Helen Mirren

Hobbs & Shaw (2019, David Leitch)

Hobbs & Shaw is a tad too aware of how little it needs to try to succeed. Like it knows it doesn't just have Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it's got him giving a downright good performance in an energy drink version of a James Bond movie. Sure, Jason Statham–Shaw to Johnson’s Hobbs—doesn’t really work out, but Vanessa Kirby makes up for him as his fugitive secret agent sister. Rounding out the leads is Idris Elba as the villain. He’s basically a Bond henchman but well-acted (one wonders how Elba kept a straight face during some of the exposition); he’s got an unseen boss with an electronically disguised voice so they can wait for the sequel to cast him. So Elba’s stuff when he’s talking to the unseen Big Bad is silly but Elba still keeps it going. If Statham were better and the script weren’t insipid, the movie might have more of a chance. And if the second act weren’t such a slog.

But the first act and the third are really solid, mostly because of Kirby in the third and Johnson in the first. Despite being a Fast and Furious spin-off, the movie’s got no attachment to its parent franchise other than Johnson, Statham, Johnson having a kid (Eliana Sua), and Statham having a criminal Helen Mirren for a mum. Mirren’s got a fine cameo, but given how much she’s holding Statham up for it, it should’ve been a sign he was going to run out of energy. But he actually never gets it. Kirby’s got it, Johnson’s got it, Elba’s got it. But not Statham. He never does anything wrong in a scene, but he never tries either. The scenes where he and Johnson banter back and forth, Johnson’s carrying Statham and the scene. Same goes for Kirby. Maybe they cut out Statham’s subplot because the movie’s already two hours and seventeen minutes and it’s incredibly bloated in the second act.

Or maybe Statham just isn’t enthusiastic enough for the movie. Hobbs & Shaw, in general, confuses bombast for enthusiasm. Statham has neither. Johnson’s got enough to share, so it works out.

There are also the silly cameos, which are funnier than they ought to be because their inclusion is so desperate. Because the biggest one is for Johnson, who doesn’t need the help; unless the Helen Mirren scene with Statham is supposed to count but it doesn’t. For a movie with endless exposition, somehow Hobbs & Shaw is always missing the right exposition. Instead it’s nonsense about cyborg supermen, human evolution, and programmable viruses. It’s cartoon blather but the film knows it doesn’t have to do better because Johnson’s charming and is about to have a decent action sequence—albeit one with lousy digital background composites, a problem plaguing the film and its action—so it doesn’t try. It doesn’t make Statham do better, it doesn’t worry about the messy second act.

It’s not wrong about it’s ability to land the proverbial plane despite the turbulence. The film finds a way to get sillier but also more human, becoming cartoonish in a good way, and the third act is good. The sequel set up is obnoxious but as long as Kirby’s back, it’d be worth it.

Also perfectly good in the supporting cast are Eddie Marsan and Cliff Curtis. Marsan’s a little rocky at the start, but he finds the film’s rhythm. Curtis is so sturdy you wish he’d had a bigger part.

Hobbs & Shaw is stupid, fun, and funny. The soundtrack is loud and omnipresent—including a full song montage presumably for the artist placement—and never seems like the track complimenting the action is as important as the track getting used. The film’s also big on production placement, McLaren underwrites Statham’s garage of sports cars while Elba’s cybernetically-linked (it’s a cartoon, just go with it) Triumph motorcycles gets a lot of screen time.

It ought to be better, it’s not as good as it should be, but it makes clear it could’ve been worse. Johnson, Elba, and especially Kirby make it work.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by David Leitch; screenplay by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, based on a story by Morgan; director of photography, Jonathan Sela; edited by Christopher Rouse; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, David Scheunemann; produced by Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Hiram Garcia, and Morgan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Jason Statham (Shaw), Idris Elba (Brixton), Vanessa Kirby (Hattie), Helen Mirren (Queenie), Eddie Marsan (Professor Andreiko), Eliana Sua (Sam), Cliff Curtis (Jonah), and Lori Pelenise Tuisano (Sefina).


Red 2 (2013, Dean Parisot)

Red 2 is a lot of fun. It’s so much fun, in fact, most of its problems are never obvious during the actual film, only on later reflection.

The film opens quickly–Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker going shopping seems to be very fast, but turns out to be one of the slowest sections of the movie–and never stops. Towards the finish, the film hits a lot of unexpected twists and every pause eventually becomes suspect. Director Parisot and writers Jon and Erich Hoeber are stunningly confident in the film, its script and primarily its cast.

