Michelle Monaghan

Source Code (2011, Duncan Jones)

Source Code is very much MacGuffin as movie. Numerous plot details exist solely to justify (and qualify) certain creative decisions; the film takes a bunch of familiar and somewhat familiar—depending on the viewer’s preferences—sci-fi tropes, devices, and gimmicks, streamlines them, then combines them in those spared-down states. For example, a time traveller in the future “jumping” into the past to learn from it; someone jumping into the past while aided by someone in the present giving direction. The time traveller not having as much information… I mean, okay, basically Source Code functions like it’s “Quantum Leap,” just with different technology and rules.

The film avoids going too deep on those rules and—especially—the technology because director Jones only wants to keep the viewer engaged and engaged enough to forgive the various logic problems. And until the overwrought ending, Source Code does an excellent job of keeping one engaged. Jones is working against a lot of constraints—the ninety minute runtime, the budget, Ben Ripley’s script; most of the film’s cheaper creative decisions come from that script. Like lead Jake Gyllenhaal being a decorated but soulful soldier with a really macho name. The soldier bit doesn’t actually play into the movie besides lip service—including unironic uses of both “War on Terror” and “Thank You For Your Service”—which maybe is required in a movie about a terrorist attack on Chicago not involving giant robots or flying men post-9/11.

Or it’s just the script. It’s entirely possible Ripley’s script’s bad elements are just Ripley’s writing. There’s plenty of evidence of his other bad writing, why not give it all to him.

Jones does a fantastic job taking the mundane and making it incredible. It helps for the action, it helps with the comedy, it helps with the pseudo-hard sci-fi elements.

The film starts with a series of wonderful shots of Chicago, drilling down on to a single commuter train—even if Source Code isn’t your bag, if you’ve ever ridden the Metra in Chicago, you should see it. On this train is Jake Gyllenhaal. He wakes up sitting across from Michelle Monaghan and has no memory of how he got there. In fact, it’s impossible for him to be there—he’s an Army helicopter pilot and he was just on mission in Afghanistan. Monaghan’s calling him a different name, his face is different in the mirror, it’s a very strange situation. But it only lasts eight minutes because then the train explodes.

Gyllenhaal wakes up in a flight suit, strapped to some kind of machine, in a spherical cockpit thing with Vera Farmiga (in a military uniform) on a video monitor talking at him. Gyllenhaal can’t remember how he got there, which kicks off Farmiga trying to get him back in sync. It takes Source Code most of the first act to establish the rules of Gyllenhaal and the time travel, but there are some big secrets the film’s keeping for later reveals. Source Code always has something else to reveal, though usually only because Ripley can’t figure out a way to be honest with the viewer (or Gyllenhaal).

Gyllenhaal’s worried about his fellow soldiers, worried about his dad, but a very rude Farmiga doesn’t care—he’s got to get back in time to figure out where the bomb is located on the train, who placed the bomb. They’re trying to prevent the second attack, so back in time Gyllenhaal goes again for another try. Subsequent tries has Gyllenhaal making some progress with the investigation and getting to know Monaghan. Now, while Monaghan’s part is sort of romantic comedy lead, it’s still stunning how fast Gyllenhaal falls for her. She’s polite to one person and he’s hooked.

But then Gyllenhaal gets the idea to investigate himself during his time in the past, which causes some conflict with Farmiga, who has to bring in her boss, Jeffrey Wright. Jeffrey Wright is a standard slime ball civilian military scientist. He’s the Samuel Beckett of Source Code but it would never occur to him to try the machine himself. Why bother when you’ve got soldiers. A little Wright goes a long way; the point where he starts getting more screen time is when it’s clear the present day stuff is never going to be very good. And not just because Ripley didn’t even come up with a reason for Farmiga to be assigned to the unit. She’s in the Air Force, not the practical application of quantum mechanics and string theory department. It wouldn’t matter if the film gave the impression there’s an answer, but it’s pretty clear there isn’t one. Not a reasonable one anyway.

Source Code stays away from answers, what with its spaghetti on the wall approach to quantum mechanics and whatnot. It does not want to engage with its audience. Engagement means consideration. And since it’s all about a MacGuffin and a poorly developed MacGuffin… consideration’s out.

Gyllenhaal’s great in the lead, able to do the sci-fi, the drama, the action. Source Code, the script, doesn’t ask for much from him, but Gyllenhaal and Jones manage to turn it into a decent role. Monaghan’s really likable and she’s solid, even if her part manages to be an eighth of a real one; she does make an impression, which is something given she’s one of fifty possible suspects Gyllenhaal has to investigate in just ninety minutes.

