Gwyneth Paltrow

Emma (1996, Douglas McGrath)

Emma keeps misplacing things. For a long stretches, it misplaces second-billed Toni Collette (who goes from being the subject of the first half to an afterthought in the most of the second half to just a plot foil in the third act). There’s also lead Gwyneth Paltrow’s painting. The film opens with Paltrow’s paintings of her friends, home, and familiar places, which get used again to identify locations for a bit in the first act, and then the painting becomes a plot point… but then it’s gone, both from the narrative (which could make sense with the plot point if you’re being generous) and the film’s visuals. It’s indicative of Emma’s greatest problem—even greater than Paltrow not really being up to snuff for the lead and often mugging her way through scenes, her costars all doing the double duty of load-bearing and acting—is director McGrath. He’s got some ideas, but he’s rarely consistent with them (outside he and cinematographer Ian Wilson’s astoundingly ill-advised attempt at “natural” lighting), and even if he were… he doesn’t have the chops to pull them off. Not in directing actors (there are some rather oddly bad performances throughout), not in composing shots, and definitely not in establishing a narrative distance. Particularly bad form on the last one, as McGrath adapted the Jane Austen novel himself.

The film’s got two competing narrations, one from Paltrow and one from what we assume is one character but is actually another because getting in a pointless wink is more important than verisimilitude. But the misleading narration—which only works because the supporting cast is so thinly drawn—is just a third act problem. Paltrow’s narration, which kicks off in earnest somewhere in the second half, is from the character’s diary. The diary doesn’t come into play until well after the narration is established and has very little interesting to convey. It’s good writing (so presumably from the source novel) but it doesn’t add anything to the film because the film’s already established itself without needing diary or narration. McGrath’s constantly introducing elements the film’s already shown it can do without. Sometimes they’re competent, sometimes they’re piddling.

Ewan McGregor, for instance, is piddling.

McGregor plays Paltrow’s eventual de facto suitor. So, the film starts with Paltrow just having succeeded in marrying off governess Greta Scacchi to local widow James Cosmo and deciding she’s going to become a matchmaker. Her next subjects? Vicar Alan Cummings (who’s more middling than piddling) and aforementioned second-billed Collette. Now, Collette doesn’t have any money and Cummings is out for a rich dowry only Paltrow thinks love will conquer all. Except the condescending, gently demeaning way Paltrow treats Collette is duplicated in how the film treats her. Collette, and many of the other women in the film, are often used for laughs. Weird since Paltrow getting her eventual comeuppance involves her punching down, you’d think McGrath, adapted the novel, would be able to do something like foreshadowing… but he cannot because he does a poor job of adapting the novel. Seriously; you get done with Emma and don’t even wonder if you should read the novel. Given the film’s from the renewed era of Austen adaptations… it ought to at least encourage readership.

Anyway.

Eventually McGregor shows up as Cosmo’s son and, presumably, Paltrow’s intended. Except he’s playing the part like he’s in a bad Muppet Jane Austen’s Emma and not just because of the hair. In some ways he perfectly compliments Paltrow’s performance; they both mug for the camera, he just does it with more volume, more bluster. Their similarities even potentially become a plot point but not really because of the way McGrath directs the scene, which… is again the biggest problem with the film. McGrath’s well-meaning enough in his direction, just inept with it. And when he does try to show flourish, usually with a silly camera move—one does have to wonder about cinematographer Wilson’s agency—it ends up silly at best.

There are some okay supporting performances: Jeremy Northam’s fine as Paltrow’s male friend, though there’s a way too big performance differential between the two of them and never the right chemistry, Collette’s good, especially given the circumstances, Sophie Thompson’s probably the best, as the woman Paltrow meanest girls. Sacchi’s all right. Cosmo mugs. Denys Hawthorne, as Paltrow’s father, is literal scenery. Juliet Stevenson, as a second half punchline, does a lot better than she should given the part and the direction.

Not great editing from Lesley Walker doesn’t help things. Rachel Portman’s score has its moments but also the ones where it seems more appropriate for an ostentatious adventure picture, which then just introduces the false promise of personality to the filmmaking and what could be, if only McGrath had the chops.