Red 2 wouldn’t work without two components… its female actors, Helen Mirren and Parker. Even though the cast is respectable, Mirren makes the thing regal. And Parker brings humanity to the film, which often plays its sexagenarian ultra-violence for laughs. They’re the glue of the film.

Parisot and the Hoeber brothers actually trust the viewer quite a bit throughout. John Malkovich and Willis have a lot of friendship establishing scenes at the front, then less and less as the picture moves on. But the later scenes rely on the viewer’s recall.

Malkovich is utterly fantastic. His background ticks alone make the film worth seeing.

Willis’s role is easy and he’s good; he and Parker have a lovely chemistry.

Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta Jones are adequate as far as the cast additions; Lee Byung-hun is the strongest.

Red 2 has some not insignificant problems, but it’s a definite, assured success.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Dean Parisot; screenplay by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, based on characters created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner; director of photography, Enrique Chediak; edited by Don Zimmerman; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Bruce Willis (Frank), John Malkovich (Marvin), Mary-Louise Parker (Sarah), Helen Mirren (Victoria), Anthony Hopkins (Bailey), Lee Byung-hun (Han Cho Bai), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Katja), Neal McDonough (Jack Horton), David Thewlis (The Frog), Garrick Hagon (Davis), Tim Pigott-Smith (Director Philips) and Brian Cox (Ivan).


Age of Consent (1969, Michael Powell)

With Age of Consent, Powell bewilders. His approach to James Mason and Helen Mirren’s dramatic arcs is excellent, but then he includes this terrible comedy material. He’s got a bunch of slapstick in an otherwise very gentle drama.

Mason is a successful artist who feels like a sellout so he runs off to isolate himself and try to figure out why he started painting in the first place. There is a Gauguin mention but it soon becomes clear Powell and Mason aren’t going down that road.

Instead, Mason finds teenager Mirren—living a miserable life on an island paradise—and she inspires him to start caring about his work again.

Both Mason and Mirren are fantastic. Mirren looks youngish but not the age she’s playing (she was twenty-four), which might contribute to Mason not coming off like a dirty old man. But it’s clear he’s excited about the work. Powell fills the art creation with wonderment. It’s amazing.

In those scenes, Peter Sculthorpe’s score adds another layer. Mirren’s never been good at anything until Mason comes along; the music conveys her newfound pride.

Unfortunately, when it’s the comedy stuff involving the idiotic character played by Jack MacGowran, who’s a pest annoying Mason, Age of Consent flops. Then there’s Neva Carr-Glynn as Mirren’s evil grandmother. Carr-Glynn plays it like she’s the Wicked Witch, which hurts the film.

But those elements can’t do too much damage; Powell, Mason and Mirren are too strong.

They even survive the theme song.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Powell; screenplay by Peter Yeldham, based on the novel by Norman Lindsay; director of photography, Hannes Staudinger; edited by Anthony Buckley; music by Peter Sculthorpe; produced by Powell and James Mason; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring James Mason (Bradley Morahan), Helen Mirren (Cora Ryan), Jack MacGowran (Nat Kelly), Neva Carr-Glynn (Ma Ryan), Andonia Katsaros (Isabel Marley), Michael Boddy (Hendricks), Harold Hopkins (Ted Farrell), Slim DeGrey (Cooley), Frank Thring (Godfrey, the Art Dealer) and Clarissa Kaye-Mason (Meg).


Arthur (2011, Jason Winer)

My Thin Man affection aside, I’m not against sobriety. However, Russell Brand movies integrate the glory of AA to the point it hurts the film (Get Him to the Greek made a similar move at a similar time). The development hurts Arthur, somewhat significantly. It’s good the film has Greta Gerwig, as she pulls it through.

The film is a very pleasant surprise; Brand has shown he can be endearing while still being raucous, but this film is the first I’ve seen where it suggests he might actually be able to act as well. He’s mostly acting opposite Helen Mirren or Gerwig, so he definitely has a lot of support.

The approach helps. Of course it’s nowhere near as good as the original, but it doesn’t compete. Between Brand, Gerwig and Mirren, it engenders a totally different response.

A lot of the film is Mirren’s show—it’s funny because of her responses to Brand. Her career’s gotten so much more interesting as she’s taken these varied roles.

Gerwig’s excellent. Since I’d never seen her before, I was pleasantly surprised, but Arthur has two other big surprises. First, Jennifer Garner’s fantastic. It’s like she was born to play a (realistic) heartless harpy. The other surprise is Nick Nolte (in a small role as Garner’s father). He’s atrocious. I’m not sure they even bothered making sure he was awake.