Excellent editing from Paul Hirsch helps a lot with Gyllenhaal’s Groundhog Days. Pretty good music from Chris Bacon. Perfectly serviceable photography from Don Burgess; I mean, it mixes well with the CG action sequences.

Farmiga’s fine. She’s got even less of a character than Monaghan but probably ought to have the most important part. Shame about that script.

Not allowing any subplots but encouraging the expectation of them is another of its problems; it hurts Farmiga.

There’s also a lengthy racial profiling scene where Gyllenhaal targets a Brown person for being Brown—which Monaghan calls him on—but the movie just goes ahead with it because threat of terrorism; sci-fi apparently allows for some meta-bigotry, which doesn’t seem out of place given the film’s jingoistic posturing.

Also the title is bad. It refers to the “Quantum Leap” machine Wright makes and Wright’s nowhere near good enough not to make “Source Code” sound stupid whenever he uses it as a proper noun.

Source Code’s a solid rollercoaster ride; who knows what they’d have been able to do with another twenty minutes, some good rewrites, and another ten million or so in the budget.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Duncan Jones; written by Ben Ripley; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Chris Bacon; production designer, Barry Chusid; costume designer, Renée April; produced by Mark Gordon, Philippe Rousselet, and Jordan Wynn; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Colter Stevens), Michelle Monaghan (Christina Warren), Vera Farmiga (Colleen Goodwin), Jeffrey Wright (Dr. Rutledge), Michael Arden (Derek Frost), Cas Anvar (Hazmi), and Russell Peters (Max Denoff).


Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018, Christopher McQuarrie)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is two and a half hours of almost constant, continuous action. There’s an opening sequence to set things up–Tom Cruise botches a mission because he likes his sidekicks too much (and who wouldn’t like Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, who make a fantastic pair in the film). He gets in dutch not with boss Alec Baldwin (who can barely maintain his man crush on Cruise) but with Angela Bassett, who’s the CIA boss. Cruise and company are IMF, which stands for Impossible Mission Force. Oddly, even though Henry Cavill (as Bassett’s CIA muscle who tags along to babysit Cruise) makes fun of the Mission: Impossible “let’s wear masks and pretend to be bad guys” thing, he doesn’t make fun of the Impossible Mission Force name.

Maybe writer (and director) McQuarrie only wanted to go so far with it.

So even though Cruise has botched the opening mission, Bassett’s willing to let him go off and try to save the world from rogue secret agents who want plutonium. Sadly they don’t need it to get 1.21 gigawatts, they need it to set off nuclear bombs and destabilize the world as we know it. As long as he takes Cavill along.

Bassett describes Cruise as a scalpel and Cavill as a hammer, but it’s more like Cruise is a hammer and Cavill is a jackhammer. Cavill towers over Cruise, making their scenes together in the first act all the more impressive because Cruise maintains the upper hand. Not hogging the screen acting-wise, but in terms of being the more dominating ideology. Cruise is a good secret agent, Cavill is an immaculately groomed thug. Cruise is fairly immaculate as well, but he gets dirty. Not too dirty; whoever was in charge of maintaining their hair during action scenes deserves some kind of special Oscar. Secret agents have great hair.

Pegg, Baldwin, and Bassett included. Rhames is shaved bald. And when British secret agent and former Cruise and company member Rebecca Ferguson shows up a little while into the film, she too has great hair. Only Sean Harris, as the villain, doesn’t have great hair. He’s wild and unkempt. He’s an ex-secret agent who wants to destroy the world. Cruise stopped him once and, in Fallout, now has to decide whether or not to potentially free Harris to get back that plutonium.

The film stays in Europe for most of the story, with the biggest sequences in Paris and London. The finale heads to rural Central Asia, where director McQuarrie proves just as adept at mounting phenomenal action sequences as he does in European metropolises. McQuarrie never lingers too long on landmarks, but he’s always aware of the architecture. There’s lots of Cruise in long shot, running through a building (or across the top of one) and great scenic backdrops. It’s charming. And always perfectly paced. McQuarrie’s direction, more than his script, more than any of the performances, makes Fallout. He gets the film set up, gets it moving, and runs it to the finish. He never races–Fallout’s pacing (especially for a two and a half hour movie) is outstanding. McQuarrie has some twists, but he’s also just got good plot developments.