The third act’s particularly disappointing as all it really needs is some narrative sincerity. It doesn’t even need to have Paltrow step up… though I guess it does make some sense how McGrath then takes the movie away from her. It’s like he gives her a vote of no confidence after he’s just made a two hour movie of her.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Douglas McGrath; screenplay by McGrath, based on the novel by Jane Austen; director of photography, Ian Wilson; edited by Lesley Walker; music by Rachel Portman; production designer, Michael Howells; costume designer, Ruth Myers; produced by Patrick Cassavetti and Steven Haft; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow (Emma Woodhouse), Toni Collette (Harriet Smith), Alan Cumming (Mr. Elton), Ewan McGregor (Frank Churchill), Jeremy Northam (George Knightley), Greta Scacchi (Mrs. Weston), Juliet Stevenson (Mrs. Elton), Polly Walker (Jane Fairfax), Sophie Thompson (Miss Bates), James Cosmo (Mr. Weston), Denys Hawthorne (Mr. Woodhouse), and Phyllida Law (Mrs. Bates).


Seven (1995, David Fincher)

Seven is a gorgeous film. It’s often a really stupid film, but it’s a gorgeous film. Even when it’s being stupid, it’s usually gorgeous. Director Fincher has a beautiful precision to his composition; he works great with photographer Darius Khondji, editor Richard Francis-Bruce and composer Howard Shore (about half the time with Shore). Seven is a visually harrowing experience. Shame the narrative breaks down halfway through when Andrew Kevin Walker’s already problematic script shifts leading man duties to Brad Pitt (from Morgan Freeman). It’s not just Pitt’s inability to lead the film, it also gets really dumb once they use the secret FBI database to find their bad guy. Fincher spends a lot of time setting up the authenticity of his hellish American city. When Seven starts flushing that verisimilitude down the proverbial toilet, well… it splatters on everyone, most unfortunately Freeman.

Freeman’s great in the film. He can’t do much in the scenes where he inexplicably plays sidekick to Pitt, who’s really bad at this particular role. While Pitt doesn’t have any chemistry with wife Gwyneth Paltrow, she doesn’t have any chemistry with anyone. Sure, her part is horrifically thin, but she’s still not good. Her scenes bonding with Freeman are painful. It’s good production designer Arthur Max went out of his way to include frequent interesting signage in the backgrounds because otherwise Paltrow’s big monologue wouldn’t be as tolerable. Even Freeman can’t make that scene work.

There’s some decent acting from R. Lee Ermey. It’s strange how well Fincher and editor Francis-Bruce do with some performances and how badly they do with others. Especially since the second half is just a star vehicle for the completely underwhelming Pitt. But there’s also this interrogation sequence (a very, very stupid one as far as cop movie logic goes, but Seven laughs at reasonable cop movie logic time and again) where Pitt’s interrogating Michael Massee and Freeman’s interrogating Leland Orser. Orser’s awful, but clearly going for what Fincher and Walker want. Massee’s great in his few moments, the editing on his side. Sure, Massee’s acting opposite Pitt, but the editing lets him have his scene, it doesn’t give it to Pitt.

Later on in the film, when Pitt’s having his big intellectual showdown with Kevin Spacey (who does wonders with a terribly written part), Fincher and Francis-Bruce let Pitt have the scene. They really should. One feels bad for Spacey, acting opposite such a vacuum. Pitt’s far better in the first half of the film, whining about being Freeman’s subordinate; he lets his hair do a lot of the acting in those scenes. His frosted blond tips give the better performance.

It’s a beautifully directed film. Fincher’s excellent at whatever the film needs–Freeman sulking around because he’s a lonely old cop and it’s what lonely old cops do, Pitt doing a chase sequence, even John C. McGinley’s glorified cameo as the SWAT commander has some good procedural sequences–but he doesn’t actually have a real vision for it. He takes a little here, takes a little there. It ends with an inexplicable nod to film noir and Casablanca. It’s dumb. Because Walker’s script, in addition to often being bad, is often dumb. It needed a good rewrite and far better performances in Pitt and Paltrow’s roles.

Oh, and the nameless American city bit? That choice was stupid too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by Andrew Kevin Walker; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Arthur Max; produced by Arnold Kopelson and Phyllis Carlyle; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Brad Pitt (Mills), Morgan Freeman (Somerset), Gwyneth Paltrow (Tracy), Kevin Spacey (John), R. Lee Ermey (Police Captain), John C. McGinley (California), Richard Schiff (Mark Swarr) and Richard Roundtree (District Attorney Martin Talbot).


