Rating: The Good – 77.8 Genre: Crime, Drama Duration: 112 mins Director: Sidney Lumet Stars: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant
Sidney Lumet is not a man you’d expect to direct a dark psychological drama set in the north of England but The Offence is in many ways one his most brilliant films. Sean Connery plays a hard case veteran detective whose most recent case has finally pushed him past his breaking point. What follows is a dark and disturbing exploration of a scarred and tormented psyche. Connery is superb in a role that shoulders most of the drama and together with Lumet’s gritty direction they slowly reel the audience into that psyche resulting in a fascinating yet deeply uncomfortable experience.
Rating: The Good – 78.4 Genre: Thriller Duration: 118 mins Director: Jonathan Demme Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn
One of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful thrillers, The Silence of the Lambs scooped all five top Academy Awards and gave us arguably the most celebrated villain in movie history. Starring Jodie Foster as FBI recruit Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Jonathan Demme’s film focuses on the attempts of the talented but inexperienced young agent to tap the mind of the brilliant but deranged psychiatrist in order to aid the bureau’s pursuit of a terrifying serial killer who skins his victims. Though The Silence of the Lambs is perhaps best remembered for its acting and writing, it’s Demme’s directing that sets it apart from the majority of thrillers by intricately setting and maintaining the right tone and mood throughout, an achievement that ultimately elevates the aforementioned acting and writing. In fairness, Foster didn’t need much help for she delivers a wonderfully vulnerable performance full of tempered resolve. As Demme’s moral crucible she helps ground perspective no matter how outlandish the story becomes. This is crucial because Harris has a proclivity for overplaying his hand and skirts the edge of caricature a little too often for comfort. This is best exemplified by his Lecter character. There’s undeniably an arresting quality to the cannibalistic therapist but it takes a deft touch to tease out the more fascinating features of his personality that, for the most part, lie latent. Brian Cox had masterfully humanised him in the seminal Manhunter (to which this film is an unofficial sequel) but Hopkins goes another way and, while he puts in a wholly dramatic not to mention memorable shift, it lacks nuance and therefore realism. There’s just too much looniness to his Lecter and altogether too much revelling in said looniness. Psychopaths, after all, are very good at concealing their pathology but this Lecter is blatantly bananas. However, what he lacks in sophistication, Demme makes up for. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography is rich in the grime of murder and Howard Shore’s score is softly invigorating and along with some exceptional production design, the director renders palpable a moody tension that carries the audience all the way to the close.
Rating: The Good – 67.7 Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller Duration: 118 mins Director: Gregory Hoblit Stars: Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Shawn Doyle
A pulsating and smart sci-fi thriller infused with unabashed sentiment, Frequency is a movie that ultimately shouldn’t work but does. A troubled homicide detective (Jim Caviezel) accidentally comes in contact with his father (Dennis Quaid) 30 years in the past, just in time to warn him of his impending death. When the father heeds his warnings, the time line begins to change with unexpected consequences and the father and son find themselves tracking down a serial killer in a desperate effort to protect their wife/mother. Given that the central time travelling device here is a ham radio in an electrical storm and that most of the thrills come from the cross-time conversations between the father and son, this script must have been a dilly of pickle to sell. Nonetheless, Gregory Hoblit’s typically polished direction and his quality cast pull it off. Quaid was always a dab hand at playing the heroic everyman and if Caviezel is less familiar in such roles, you’d never know it. And even though they share different ends to a radio frequency there’s lots of chemistry to enjoy too. The real hook here, however, is the plot which works as all good mysteries do, by keeping the audience guessing and their pulses racing. But what truly separates Frequency from the slew of science fiction thrillers is its unapologetic pandering to that audience’s desires, something often considered a compromise from an artistic point of view. Fairytale like resolutions are not necessarily to be avoided, though, and in an age when even Hollywood blockbusters offer up token sacrifices, it might even be a welcomed once-off treat.
