Jeremy Renner

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015, Christopher McQuarrie)

While Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation doesn’t deliver much in the way of plot twists, it instead delivers a lot of easy smiles and a handful of good laughs. The easy smiles aren’t just for the action sequences, which often focus on characters’ reactions to them–sometimes relief, sometimes awe at Tom Cruise’s derring-do–but also for the chemistry. There’s not much in the way of character development in Rogue Nation (what does Ving Rhames do in his six months of retirement?), but the actors have a great time onscreen churning out the (relatively light) exposition and going through the espionage motions.

Rogue Nation opens with its biggest set piece–Cruise jumping on a cargo plane, which then takes off. Director (and writer) McQuarrie plays it for a nice combination of laughs and spectacle. Cruise’s sidekicks are all commenting on it, albeit sometimes from thousands of miles away. For the film’s first hour, McQuarrie relies on Simon Pegg for humor. Pegg doesn’t disappoint. After the first scene, it takes a while for Rhames to reappear, while Jeremy Renner (as the team’s permissive straight man) is a constant. First as the chiding presence, then as Cruise and company’s defender once CIA suit Alec Baldwin dismantles the IMF, making Cruise a fugitive.

Cruise is too busy hunting down an unknown villain–Sean Harris–who kidnapped him. Woman of mystery and ostensible Harris lackey Rebecca Ferguson helps free Cruise, just before he has to go on the run from Baldwin. Ferguson and Cruise’s scene, complete with complementary butt-kicking of Harris’s thugs, oozes with chemistry. It takes a while for Ferguson to return to the action; McQuarrie smartly doesn’t focus too much on Cruise–rather Pegg’s angle–because Cruise is… well… a little on snooze when Ferguson’s not present.

Eventually Cruise gets the band back together and travels from Vienna to Morocco to London while pursuing Harris and Ferguson. Baldwin’s after them (sort of) and Ferguson’s disavowed British agent subplot figures in as well. There’s a big car chase in Morocco, a shootout in the Vienna opera house, an underwater heist, and some attempts at plot twists in the U.K. McQuarrie’s set pieces for the third act are all a lot smaller than the ones before. He’s trying to wrap up the film with narrative not action, which is fine, but far from exciting. Particularly because, like I mentioned before… his plot twists aren’t particularly surprising. If they aren’t predictable, they’re entirely inconsequential. Rogue Nation constantly amuses, but never surprises.

It also leaves a couple big questions unanswered, just because they don’t matter once the plot points they’re supporting are resolved. McQuarrie can’t be bothered with anything even hinting at character development. Sometimes he just avoids it by cutting away from a scene and changing the narrative distance–Cruise will take over after a Ferguson solo scene, so her resolution in her own scene becomes a plot point in his new one. Or McQuarrie just forgets about something. It’s more frustrating when he forgets about it, because then it’s clear it never mattered in the first place.

Technically, the film’s excellent. Fine editing from Eddie Hamilton, good photography from Robert Elswit (except in the finale, where it just seems a little too artificial), decent music from Joe Kraemer. A lot of Rogue Nation‘s technical competences are just competences; they’re perfunctory. The film’s strengths are in the performances and the actors’ chemistries. Not just Ferguson and Cruise, but Cruise and Pegg, Cruise and Rhames, Cruise and Renner. Even Rhames and Renner, who do this odd couple schtick for about three minutes spread over a half hour or so. There’s not a lot to their interplay, but it’s damned amusing when they’re onscreen together.

And Harris is good as the odious villain. Rogue Nation sets him up as this terrorist mastermind, but doesn’t show any of the terror (good thing Cruise is really affecting when he’s passionate enough to yell). But when Harris is scheming or terrorizing Ferguson? He’s good. Understated. Maybe the only understated thing in the entire film.

Of the supporting good guys, Pegg’s best. He’s got the most to do. He’s even got the start of a character arc. Renner and Rhames are both fine. No heavy lifting, just easy smiles.

