John Travolta

Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

There’s a lot of great moments in Pulp Fiction. There’s not a lot of great filmmaking–the taxi ride conversation between Bruce Willis and Angela Jones is about as close as director Tarantino gets to it–but there are definitely a lot of great moments. There’s the chemistry between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. There’s the Christopher Walken monologue, which is hilarious.

It’s also beyond problematic in terms of Tarantino’s force-feeding of racism to the audience; at a certain point, very, very early on, the viewer either has to accept Tarantino’s conceit racist language doesn’t make one a racist or just stop watching the film. Because the real racists are actually literal monsters, something the criminals of Pulp Fiction usually aren’t (at least on screen). Oh, and Tarantino’s wife in the film is black. So his slur-laden monologue–terribly delivered, of course, as Tarantino’s a horrific actor–means he really isn’t racist. It’s just supposed to be funny. You know, agree with him about it.

There’s probably lots written about Tarantino and racism. Lots excusing him, I’m sure. But Pulp Fiction doesn’t want to talk about racism or much else. It’s another stool Tarantino steps on to deliver the film. It’s not about the real world or real people, it’s about Tarantino’s version of “pulp fiction,” which involves magic and so on. Anyway, I’m off topic. A look at the film’s place in mainstreaming “post-racial” racist humor deserves a serious discussion, which I’m going to do here.

Wow, after that lede, how do I get back on track with saying a lot of nice things about the film and Tarantino’s writing….

He gets phenomenal performances from Travolta and Willis. Travolta somewhat more than Willis, even though Willis gets better material to himself. Travolta’s good solo, but nothing compared to when he’s with Jackson and Jackson gets the only real character role in the film. Everyone else plays a caricature or worse, but Jackson gets to stop and look around at the world and figure out how to live in it. He’s amazing, whether he’s delivering Tarantino’s comical expository dialogue, the tough guy threatening, the soul searching; Jackson does it all.

There’s some solid support from Maria de Medeiros as Willis’s girlfriend. The film’s in three sections–Travolta goes on a date with crime boss Ving Rhames’s wife, Uma Thurman in the first, Willis rips off Rhames and is on the run in the second, then the third part is just an amusement chapter for Jackson and Travolta. de Medeiros is barely in the film, doesn’t get to leave a crappy motel room set, yet she still makes more of the character than Thurman makes of hers.

You can say Thurman’s got a well-written role, but you’re wrong. Sorry. Tarantino doesn’t want to ruminate on masculinity, but he gets in the ballpark (Willis as the classic Hollywood hero). The female characters, Thurman in particular, get thin material. You need to think about it. Pulp Fiction is, like I said, rather problematic. It doesn’t help Thurman her wig has to do most of the acting with the way Tarantino directs her. His direction of her talking heads scenes with Travolta is his worst work as a director in the entire film. Like I said, problematic. It’s a good, very problematic motion picture.

Would it be better if cinematographer Andrzej Sekula weren’t really boring? Maybe. Sekula lights the picture to emphasize the performances, which is fine, only it’s not all close-ups or medium shots where it’d be appropriate. The solid, but not startling, editing from Sally Menke helps things a little though. There’s an energy to the film and when it goes slack, Fiction gets a little too long in the tooth. Since it’s three separate chapters, it’s particularly annoying when it goes slack right off with Thurman and Travolta’s date. Willis and Rhames’s story immediately saves the picture. Jackson and Travolta basically coast through on the last one.

Oh, and Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer aren’t good enough. Some of it’s the writing, some of it’s the directing, but quite a bit of it is their performances. It’s a strange misstep too, since Tarantino’s attention to narrative tone is one of the best things about the film.

Pulp Fiction is a solid, often troubling film. Tarantino doesn’t bite off more than he can chew, however–it’s assured, but not ambitious in anything but its length and bravado–because he doesn’t chew off much of anything with it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Quentin Tarantino; screenplay by Tarantino, based on a story by Tarantino and Roger Avary; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by Miramax Films.