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Iron Man 3 (2013, Shane Black)

Iron Man 3 feels a lot like the end of the series, which isn’t a bad thing–Robert Downey Jr. does the hero’s journey thing quite well–but director Black handles it oddly. After spending the entire movie pairing Downey with buddies, whether love interest Gwyneth Paltrow, sidekicks Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau, his computer and even an adorable little kid, Downey finishes the movie by himself.

But he’s just learned he can’t get by without a little help from his friends.

Anyway, it’s a stumble after an incredibly entertaining couple hours. Even when the film’s being serious–and sometimes even frightening (the villains are quite good)–it’s always a lot of fun. Downey and Paltrow are wonderful together, as usual, and Black never lets it get too somber. The end credits are self-congratulatory in the best way (if playing into the series finale thing a little much).

Cheadle doesn’t have a lot to do–Iron Man 3 could be a lot longer; more movie would plug most of its plot holes (besides Downey going from experienced marksman to novice in twenty minutes)–but he’s good. Ditto for Rebecca Hall as an ex-girlfriend. She and Paltrow get nowhere near enough time together.

The big surprises are Ben Kingsley as the supervillain and Guy Pearce as a business rival. Kingsley’s excellent, but Pearce’s spellbinding. He walks off with the movie. He alone makes it worth seeing.

The only real bad spot is Brian Tyler’s crappy score.

Otherwise, it rocks.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Shane Black; screenplay by Drew Pearce and Black, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Peter S. Elliot and Jeffrey Ford; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Studios.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Don Cheadle (Colonel James Rhodes), Guy Pearce (Aldrich Killian), Rebecca Hall (Maya Hansen), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), James Badge Dale (Savin), William Sadler (President Ellis), Ty Simpkins (Harley Keener), Miguel Ferrer (Vice President Rodriguez) and Ben Kingsley (The Mandarin).


The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon)

For some inexplicable reason, partway through The Avengers, director Whedon and his cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, decide to switch over to really bad DV. The entire movie might be DV, but the middle section is painfully obvious. With Tom Hiddleston’s British machinations, it feels like the biggest, strangest (and possibly worst) “Masterpiece Theatre” ever.

While Whedon’s responsible for a lot of the film’s problems–the lousy first act, the utter absence of character development, some of the least ambitious direction in motion picture history–some of the problems came with the project. Sam Jackson isn’t just ludicrous, he’s bad. Scarlett Johansson as a Russian? And a super spy? It’s absurd.

But Whedon doesn’t give his better actors much to do either. Both Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. meander for the first half, though Evans is a little better (Downey recovers in the second half). Mark Ruffalo does better. Chris Hemsworth barely makes an impression; his appearance feels contractually obligated more than anyone else’s.

The movie does come together eventually though and Whedon does come up with some really funny scenes. He starts the movie incompetently small and then brings in the spectacle. The spectacle works, regardless of his direction, it’s just too bad The Avengers isn’t a cohesive work.

Hiddleston’s pretty good as the only non-CG villain and Clark Gregg does great supporting work. Jeremy Renner’s minuscule presence is inconsequential; Cobie Smulders is terrible.

Alan Silvestri’s score is dreadful.

But, as I said, The Avengers spectacle does entertain. Eventually.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Joss Whedon; screenplay by Whedon, based on a story by Zak Penn and Whedon and comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Seamus McGarvey; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, James Chinlund; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Studios.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner / The Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton / Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), Stellan Skarsgård (Selvig), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts).


Iron Man 2 (2010, Jon Favreau)

Even with its problems, Iron Man 2 is leagues better than the original.

There’s some awkward plotting to catch the viewer up with the characters and it all makes for a wonderfully boring superhero movie.

That open’s a showcase for Downey’s acting abilities, given he’s on a slow burn as everything around him explodes–for the first half, there’s not much Iron Man, but lots of villain stuff with Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell, plus the introduction of Scarlett Johansson and “return” of Don Cheadle.

And when it does finally catch fire–even with the more ludicrous plot elements–it’s fantastic. It’s a shame it ends when it does, since it introduces so much great material for the actors to work with.

As far as actors… Downey’s great, Rourke’s great… Rockwell’s a little toned down–he’s been a lot more dynamic in other stuff–and, finally, someone realized Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow do a great Nick and Nora together and let them.