Rating: The Good – 75.8 Genre: Thriller, Mystery, War Duration: 148 mins Director: Anatole Litvak Stars: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Christopher Plummer
A rather unique war drama that focuses primarily on a German military police officer’s attempts to identify a murderer of women at the height of the Second World War. As the story follows the main suspects, three untouchable Generals of the Wehrmacht and the SS, from Warsaw to occupied Paris, the investigation is interleaved with a military plot to kill Hitler and a romance between the daughter of one of the Generals and a lowly corporal. Though a little unorthodox in its set up, the strength to this film is, firstly, the several characters it devotes almost equal time to and, secondly, the manner in which it sets them against a most interesting historical backdrop. Peter O’Toole is the fanatical SS General whose cruelty is matched only by his manic obsessiveness. Donald Pleasence’s more genial General is more interested in military politics while Charles Gray is the self serving philanderer. Omar Sharif is the Colonel on their trail whose only interest is in seeing justice being done but who, nonetheless, gets a curious kick from taking on his higher ups.
O’Toole plays it very close to the edge but his twitchy psychopath makes for compelling viewing. Pleasence offers his usual steady presence infused with just enough duplicity to carry the intrigue of his subplots while Sharif is about as close as we come to a central protagonist even though he has a tad less screen time than the others. Enough however to raise the charm of the overall film. Director Anatole Litvak is to be largely commended for bridging the different plots into a smoothly progressing film. Though much varied in their pace and tone, he manages not to let the tension spill and, in those moments when O’Toole is ratcheting up the crazy, he sets a chilling tone just quirky enough to complement the unique aspects of the project. With figures like Field Marshal Rommel (played by Christopher Plummer) popping up during key scenes and depictions of the Valkeryie assassination attempt not to mention the decision to tell the story in retrospect from the point of view of a 1960’s Interpol investigation into the original murder, one will find The Night of the Generals difficult to predict and even categorise but ultimately that becomes as compelling a strength as the characters and its wider setting. Highly recommended.
Rating: The Good – 71 Genre: Thriller Duration: 120 mins Director: Bruce A. Evans Stars: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, William Hurt
Okay, so the plot is way over the top but this quirky little movie about a wealthy serial killer (Kevin Costner) battling with his impulses to kill (personified in the form of alter ego William Hurt) is both an amusing black comedy and a very engaging thriller. Costner is as good as ever in the title role and his balancing of family man, business tycoon, tortured soul, and meticulous serial killer wasn’t an easy one to pull off particularly because of the story’s comedic artifice. But he actually nails it and makes for a charming lead who we root for throughout. Hurt is in giddy form as his twisted Id, a partner in crime, who nobody else can see or hear, while Demi Moore continues her recent revival with an equally charming turn as the detective on his trail. Where Mr. Brooks stalls is in the multitude of subplots it presents us with. Actually, four of them work quite effectively together but a fifth involving Moore’s pursuit of a second unrelated murderer is needless and distracting. But while it takes from the integrity of the story, writer director Bruce A. Evans and co-writer Raynold Evans’ irreverent approach to the subject matter softens the blow. Simply put, Mr. Brooks is just about the fun we get from following its twisted plot and seeing three of Hollywood’s old hands plying their trade with the charm and savvy that many of their recent counterparts are missing.
Rating: The Good – 73 Genre: Thriller Duration: 105 mins Director: D.J. Caruso Stars: Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss
Brash thrills, teenage angst, and lots of fun, D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia is a great tonic for the over-earnest formula pieces that have passed for thrillers over last decade. Shia LeBeouf is the teenager sentenced to house arrest for his summer break and forced to spend the days spying on his neighbours. On one side, we have an attractive young lady (Sarah Roemer) and on the other we have a possible serial killer (David Morse in terrifically creepy mode). Needless to say, it’s not long before he’s hot and heavy with one and carrying out a Rear Window type investigation on the other. With its hip soundtrack and irrepressible sense of fun, Caruso paces this one to perfection from start to finish and whether we’re watching LaBeouf innovate new 21st century methods for ogling Roemer from a distance or catching Morse in the act of murder, ducking behind windowsills or battling his adolescent awkwardness, we’re with him every inch of the way. LaBeouf was fairly untouchable in these cheeky roles in the mid-naughties and he carries the movie with all the boyish charm and ironic wit that, at the time, was promising so much for the rest of his career. Model-turned-actress Roemer is surprisingly spunky as the love interest and eventual partner-in-peeping while Carrie-Anne Moss (as Shia’s mom) and Morse bring some gravitas to the cast as the “grown ups”. There’s not much more Caruso and co. could’ve done to make Disturbia more enjoyably and though we had seen elements of it in everything from Fright Night to the aforementioned Hitchcock classic, there’s a gleefully fresh vibe to the entire movie.