Starring John Travolta (Vincent Vega), Samuel L. Jackson (Jules Winnfield), Uma Thurman (Mia Wallace), Bruce Willis (Butch Coolidge), Harvey Keitel (The Wolf), Tim Roth (Pumpkin), Amanda Plummer (Honey Bunny), Maria de Medeiros (Fabienne), Ving Rhames (Marsellus Wallace), Eric Stoltz (Lance), Rosanna Arquette (Jody) and Christopher Walken (Captain Koons).


Get Shorty (1995, Barry Sonnenfeld)

There’s a gentle quality about Get Shorty, an invitation from screenwriter Scott Frank and director Sonnenfeld to dwell. One can also not dwell on the film’s little moments, because it’s got awesome big moments as well. Except Shorty doesn’t have much in the way of set pieces; Sonnenfeld does whatever he can to reduce action and suspense. He’s making a comedy–a likable comedy–not an action thriller. So those big moments come in dialogue and actors’ deliveries. Sonnenfeld and his actors layer their performances in each scene. Sometimes it’s so Sonnenfeld can do a sight gag, sometimes it’s just for the exit laugh. But it creates these fantastic characters who don’t get much chance at narrative progression. Get Shorty is a concise, impeccably constructed, impeccably edited film.

Frank’s script often gives each character a sidekick for a scene. Someone to watch while someone else has a big moment. The way Sonnenfeld directs these scenes is for the sidekick to react–in close-up–while listening. It’s not a big reaction, it gives Martin Ferrero a few nice scenes and lets Rene Russo excel in her scream queen turned producer part. Russo’s story is always in relation to the boys–lead John Travolta as her new beau, Gene Hackman as her Corman-esque Svengali, Danny DeVito as her movie star ex-husband–but she still gets to have a real, consequential part. And not because of action, but because of her character’s decisions, which the audience gets to see Russo make thanks to Sonnenfeld’s deliberate approach.

Get Shorty is also perfectly acted. No one gives anything less than an excellent performance (even Bette Midler in a cameo) but there are some particularly exceptional ones (i.e. Travolta). The thing about Get Shorty is it doesn’t ask Travolta to be a movie star. It asks him to be a character actor. Even though Travolta’s the lead, Get Shorty is far more of an ensemble piece. Each actor is intentionally memorable–the way Donald Peterman lights them, the way Jim Miller cuts them, the way Sonnenfeld composes the shot–even the bit players are intentionally memorable. It creates an exceptionally affable mood.

Of course, it’s also about Hollywood. The dream of Hollywood, filtered through Travolta’s exuberant nostalgia. Travolta and Russo have these side conversations about old movies; I wonder if Frank wrote the whole conversation or just cut in. It’s all handled perfectly. But with a couple exceptions, it’s not about “real” Hollywood. It’s about everyone’s dream of it. Whether it’s Travolta’s, Hackman’s, Russo’s, Delroy Lindo’s.

Delroy Lindo.

Delroy Lindo gives the film’s greatest performance. He stands out among all the standouts. He stands out in a film where Dennis Farina is able to so exactly embody his caricature, it becomes magic. Because Lindo has the task of being dangerous, loathsome, likable. You’re watching Get Shorty, you’re hoping Lindo gets his comeuppance, but not too soon.

No one else can do these roles. No one else is imaginable in these roles. Sonnenfeld gets the audience buy-in early, sort of doing a “pilot” for the film before the opening titles. There’s a concise little narrative, an introduction to Travolta and nemesis Farina, then the titles. The titles hinting at what’s to come, John Lurie’s Booker T-esque score excitedly dragging things out. Sonnenfeld makes you impatient to watch this Get Shorty picture he’s teasing.