Unfortunately, there are other actors. Cheadle’s okay. It’s never believable he and Downey are friends though (it wasn’t in the first one with Terrence Howard, so no biggie). Johansson’s infinitely bland, which is better than her normal awful (regardless of her acting, her fight scene has some great choreography). Samuel L. Jackson is a joke, one the filmmakers don’t seem to be in on.

It’s a lot of fun and it’s got some actual content, which really surprised me.

It’s a shame about John Debney’s laughable score though.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Favreau; screenplay by Justin Theroux, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Richard Pearson and Dan Lebental; music by John Debney; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Mickey Rourke (Ivan Vanko), Don Cheadle (Rhodey), Scarlett Johansson (Natalie), Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Garry Shandling (Senator Stern), Jon Favreau (Happy) and John Slattery (Howard Stark).


The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)

The Royal Tenenbaums is a profound examination of the human condition. It’s hard to think about Tenenbaums, which Anderson made as a precious object–he tends to put the actors on the right and fill the left side of the frame with exactly placed sundries, sometimes it’s the carefully placed minutiae, but he usually puts those items on either side of a centrally placed actor–as a character piece. The film tells the story of specific, highly fictional characters (I don’t think I’ve ever used highly to modify fictional before) in a very specific place–it’s New York, but it’s not New York. It’s an otherworldly setting. There are no “normal” people in the film until the end, and even then it’s questionable….

Watching Tenenbaums, the only thing I could think of as a comparison was something a writing professor once told one of my classmates. The student asked–after we just got through reading an interview with Faulkner–if he could write science fiction. The professor said sure, just as long as it was about the things (the human heart in conflict with itself, others and its environment) Faulkner had been talking about. The Royal Tenenbaums, with the meticulous sets, the strict composition and the exclusive characters, is like really good science fiction. The relationship between Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow (adoptive siblings in love) is not a Hollywood standard. Anderson and Owen Wilson’s script somehow makes such elements moving, but still funny (maybe not so much Luke Wilson and Paltrow, who are sort of the film’s protagonists–definitely the relationship between Gene Hackman and Danny Glover though).

Even Ben Stiller, who has the film’s easiest role (and gets the easiest out, which I always hold against him at the beginning of the film but never by the end), is irreplaceable. Stiller takes a backseat to Grant Rosenmeyer and Jonah Meyerson (as his sons); their interactions with Hackman are a much funnier way to spend running time, but the film still pulls Stiller in by the end, giving him one great moment in the film.

It’s incredible people–critics, the Academy Awards–didn’t recognize Hackman for this performance, because it’s the closest thing he’s ever done to a slapstick role and he’s perfect in it. It’s a magnificent performance, full of life–every time Hackman stops talking, there’s an anticipation for what he’s going to say next… the film’s a wonderful viewing experience, even after the drama takes over.

The way Anderson and Owen Wilson approach the drama is interesting. It isn’t the climax, which is a more comedic moment, it’s a little while before (I wonder if they used the same formula in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore–I know I should remember). Tenenbaums is so good it’s hard to write about, but five or six hundred words also can’t cover it all. I might never get around to mentioning the use of music–like the instrumental “Hey Jude” at the open or the Van Morrison at the close. I can’t remember it all.

Anjelica Huston’s great, Danny Glover’s great (why he doesn’t get more eclectic roles like this one I don’t understand), Paltrow and Luke Wilson are wonderful together–see, they deserve a few hundred words just themselves–and I haven’t even gotten to the narration read by Alec Baldwin.

I remember, going to see The Life Aquatic, wondering if Anderson could top Tenenbaums. He never will./p>

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Royal Tenenbaum), Anjelica Huston (Etheline Tenenbaum), Ben Stiller (Chas Tenenbaum), Gwyneth Paltrow (Margot Tenenbaum), Luke Wilson (Richie Tenenbaum), Owen Wilson (Eli Cash), Bill Murray (Raleigh St. Clair), Danny Glover (Henry Sherman), Seymour Cassel (Dusty) and Kumar Pallana (Pagoda); narrated by Alec Baldwin.