Rating: The Good – 74.4 Genre: Crime, Action Duration: 109 mins Director: Jim Mickle Stars: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson
Jim Mickle’s film about a family man whose shooting of a home intruder entwines him in the travails of an aged ex-con and his old war buddy is an intriguing throwback to the crime thrillers of the 1980’s (and 70’s), crafted with all their style and some of their substance. Michael C. Hall leads the cast as the ordinary working stiff who just wants to set things right with the intimidating father of the man he shot. That the latter is played by the great Sam Shepard is only the first of two brilliant pieces of casting because the reborn Don Johnson pops up in the even more interesting role of the pig-farming private detective who owes Shepard his life.
There are a number of twists and turns to Nick Damici’s austere screenplay, too many of which are alluded to in the trailers and publicity posters, but it gets ever darker as it goes and culminates in a Rolling Thunder type showdown that makes for a rather effective release of tension. It could be argued that there’s one twist too many and that signposting and adhering to one streamlined plot might have served the ultimate purpose of the film (which was nothing more than to engineer a sleek actioner) better but it’s fair to say the delayed reveal adds an abundance of intrigue to the project.
Needless to say, with a cast like this one, there’s much to admire on the acting front. Hall makes for an impressive lead and captures all the hard headed nativity of his character. Shepard is mean as hell but with an essential humanity that drives the final act. However, it’s Johnson who blows them all away with his crackling charm and steady nerves. Moreover, it’s he who carries the movie over it’s tallest hurdle, namely, a lack of proper exposition for Hall’s motives. Crucial as they are to the plot’s credibility, more work was needed in figuring out exactly why such an everyday Joe would stay the course.
In the end, we both do just that, not only because Johnson has us hook, line, and sinker but because Jeff Grace’s purposeful score – with resounding echoes of Tangerine Dream at their Near Dark best – promises so much in the way of classic crime cinema ahead. The good news is that we just about reach that hallowed furrow even if it’s not as substantial an arrival as Thief, Heat, or Rolling Thunder.
Rating: The Good – 75.4 Genre: Crime, Thriller Duration: 105 mins Director: Chris Gerolmo Stars: Stephen Rea, Donald Sutherland, Max von Sydow
Stephen Rea excels in this true life dramatisation as a Russian forensic investigator, Viktor Burakov, who in the 1980′s found himself charged with tracking down the country’s most prolific ever serial killer. This is a captivating tale about moral and personal fortitude as much as is it about a deeply disturbing serial killer. Burakov was almost entirely hampered by bureaucratic squabbling, political influence, and desperate lack of resources which for years prevented him from getting close to his man.
Rea brilliantly captures the quiet steel-like determination of his character, his emotional exhaustion, and utter exasperation at the endless obstacles he recurrently faced. He carries the film with an almost indescribable ease which feeds into the strength of Burakov’s character perfectly and in the moment when Burakov finally breaks down, the payoff is immense. Donald Sutherland is on hand as his unlikely ally, Colonel Fetisov, and provides a great foil to Rea’s more intense role.
Director Chris Gerolmo is to be commended for giving this one the appropriate time to breathe and not rushing any part of it. Not shying away from the horror of the events, the grizzly killings are shot in an almost unbearable fashion. But Gerolmo doesn’t attempt to gloss them up either. In fact, the film’s style is very much in keeping with the feel of Soviet Russia at that time thanks to the aforementioned pacing and some subtly excellent production design. Made as it was for TV, Citizen X never really got the credit or praise it deserved but it doesn’t just compete with the majority of bigger budget theatrical features toiling in the same genre, it overshadows them. In fact, Citizen X is easily one of the best serial killer films and it probably only stands second to the seminal Manhunter.
Rating: The Good – 77.8 Genre: Crime Duration: 102 mins Director: William Friedkin Stars: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen
William Friedkin’s deeply psychological thriller about an undercover cop attempting to draw out a serial killer who operates in the homosexual sub-culture of S&M/leather is a bold piece of cinema and an enthralling watch. Al Pacino stars as the cop in question who spends his days and nights attempting to understand and infiltrate the closed community so that he can figure out who in this world of exhibitionism and hyper liberation he is looking for. The well timed yet fleeting interleaving of Paul Sorvino as his boss and Karen Allen as his girlfriend do enough to keep him grounded in his former life but each time he goes back undercover, he loses a bit of himself. Pacino is brilliant and captures his character’s transformation with an understated naturalness. His performance is just another example of how brave and actor he has always been and one who sees acting first and foremost as an exploration.
