Matt Damon

Green Zone (2010, Paul Greengrass)

Most of Green Zone is the best film I’ve seen about the Iraq war, simply because Greengrass is often satisfied with letting the film just be concrete situations (he opens with Matt Damon and his crew having to deal with a sniper and it establishes a great tone). However, Green Zone isn’t just a war movie… it’s an action conspiracy thriller and one set in reality, so eventually the film has to turn Damon into a superhero.

The film bombed, which isn’t much a surprise given how Americans are happiest when avoiding critical thinking and intellectualism. And calling Green Zone intellectual is a stretch—it’s a slick Hollywood picture. It’s like Syriana distilled into simple syrup and added into an Orange Julius smoothie. But screenwriter Brian Helgeland does slick better than almost anyone and he turns in a fantastic script, just one with some problems….

Like how the film isn’t willing to condemn anyone except a singular corrupt Bush administration official… and U.S. soldiers who torture civilians are eventually given a pass too. For all the hubbub, it’s very diplomatic to xenophobes. It does team Bourne collaborators Damon and Greengrass again. It’s not like those movies were made for intellectuals.

The acting’s universally solid. Damon’s excellent (though even he can’t sell the end), as is Brendan Gleeson (playing George Clooney from Syriana). Jason Isaacs is great as one of the villains. Khalid Abdalla is good as Damon’s Iraqi sidekick.

It’s predictable, but extraordinary well-done thanks to Greengrass and Helgeland.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Greengrass; screenplay by Brian Helgeland, inspired by a book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran; director of photography, Barry Ackroyd; edited by Christopher Rouse; music by John Powell; production designer, Dominic Watkins; produced by Greengrass, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Lloyd Levin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Matt Damon (Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller), Greg Kinnear (Clark Poundstone), Brendan Gleeson (Martin Brown), Amy Ryan (Lawrie Dayne), Khalid Abdalla (Freddy), Yigal Naor (Al Rawi) and Jason Isaacs (Lieutenant Briggs).


True Grit (2010, Joel and Ethan Coen)

By doing a faithful adaptation of the source novel, the Coen brothers ignore what True Grit does really well. It’s the incredible adventure of a girl, told without any gloss and at times rather harsh. It features one of those great child actor performances (from Hailee Steinfeld). And with their faithful adaptation, the Coen brothers take the role away from Steinfeld and give it to Elizabeth Marvel, playing the role as an adult.

Even worse, they end the film with way too thoughtful narration as a coda. It serves to establish True Grit as a “serious” Western instead of just a Western, something the rest of the film doesn’t really do. There’s nothing profound about the film’s narrative, it’s just what the Coen brothers do–they make really good films.

Their composition here is fantastic. With Roger Deakins shooting Grit, I don’t think there’s a single bad shot in the film (until the overlong third act, which also gives the viewer time to calculate story implausibilities and contrivances). There are many wonderful shots.

Bridges is good but his essaying of the role is a little abrupt. Matt Damon has less to work with and does more. The film’s mostly Steinfeld for the first act, the trio for the second, then the third introduces Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. Again, Brolin’s got the showier role and ostensibly more material, but it’s Pepper who shines.

It’s very well made and very entertaining. They just didn’t make the profound film the ending suggests.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, screenplay by the Coen brothers, based on the novel by Charles Portis; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jess Gonchor; produced by the Coen brothers and Scott Rudin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf), Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney), Barry Pepper (Lucky Ned Pepper), Bruce Green (Harold Parmalee), Roy Lee Jones (Yarnell) and Elizabeth Marvel (adult Mattie).


The Informant! (2009, Steven Soderbergh)

How does Steven Soderbergh pick projects–more, what kind of artist’s statement would he make? The Informant! is his best film–among all his other rather good films–in a while and it owes more to what he learned on Ocean’s Eleven 12 and 13 than on any of his other films. It’s a great time, but it’s a great time with a bunch of humanity. I think I’ve said it before, but one can look at a Soderbergh film and see where he’s learned something from a previous effort but this identification doesn’t hinder the work at all. It’s still brilliant, even if it’s clear he developed some approach or method from, say, Solaris.