He’s also able to use dream sequences–albeit ones with visions of nuclear destruction–to do a lot of Cruise’s character development. Though, really, Fallout doesn’t have much character development. Not for anyone else, anyway. Pegg’s got a tiny personal subplot about being more self-confident and Ferguson’s sort of got one but not really. Like Rhames doesn’t have any. Neither does Cavill. He’s there to be a foil. There’s not time for character development. There’s plutonium out there and Cruise’ll be damned if he’s going to let anyone get hurt.

All of Cruise’s dream sequence character development involves guilt over how he ruined ex-wife Michelle Monaghan’s life by being a secret agent, forcing her into hiding. Monaghan’s a memory in Fallout, someone offscreen in danger to give Cruise something constant to fret about. McQuarrie doesn’t give Cruise any angst to deal with, just the dream sequences haunting him. Harris haunts him too, because Harris knows Cruise too well. It’s impressive how well McQuarrie integrates it into the film since Fallout’s always moving. Even when Rhames has to tell Ferguson about Monaghan because Ferguson is sweet on Cruise and thinks Cruise might just be sweet on her, which leads to a lovely scene in Paris in a park. McQuarrie is sparing with the quiet moments, but they’re always exceptional. They’re so well-executed, technically speaking, it lets him get away with the script being a little saccharine.

Baldwin’s not the only one with a man crush on Cruise; McQuarrie’s pretty smitten too. Cruise isn’t just a good guy, he’s the only good guy who can save the world. It’d be eye-rolling if the film didn’t make such a successful argument for it.

All the acting is fine or better. Vanessa Kirby, as a blue blood heiress arms dealer, gets a little grating, but she’s an arms dealer. She’s not really supposed to be too sympathetic.

Cruise is good. He’s got some really fun moments, not just the action stuff, but also the action stuff. He and Ferguson’s gentle flirtation is likable, just like he and Cavill’s muted hostility is entertaining. Rhames and Pegg are both fun. Harris is a good villain. Cavill’s good, though probably has the worst character in the film. McQuarrie never quite gives him enough and sometimes too little. Especially in the third act. Same with Ferguson; she’s got her own subplot–aside from the Cruise crush–and McQuarrie kind of chucks it once she fully teams up with Cruise and company. Actually, there’s enough of a logic leap with her character… maybe some scene got cut.

On the technical side, Fallout’s excellent. Rob Hardy’s photography is good, Eddie Hamilton’s editing is great. Lorne Balfe’s score is quite good; he’s sparing when integrating the Lalo Schifrin theme and always right on when does (or doesn’t) use it.

Fallout’s a superior large-scale, stunt-filled, action picture. It’s more thrilling than ever a thriller–in the third act, even the good guys can’t really be in any life-threatening danger because franchise, McQuarrie is still able to make every moment rivet. Fallout is a spectacular action spectacle.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; screenplay by McQuarrie, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Rob Hardy; edited by Eddie Hamilton; music by Lorne Balfe; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Tom Cruise, McQuarrie, Jake Myers, and J.J. Abrams; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Henry Cavill (Walker), Ving Rhames (Luther), Simon Pegg (Benji), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa), Vanessa Kirby (White Widow), Michelle Monaghan (Julia), Alec Baldwin (Hunley), Angela Bassett (Sloan), Wes Bentley (Patrick), Liang Yang (Lark), Kristoffer Joner (Nils Debruuk), and Sean Harris (Solomon Lane).


Better Living Through Chemistry (2014, Geoff Moore and David Posamentier)

Given its ninety minute length and having Jane Fonda perform the comically explicit narration, it might be easy to dismiss–or just describe–Better Living Through Chemistry as a genial amusement. Certainly lead Sam Rockwell can do this role in his sleep. He's a small town pharmacist in a bad marriage (Michelle Monaghan is great as the controlling wife); his father-in-law runs his life, his teenage son is starting the awkward years, no one takes him seriously.

Except unhappily married trophy wife Olivia Wilde.

What actually makes Chemistry so different is how writers-directors Moore and Posamentier seem to have no idea what they're doing. There are all sorts of tangents the film goes on, all sorts of great little moments between Rockwell and Monaghan then later Rockwell and Harrison Holzer (as his son). It's all over the place, with the affair between Rockwell and Wilde ostensibly the foundation of the narrative.

Only it's not. It's a device to go into a series of rapid comic set pieces–as Rockwell tumbles out of control, only everything turns out to be regimented. All of these set pieces go well, thanks to Rockwell and his abilities in both physical comedy and just lovably obnoxious. There's no heavy lifting for the actors in Chemistry, except maybe Holzer, but strong, assured performances in a well-written, if unambitious picture, isn't a bad thing at all.

