al Pacino (Ricky Roma), Jack Lemmon (Shelley Levene), Alec Baldwin (Blake), Alan Arkin (George Aaronow), Ed Harris (Dave Moss), Kevin Spacey (John Williamson) and Jonathan Pryce (James Lingk).


Creepshow (1982, George A. Romero)

Creepshow is an homage to 1950s horror comic books. Director Romero and writer Stephen King go out of their way to make it feel like you’re reading one of those comics. It’s about the anticipation. The terror isn’t promised, it’s inevitable. So watching Creepshow is about waiting for the kicker. For the most part–and certainly from a technical standpoint–the film delivers. Romero has these hyper-realistic effects but this overly stylized photography. Red for dark rumblings, blue for immediate danger. Initially, it just seems like Michael Gornick’s photography is too crisp, but it turns out to be Romero’s enthusiasm for the project. Creepshow is good, wholesome scary fun. Just with patricide, cannibalism, monsters, bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.

There are five stories in Creepshow. The longest runs thirty-five minutes and stars Fritz Weaver, Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau. It’s also where Creepshow loses its steam so I thought I’d cover it first. Weaver and Holbrook are college professors. Barbeau’s Holbrook’s cheap and unintellectual wife. Weaver is great, Holbrook is not. Barbeau tries but it’s a crap part. The segment cuts between Holbrook’s fantasizing about killing Barbeau and Weaver trying to contend with a monster. Real quick–Creepshow deals with its horror a little differently; Romero makes a monster movie. It’s very stylized, but it’s a monster movie. The scares have to do with the monsters themselves, not their actions. The monster design, from Tom Savini, and the monster actions, also Savini, are both great. Back to the segment. It’s great when it’s Weaver and janitor Don Keefer trying to figure out what’s in a crate. Once they find out, the problems start. It’s the least “comic book” of the segments and the one where Romero has the most trouble. It feels like a riff on a fifties sci-fi movie more than anything else. Holbrook doesn’t help things, of course.

Otherwise, the segments are pretty strong. Even the one where writer Stephen King plays a New England redneck is fine. Not because of King’s performance–he’s terrible–but because of Savini’s effects and Romero’s direction. Great editing on the segment from Pasquale Buba too.

The best segment is probably the one with Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Gaylen Ross. It’s the third one in the film, after Romero, King and Gornick have established the film’s style and its devices. It’s the most comfortable mix of horror film and horror comic book. Danson’s sleeping with Ross, who’s Nielsen’s wife. Nielsen decides to torture Danson. Complications and some extravagant effects work ensue. Romero’s clearly enthusiastic about the effects work in Creepshow. He wants to showcase it and to present it properly, which requires a lot of technical ingenuity. There’s some excellent filmmaking in Creepshow.

The first segment in the film, with Ed Harris, Carrie Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Warner Shook and Elizabeth Regan, has a lot of excellent filmmaking too. Romero mixes a lot of horror standards–particularly the old dark house–to create a really effective opener to the film. Now, the film already has had a prologue with Tom Atkins as a crappy dad throwing up his kid’s Creepshow comic, so the first actual story segment just goes to establish Romero and King know what they’re doing.

Heck, they can even get past King’s acting in the second segment.

The last segment has E.G. Marshall as a recluse, germ-phobe capitalist fighting a cockroach infestation. Marshall is great, the cockroaches are gross and effective, but it lacks the energy to jumpstart Creepshow after the Weaver segment.

There’s a lot of good acting. Weaver, Nielsen, Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Danson, Keefer (whose mild doofus suggests just how good the one with King acting could have been with a better actor).

Solid music from John Harrison. It gets a little much at times, but it’s solid.

Creepshow is a lot of fun. Except when Romero and King forget they’re supposed to be having fun and subject the film to way too much whiney Hal Holbrook and harpy Adrienne Barbeau.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George A. Romero; written by Stephen King; director of photography, Michael Gornick; edited by Michael Spolan, Romero, Pasquale Buba and Paul Hirsch; music by John Harrison; production designer, Cletus Anderson; produced by Richard P. Rubinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Carrie Nye (Sylvia Grantham), Jon Lormer (Nathan Grantham), Ed Harris (Hank Blaine), Elizabeth Regan (Cass Blaine), Viveca Lindfors (Aunt Bedelia), Warner Shook (Richard Grantham), Stephen King (Jordy Verrill), Ted Danson (Harry Wentworth), Leslie Nielsen (Richard Vickers), Gaylen Ross (Becky Vickers), Hal Holbrook (Henry Northrup), Adrienne Barbeau (Wilma Northrup), Fritz Weaver (Dexter Stanley), Don Keefer (Mike the Janitor), Robert Harper (Charlie Gereson) and E.G. Marshall (Upson Pratt).