I knew, off the bat, The Informant! was going to be amazing for a couple reasons. First, the opening titles. It looks like The Conversation, only with the titles in this goofy font. Then, the music. Marvin Hamlisch. The score’s this amazingly fun, vibrant, colorful thing of its own. It’s incredible to see a nearly mainstream picture with this kind of approach. It makes up for Matt Damon wasting his time in those Bourne movies.

Damon’s performance in the film probably has to be his best, if only because he too is mixing genres. He’s creating a real person, but with all the humor stuff he learned in the Ocean’s films. And Soderbergh’s use of Scott Bakula against type as a sensitive FBI agent.

Or Melanie Lynskey’s outstanding performance as Damon’s wife.

A fantastic film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Scott Z. Burns, based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Doug J. Meerdink; produced by Gregory Jacobs, Jennifer Fox, Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein and Eichenwald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Matt Damon (Mark Whitacre), Scott Bakula (Agent Brian Shepard), Joel McHale (Bob Herndon), Melanie Lynskey (Ginger Whitacre), Thomas F. Wilson (Mark Cheviron), Allan Havey (Dean Paisley), Patton Oswalt (Ed Herbst), Scott Adsit (Sid Hulse), Eddie Jemison (Kirk Schmidt), Clancy Brown (Aubrey Daniel), Richard Steven Horvitz (Bob Zaideman) and Tony Hale (James Epstein).


Dogma (1999, Kevin Smith)

I have a hard time identifying my biggest problem with Dogma. Is it the lack of good narrative? Smith’s script, which does have some very funny scenes in it, is one of the worst attempts at an epical plot I’ve ever seen. It’s inept. It’s pat. Combined with some of the terrible performances, the whole thing feels like a made-for-the-internet video, the kind of thing someone would have done for cheap as an online video, but with his or her famous friends (giving bad performances). The big dramatic scenes are terrible, the one liners tend to work… a lot of the problem is the acting, and Smith’s inability to recognize his own terrible direction. He shoots Dogma widescreen (sort of, he shot in Super 35 and framed it to his liking… maybe a less wide presentation would have been better) and doesn’t know how to compose for it. With Dogma, Smith was directing his fourth feature film. One would think he would know at least how to do a decent composition with that aspect ratio. At least a workman composition. He doesn’t.

The acting. Maybe the way to start is listing the people who give an okay or better performance in Dogma. Matt Damon, Jason Mewes, Alan Rickman, Janeane Garofalo and George Carlin. I supposed Bud Cort does a fine job, as do Clerks stars Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson. The rest? The rest of the cast give terrible, pedestrian, amateurish performances. Dogma‘s a disaster in terms of acting. Of the remainder, Chris Rock’s at least funny. He gives a terrible performance, it’s hard to even call what he’s doing acting, but at least he’s funny. Ben Affleck’s awful. How Smith didn’t notice he was terrible during filming is beyond belief. Affleck’s just mugging–the problem is mostly with Smith’s script, which is a bunch of speeches, there are no characters, except Damon’s. Smith also gets a bad performance out of Linda Fiorentino, which I wasn’t sure was possible, but he does it. Gold star for him that day! Jason Lee’s terrible. He’s so unfunny I watched his scenes wondering if his agent used clips from Dogma on audition reels. I doubt it. Salma Hayek’s performance is one of the worst in any major motion picture I can think of. I suppose Alanis Morissette’s fine, thinking about it.

Robert D. Yeoman’s photography is atrocious. He’s actually a great cinematographer and has shot a lot of far more complex films–for Wes Anderson for instance–so obviously the problem’s Smith. Big shock. Can’t compose for Panavision aspect ratio nor can he properly convey instructions to his cinematographer–Dogma, which wasn’t shot on a credit card, looks cheaper than many horror directors’ early projects (for example, The Evil Dead and Braindead look a lot more finished).

My wife says I don’t like Dogma because I don’t get all the religious references. Those are fine, but they’re parsley. They’re parsley on a moldy corn dog.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kevin Smith; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Scott Mosier and Smith; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Robert Holtzman; produced by Mosier; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Ben Affleck (Bartleby), Matt Damon (Loki), Linda Fiorentino (Bethany Sloane), Jason Mewes (Jay), Chris Rock (Rufus), Alan Rickman (Metatron), Jason Lee (Azrael), Salma Hayek (Serendipity), Kevin Smith (Silent Bob), Janeane Garofalo (Liz), George Carlin (Cardinal Ignatius Glick), Alanis Morissette (God), Brian O’Halloran (Grant Hicks) and Bud Cort (John Doe Jersey).