Iron Man (2008, Jon Favreau)

Iron Man is a qualified success. Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic throughout–the movie’s greatest strength is how much screen time he gets–and Jon Favreau does really well with the Iron Man scenes and the action scenes in general (he does terrible with almost everything else). But, while it also moderately succeeds as a romantic comedy–Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow’s performances in their absurdly written scenes are great–it fails dramatically. There’s no friendship between Downey and Terrence Howard (the movie doesn’t even need him) and here’s no father (figure) and son relationship between Downey and Jeff Bridges. Bridges is necessary to the movie, from a plot standpoint, and he’s far better are turning in a solid performance in a poorly sketched role than Howard. It also fails as any kind of commentary about war profiteering or weapons manufacturing. It pays lip service to the idea of Downey rushing off to save people… but he only gets around to it once. (Hey, it’s kind of like Rambo… except Stallone doesn’t wimp out of showing suffering).

Basically, it’s all about enjoying Downey’s performance and the Iron Man sequences. Downey’s got a gift for comedy and, even though Favreau can’t frame a comedy shot, he does get the tone right. Favreau’s best part is actually the Afghanistan sequence, which seems like it goes on too long, but then when he can never match it, it’s clear it was too short. Shaun Toub makes an impossible character work really well in that sequence.

The movie’s also something of a narrative mess, with the ending more appropriate for a less serious film. The end’s supposed to be goofy and fun, which Downey can do, but the movie doesn’t set itself up for that kind of conclusion. (I won’t mention the asinine post-credit “teaser,” which is embarrassing).

The special effects are mostly good. There’s some really bad CG and a few of the flying sequences are boring, but they’re solid. Favreau tends to get way too excited during action scenes and shoot in close-up (for budget reasons?) and it’s hard to tell what’s going on. He lifts some of the action directly from Robocop and Robocop 2, but it looks good and no one’s ever going to accuse Favreau of originality or innovation, so it’s harmless.

There are some major hiccups–the movie is occasionally way too long, like when Paltrow is off in the poorly directed industrial thriller with Bridges, or Ramin Djawadi’s warm to frozen score or Leslie Bibb’s terrible performance. She’s supposed to be playing a Vanity Fair reporter, but she doesn’t even seem suited for Soap Opera Digest. And Favreau’s filling the movie with cameos–including himself–kind of make it seem like Casino Royale, not a real movie.

But for what it is–a timid but reasonably self-aware attempt at a “real” superhero movie–it’s decent, even if Favreau’s lack of a visual tone for the movie is somewhat alarming. Mostly, it’s just really nice Downey will have some career security for a bit.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Favreau; written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Dan Lebental; music by Ramin Djawadi; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Avi Arad and Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Terrence Howard (Jim Rhodes), Jeff Bridges (Obadiah Stane), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Leslie Bibb (Christine Everhart), Shaun Toub (Yinsen), Faran Tahir (Raza), Sayed Badreya (Abu Bakaar) and Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson).


Flesh and Bone (1993, Steve Kloves)

Dennis Quaid’s performance in Flesh and Bone is complicated. The character, the hints the film offers into him, is more complicated, but Quaid’s performance somehow encapsulates all those unknowns without defining them. The film has some really strange touching scenes, as Quaid’s character lets down the wall long enough to express himself. And the anguish at not being wooden to everyone plays beautifully on Quaid’s face. I don’t think I’ve ever used wooden as a compliment to a performance before, but here it’s essential. The film wouldn’t make any sense if Quaid were any different.

The surprising performance–it’s no surprise Quaid is good–is Meg Ryan. The kewpie doll almost, but not quite, broken by life’s hardships. Ryan’s great during the “salad days” scenes and the almost comic scenes (Kloves knows how to mix genre), but she’s better during the other scenes. The scenes where she isn’t cute and she especially pulls off the odyssey scene. It’s hard to explain that scene. She walks across endless cornfields, empty of anything else, but full of everything unsaid in her character’s past. It’s a stunning sequence (ably assisted by Kloves and the sound designer and composer Thomas Newman).

As for Gwyneth Paltrow and James Caan… both are fantastic. Caan has one of those beautiful roles–he gets do whatever he wants, but it’s also very grounded and terrifying. Paltrow’s performance suggests dramatic potential she’s never realized.