Snowpiercer (2013, Bong Joon-ho)

Snowpiercer is relentless. There are three quiet moments; I’m not estimating, I’m counting. The final quiet moment comes with some commentary on the earlier quiet moments. The relentlessness is appropriate, as the film concerns a train traveling through a frozen wasteland housing the last survivors of the human race. It’s a post-apocalyptic rumination on remorse and violence. Director Bong treats the viewer as a passenger on the train, forcing the viewer’s perspective through protagonist Chris Evans.

At times, the film seems episodic, which is only appropriate as the first act comes to a close and Evans–along with his fellow insurgents (they’re the poor people in the rear of the train)–discovers the train’s cars are all different. So it’s appropriate the journey through those cars is going to be different. Vignettes might be a strong description, but maybe not. Especially not when considering how Bong lets supporting characters’ subplots play out in background.

The casting is flawless. While Tilda Swinton spectacularly chews through all of her scenes, there’s great work from Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Jamie Bell and Ewen Bremner. The three leads–Evans, Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung–are all fantastic. Song only speaks Korean, but is excellent when just walking around. It’s a reluctant leading man performance from Evans; he, and all the other actors, show their characters’ sufferings without exposition.

Snowpiercer is also a visual feast. Bong’s presentation this train and its passengers is a constant surprise.

It’s a hard film; Bong doesn’t offer any quarter, neither does his cast.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bong Joon-ho; screenplay by Bong and Kelly Masterson, based on a screen story by Bong and the graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette; director of photography, Hong Kyung-pyo; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Ondrej Nekvasil; produced by Jeong Tae-sung, Lee Tae-hun, Park Chan-wook and Steven Nam; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Chris Evans (Curtis), Song Kang-ho (Namgoong Minsu), Tilda Swinton (Mason), Jamie Bell (Edgar), Octavia Spencer (Tanya), Ewen Bremner (Andrew), Ko Ah-sung (Yona), Alison Pill (Teacher), Vlad Ivanov (Franco the Elder), Luke Pasqualino (Grey), John Hurt (Gilliam) and Ed Harris (Wilford).


Apollo 13 (1995, Ron Howard)

While Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon’s characters are the only ones in danger in Apollo 13, they remain calm for almost the entire runtime. There’s no point to panicking, something Hanks points out in dialogue. Instead, director Howard focuses on an exceptional assortment of character actors–as the NASA Mission Control–for the dramatic parts. Even Kathleen Quinlan, as Hanks’s wife, has to keep it together for the most part.

Otherwise, regardless of how it actually happened, the film’s dramatics wouldn’t work. Apollo 13 isn’t a disaster movie, it’s a science and engineering drama. Howard creates a genre with the film; I don’t think anyone has attempted to follow in his footsteps.

There’s no history synopsis at the start, so unless an unknowing viewer paid attention to the opening titles, the finish might be a surprise. Howard has to keep up the tension for both kinds of viewers, informed and not. He and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill probably had a hell of a time putting the film together; they make it appear seamless and organically flowing

Wondrous photography from Dean Cundey and fine music from James Horner assist.

Hanks and Bacon have the most to do, with Paxton and the earthbound Gary Sinise providing sturdy support. Great work from Quinlan. Ed Harris binds the Mission Control scenes.

Of the outstanding character actors, Loren Dean, Clint Howard, Gabriel Jarret and Christian Clemenson stand out.