Ocean’s Thirteen (2007, Steven Soderbergh)

A friend of mine thinks this entry is the series’s most successful, but–while it is a tad confrontational–I prefer the outright hostility to the average viewer the second one exhibits. Ocean’s Thirteen seems to be made more for the remaining audience. The people who got Twelve. The scenes in Mexico, in particular, are the sort of absurdist humor only Soderbergh can get away with. I actually had to pause the film to laugh while the wife wondered why we were stopping.

The film isn’t just missing Julia Roberts, it’s missing needing her. The job becomes so central to the film from five minutes in, the particulars of the characters aren’t important. Clooney and Pitt do have some great scenes together–the Oprah scene is a winner, as is the film’s half-way point emotional scene, with the two back where they ended the first film for a nice moment. Damon’s role is smaller as well.

Instead of filling the empty space–even with the ultra-produced heist summaries, there’s empty space–by bumping up the supporting members of the team, Thirteen just gives it all to Al Pacino. Pacino’s a hilarious bad guy, embracing a touch of silliness I don’t think he ever has before. Besides his scenes with Barkin (she’s great too), he only really has contact with Clooney and, for a moment each scene, it’s jarring. Danny Ocean shouldn’t be talking to Al Pacino that way… it’s Al Pacino.

Even with the stylization of the second film, which was semi-referential as well as strangely affecting, Thirteen is–stylistically–Soderbergh’s tour de force for the series. The color palatte, lots of reds, lots of blues, is lush and complicated. It might be, in addition to the sound mixing, the way Thirteen is most hostile to the viewer. Obviously, with a film mostly set indoors, Soderbergh has lots of fun with his sets.

The general opinion of the cast, as I recall, is Thirteen is the series’s final entry. I agree a break–and a significant one–is in order, but (and somehow more than the second one) this entry raises an intriguing question. If Soderbergh, Clooney, Pitt, Damon and team can make such a fun (and technically astounding) film with such a mediocre plot… what could they do with a good one?

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by David Holmes; production designer, Philip Messina; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton), Ellen Barkin (Abigail Sponder), Al Pacino (Willy Bank), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy), Scott Caan (Turk Malloy), Eddie Jemison (Livingston Dell), Shaobo Qin (Yen), Carl Reiner (Saul Bloom) and Elliott Gould (Reuben Tishkoff).


The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese)

It’s hilarious, of course, Scorsese finally won an Oscar for the film least like his work. The Departed is the really serious movie Mel Gibson and Richard Donner never got around to making in the late 1990s… but Scorsese–I don’t know if Scorsese adds something to the mix or if he just knew how to package the product. I imagine he finally won because The Departed showed he was firmly committed, finally, to being commercial. But there’s something subversive in Departed‘s commercial sensibilities. Scorsese and his technical crew (cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and editor Thelma Schoonmaker) loose on a Hollywood picture (the connections to, say, The Devil’s Own are more plentiful than not). Schoonmaker’s editing in the film is her most innovative work because it’s new–the way the story’s being told is new… from Ballhaus’s lighting, Schoomaker’s editing, and Scorsese’s digital happy (but it’s shot on film) shots. The IMDb trivia section talks about CG composites for the film and maybe they’re an indicator… Yes, The Departed is another Scorsese mob movie (but one without storytelling sprawl), but it’s a CG-friendly, Irish Scorsese mob movie.

My friend told me, after he saw the film, it was a comedy. I never quite understood him, until maybe ten minutes in. The Departed takes all the great humor from Goodfellas (and all the stuff from Casino but makes it work) and expands on it. You’re supposed to leave, if not laughing, at least amused. It’s a Martin Scorsese blockbuster, meant to engage you and worry you (Scorsese creates a palpable, pulsating sense of dread) and excite you and then spit you out. Scorsese does such a perfect job with the technical aspects and the legitimacy of the film’s story (not having a Nicholas Pileggi non-fiction to fall back on), it doesn’t matter the film’s got a certain apathy to itself.