Cruise and Ferguson get the most screen time, with Ferguson getting more of the heavy lifting acting. Cruise has a little, but nothing compared to her. Just more than everyone else. Except–maybe–Pegg. And Cruise gets to do some straight humor scenes, which is nice. Unfortunately, McQuarrie hurries through them.

Baldwin’s in a glorified cameo. It ought to be stunt casting, but it’s hard to identify why it’s much of a stunt.

Rogue Nation is constantly entertaining and never challenging, never ambitious. McQuarrie’s direction is even, he toggles more than adequately between the various elements–humor, action, thriller, exposition–he just doesn’t shine at any of them. Except maybe the humor, which he eschews in the second half for the most part. He’s able to get away with some sincerity, however, thanks to Cruise and company. The actors are able to sell it.

The film’s a fine diversion. But it’s clear from the end of the first act it’s never going to particularly excel overall.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; screenplay by McQuarrie, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Eddie Hamilton; music by Joe Kraemer; production designer, Jim Bissell; produced by Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Dana Goldberg, David Ellison, and Don Granger; released by Paramount Pictures

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Sean Harris (Lane), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Jens Hultén (Vinter), Simon McBurney (Atlee), and Alec Baldwin (Hunley).


Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve)

Stylist for hire. Stylist for hire. Denis Villeneuve is a stylist for hire on Arrival. He assembles a wonderful crew and they all do great work. Joe Walker’s editing is always assured, never flashy. Bradford Young’s photography is phenomenal. Arrival’s got a great color palette. Bored with its beauty or some such aesthetic. Excellent music from Jóhann Jóhannsson, even if it sounds a lot like Michael Nyman’s Wonderland score at times. And great production design from Patrice Vermette.

It’s a shame all this great technical work is on a cheap, manipulative narrative. Eric Heisserer’s got no understanding of narrative pacing, so he needs someone like Villeneuve who can assign tonal shifts to the narrative to move things along. I mean, there’s expository narration in Arrival because it’s got a somewhat lengthy present action for an alien encounter movie and a lot of science the film doesn’t want to make up in detail for the viewer. So, even with expository narration, Heisserer can’t make this thing move. It’s a boulder Villeneuve’s got to get going, then keep going. The style gets it through. The technical skill gets it through.

Until there’s a big reveal and the script gets worse. Arrival isn’t cheap and manipulative in terms of its plotting–actually, if the script worked, the plot would be fine–Heisserer’s cheap and manipulative in the detail, in the contrived events, in the lack of ambition or thoughtfulness. There are big logic wholes and not just because the film’s structured to hide the reveal. And that hide is an exceptionally manipulative–or potentially exceptionally manipulative–device on its own.

Arrival should offer Amy Adams an amazing role. It doesn’t. Worse, Villeneuve doesn’t seem to care. He’s concentrating on the filmmaking, not his actors’ performances. You can’t blame him–the actors have that script dragging them down, all Villeneuve has to do is expertly render it. Adams is fine. She’s good. She’s not great. It’s not a great role. It should be a great role and it isn’t.

Jeremy Renner practically deserves an “and” credit. He’s present but not active. Heisserer and Villeneuve ignore him. The second half’s pacing is wonky and, even though Renner gets the stop narration updating the ground situation, he doesn’t have much of a place in it. He needs a very big place in it given the twist and the hide. Villeneuve needed to deliver here with his two lead and he doesn’t.

Forest Whitaker’s awesome as the army guy who recruits Renner and Adams to talk to aliens. Oh, right; Arrival is about aliens coming to Earth. Whitaker can chew some scenery. It’s kind of a crap part given he doesn’t get any character development, even though its sort of promised. I can’t even get into how cheap Heisserer gets with the end of the second act events. If it weren’t for Villeneuve, they’d be big enough to jar you out.