Apollo 13 is assured, masterful work all around… but especially from Howard.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert, based on a book by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by James Horner; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Jim Lovell), Bill Paxton (Fred Haise), Kevin Bacon (Jack Swigert), Gary Sinise (Ken Mattingly), Ed Harris (Gene Kranz), Kathleen Quinlan (Marilyn Lovell), Jean Speegle Howard (Blanch Lovell), Tracy Reiner (Mary Haise), David Andrews (Pete Conrad), Chris Ellis (Deke Slayton), Joe Spano (NASA Director), Xander Berkeley (Henry Hurt), Marc McClure (Glynn Lunney), Ben Marley (John Young), Clint Howard (EECOM White), Loren Dean (EECOM Arthur), Tom Wood (EECOM Gold), Googy Gress (RETRO White), Patrick Mickler (RETRO Gold), Ray McKinnon (FIDO White), Max Grodénchik (FIDO Gold), Christian Clemenson (Dr. Chuck), Brett Cullen (CAPCOM 1), Ned Vaughn (CAPCOM 2), Andy Milder (GUIDO White), Geoffrey Blake (GUIDO Gold), Wayne Duvall (LEM Controller White), Jim Meskimen (TELMU White), Joseph Culp (TELMU Gold), John Short (INCO White), Ben Bode (INCO Gold), Todd Louiso (FAO White), Gabriel Jarret (GNC White), Christopher John Fields (Booster White), Kenneth White (Grumman Rep), James Ritz (Ted) and Andrew Lipschultz (Launch Director).


The Rock (1996, Michael Bay)

I’m loathe to say it, but The Rock isn’t bad. Its good qualities are questionable, but it’s not bad. Besides some of the acting, what’s best about the film is how it fuses the action and adventure genres. Bay does his action stuff in traditional adventure settings—there’s a setting straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but Bay plays it as action and it works.

What doesn’t work—I’ll finish with what does to be positive—is, first and foremost, the writing. Most of the one-liners flop. There are occasional decent moments, like when Sean Connery’s character shows his army experience, but there are also the terrible scenes with Ed Harris. Every one of them is awful. Harris tries, but there’s nothing he can do. His voice cracks during one tense scene and it sort of sums up his entire attempt at essaying the character. He just can’t sell it.

As the lead, Nicolas Cage has some problems. He’s appealing in his first Hollywood manic role, but not quite good. But he’s irreplaceable.

Oh, I forgot the other bad stuff—some of the acting is terrible. Gregory Sporleder, Tony Todd and Bokeem Woodbine give awful performances.

Then there’s the score. Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer make some terrible music together.

Great supporting work from David Morse, John Spencer and Stuart Wilson. Bay knows how to fill a room with character actors and make it work.

It could be better, but also a lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; screenplay by David Weisberg, Douglas Cook and Mark Rosner, based on a story by Weisberg and Cook; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer; production designer, Michael White; produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Sean Connery (John Patrick Mason), Nicolas Cage (Dr. Stanley Goodspeed), Ed Harris (Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel), John Spencer (FBI Director James Womack), David Morse (Major Tom Baxter), William Forsythe (Special Agent Ernest Paxton), Stuart Wilson (General Al Kramer), Michael Biehn (Commander Charles Anderson), Vanessa Marcil (Carla Pestalozzi), Claire Forlani (Jade Angelou), John C. McGinley (Marine Captain Hendrix), Gregory Sporleder (Captain Frye), Tony Todd (Captain Darrow), Bokeem Woodbine (Sergeant Crisp), Raymond Cruz (Sergeant Rojas), John Laughlin (General Peterson), and Philip Baker Hall (Chief Justice).


The Abyss (1989, James Cameron), the special edition

Running almost three hours, the special edition of The Abyss manages to be too long in an interesting way. It forgets its story. There’s about an hour there with the valiant undersea oil workers battling the psychotic military man–there’s fight scenes and chase scenes and drama scenes and all sorts of scenes… just nothing about the movie’s actual story, which is something to do with space aliens saving the human race from itself. Cameron’s thesis is incredibly naive and also a fantastic cop-out. Thanks to some newsreel footage of Americans being asked about being on the brink with the Soviets, its clear Cameron puts all the blame for xenophobia on the military. It’s a very, very goofy move… and wholly lifted from 2010 (I think from both the book and the movie).

But The Abyss is highly derivative. Cameron borrows storytelling techniques from all the finest sources (Irwin Allen mostly) and comes up with a rather amusing, well-acted undersea action melodrama. It’s perfectly fine. Well, except Michael Biehn. As the nutso Navy SEAL, Biehn’s supposed to be suffering from the bends and, therefore, not responsible for going insane. Except, with a few exceptions, Cameron never goes and makes Biehn anything but a nutso jerk even before the insanity sets in. And Biehn doesn’t even try to work it in as a subtext. He’s the movie villain. He’s not all together bad, but he’s not good.