Nice supporting work from Norbert Leo Butz and Ken Howard rounds things off.

Chemistry is controlled and it's calculated and it pays off well.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Jonathan Alberts; music by John Nau and Andrew Feltenstein; production designer, Heidi Adams; produced by Joe Neurauter and Felipe Marino; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Doug Varney), Olivia Wilde (Elizabeth Roberts), Michelle Monaghan (Kara Varney), Norbert Leo Butz (Agent Andrew Carp), Ben Schwartz (Noah), Ken Howard (Walter Bishop), Jenn Harris (Janet), Peter Jacobson (Dr. Roth), Harrison Holzer (Ethan Varney), Ray Liotta (Jack Roberts) and Jane Fonda (Jane Fonda).


Justice League: War (2014, Jay Oliva)

Justice League: War raises the “interesting” question of whether or not superheroes are any fun to watch when they’re vain, selfish bullies. It sort of leaves the answer unresolved, though it’s definitely a lot more entertaining when Alan Tudyk’s Superman leaves for a while. Tudyk’s performance isn’t any good but it’s probably not his fault. Heath Corson’s script is lousy, with very few of the characters remotely likable.

Some of the voice acting is all right. Michelle Monaghan does okay as Wonder Woman when the script isn’t too bad, Justin Kirk and Christopher Gorham are both nearly likable. The rest of the cast? Well, the script’s so bad it’s hard to say.

At its best, War reminds of the old “Super Friends” cartoons from the eighties, only the Warner guys want to appear tough so they throw in some curses in order to juice up the MPAA rating. Because why watch a cartoon about superheroes if they aren’t nasty and shallow.

Oliva’s direction is atrocious. Almost all of the action scenes–except the huge one where they sort of rip of The Avengers–take place in enormous warehouses. Metropolis is just full of gigantic, empty, multi-story warehouses. The action sequences are nonsensical, poorly animated and often dull.

Kirk and, occasionally but not often enough, Sean Astin bring some life to the big final battle. War plays like a spin-off from a toy line, only without the toys.

Steve Blum and Bruce Thomas are especially lame as the villains.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Oliva; screenplay by Heath Corson, based on comic books by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Scott Williams; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Kevin Kliesch; produced by James Tucker; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Justin Kirk (Green Lantern), Jason O’Mara (Batman), Shemar Moore (Victor Stone), Michelle Monaghan (Wonder Woman), Christopher Gorham (The Flash), Sean Astin (Shazam), Alan Tudyk (Superman), Zach Callison (Billy Batson), Rocky Carroll (Silas Stone), Ioan Gruffudd (Thomas Morrow), George Newbern (Steve Trevor), Bruce Thomas (Desaad) and Steve Blum (Darkseid).


Due Date (2010, Todd Phillips)

It would have been nice if they had credited Planes, Trains & Automobiles as the source material, since Due Date lifts the concept—high-strung guy on the road with an annoying, but secretly lovable fat guy.

Due Date stays close to the pattern; the fat guy has a lot of melodramatic angst fueling his actions. It does add Facebook references, American Pie-style humor and stunt casting. Wait, Planes, Trains had stunt casting too.

So, it’s hard to look at Due Date as original and harder to discuss it as such. Phillips treats it like “The Hangover on the road;” it bellyflops when too outlandish. It’s too real a situation not to wonder why Robert Downey Jr.’s character isn’t on the FBI’s most wanted list for causing an international incident.

Some of the problem is Downey. He’s funny, but inappropriate for an absurdist comedy. Even here, when he’s giving one of the most rote performances of his career, he’s stellar. He does stumble through some of his character’s worst scenes, but the writing there is so false, it’d be impossible for him to succeed.

Zach Galifianakis is an amiable fat guy. Dumb but lovable.

The supporting cast is made up of former Downey co-stars—Michelle Monaghan (who has absolutely nothing to do), Jamie Foxx (ditto) and Juliette Lewis (who is funny). Again, hard to think of it as an original film.

The ending is pretty good though. I just wish Phillips would realize he’s not a Panavision auteur.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Todd Phillips; written by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Phillips, based on a story by Cohen and Freedland; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Debra Neil-Fisher; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Phillips and Dan Goldberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Peter Highman), Zach Galifianakis (Ethan Tremblay), Michelle Monaghan (Sarah Highman), Jamie Foxx (Darryl), Juliette Lewis (Heidi), Danny McBride (Lonnie) and RZA (Airport Screener).