Get Shorty’s great. I’ve always thought so, but it’s been over a decade since I’ve seen it so I’m really glad it’s so great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld; screenplay by Scott Frank, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Donald Peterman; edited by Jim Miller; music by John Lurie; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring John Travolta (Chili Palmer), Gene Hackman (Harry Zimm), Rene Russo (Karen Flores), Danny DeVito (Martin Weir), Dennis Farina (Ray Bones), Delroy Lindo (Bo), James Gandolfini (Bear), Jon Gries (Ronnie), Martin Ferrero (Tommy), Miguel Sandoval (Mr. Escobar), Jacob Vargas (Yayo), Linda Hart (Fay Devoe) and David Paymer (Leo Devoe).


The Thin Red Line (1998, Terrence Malick)

The Thin Red Line is about fear, beauty, solitude, loneliness. Director Malick’s approach is, frankly, staggering. Thin Red Line is an odd film to talk about because in most ways, it’s my favorite film. One of the great things about a good movie–not even an excellent or an amazing movie, but a good movie (and quite a few bad ones)–is being able to return to it as one matures, learns, comprehends and to appreciate it on additional levels. Returning to Thin Red Line for the first time in many years, I discovered it works in all those ways. Knowing more about film informs it, knowing more about history informs it, knowing more about narrative informs it, knowing more about owls informs it. Film is not static. Film ages with everything else. It grows, it contracts, it makes people laugh at the wrong moment. Malick acknowledges the film’s majesty. He does not give Nick Nolte a big part as a blowhard because he isn’t acknowledging the perfection in that casting choice. He does it because Nolte can do this part and he can make it phenomenal.

So much of the film is about the acting but not the actors. Malick doesn’t let the viewer identify with the characters by actor, rather by emotional impact. The film has frequent–often constant–narration from a variety of characters. I don’t even think the main narrator is ever identified, not for sure, because the viewer is the main narrator. He or she goes through the film as presented, through the fear, through the beauty, the solitude, the loneliness, and comes to this conclusion. To the film’s conclusion.

Or the narrator is just John Dee Smith. Though, if Smith is the narrator, Malick manages to turn the viewer into a Southern boy with an abusive stepfather and bad teeth, because there’s no difference. Malick doesn’t use characters in that manner. Even with Ben Chaplin’s officer turned private, whose entire internal life is about his wife back home, his details aren’t as important as how he reacts with them in frame. Because Thin Red Line isn’t some grand, sweeping melodrama, it’s an intensely focused, intensely personal film, emphasis on the film. Malick’s far more in the Eisenstein school of collision–basically how the presentation of shots and their editing, not necessarily their content, can be used to create emotion in the viewer–than something like David Lean or anyone else. It’s a lyrical assault.

Only Malick is using the content. He’s using the visual content of these beautiful, tropical Eden. He’s using the narrative content of a war movie. He’s using the audial content of the narrators. And he collides them, he separates them, he compares them. Thin Red Line is like going to an island of World War II reenactors and taking acid. And you’re invisible. And everyone looks like a famous person. Malick is speaking directly to the viewer and creating this setting for the viewer’s personal edification.

Malick strips the community out of The Thin Red Line. The way he structures the first act, the way he structures the first half–he’s removing the viewer’s sense of community, sense of stability. It’s far more personal. The poetic narration, separated so much from the characters or the setting, engages with the viewer. Malick is using the narrative content to echo the emotions created by the film’s visuals. Pardon my passive voice.

This sort of tempo isn’t unique to the film or to Malick. It’s the rhythm of good filmmaking. But Malick is playing different music and getting the same emotional beats. He’s got two movies playing side by side, one top of one another, completely transparent. And they’re jointly the film.

Like I said.

Staggering.

Malick gets some phenomenal performances out of his cast. Nolte, Chaplin, top-billed Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, Dash Mihok, John Cusack’s great in his small role. Woody Harrelson too. Though differently.

And then there’s Jim Caviezel. He doesn’t exactly play the film’s lead, but he does play the character who the audience spends the film trying to understand. It’s not clear if Malick thinks Caviezel’s the most interesting guy around; the film’s pretty even between Caviezel, Chaplin and then Nolte and Koteas in the stuff of epical importance. Oh, and then Mihok. He’s got a fairly large part.