Almost every performance is excellent, otherwise (except Christopher Murphy, who Cameron appears to have cast from a weightlifting advertisement). In particular, Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Both are good throughout, but it’s really at the end when they excel, when they’re acting by themselves. Harris can’t talk and does everything with his eyes, Mastrantonio can’t move and does everything in close-up with her voice. Spectacular acting from the two of them, so much so, when they finally to get back to regular scenes… Cameron’s script is a real letdown. Supporting-wise, Todd Graff, Kimberly Scott, Leo Burmester are all great in the most vocal (and funny) roles. John Bedford Lloyd is also good, in a much quieter part.

Cameron’s direction of groups is impressive, even if the editing doesn’t always match. He gives everyone something to do and, as he has lots of group shots, it makes The Abyss a congenial experience (which is why it doesn’t feel like three hours).

But the movie fails–thanks to Cameron’s goofy ending–when it should succeed. For a few moments, Cameron gets close to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and then manages to screw it all up with his pedestrian plotting. He cut two scripts together–Ed Harris vs. Rambo underwater, underwater aliens make their presence known–and somehow, in three hours, didn’t achieve either.

I need to take a moment to comment on Alan Silvestri’s highly derivative (of his own work) score. There’s a lot of good material, but then there’s a lot of mediocre. And maybe even some bad.

So it fits The Abyss well, I suppose.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Cameron; director of photography, Mikael Salomon; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Joel Goodman, Howard E. Smith and Steven Quale; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Van Ling; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ed Harris (Bud), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Lindsey), Michael Biehn (Coffey), Leo Burmester (Catfish), Todd Graff (Hippy), John Bedford Lloyd (Jammer), J.C. Quinn (Sonny), Kimberly Scott (One Night), Captain Kidd Brewer Jr. (Lew Finler), George Robert Klek (Wilhite), Christopher Murphy (Schoenick), Adam Nelson (Ensign Monk), Dick Warlock (Dwight Perry), Jimmie Ray Weeks (Leland McBride), J. Kenneth Campbell (DeMarco), Ken Jenkins (Kirkhill) and Chris Elliott (Bendix).


Gone Baby Gone (2007, Ben Affleck)

There’s one singularly profound moment in Gone Baby Gone, when Affleck plus vieux has one of those filmic moments directors rarely have. He takes a broken, melodramatic scene and makes it sublime. It’s a wonderful moment, coming just after the film’s second ending and before the third and fourth. The film has a lengthy list of pros and a lengthy list of cons. The cons have a lot to do with the script–specifically, I’m assuming, the particulars of adapting a novel. There’s also Affleck’s handling of Michelle Monaghan, who might have been a main character in the novel, but is a fourth wheel here. But the major problem is Affleck the filmmaker–not even the director, because Affleck does a great job–because he doesn’t seem to understand to make a film in this genre great, it has to accept it’s in the genre. Gone Baby Gone is, everything aside, an investigative mystery. Regardless of who is investigating, regardless of how the intricate the crime… it’s an investigative mystery. And Affleck refuses to label it and spends a lot of energy trying to distance the film from itself.

That error aside–I’m going to deal with Monaghan now, just so I can have a couple paragraphs of praise. Monaghan is important in the first act, almost absent in the second, and thrown in for effect in the third. When the film started, I thought it was going to be a gritty Thin Man. It’s not. The film’s about Affleck plus jeune being Catholic and understanding himself. The film skirts the Catholicism, which is a real mistake, because it dictates lots of important decisions. As for understanding himself, a lot of it is in relation to Ed Harris’s character and, for a lot of the film, it’s about Affleck and Ed Harris… not Affleck and Monaghan. She’s part of the character’s ground situation, not an active mover in the story, at least as Affleck plus vieux‘s script sets her up. So she’s a real problem third act. Monaghan’s good, really impressive, but she almost could have gone unbilled.