Arrival is a big disappointment. Not just because of the talented people working on it, but because it’s a fine plot with a bad script and Villeneuve tries to mundanely stylize away that badness.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on a story by Ted Chiang; director of photography, Bradford Young; edited by Joe Walker; music by Jóhann Jóhannsson; production designer, Patrice Vermette; produced by Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, David Linde, and Aaron Ryder; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Amy Adams (Louise), Jeremy Renner (Ian), Michael Stuhlbarg (Halpern), Tzi Ma (Shang), and Forest Whitaker (Weber).


Ingenious (2009, Jeff Balsmeyer)

Ingenious is a struggling artist picture, only the struggling artist in question (Dallas Roberts) is a tchotchke designer, not a painter.

The film mostly centers on Roberts, but also his sidekick (Jeremy Renner as the somewhat dangerous comic relief) and long-suffering wife (Ayelet Zurer). It’s a little unclear why director Balsmeyer and writer Mike Cram give so much attention to Renner and Zurer at first, because Ingenious does everything in a single stroke. There are no subplots per se. As the narrative perturbs, there is some branching out, but not a subplot. Even though Roberts (sparingly) narrates the film, he’s its opaquest character.

Just over halfway through, it becomes clear why Zurer gets so much attention. And Renner is Ingenious‘s only steam valve. He makes Roberts more likable because even if Roberts is irresponsible, Renner’s worse. But still endearing.

Balsmeyer and Cram really know how to use Renner in scenes too. He’s quiet, then starts to boil and make Roberts (and the viewer) cringe. When he finally does shut up and listen, it’s one of Ingenious‘s most profound moments.

Roberts is excellent in the lead, maintaining likability even when his choices are bad, but Zurer runs away with it all. Her character has the strongest arc and, thanks to Zurer’s performance, Balsmeyer is able to get away with what would otherwise be a cheap finish. Zurer brings so much gravity to the film, it’s impossible to read the end as airy.

Ingenious is subtle and quite good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Balsmeyer; written by Mike Cram; director of photography, Geoffrey Hall; edited by Suresh Ayyar, Gavin Whalen and Marcus D’Arcy; music by Howe Gelb; production designer, Kim Buddee; produced by Cram, Tim Flood and Brian Neufang.

Starring Dallas Roberts (Matt), Jeremy Renner (Sam), Ayelet Zurer (Gina), Marguerite Moreau (Cinda), Eddie Jemison (Bean), Judith Scott (Rita), Amanda Anka (Louisa), Debby Rosenthal (Brenda) and Richard Kind (Newkin).


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011, Brad Bird)

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol might be a vanity project for producer-star Tom Cruise, but he sort of deserves it. His first scene features some athletics from him–the film’s full of them–and it’s hard to believe Cruise is nearly fifty. Either he’s got a portrait locked in a closet, they CG’ed his body or vitamins really are magic….

Ghost Protocol, silly title and all, is a fairly diverting espionage action thriller. With Michael Giacchino’s lush score, lots of gadgets and lots of globe trotting, it feels like a James Bond movie. Just an American one with an emphasis on teamwork.

For his first live action film, director Bird does an outstanding job. The film’s problems progressively get more outlandish, but he keeps them in check. Ghost Protocol is a comedy of errors. Nothing goes right; Bird keeps it moving fast enough one doesn’t think too hard.

And Ghost Protocol opens with silly opening titles showcasing later scenes in the movie. If Bird can recover from that lunacy, he can do almost anything.

His composition is strong–he fills the Panavision frame stylishly. It’s a great looking film, except when the CG composites don’t quite match.

Cruise is sturdy in the lead, but has nothing to do. He’s mostly just shepherding the team–Pegg’s blandly amusing and Jeremy Renner’s fine. The film’s best performance is easily from Paula Patton.

As the villain, Michael Nyqvist is terrible.