The apathy comes through clearest in the case of Leonardo DiCaprio. While Matt Damon gets to run wild–sort of Good Will Hunting gone bad–and have as much fun as everyone else (the film’s filled with wild, wonderful performances), DiCaprio’s the serious one here. His character spends the entire film miserable and the viewer spends the entire film waiting for him to get even a moment of relief. It’s a solid performance from DiCaprio, but pales compared to his supporting cast. DiCaprio’s story, the one the film doesn’t tell, is the traditional Scorsese story (though, still a little more commercial than usual). But somehow the mix of humor and dread make it all disappear–The Departed is about what happens and Scorsese understands (though I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film with that intent of his before–not even Cape Fear–though I’ve missed the other DiCaprio collaborations) how to use the advance from the viewer to the film’s advantage.

Given how odd a Scorsese movie it is, I’ve ignored Jack Nicholson this long. It’s not going to be particularly exciting, unfortunately… For about thirty years, Nicholson has had a standard crazy performance… in The Departed, he finally manages to turn it in to a character. Maybe all it needed all along was a Scorsese mob movie (Nicholson’s character, Irish heritage aside, resembles a smarter Scorsese Joe Pesci character). Seeing Nicholson finally get those roles to pay off is great.

The rest of the actors–Ray Winstone, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin–are all great. Vera Farmiga is quite good too, though most of her role is spent reacting to the male leads… she’s practically tacked on to the film for a female presence. It’s no surprise her role is the one without the looseness (she and DiCaprio’s scenes together, though contrived, provide a nice, non-plot-driven break… if only because, after a bunch of red herrings, the scenes don’t really affect the film’s events).

The Departed is easily Scorsese’s worst great film… the lack of artistic ambition is stunning, but Scorsese gets it too and he works with it, makes it not matter.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by William Monahan, based on a screenplay by Mak Siu-Fai and Felix Chong; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Brad Pitt, Brad Grey and Graham King; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Billy Costigan), Matt Damon (Colin Sullivan), Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Mark Wahlberg (Dignam), Martin Sheen (Queenan), Ray Winstone (Mr. French), Vera Farmiga (Madolyn), Alec Baldwin (Ellerby) and Anthony Anderson (Brown).


The Bourne Ultimatum (2007, Paul Greengrass)

The only good thing about The Bourne Ultimatum, besides Joan Allen, who can apparently survive (and fluorish in) anything, is how rabidly anti-Republican the film’s details get. The film’s CIA bad guys in this one are using the “war on terror“ to assassinate US citizens. I haven’t read an outcry about it, so I imagine it isn’t my being more adept at recognizing the parallels (or propagandizing), but rather the stupidity of American filmgoers.

But besides that aspect, Ultimatum is a heinous piece of work. For the first half, while nothing happens except a travel video, I kept thinking about Paul Greengrass’s attempt at cinéma vérité, specifically–if it’s supposed to be ultra-real, why is there a musical score blaring the entire time. I mean, it must have occurred to someone, right? I can’t imagine sales of The Bourne Ultimatum score are profitable enough to excuse an enormous conceptual mistake.

It soon becomes clear Ultimatum is following all the set pieces of the second movie (I can’t remember the title right now), only with different details. There’s even the part where the girlfriend’s going to die, only with minor deviations. Then Bourne gets to New York and there’s a neat tie-in to the end of the second movie and then it’s over after a chase scene. It’s not just absent any character development, it’s absent any palpable content.

Watching the film, having seen Matt Damon most recently acting well in Ocean’s Twelve and even better in Syriana, I realized this Bourne performance–absent any humanity–is really a Marky Mark impression. But not Marky Mark in actual films, rather Marky Mark in previews to his films. Or it’s Damon’s audition tape for Terminator 4. After the first half hour or hour or three days, however long the film goes before they get to New York, I kept waiting for Damon to act. And I’m still waiting.

Like I said, Allen is good. I agreed to see the film because David Strathairn’s probably never been bad. And now I can’t make that statement anymore. It’s not his fault; he’s just playing a Republican, so he too is absent any humanity. I felt really bad for him, it’s a considerable slight against his body of work. Albert Finney’s pretty lame too, but his quality resurgence is recent; there have to be some real stinkers in there over the course of his career. Allen and Strathairn really deserve a good movie (a good John Sayles movie maybe). Julia Stiles shows up for a bit and she’s okay. The character revelations about her and Damon are probably illegal but who cares. Scott Glenn has a small role and he’s awful. Greengrass appears not to care whether or not his actors act well. But if he’s missing the thing about there not being a musical score in real life, worrying about acting is a bit too much to ask.