Casey Affleck is, no surprise, excellent in the film. He holds his own against Harris, who’s turning in some of his best work in recent years here (Harris gets the genre, however). Also excellent are Titus Welliver and Amy Ryan. Ryan’s no surprise either and Welliver’s a good actor, but he’s better than I expected when I saw his name on the credits. His role’s one of the more complicated and he does great work. Running through the laundry list, Amy Madigan, Edi Gathegi and John Ashton, all good. Morgan Freeman is severely underwhelming. It’s a perfectly fine, boring Morgan Freeman performance. It’s getting hard to remember his great acting… back when it was electrifying, instead of Bromo-Seltzer.

Technically, great John Toll photography, great score from Harry Gregson-Williams.

A sign of great future potential from the Affleck brothers. Hopefully next time, Affleck plus vieux won’t be trying so hard to prove he’s legitimate.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Affleck; screenplay by Affleck and Aaron Stockard, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane; director of photography, John Toll; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Affleck, Sean Bailey, Alan Ladd Jr. and Danton Rissner; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Casey Affleck (Patrick Kenzie), Michelle Monaghan (Angie Gennaro), Morgan Freeman (Capt. Jack Doyle), Ed Harris (Det. Remy Bressant), John Ashton (Det. Nick Poole), Amy Ryan (Helene McCready), Amy Madigan (Bea McCready), Titus Welliver (Lionel McCready), Michael K. Williams (Devin), Edi Gathegi (Cheese), Mark Margolis (Leon Trett), Madeline O’Brien (Amanda McCready), Slaine (Bubba Rogowski), Trudi Goodman (Roberta Trett), Matthew Maher (Corwin Earle) and Jill Quigg (Dottie).


A History of Violence (2005, David Cronenberg)

There’s something about A History of Violence from the first scene, something about the way the titles become part of the motel exterior. It’s a nice long tracking shot from Cronenberg, with a great (small part though) performance from Stephen McHattie. After the opening, Cronenberg spends a lot of time introducing Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello and family. They live in a Hollywood-ized version of a small midwestern town (where everyone looks out for one another, where Bello has a son she had when she was eleven)–it’s a never never land, which is fine, because Cronenberg’s dealing with the role of violence in films here. He manages to make all the commentary on it he wants, while never once letting the characters slip from the most important position.

The film succeeds because of Mortensen and Bello. Bello’s good, but Mortensen is amazing. It’s been a while since the last time I read he was finally going to be big and Violence doesn’t show he can be a leading man… it shows he can act beautifully. The interesting thing about how Cronenberg treats Mortensen… he’s never anything but the protagonist. He never loses the viewer’s identification. Even when he’s scaring the hell out of everyone around him, he’s still the good guy. Because it’s a Hollywood movie. It’s not in the sense one could see Brad Pitt in the lead, but Cronenberg knows very well he can’t comment on Hollywood’s approach to violence without making the film Hollywood.

There is some distraction, given the high schoolers all being mid-twenties or later. I’m guessing it doesn’t have to do with Cronenberg commenting on… the Beach Party movies, but rather… well, regular Hollywood casting practices.

Cronenberg offsets the violence and the implications of it and Mortensen and Bello’s respective inner turmoil with a couple fantastic performances. First, Ed Harris. Harris plays a creepy mobster and he’s a joy to watch, but it’s not a stretch for him. Ed Harris doesn’t usually play creepy mobsters, but it’s not something one wouldn’t expect to see from him. William Hurt, on the other hand, has his flashiest role ever as a funny, posh mobster… seeing Hurt in this kind of role (and forgetting, had the film been made fifteen years earlier, he probably would have been turning down the lead) is joyous. He can do anything, but so rarely does. His scenes are just indescribably great.

Screenwriter Josh Olson, with a pointedly less than notable (to be polite) previous filmography, provides Cronenberg with the material he needs to tell a complicated story. In many ways, it’s like Frank Capra does a mob movie… with composer Howard Shore, who can alternate without any difficulty between the personal and dramatic scenes, setting a mood for the film I can’t really describe.

However, it all rests on Mortensen. And he succeeds.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Cronenberg; written by Josh Olson, based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Chris Bender and J.C. Spink; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Viggo Mortensen (Tom Stall), Maria Bello (Edie Stall), William Hurt (Richie Cusack), Ed Harris (Carl Fogarty), Ashton Holmes (Jack Stall), Heidi Hayes (Sarah Stall), Stephen McHattie (Leland Jones), Greg Bryk (Billy Orser) and Peter MacNeill (Sheriff Sam Carney).


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