The conclusion’s just a setup for a reinvigorated franchise… likely an entertaining one.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Brad Bird; screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by J.J. Abrams, Tom Cruise and Bryan Burk; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Paula Patton (Jane Carter), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Michael Nyqvist (Kurt Hendricks), Vladimir Mashkov (Anatoly Sidorov), Samuli Edelmann (Wistrom), Ivan Shvedoff (Leonid Lisenker), Anil Kapoor (Brij Nath), Léa Seydoux (Sabine Moreau), Josh Holloway (Trevor Hanaway), Pavel Kríz (Marek Stefanski) and Miraj Grbic (Bogdan).


The Town (2010, Ben Affleck), the extended cut

Affleck’s directorial abilities are impressive. He’s got a great sense of composition–he seats his actors on either end of the Panavision frame, leaving this great space of emptiness between them. Except, of course, when he’s on screen with Rebecca Hall, as their bridging the gap is the whole point of The Town.

But he’s got his problems too. He casts too strongly.

Between himself, Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm, Affleck’s got three strong lead performances. He doesn’t have enough story for all three, so it’s hard to track them across the film’s narrative canvas.

For a while, the large canvas does Affleck good–and even after it gets too big, it still does allow for some really solid scenes, unimportant to the plot, but very human. The benefit is the lack of expectable. The story develops organically, one moment growing into the next, the opening feeling of foreboding waning as characters and relationships become more clear.

Some of the best moments are the ones Affleck holds longer than he needs to hold.

But, in the end, it’s a heist movie and heist movies have big, third act heists.

Affleck is able to do some different things with the way that heist works, but not enough to shrink it to fit the rest of the film.

Excellent performances from everyone–Hamm’s amazing and Hall’s quietly heartbreaking. Great supporting turn from Titus Welliver and–a big surprise–Blake Lively.

Even with its problems, The Town is an outstandingly piece of work.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Affleck; screenplay by Peter Craig, Affleck and Aaron Stockard, based on a novel by Chuck Hogan; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Harry Gregson-Williams and David Buckley; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Graham King and Basil Iwanyk; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Doug MacRay), Rebecca Hall (Claire Keesey), Jon Hamm (Adam Frawley), Jeremy Renner (James Coughlin), Blake Lively (Krista Coughlin), Slaine (Gloansy Magloan), Owen Burke (Desmond Elden), Titus Welliver (Dino Ciampa), Pete Postlethwaite (Fergie Colm) and Chris Cooper (Stephen MacRay).


The Hurt Locker (2008, Kathryn Bigelow)

When The Hurt Locker gets predictable, it gets into trouble. Of the super predictable events, there was only one thing I didn’t get right. The Hurt Locker, which uses its recognizable faces in bit parts better than any film in a while (I don’t know the last time Ralph Fiennes was so good–he ought to do a spin-off), eventually falls victim to its traditional, melodramatic narrative.

It’s too bad, because as it plays out in vignettes, The Hurt Locker is incredibly impressive. Maybe it hiccups too when Brian Geraghty’s character, who’s something of discreet protagonist (he gets his own scenes while Anthony Mackie does not), exits. While Jeremy Renner turns in a fantastic performance in the lead, it’s a flashy, movie star performance.

The film succeeds because of Renner, Mackie and Geraghty and their relationship with one another. Except when it draws attention to those relationships developing, then it runs into a lot of problems–Bigelow and writer Mark Boal don’t set up the film to allow for big melodramatic expositional reveals so when the film concludes on them… well, it feels icky.

There might not be a good way to end the film though, since it is such a haphazard collection of events–much of the film revolves around the bomb squad unit’s missions and once it doesn’t, well, it’s a signal flare of the end of the second act and the beginning of the third and it’s all downhill from there.

It’s still an impressive work.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; written by Mark Boal; director of photography, Barry Ackroyd; edited by Bob Murawski and Chris Innis; music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders; production designer, Karl Juliusson; produced by Bigelow, Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Jeremy Renner (Staff Sgt. William James), Anthony Mackie (Sgt. J.T. Sanborn), Brian Geraghty (Specialist Owen Eldridge), Ralph Fiennes (Contractor Team Leader), David Morse (Colonel Reed) and Guy Pearce (Sgt. Matt Thompson).