But Malick posits he is showing the viewer the world through Caviezel’s character’s perspective. Not his eyes. His perspective (which allows for subplots). And Malick uses that particular perspective with the visual aspects of the film. The narrative level is far looser; Malick’s ability to naturally follow Caviezel around, especially as he inserts himself into the story, is skillful filmmaking. Malick, Caviezel, the other actors, the editors, they do a great job.

The editors are real important for Thin Red Line. Leslie Jones, Saar Klein, Billy Weber. The cuts in the film are sublime. The editors understand Malick’s narrative needs–for example, introducing the characters to the viewer–but also the need to actively force the viewer to make his or her own connections. Thin Red Line has a steep learning curve and unforgiving blind corners.

(Sorry, I needed a good mixed metaphor).

The first time I saw The Thin Red Line, I saw it again immediately following. Opening night. Returning to it over fifteen years later, I’m terrified at the prospective of an immediate rewatch. It’s too much. I like it too much. The Thin Red Line is my Nietzschean abyss. I just can’t too much.

This time watching it–I’d forgotten a lot–I really noticed the change in the weather. The clouds moving across the soldiers. That detail pulled me in. And I can see the film doing it, beckoning me, but it doesn’t matter. Creating something so focused, so controlled, yet so open, so welcoming… it’s just another amazing part of the film and Malick’s filmmaking here.

I also noticed, this time, Caviezel’s character has a Japanese alter ego.

Wonder what I’ll notice next time.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Terrence Malick; screenplay by Malick, based on the novel by James Jones; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Billy Weber, Saar Klein and Leslie Jones; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by Robert Michael Geisler, John Roberdeau and Grant Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sean Penn (First Sgt. Edward Welsh), John Travolta (Barr), James Caviezel (Private Witt), Adrien Brody (Corporal Fife), Elias Koteas (Capt. James Staros), Nick Nolte (Lieut. Col. Gordon Tall), Ben Chaplin (Private Bell), Dash Mihok (Private First Class Doll), Arie Verveen (Private Dale), David Harrod (Corporal Queen), John C. Reilly (Mess Sergeant Storm), John Cusack (Capt. John Gaff), Larry Romano (Private Mazzi), Tim Blake Nelson (Private Tills), Woody Harrelson (Staff Sergeant Keck), George Clooney (Capt. Charles Bosche) and John Savage (McCron).


Grease (1978, Randal Kleiser)

The point of Grease isn’t the story, which is good, because screenwriters Bronte Woodard and Allan Carr do a disastrous job plotting. They also do a terrible job of writing their characters–ostensible protagonists John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John have the worst characterizations in a film full of bad characterizations. It doesn’t help the supporting cast does a lot better with their roles; they may all be caricatures, but actors like Stockard Channing, Jeff Conway, Kelly Ward and Didi Conn manage to do wonders with them.

The point of Grease is the musical numbers. The ones with Newton-John are terrible. Her acting is bad and her performing during her numbers is bad. Her singing is fine. Travolta apes well during his numbers and his singing is generally all right. When he’s got his melancholy solo, it’s a little much. Maybe because director Kleiser can’t direct the numbers when they aren’t fanciful.

But when they are fanciful–like Frankie Avalon’s number–Grease is awesome. About half of the musical numbers are good. Unfortunately, the other half tend to be tepid at best–especially the opening one introducing the protagonists.

There are some really nice smaller turns from Eve Arden and Sid Caesar. The film seems to appreciate it has solid cameo actors, but doesn’t really know how to use them. It doesn’t know how to use the main cast either, so it’s no surprise.