Winer’s direction is good, very calm and self-aware.

I was hopeful for Arthur, but it’s better than I thought it could be.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jason Winer; written by Peter Baynham, based on the film by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Uta Briesewitz; edited by Brent White; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Sarah Knowles; produced by J.C. Spink, Russell Brand, Larry Brezner, Kevin McCormick, Chris Bender and Michael Tadross; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Russell Brand (Arthur), Helen Mirren (Hobson), Greta Gerwig (Naomi), Jennifer Garner (Susan), Geraldine James (Vivienne), Luis Guzmán (Bitterman) and Nick Nolte (Burt Johnson).


Red (2010, Robert Schwentke)

I was unhesitant to enjoy Red. It’s one of those ensemble feel-good pieces (like Sneakers or Ocean’s Eleven), but it’s not a particularly upbeat feel-good piece. But I was rather hesitant to approach it as a good movie. But it is a good movie. It’s smartly written, beautifully acted (Red’s casting is superior)… and impersonally directed. I’ve never seen any of Schwentke’s other films, but he’s a TV director inexplicably directing cinema. He’d be a fine TV director, he’s just not a filmmaker.

But Schwentke aside, there’s nothing not to recommend the film. However, I do think Bruce Willis going bald the last ten years makes it a little more difficult to take his balding as some sign of aging.

Red’s principal cast–Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich–is all exceptionally solid. It’s interesting to see Mirren in this kind of role (though she does it perfectly) and Malkovich is delightful in a role he easily could have played spoofing himself, but doesn’t. Freeman’s the mentor (to Willis) and Parker’s forty-something single woman has shades of Joan Wilder (in the best possible way).

The “supporting” cast consists of Karl Urban, Brian Cox, James Remar, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfuss. Whoever casted this film is a genius–if it was Schwentke, I’m a lot more enthusiastic.

Willis is most impressive in how well he works in an ensemble, never his greatest strength.

Red probably could do with a sequel. White?

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Schwentke; screenplay by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, based on the comic book by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner; director of photography, Florian Ballhaus; edited by Thom Noble; music by Christophe Beck; production design by Alec Hammond; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Bruce Willis (Frank Moses), Morgan Freeman (Joe Matheson), John Malkovich (Marvin Boggs), Helen Mirren (Victoria), Karl Urban (William Cooper), Mary-Louise Parker (Sarah Ross), Brian Cox (Ivan Simonov), Julian McMahon (Robert Stanton), Rebecca Pidgeon (Cynthia Wilkes), Ernest Borgnine (Henry, the Records Keeper), James Remar (Gabriel Singer) and Richard Dreyfuss (Alexander Dunning).


State of Play (2009, Kevin Macdonald)

Who has the least personality when it comes to State of Play? Director Kevin Macdonald? He shoots the most boring Panavision-sized frame I think I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a Brett Ratner movie from start to finish, but… Macdonald’s boring. He’s not bad, he’s just not any good at all. The lack of a distinctive screenwriter is also a problem–Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray are all hacks. I mean, they’re–at times–fine hacks, but none of them is a distinctive screenwriter. They’re the kind of guys Carrie Fisher comes in to fix up and, watching State of Play, one can’t help but think she rewrote the scenes between Russell Crowe and Robin Wright.

But it’s not just the behind-the-camera talent… no one in front of the camera has any personality either. I mean, Helen Mirren does because she occasionally swears with her British accent. It’s The Queen swearing; laugh. And the audience does laugh, because it’s why she’s swearing. For comic relief. State of Play is a newspaper drama in the post-newspaper age, which means lots of derogatory blog comments. But, you know what? It doesn’t provide a useful defense of printed media. There’s nothing, after all the film’s emphasis on Crowe as the traditional reporter and sidekick Rachel McAdams as the blogger, to show McAdams’s blog couldn’t have done all the narrative’s whistle-blowing.

McAdams and Crowe are both fine. Really, they’re fine. I mean, they have all the personality of a “Tonight Show” guest and it’s like the film’s producers didn’t understand Crowe is an actor, not a screen presence, so casting him in a lousy role, one needing a presence, was a bad idea. McAdams is the same situation. She has no character and no personality. For the majority of the film, State of Play relies on Mirren for relief. Sometimes, it’s Wright. She’s been doing these crappy wife roles for ten years, so it’s no surprise she doesn’t break a sweat doing another one, even one where she’s supposedly married to Ben Affleck.