The action scenes are generally terrible. There’s a car chase identical to the one in the second movie, there are some fight scenes (again, probably identical, I wasn’t paying attention–they’re trying to endure). The script’s not simply unimaginative, it’s particularly terrible. It’s obvious and predictable, with terrible dialogue and ludicrous character developments and reactions.

I didn’t expect it to be so boring, but then I didn’t expect it to be a rehash of the second movie either.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Greengrass; written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi, based on a story by Gilroy and the novel by Robert Ludlum; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Christopher Rouse; music by John Powell; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley and Paul L. Sandberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Julia Stiles (Nicky Parsons), David Strathairn (Noah Vosen), Scott Glenn (Ezra Kramer), Paddy Considine (Simon Ross), Edgar Ramirez (Paz), Albert Finney (Dr. Albert Hirsch) and Joan Allen (Pamela Landy).


Ocean’s Twelve (2004, Steven Soderbergh)

The amusement factor. Does that term even make any sense? Ocean’s Twelve is, in case anyone watching it was confused (which I find hard to believe, but of the principals, only George Clooney makes exclusively smart movies so Brad Pitt and Matt Damon fans are suspect), about enjoying itself. It throws itself a party no less. If a person doesn’t like having a good time, they aren’t going to like Ocean’s Twelve (and I’ve heard from plenty of people who don’t), because it’s all about having a good time. Nothing else. There’s other stuff in it–Steven Soderbergh treats the whole thing as an in-joke. From the editing, the music, the photography, there’s a lot of reference to European films (well, French and Italian, no one references many British films) of the 1950s and 1960s. And Ocean’s Twelve is very in-jokey. Almost everyone beyond the principals (and then, even some of them) come straight from other Soderbergh films. While the first film was a real movie–with a real narrative–this one eschews all that nonsense to give the viewer two entertaining hours.

What’s most exciting about a Soderbergh film is seeing what he’s learned since last time. For instance, Ocean’s Twelve is directly informed by his work on Full Frontal. The stuff Soderbergh does in this film–this Hollywood blockbuster–is unbelievable. Trying to imagine a theater-full of people watching this film might have given me more pleasure than it should have. Half the technical aspects of it are Soderbergh mocking the movie-going audience. He’s not slowly introducing people to new ideas or giving them an opportunity to discover foreign-language films they might not have seen. He’s making fun, but he’s also having fun and, as a result, many of the performances in Ocean’s Twelve are among its cast’s best. I’m thinking primarily of Catherine Zeta-Jones, who always takes herself (as a superstar-in-the-making) so seriously to middling effect; she’s fantastic in this film. She and Brad Pitt ought to do about six more movies together. Pitt, in his comedic mode, is so obviously good I wasn’t even going to mention him. Pitt should only do comedies. Matt Damon, however, has a lot to do in Twelve–definitely more than George Clooney, who disappears for a large portion of the film–and Damon’s good. I barely remember him from the first one and while the rest of the cast play outlandish enough characters they establish themselves immediately, Damon actually has to do some work… and he does an excellent job.

I quickly queued Ocean’s Twelve after a friend said he couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it, in that hushed, “You haven’t seen Paths of Glory?” tone, but then he went on to explain it was just such a wonderful experience to watch the film. I didn’t just feel bad when it was over, I felt bad when I was twenty-two minutes in and I realized I only had another hundred minutes to go. It’s a delight.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by George Nolfi; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by David Holmes; production designer, Philip Messina; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Isabel Lahiri), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton), Julia Roberts (Tess Ocean), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy), Scott Caan (Turk Malloy), Vincent Cassel (François Toulour), Eddie Jemison (Livingston Dell), Carl Reiner (Saul Bloom), Shaobo Qin (Yen) and Elliott Gould (Reuben Tishkoff).


Syriana (2005, Stephen Gaghan)

What a sprawling and ambitious film… oh, wait, it’s actually neither. Syriana has a bunch of good performances (Matt Damon being the stand-out lead and Amanda Peet or Alexander Siddig being the supporting, with William Hurt turning in a really nice extended cameo), but with the exception of the Muslim suicide bomber, it’s emotionally empty… soulless. I did have one problem with the suicide bomber–he strikes at target whose destruction would immediately improve the world. That’s not how suicide bombers actually act (the world situation would be a lot different if they did).