And after the first act, Grease moves really well. Except the inept car race sequence.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Randal Kleiser; screenplay by Bronte Woodard and Allen Carr, based on the musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by John F. Burnett; produced by Robert Stigwood and Carr; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring John Travolta (Danny), Olivia Newton-John (Sandy), Stockard Channing (Rizzo), Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), Barry Pearl (Doody), Michael Tucci (Sonny), Kelly Ward (Putzie), Didi Conn (Frenchy), Jamie Donnelly (Jan), Dinah Manoff (Marty), Eve Arden (Principal McGee), Frankie Avalon (Teen Angel), Joan Blondell (Vi), Edd Byrnes (Vince Fontaine), Alice Ghostley (Mrs. Murdock), Dody Goodman (Blanche) and Sid Caesar (Coach Calhoun).


Battlefield Earth (2000, Roger Christian)

If only someone involved in Battlefield Earth realized they should be making fun of the story instead of being earnest, it might have some camp value. Instead, between Barry Pepper’s humorless protagonist and John Travolta’s ludicrous villain, Earth is an exasperating affair. No one noticed Forest Whitaker looks like the Cowardly Lion? Really? He looks just like him. He just needs a tail.

I expected Earth to be far worse. Travolta’s bad but not spectacularly (for him). Earth just shows having a movie where most of the characters are giant stupid-looking space aliens is a bad idea. It doesn’t help director Roger Christian isn’t competent enough to direct a Downy Fabric Softener commercial. He tilts his camera all the time and apparently instructed editor Robin Russell to use a lot of Star Wars style transition swipes. But Earth has little in common with Star Wars. Battlefield Earth is hard sci-fi; it’s exactly why I snicker when I hear that phrase.

Well, Roman DeBeers notwithstanding.

Additionally terrible things about Earth include Giles Nuttgens’s photography, Elia Cmiral’s music (especially) and the writing. But it’s hard to say whether the dumbest elements are from the script or the source novel. The aliens, it turns out, never shut off the United States’s apparently infinite power grid… after a thousand years of occupation.

But the special effects aren’t bad and Kim Coates is actually good in his sidekick role.

And Earth does move somewhat briskly. The stupidity and wholesale ineptness make it interesting.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Christian; screenplay by Corey Mandell and J.D. Shapiro, based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard; director of photography, Giles Nuttgens; edited by Robin Russell; music by Elia Cmiral; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Elie Samaha, Jonathan D. Krane and John Travolta; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Travolta (Terl), Barry Pepper (Jonnie Goodboy Tyler), Forest Whitaker (Ker), Kim Coates (Carlo), Richard Tyson (Robert the Fox) and Sabine Karsenti (Chrissy).


Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)

In terms of De Palma’s direction, Carrie is a little bit of a mess. It’s a combination of Hitchcock as camp–which really cuts into the effectiveness of the finale–more religious imagery than, say, The Ten Commandments and, finally, some truly brilliant composition from De Palma. He, cinematography Mario Tosi and editor Paul Hirsch create a sometimes transcendent experience.

Sadly, the technical talent–including Pino Donaggio’s lovely score–and good performances don’t overpower the script problems. De Palma falls into the horror standard of using a big surprise ending to avoid having to include, you know, an actual ending. Someone seems to have misplaced Carrie‘s third act.

Some of the trouble probably stems from how much the filmmakers are hiding from the viewer. That aspect plays, unfortunately, into the Hitchcock camp factor I mentioned earlier. De Palma never figures out how seriously he wants to take the film–he’s often either slathering on the religion or making it a tad too goofy. The film’s at its best when he can’t do either, because the scenes need actual content. De Palma’s only goofy when he can fiddle with the pacing.

Sissy Spacek’s excellent in the lead, though she’s not really the protagonist or even the main character. The film forgets about her for long stretches. Nancy Allen’s also excellent as her evil antagonist. William Katt’s quite good too.

Piper Laurie’s okay, nothing more, as the psychotically religious mother.

The strong first half nearly makes up for the misfired finish.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Mario Tosi; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by Paul Monash; released by United Artists.