Kloves’s script and direction are perfect. The script is something singular in its plotting. He gently brings the character relationships to new levels, subtlety, almost with a hands off approach. With the romance between Quaid and Ryan, it makes sense, since their husband and wife status does something for the film. But the odd relationship between Ryan and Paltrow… it’s more impressive. Kloves’s handling of female characters–there are the two main ones, one minor one, and one even more minor–is perfect.

I was a little apprehensive about the film. I haven’t seen it in nine years and it runs over two hours and I remembered it being boring. It’s not boring, not even in a good way. Nothing happens–Kloves’s gimmick, if it qualifies–isn’t an issue for the majority of the film so it’s not getting in the way. It’s a character study with the possibility and ingredients for sensationalism and it never strays. It’s always perfect. Especially given the short present action (four days or so) of the film. It’s exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steve Kloves; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by Mia Goldman; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Mark Rosenberg and Paula Weinstein; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Arlis Sweeney), Meg Ryan (Kay Davies), James Caan (Roy Sweeney), Gwyneth Paltrow (Ginnie), Jerry Swindall (Young Arlis), Scott Wilson (Elliot) and Christopher Rydell (Reese Davies).


Malice (1993, Harold Becker)

Malice starts relatively okay, but it’s got a terribly flawed first half. Until the point Bill Pullman takes over as lead character, especially as Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman are spiraling through their lawsuit, it seems like Malice is going to be a well-produced disaster. It’s well-made, reasonably well-directed–Becker does a good job for the most part, but he has some really poor setups–and well-written. As it started, I wondered who was going to have written it… Aaron Sorkin and Scott Frank (which is probably why I queued it). It’s got a good Jerry Goldsmith score, lovely cinematography… Pullman’s good, Bebe Neuwirth is good, Alec Baldwin has some good scenes. Why would it, had the story not focused on Pullman, have been such an unmitigated disaster?

Nicole Kidman gives one of the singularly worst performances of the 1990s, though probably not the worst of her career. Hearing her speak lovely Sorkin dialogue makes the ears bleed. After a while, someone caught on, because they were using her hair to express emotion. It’s astounding and proof the Hollywood star machine has never gone away (because there’s no reason Kidman should have gotten as far as Malice in her career without a critic calling her laugh-out-loud funny).

But once it switches gears and follows Pullman–the scenes with Pullman and Neuwirth really help and, along with the production value, make the movie–it turns into a revisionist Hitchcock. It’s like a modern Suspicion with Bill Pullman as Joan Fontaine. And Nicole Kidman is one of the tires on the car at the end of Suspicion.

Anyway.

The film has an unnecessary thriller element added to the first half (because it’s not really a thriller) and it’s an afterthought, even when watching. When the mystery gets near being resolved–after giving Gwyneth Paltrow a well-acted cameo–I’d forgotten it was a subplot. Thrillers tend to be geared towards first viewings. Repeat viewings either reveal one is just an immersive story without anything going for it besides the final resolution or if it’s one with some more content to it. Malice, very surprisingly, turns out to be one with some more content.

Anne Bancroft’s small role alone probably justifies a second viewing, but Baldwin’s character is actually rather complicated and there are some very interesting scenes near the beginning, considering the ending, which carry some weight. There’s also that Pullman and Neuwirth chemistry.

Malice would be a lot better if Pullman and Neuwirth’s names came first. It’d also benefit from a longer running time and a female actor in Kidman’s role who could believably sit in a cafe in the background of an action movie during a chase scene, remaining onscreen for a quarter of a second.

But, I suppose, Kidman’s atrocious performance is a testament to Malice’s qualities.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Becker; screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Scott Frank, from a story by Sorkin and Jonas McCord; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by David Bretherton; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designed by Philip Harrison; produced by Rachel Pfeffer, Charles Mulvehill and Becker; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bill Pullman (Andy Safian), Nicole Kidman (Tracy Kennsinger), Alec Baldwin (Dr. Jed Hill), Bebe Neuwirth (Det. Dana Harris), George C. Scott (Dr. Martin Kessler), Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Kennsinger), Peter Gallagher (Atty. Dennis Riley), Josef Sommer (Atty. Lester Adams), Tobin Bell (Earl Leemus), William Duff-Griffin (Dr. George Sullivan), Debrah Farentino (Nurse Tanya), Gwyneth Paltrow (Paula Bell), David Bowe (Dr. Matthew Robertson) and Diana Bellamy (Ms. Worthington).


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