Ben Affleck is, at the time of this film’s release, thirty-seven years old. Russell Crowe is forty-five. Robin Wright is forty-three. Crowe and Wright look fine together. State of Play puts Affleck in a bunch of aging make-up. He looks silly. It’s unbelievable he, Crowe and Wright went to college together. It’s unbelievable he and Crowe ever knew each other before the film’s present action. Affleck and Wright are both solid enough to make their marriage, however silly-looking thanks to Affleck’s make-up, work.

Affleck gives the film’s second best performance, after Mirren. Then, I guess, Wright. Then everyone else. They really don’t matter. Andy Garcia would have been far superior in the Crowe role. Anyone with some kind of non-character-based screen presence. Russell Crowe’s an actor, not a matinee star. State of Play needed a matinee star.

Originally, it was going to be Brad Pitt in the Crowe role and Edward Norton in the Affleck role. With them, the film would have at least made sense. It wouldn’t have been good unless Macdonald was gone and the script got a rewrite from a real writer.

Wait, I forgot about Jason Bateman. He gave the film’s best performance. He was fantastic.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Macdonald; written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, based on the television series by Paul Abbott; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by Justine Wright; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Andrew Hauptman, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Russell Crowe (Cal McAffrey), Ben Affleck (Stephen Collins), Rachel McAdams (Della Frye), Helen Mirren (Cameron Lynne), Robin Wright (Anne Collins), Jason Bateman (Dominic Foy), Jeff Daniels (Rep. George Fergus), Michael Berresse (Robert Bingham), Harry Lennix (Det. Donald Bell), Josh Mostel (Pete), Michael Weston (Hank), Barry Shabaka Henley (Gene Stavitz) and Viola Davis (Dr. Judith Franklin).


Critical Care (1997, Sidney Lumet)

Critical Care opens on its main set–sets are important in Critical Care–with Helen Mirren (as a nurse) checking up on ICU patients. The ICU is a circle, Mirren rounding it by the end of the titles, returning to the station at the center, where James Spader (as a resident) naps during a thirty-six hour shift. The two have a conversation about medical school, Spader’s dating habits and mundanities. It’s a strange opening–technically superior thanks to Lumet–with the ICU an all white environment (it’s like 2001, actually). When the film moves into a world of color, Critical Care maintains the same tone–which is incredibly difficult, or should be, given Albert Brooks is in old age make-up (with Spader as his disinclined protégé). It’s slightly off. Lumet’s got a specific visual style for the film, but even taking it into account, it’s still slightly off.

And then–just before the Blow Up homage–I realized what makes Critical Care so particular. It’s the finest adaptation of a stage play where the source material is not a stage play. Lumet’s approach to the film is to present the action–in the ICU, the material outside that setting is a lot more filmic–like it’s playing out on stage. This approach doesn’t affect Lumet’s composition, which is excellent and cinematic, and I can’t even tell if it’s in Steven Schwartz’s script. But the time Lumet gives to his actors–Spader and Mirren–is stunning. They have scenes together throughout the film, but they both have their own story arcs (Spader’s being the major one) and when they reunite at the end… it’s almost like the film’s been holding its breath and no one noticed. It’s fantastic.

Lumet also makes a lot of time for Brooks, but it’d be criminal if he hadn’t. Not only is Brooks constantly hilarious–and frightening, given he’s talking about healthcare–but it’s the one time (in recent cinema) where someone playing aged works perfectly. The logic mazes–Brooks’s character suffers from short term memory losses–in the scenes are hysterical.

Spader’s got a very leading man role here and he plays it well. It’s probably the finest film performance I’ve seen him give. Mirren’s excellent as well–her scenes with Jeffrey Wright, where he doesn’t talk, are great. Wright’s scenes with Wallace Shawn, where he does talk, are also great. One of the greatest things about Critical Care is its fearlessness. The film doesn’t have a big hook at the beginning, it doesn’t have any reason to expect a lot of involvement from its viewers; it just goes ahead without concerning itself with them.

The supporting cast–Kyra Sedgwick, Anne Bancroft, Philip Bosco, especially Colm Feore–is superior.

I’ve known about this film for eleven years–I remember seeing a picture of Brooks in make-up–but I never got around to seeing it until now. Through its running time, it just gets better and better. Near the end, as the film shifted into its final stage, I worried about it forgetting itself. It doesn’t. The end has all the right ingredients, mixed wonderfully.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Steven Schwartz, based on the novel by Richard Dooling; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Tom Swartwout; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Schwartz and Lumet; released by Live Entertainment.