28 Weeks Later (2007, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)

If 28 Weeks Later weren’t executive produced by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland and produced by Andrew Macdonald, it would not be any better (in some ways it would be worse) but it certainly would be less offensive. Before seeing the film, I remarked to friends about what made 28 Days Later, in the end, work. It wasn’t cheap. Weeks isn’t just cheap, it’s also gimmicky. It’s the worst written, well-made, frequently well-acted film I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s not just a bad script, it’s a cheap, incompetent one. The setup for the film is fine, but then instead of playing the Drew Barrymore role in Scream (in what I understood to be a thirty minute or so episode, I had understood the film to be episodic… but it doesn’t really make up for going to see it), Robert Carlyle becomes the subject, sort of, of the whole film. At first he’s a tragically human coward, but at the thirty minute or forty minute mark, he becomes the zombie version of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I suppose it’s lousy to spoil that one for interested viewers, but really, if you’re going to like a piece of crap like this film, you’re not going to care.

But the gimmicks don’t end with Carlyle becoming a super-zombie (he’s apparently got some consciousness and a real hatred for his family). No, see, Carlyle’s wife (played by Catherine McCormack, which I had no idea about until I looked at IMDb), who he left for dead, see… she’s a carrier, but immune. So, the whole plot rests around Carlyle’s family. How convienient his lame and fearless kids have just come to London, so they can restart the zombie holocaust.

As a director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo shoots and edits some great montages. It’s all very frenetic, but it actually works with the content here. Lots and lots of beautiful visual montages. There’s even a really nice montage scene where the U.S. Army snipers, bored with lack of zombies to shoot, watch the repatrioted Brits. Even after the really cheap gimmicks, the film maintains a level of intensity until it just becomes cheap overall, with characters doing unbelievable things–smart ones becoming stupid. So stupid I almost spelled it stoopid, Weeks‘s stupidity has killed so many of my brain cells.

It’s frustrating because there are some nice scenes and some good performances. When he’s not super-zombie, Carlyle is fantastic. Even better is Jeremy Renner as a sniper. Renner’s got very little to do besides be a decent human being, but he does it with a lot of force and it’s good stuff. Rose Byrne is the, obviously, best, because she rules this movie in her terrible role. She’s an army doctor and she doesn’t want kids, but then she hangs out with them, but is it just because they might carry the cure? Who knows, because Weeks doesn’t even give subtext to its contrived coincidences. The kids, Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton, both stink. Muggleton’s worse, but it might not be his fault, the script sets him up as the kid from The Shining but ominous and possibly evil (so I guess more Omen-esque, but not having ever seen one of those, I’m not sure). Harold Perrineau’s in it a bit and I’m glad he got a job in something intended to be high-profile, but he’s way too good for this kind of work. He, Byrne and Renner ought to reunite for something written by someone not trying to remake Halloween 4. Hell, Fresnadillo could even direct it. The only times he fails in Weeks are with the lengthy action scenes. The chase scenes, when from the chasee’s perspective, get tiring, but the action scenes are boring. You can’t tell what is going on so why even bother trying (or carrying).

I find it horrifying Alex Garland could make the time to write a Halo movie, but it couldn’t give this crappy script a rewrite. It’d take maybe a week to fix it. Some of the dialogue especially. My friend said it sounded like a bad Spanish-to-English babelfish translation.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo; written by Rowan Joffe, Fresnadillo, Enrique López Lavigne and Jesús Olmo; director of photography, Enrique Chediak; edited by Chris Gill; music by John Murphy; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by López Lavigne, Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich; released by Fox Atomic.

Starring Robert Carlyle (Don), Rose Byrne (Scarlet), Jeremy Renner (Doyle), Harold Perrineau (Flynn), Catherine McCormack (Alice), Mackintosh Muggleton (Andy), Imogen Poots (Tammy), Idris Elba (General Stone) and Emily Beecham (Karen).

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