Describing the three main, failed plotlines–man has to come to terms with his son’s death, man has to come to terms with his career ending, man has to come to terms with racism–makes Syriana sound rather promising. But Gaghan displays even more disinterest in the human condition than his script for Traffic did. He’s not writing about people brought together by coincidence or passion, these people are all brought together by the situation. Syriana is dramatic fiction. Trying to present it as a multiple camera, pseudo-documentary does disservice to all the good work the actors put in to the film.

The politics Syriana discusses are probably not common knowledge, but a common American isn’t well-informed (or interested). There’s nothing in this film that has been documented, nothing that five minutes of a Noam Chomsky interview wouldn’t elucidate further. It’s political science for people who watch “Friends.” I really didn’t expect much more from the film (or Gaghan), so I’m not disappointed. Seeing the good acting (though Jeffrey Wright was so passive he disappeared and it’s the first bad Christopher Plummer performance I’ve ever seen), particularly Hurt and Peet, was a treat and the film’s only a couple hours long. I just wish I hadn’t had to pee for the second hour.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Gaghan; screenplay by Gaghan, suggested by a book by Robert Baer; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Jennifer Fox, Michael Nozik and Georgia Kacandes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Bob Barnes), Matt Damon (Bryan Woodman), Jeffrey Wright (Bennett Holiday), Chris Cooper (Jimmy Pope), William Hurt (Stan Goff), Mazhar Munir (Wasim Ahmed Khan), Tim Blake Nelson (Danny Dalton), Amanda Peet (Julie Woodman), Christopher Plummer (Dean Whiting), William C. Mitchell (Bennett Holiday Sr.), Shahid Ahmed (Saleem Ahmed Khan) and Alexander Siddig (Prince Nasir Al-Subaai).


The Rainmaker (1997, Francis Ford Coppola)

The Rainmaker‘s got some beautiful stuff in it. My history with it is somewhat sorted… I discovered it on DVD, then abandoned it–and have now rediscovered it. I can’t remember what my last problem with it was–probably the same as my current one–but I was selling DVDs and needed cash.

It’s not perfect and has some noticeable flaws–the ever-present narration, for example. Just because Michael Herr and Coppola’s last collaboration was Apocalypse Now… well, the narration is Apocalypse Now was not its driving force. Coppola lets the narration run The Rainmaker, not trusting his material. The material is strong too. The only weak point is the love story, which is rather tame–I don’t think there’s even a real kiss–and Claire Danes does not ruin it. Coppola doesn’t let her do anything, hardly lets her talk, so she’s just scenery. So, instead of being some dark driving force–the son finally saving the abused mother–it’s just something to pass the time.

Otherwise, the film is perfectly cast (except Andrew Shue). Of particular note are Johnny Whitworth, Mickey Rourke, and Dannys Glover and DeVito. Matt Damon’s great. I forgot he was great (pre-Bourne), back when he was going to be a superstar. The film’s main failing is probably that it doesn’t have a solid foundation. It’d be indescribably beautiful if the film juxtaposed the young attorney with the various results of the legal profession. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even focus too much on the case. There’s that silly love story, instead of the solid story about the friendship between Damon and Whitworth, that only gets a montage.

Unfortunately, The Rainmaker is going to lead to me watching a bunch of other abandoned films. But it’s certainly a good indication I might have foolishly left some other good ones behind.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Coppola and Michael Herr, based on the novel by John Grisham; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Barry Malkin; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Michael Douglas, Steven Reuther and Fred Fuchs; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Matt Damon (Rudy Baylor), Danny DeVito (Deck Schifflet), Claire Danes (Kelly Riker), Jon Voight (Leo F. Drummond), Mary Kay Place (Dot Black), Teresa Wright (Miss Birdie), Virginia Madsen (Jackie Lemancyzk), Mickey Rourke (Bruiser Stone), Roy Scheider (Wilfred Keeley), Randy Travis (Billy Porter), Johnny Whitworth (Donny Ray Black), Danny Glover (Judge Tyrone Kipler) and Andrew Shue (Cliff Riker).


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