Mission: Impossible III (2006, J.J. Abrams)

After two asinine outings, Tom Cruise finally figured out how to get a Mission: Impossible to work. There’s an actual story–the viewer’s engagement with the plot doesn’t revolve around one’s appreciation of Tom Cruise and his frequent grin. The difference is in Cruise himself. He’s no longer charming the women aged twelve to fifty-two in the audience, he’s widened his scope–he’s trying to present an affable lead… to everyone. It’s amazing how little the film needs to engender some real concern for the character. Give him a girlfriend, a pre-exisiting girlfriend–does wonders. Throw in Ving Rhames putting his foot in his mouth while talking about the girlfriend. Rhames and Cruise, after two chemistry-free occasions, finally work well together. They’re finally believable as friends… or friendly acquaintances. Again, all seems to be Cruise.

There’s the other development–a personable team. Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers don’t exactly have a major part in the film, but there’s a definite sense they work together and know each other. It’s a very welcome feel, since Mission: Impossible kind of suggests them having a team. It changes the kinds of stunts Cruise gets to do–he still gets to run a lot and there’s a motorcycle sequence–but having to involve his teammates… I don’t know if it makes Mission: Impossible III more possible (there’s a lot of silliness, down to the secret underground base), but it makes the concept a little easier on the senses. Instead of whacking the viewer’s cognitive reasoning centers with a two by four, it’s a more acceptable amount of disbelief the film’s requesting suspended.

J.J. Abrams and crew present a rather simple spy plot–it’d work, easily, for a James Bond, a Lethal Weapon or even a Die Hard (all, obviously, with significant changes)–and do it well. It doesn’t really matter if this one’s a sequel to the other two Mission: Impossible movies. It’s a spy getting married movie, they’ve made these for a long time. Cruise works–and works quite well with love interest Michelle Monaghan. Monaghan and Cruise have a really great scene–one where Abrams’s directorial abilities come through–and Monaghan’s just too good for this kind of material… and she can even pretend she doesn’t know it.

Cruise assembled a great supporting cast–Laurence Fishburne (in the kind of role he should have been doing for years), Billy Crudup, Simon Pegg and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman should have been playing the cooly evil villain for years–he excels at it. The scenes where he’s playing Tom Cruise playing Philip Seymour Hoffman are comic gems.

It isn’t just Abram’s story–he put together a great crew. Daniel Mindel’s a fine cinematographer–Mission: Impossible III has a bunch of CG composites and the lighting is never off, which is a not insignificant achievement. The music–by Michael Giacchino–is fantastic. It’s never bombastic (like a composer I’ve actually heard of) and occasionally feels like cheap TV music–a perfect match for Mission: Impossible.

Given the first two movies, it’s hard to believe III even has a chance. But, almost immediately, it’s a fine diversion. It just gets better throughout, even pulling a couple nice saves throughout (especially at the end).

Abrams is an impressive feature director.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by J.J. Abrams; screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Abrams, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Daniel Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Scott Chambliss; produced by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Owen Davian), Ving Rhames (Luther), Billy Crudup (Musgrave), Michelle Monaghan (Julia), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Declan), Keri Russell (Lindsey Farris), Maggie Q (Zhen), Simon Pegg (Benji), Eddie Marsan (Brownway) and Laurence Fishburne (Theodore Brassel).


Gone Baby Gone (2007, Ben Affleck)

There’s one singularly profound moment in Gone Baby Gone, when Affleck plus vieux has one of those filmic moments directors rarely have. He takes a broken, melodramatic scene and makes it sublime. It’s a wonderful moment, coming just after the film’s second ending and before the third and fourth. The film has a lengthy list of pros and a lengthy list of cons. The cons have a lot to do with the script–specifically, I’m assuming, the particulars of adapting a novel. There’s also Affleck’s handling of Michelle Monaghan, who might have been a main character in the novel, but is a fourth wheel here. But the major problem is Affleck the filmmaker–not even the director, because Affleck does a great job–because he doesn’t seem to understand to make a film in this genre great, it has to accept it’s in the genre. Gone Baby Gone is, everything aside, an investigative mystery. Regardless of who is investigating, regardless of how the intricate the crime… it’s an investigative mystery. And Affleck refuses to label it and spends a lot of energy trying to distance the film from itself.