Starring James Spader (Dr. Werner Ernst), Kyra Sedgwick (Felicia Potter), Helen Mirren (Stella), Anne Bancroft (Nun), Albert Brooks (Dr. Butz), Jeffrey Wright (Bed Two), Margo Martindale (Connie Potter), Wallace Shawn (Furnaceman), Philip Bosco (Dr. Hofstader), Colm Feore (Richard Wilson), Edward Herrmann (Robert Payne), James Lally (Poindexter) and Harvey Atkin (Judge Fatale).


The Queen (2006, Stephen Frears)

Glibly, I can say the most amazing thing The Queen does is humanize Tony Blair, seeing as he’s been decency’s biggest quisling in recent memory. But seeing a sympathetic portrayal of politician–one still in power when a film is released–is uncommon. Michael Sheen really creates a Tony Blair, certainly a Tony Blair one wishes the real person measured up to. And royalty is often sympathetically portrayed, just not modern royalty, which is where The Queen becomes rare. I had assumed the screenwriter adapted a book, something with some non-reporter-like confirmation (apparently, the screenwriter got independent confirmations of specific facts)… because The Queen then becomes a fictionalization of a real person, but a fiction striving for truth… is a truly exceptional attempt for a work.

I watched this film with tears in my eyes for much of it, because it made me privy to something private. An autobiography isn’t private, it’s published. I don’t like considering the impetus behind a film’s creation–it’s money, almost always, unless the film’s really cheap (and then it’s usually the desire for future money)–but this film mustn’t have easy to make in that regard and–I’m losing my train of thought. My film review vocabulary isn’t geared for admiring people’s intentions. Anyway.

Superficially glibly… James Cromwell. Cromwell’s been a ham for a good ten years or so. The Queen really rescues him from it. The role lends itself to ham and he doesn’t do it. Alex Jennings is also excellent as Charles. Some of The Queen‘s easy effectiveness comes from the majority of the characters being privately conflicted, unable to release it. Sheen acts as a bit of a release valve, getting to vocalize frustration, which the other main characters cannot do.

As for Mirren–being disinterested in the history of the Windsors, my fiancée proved invaluable in explaining certain details to me (the film would work just fine without the knowledge, of course)–but I did find it odd, back when I heard about the film, the quintessential British female actor (from the American perspective anyway) playing the quintessential British female. I assumed it would be an easy fit, but Mirren–a little differently from Sheen’s Blair, since Blair isn’t a world figure in the same way–creates the Queen. Through her interactions with her staff, from assistant to groundskeeper, Mirren gradually establishes more than a visible humanity, but really makes the audience understand more her feelings than the response to her actions.

In terms of handling–storytelling handling–if The Queen were an absolutely fictional piece, it’d be good but not revolutionary. It’s a somewhat standard structure, two main threads, one secondary one, but, again, the subject matter and the handling of it–I love the scenes Frears cuts a little short, in the middle of dialogue, when the Queen ceases listening and then so too must the audience–makes the film a particular achievement. Oddly, the only other thing I can think of to even compare this film to is… Bubba Ho-Tep, but whereas that film brought deep feeling to the fictionalized life of a real person, The Queen brings it to the real life of a real person. It’s really something.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Frears; written by Peter Morgan; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Lucia Zucchetti; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Alan Macdonald; produced by Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward and Andy Harries; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Helen Mirren (The Queen), Michael Sheen (Tony Blair), James Cromwell (Prince Philip), Sylvia Syms (the Queen Mother), Alex Jennings (Prince Charles), Helen McCrory (Cherie Blair), Roger Allam (Sir Robin Janvrin) and Tim McMullan (Stephen Lamport).


White Nights (1985, Taylor Hackford)

It’s the perfect time for the White Nights post I’ve been slacking on.

Why have I been slacking? A combination of things. First and foremost, White Nights is a Columbia Picture. Sony releases Columbia Pictures on DVD and has not released White Nights in the US yet. If and when they do, those twits will probably release it pan and scan. We watched the lovely, anamorphic widescreen Japanese release. Even has Taylor Hackford commentary. Two, I’ve seen White Nights before and I don’t know how much I have to say about it. Three, maybe I’d have more to say or something different to say, if I didn’t watch the movie thinking how great an actor Gregory Hines really was, how unappreciated he was in the 1980s (how many good roles did he have in theatrical releases–I’ve actually seen Dead Air–seven or eight, depends on if you count History of the World or Eve of Destruction). Gregory Hines came and went and he shouldn’t have. The fact he’s dead without any acting recognition upset me throughout the film. Just now, I read he dropped out of 48 HRS. for The Cotton Club. So now I’m even more upset.