Starring Sissy Spacek (Carrie White), Betty Buckley (Miss Collins), Piper Laurie (Margaret White), William Katt (Tommy Ross), Nancy Allen (Chris Hargensen), Amy Irving (Sue Snell), John Travolta (Billy Nolan), P.J. Soles (Norma Watson), Priscilla Pointer (Mrs. Snell), Sydney Lassick (Mr. Fromm) and Stefan Gierasch (Mr. Morton).


Face/Off (1997, John Woo)

A lot of Face/Off is okay. Nicolas Cage does a great job as the hero stuck with the villain’s face and makes it worth watching. The same can’t be said for John Travolta, who’s only a little better as the villain with the hero’s face than he was as the hero (the movie’s got a half hour plus opening act), and he’s terrible as the hero.

I haven’t seen Face/Off in many years, though I’d probably still assume it’s Woo’s best American film. It’s amazing what stylization does to a picture–the story’s so stupid it could have been Tango & Cash 2 (well, okay, maybe not Tango & Cash 2, as some of the scenes are really effectively written), but people loved it.

Woo didn’t make those scenes good, it’s pretty clear; he’s totally disinterested with anything nuanced. He’s also disinterested with getting good performances. Besides Joan Allen, Robert Wisdom and CCH Pounder, practically every performance is cartoonish and awful. Alessandro Nivolo, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes… their performances make one wonder if the casting director was just playing a joke on the audience. Gina Gershon’s weak too, but more miscast than bad. Margaret Cho, however, gives one of the worst performances I can think of right now.

There’s a lot of good stunt work, a lot of gunfights–it’s hard to call them good, since everyone has bad aim except when shooting at unnamed very supporting cast members and it gets annoying, and it’s never boring until the finale.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Woo; written by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Christian Wagner and Steven Kemper; music by John Powell; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by David Permut, Barrie M. Osborne, Terence Chang and Christopher Godsick; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring John Travolta (Sean Archer), Nicolas Cage (Castor Troy), Joan Allen (Eve Archer), Alessandro Nivola (Pollux Troy), Gina Gershon (Sasha Hassler), Dominique Swain (Jamie Archer), Nick Cassavetes (Dietrich Hassler) and Colm Feore (Dr. Malcolm Walsh).


From Paris with Love (2010, Pierre Morel)

So, coming off their collaborative success of Taken, Morel and producer Luc Besson decide to… make a John Travolta star vehicle? It’s about ten years too late and probably something someone should have made before Battlefield: Earth. I mean, the endless Pulp Fiction references and the awful attempts at Tarantino-esque dialogue. It’s frequently painful.

In fact, the only amusing thing might be seeing the stuntman standing in for Travolta (whose got to be the biggest secret agent in a while), but the editing doesn’t even allow that small pleasure.

From Paris with Love has to be Besson’s biggest failure (at least as a producer of simple action pictures). He didn’t write the script, which is apparently a big mistake, since Paris is all over the place. It tries to use buzz words–terrorist–to get a lot of effect and it’s pretty lame throughout. There’s a compelling train wreck factor to it, however.

Travolta’s a little more restrained in one of the more miscast roles I can remember (it’s clearly a role for someone like Jean Reno) and he’s so wrong for the role, one feels sympathy. Jonathan Rhys Meyers–playing an American with a questionable accent–is awful. I kept waiting for Travolta’s brash, rude secret agent to make a comment about Rhys Meyers’s silly mustache.

Morel’s direction is weak, a bland action movie style. It’d probably be impossible to shoot this script well.

Kasia Smutniak and Richard Durden probably give the only two acceptable performances.

It’s lousy.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Pierre Morel; screenplay by Adi Hasak, based on a story by Luc Besson; director of photography, Michel Abramowicz; edited by Frédéric Thoraval; music by David Buckley; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; produced by Besson, India Osborne and Virginie Silla; released by EuropaCorp.

Starring John Travolta (Charlie Wax), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (James Reece), Kasia Smutniak (Caroline), Richard Durden (Ambassador Bennington), Yin Bing (M. Wong), Amber Rose Revah (Nichole), Eric Godon (Foreign Minister) and François Bredon (The Thug).