That error aside–I’m going to deal with Monaghan now, just so I can have a couple paragraphs of praise. Monaghan is important in the first act, almost absent in the second, and thrown in for effect in the third. When the film started, I thought it was going to be a gritty Thin Man. It’s not. The film’s about Affleck plus jeune being Catholic and understanding himself. The film skirts the Catholicism, which is a real mistake, because it dictates lots of important decisions. As for understanding himself, a lot of it is in relation to Ed Harris’s character and, for a lot of the film, it’s about Affleck and Ed Harris… not Affleck and Monaghan. She’s part of the character’s ground situation, not an active mover in the story, at least as Affleck plus vieux‘s script sets her up. So she’s a real problem third act. Monaghan’s good, really impressive, but she almost could have gone unbilled.

Casey Affleck is, no surprise, excellent in the film. He holds his own against Harris, who’s turning in some of his best work in recent years here (Harris gets the genre, however). Also excellent are Titus Welliver and Amy Ryan. Ryan’s no surprise either and Welliver’s a good actor, but he’s better than I expected when I saw his name on the credits. His role’s one of the more complicated and he does great work. Running through the laundry list, Amy Madigan, Edi Gathegi and John Ashton, all good. Morgan Freeman is severely underwhelming. It’s a perfectly fine, boring Morgan Freeman performance. It’s getting hard to remember his great acting… back when it was electrifying, instead of Bromo-Seltzer.

Technically, great John Toll photography, great score from Harry Gregson-Williams.

A sign of great future potential from the Affleck brothers. Hopefully next time, Affleck plus vieux won’t be trying so hard to prove he’s legitimate.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Affleck; screenplay by Affleck and Aaron Stockard, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane; director of photography, John Toll; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Affleck, Sean Bailey, Alan Ladd Jr. and Danton Rissner; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Casey Affleck (Patrick Kenzie), Michelle Monaghan (Angie Gennaro), Morgan Freeman (Capt. Jack Doyle), Ed Harris (Det. Remy Bressant), John Ashton (Det. Nick Poole), Amy Ryan (Helene McCready), Amy Madigan (Bea McCready), Titus Welliver (Lionel McCready), Michael K. Williams (Devin), Edi Gathegi (Cheese), Mark Margolis (Leon Trett), Madeline O’Brien (Amanda McCready), Slaine (Bubba Rogowski), Trudi Goodman (Roberta Trett), Matthew Maher (Corwin Earle) and Jill Quigg (Dottie).


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, Shane Black)

It’s nice to have Robert Downey Jr. back. Val Kilmer is hardly doing anything, so I always looked at Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as a Kilmer film, but then, watching, I realized that I hadn’t seen Downey in anything since… Wonder Boys? Probably Wonder Boys. But he’s the lead in Kiss Kiss and it reminds you just how great he is an actor. Didn’t want to end with an “it” there.

Kilmer’s great too, but the show’s all Downey’s. Downey’s and Shane Black’s. Kiss Kiss isn’t perfect–it gets way too serious when it doesn’t have to–but it’s an impressively constructed film. It’s like if Adaptation had worked. Black “reinvents the buddy film again!” No, I’m just kidding–lots of people are bringing up that Shane Black wrote Lethal Weapon. But there’s a difference between the two films… Kiss Kiss takes some responsibility for itself. It might actually take too much responsibility, but there’s actual weight to the characters’ violent acts. That’s something new.

Either some or a lot of notice has been given to Kilmer playing an openly gay character. This notice falls under my observation a few years ago: GLAAD has an award for best portrayal–in an amusement–of gay characters as… human beings. When I first read that, I checked the calendar and, yes, I was living in 2004, so I decided that the human species just needed to be firebombed. Or something. The character’s gayness probably started–for Black–as a way to comment on the genre and the character relationships, but Kilmer and Downey just made it part of the film. And their relationship is great. So good I used an “and” to start a sentence.

I guess I should pay some attention to the female lead, Michelle Monaghan. She’s really good in the film–playing Downey’s high school dream girl no less–one of the further ways Black plays with the medium–and she needs to be in other films I want to see.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is probably the best time I’ve had in the theater in a long time. I’m glad I went (instead of just waiting three months for the DVD).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Shane Black; screenplay by Black, based in part on a novel by Brett Halliday; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Jim Page; music by John Ottman; production designer, Aaron Osborne; produced by Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Harry Lockhart), Val Kilmer (Gay Perry), Michelle Monaghan (Harmony Faith Lane), Corbin Bernsen (Harlan Dexter), Dash Mihok (Mr. Frying Pan), Larry Miller (Dabney Shaw), Rockmond Dunbar (Mr. Fire), Shannyn Sossamon (Pink Hair Girl) and Angela Lindvall (Flicka).


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