No one makes movies like White Nights anymore. Hollywood does not produce adult dramas not intended to be Oscar-nominees. It just doesn’t happen. Miramax has ruined adult cinema (and Adam Sandler and Mike Myers have ruined adult comedy).

White Nights is–I suppose–not entirely ludicrous. I have no idea what would have happened if Baryshnikov ended up in the Soviet Union somehow. So, I can accept it. The rest of the story is simple and paced over a couple weeks. The KGB sets Baryshnikov up with Hines, a tap-dancing American defector (over Vietnam), hoping to get world recognition for getting their defector back home. Getting him to give up the world of Western indulgences. Eventually, Baryshnikov escapes again. The end. I’m sure almost everyone’s seen this movie on late night TV (though not in beautiful anamorphic widescreen).

There’s Phil Collins music at some point but it’s that somehow okay Phil Collins 1980s music. Makes for good sequences. That Phil Collins. Not Phil Collins-Monkey Love Song Phil Collins. And it fits because Hackford produces an excellent package. His films are always well-produced. Against All Odds is not, you know, a good film, but it’s well-produced. In the context of the 1980s, I would have called Hackford mediocre. Now, I would have to call him good… comparably.

Nights isn’t a musical, but there’s a lot of dancing and it’s impossible not be awe of the two dancers. No offense to Hines (or tap dancing), but Baryshnikov is the more stunning. What the guy can do is amazing. I can’t do any of it. And neither can you, because you’d be doing it right now instead of wasting your time reading about some movie. My interest in the dancing, besides general appreciation, wanes. It’s not a musical, there’s a story coming before these sequences and they seem long when they’re interrupting that story. Some are great and Hackford does a good job with them. But the dancing makes White Nights good. It’s the peculiar nature of the story and of the actors.

For the majority of the film, Hines doesn’t like Baryshnikov and neither does the audience (though my fiancée seems to like his tush a lot). Baryshnikov is a selfish prig and it takes a while to warm to him. The differences between the Soviet Union and the United States and freedoms do come up, but those difference’s aren’t the character’s motivation. He’s just a selfish prig. There’s no ideology. And that lack makes him likable in the end. In other words, for four-fifths of the movie, it’s all about Hines. And he’s great. He turns an amazing performance, even when he’s got to be drunk and upset. The bad guy, of course, is the KGB guy. But, it’s not so simple because the KGB guy is a selfish prig too and turns out not to be inhuman. He’s just doing his job and he wants as good of a job as possible. And Helen Mirren’s in it and she’s great. So’s Geraldine Page. In fact, only Isabella Rossellini turns in a blah performance. But it’s Isabella Rossellini and she’s always blah, isn’t she?

So, White Nights is good. It’s an unexpected good. It does have a completely out of place Oscar-winning song, though. Lionel Richie sings what seems to be a song about friendship and I really wish there was a scene where Baryshnikov told Hines, “Believe in who you are, you are a shining star.” It’s not even in the movie, it plays over the end credits. How can a song get “Best Song” if it’s not in the movie? At least the songs in Irwin Allen’s disaster movies were in the movie a little….

White Nights reminds me–not too long ago even–most movies were okay. Most I’d see anyway. They were okay. Sticking with the Hackford oeuvre, Against All Odds isn’t any good, it really isn’t. But it’s not a crime against the human intellect. It’s not a Chris Klein movie or something. The 1980s constantly gets shit from people who think Britney Spears can sing or Hayden Christiansen can act. Sure, a lot of the films were incredibly derivative. Oh, you know, like bullet-time. White Nights is a reasonable example of that decade’s film output and it’s a good sign. It’s a sign the decade shouldn’t be ignored just because of John Hughes and Tony Scott.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Taylor Hackford; screenplay by James Goldman and Eric Hughes, from a story by Goldman; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Hackford and William S. Gilmore; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Mikhail Baryshnikov (Nikolai Rodchenko), Gregory Hines (Raymond Greenwood), Jerzy Skolimowski (Colonel Chaiko), Helen Mirren (Galina Ivanova), Geraldine Page (Anne Wyatt), Isabella Rossellini (Darya Greenwood), John Glover (Wynn Scott), Stefan Gryff (Captain Kirigin), William Hootkins (Chuck Malarek) and Shane Rimmer (Ambassador Smith).


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