The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009, Tony Scott)

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 might be the worst directed film I’ve ever liked. I haven’t seen a Tony Scott effort in eight years and he just gets more and more obnoxious with the post production effects. It’s like he’s competing with himself to affect more style and be more visually incoherent than any other filmmaker working today. With the possible exception of Simon West, he seems to be succeeding.

But even Scott can’t ruin a solid Denzel Washington star vehicle and, with the exception of John Travolta, Pelham is rather well-cast. Luis Guzmán is wasted, but James Gandolfini has some good moments, as does John Turturro. Instead of teaming with Scott again for this one, Washington should have brought in Spike Lee, whose realistic sense of New York would have played well with Helgeland’s script’s more fanciful, Hollywood characterization.

The film’s only source credit is the novel, which it doesn’t resemble much narratively, and it doesn’t improve anything on the earlier adaptation. In fact, it wastes the potential with Travolta, who does better than usual I suppose, but he’s not interesting to watch opposite Washington. He’s just not in the same caliber of acting and it isn’t interesting.

The film’s way too long, with the third act dragging on and on. The end’s a little bit absurd too, as Scott tries to pretend he’s capable of an honest observation of the human condition.

But it’s a decent hostage thriller. Even if Scott’s mise-en-scène horrifies.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Scott; screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by John Godey; director of photography, Tobias A. Schliessler; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Chris Seagers; produced by Todd Black, Scott, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Denzel Washington (Walter Garber), John Travolta (Ryder), John Turturro (Camonetti), Luis Guzmán (Phil Ramos), Michael Rispoli (John Johnson), James Gandolfini (Mayor), Frank Wood (Police Commissioner Sterman), John Benjamin Hickey (Deputy Mayor LaSalle), Gary Basaraba (Jerry Pollard) and Ramon Rodriguez (Delgado).


The Punisher (2004, Jonathan Hensleigh)

Considering Dolph Lundgren got famous playing a blond Russian and can definitely act better than Kevin Nash, who doesn’t even have any lines and is terrible, it’s telling Jonathan Hensleigh didn’t bring him back for a small role, an acknowledgment of the far superior 1989 Punisher adaptation.

Whereas that film–and to some extent, the one following this effort–tried to be a senselessly violent action revenge movie, Hensleigh’s Punisher tries to rationalize the comic book character, who’s never been conducive to such analysis. The closest is Garth Ennis’s recently concluded terminating work on the character, which acknowledges the unreality and tragedy of being an unstoppable killing machine.

Hensleigh tries to turn Thomas Jane’s Punisher into a sympathetic hero. He fails miserably and, as a result, gives Jane the worst written role in a movie filled with poorly written roles. When John Travolta, all in all, turns in a better performance than Will Patton, it might very be the end of the world as we know it.

Laura Harring is atrocious. Who else… oh, poor Roy Scheider. Why was he in this one?

The best performance is from Rebecca Romijn. Really. She’s actually totally believable as a regular person with real problems. Ben Foster and John Pinette are both good too, as Romijn’s sidekicks.

Hensleigh is a boring director, but not terrible. His wife, Gale Anne Hurd, probably got him the job. She should have brought in a real screenwriter.

Carlo Siliotto’s music, though inappropriate (it’s heroic), is all right.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh; screenplay by Hensleigh and Michael France, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru; director of photography, Conrad W. Hall; edited by Jeff Gullo and Steven Kemper; music by Carlo Siliotto; production designer, Michael Z. Hanan; produced by Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Thomas Jane (Frank Castle), John Travolta (Howard Saint), Will Patton (Quentin Glass), Roy Scheider (Frank Castle Sr.), Laura Harring (Livia Saint), Ben Foster (Dave), Jon Pinette (Mr. Bumpo), Rebecca Romijn (Joan), Samantha Mathis (Maria Castle) and Marcus Johns (Will Castle).


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