Cruising caused controversy among some in the gay community on its release and in truth, the film not only seems streaked with danger, it seems to feed off it. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what Friedkin did here but everything about Cruising, from the subject matter, to the dialogue, to the way it was shot and edited seems so far removed from mainstream cinema that it becomes almost the perfect case of form following function. Yet Friedkin is in total control. No matter how deep his characters psychologically descend and no matter how unconventional his central device is, he knows exactly how to make a story out of it. Thus, in the same way in which Pacino is experimenting, Friedkin is too. The ending might not be to everyone’s satisfaction but within the counter-intuitive parameters Friedkin set the story, it’s a genuine success, and extremely effective.
Rating: The Good – 89.8 Genre: Crime Drama Duration: 94 mins Director: Terrence Malick Stars: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates
A blinding debut from recluse Terrence Malick. Badlands follows the kill-spree of two young free spirits in a thoughtful exploration of young adults playing by their own rules while trying to make their mark on the world. Martin Sheen gives the performance of his career as the James Dean wannabe with homicidal tendancies. Sissy Spacek is a revelation as the confused young girl who is just as culpable as her boyfriend yet just as innocent. This is a powerhouse of a film that will leave you with many unanswered questions and a great sense of unease but with Malick’s prodigious sense for visuals and sound as well as the acting of the leading pair, it’s worth the watch and then some.
A scarred stuntman stalks parties of young women by night and then mows them down in his reinforced stunt car. Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof really is a visionary triumph of action comedy. A film that defies its grainy perspectives, low-budget cast and sets and becomes more slick and pulse-thumping than most big budget actioners. Tarantino took on the DP duties and in some ways, this is visually his most impressive film. Many of those visuals are also wonderfully humorous such as the deep staging of the bobble head and the running-to-the-bathroom tracking shot of the opening scene or the Kill Bill-esque black-&-white-to-colour transition. The dialogue is hip, engaging, and sharply real and despite the majority of it revolving around typically female conversational topics, it’s no less appealing if you’re male.
Of course, the movie’s appeal to males is helped by the presence of the perennial man’s man Kurt Russell as the instantly iconic “Stuntman Mike”. Russell is tremendous as the disturbingly charming yet cowardly psychopath and it’s he who links both halves of the movie by being the only character to feature in both. The first half focuses on your typical college gang as they party the night away in Austin only to inadvertently welcome Stuntman Mike into their midst. The second half focuses on an older, more mature, and ultimately tougher gang who also get Mike’s attention. Tarantino has lots of fun in separating the two stories (Michael Parks cameo as the familiar sheriff is a howl) and contrasting the two groups (check out his very subtle tongue in cheek morality lesson) and despite each story having its own feel and plot, they never feel like two different films. The numerous female characters are all terrifically played by a host of top young actresses with Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, and real life stunt woman Zoe Bell (playing herself) doing especially well.
Ever the student and expert crafter of his characters’ movement, Death Proof is one of Tarantino’s most sensationally choreographed movies and strangely enough, the most memorable sequence in that respect is not one of the driving scenes but the gently and seductively framed lap-dance sequence which is the coolest thing we’ve seen since Hayek took to the stage in From Dusk til Dawn (and there are some nice parallels between those two scenes such as the women dancing in the background). The action driving sequences are nothing short of stunning in both their choreography and cinematography and they beat most of the car-chase films which inspired this feature with the possible exception of the 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds.
Death Proof is a celebration of cinematic freedom and adventure that will have you looking forward in time as much as backwards. It nods affectionately to its influences from the indie road films of the 70′s, the cinema of John Carpenter and Brian DePalma, to the TV shows that made the car chase its most important staple. Whether you’re a fan of those films/shows or simply an appreciator of the hip conversational films of the 1990′s, this film hits all the right notes and will have you coming back again and again.
Not the crime masterpiece some would have you believe but David Fincher’s dark thriller about two homicide detectives searching for a killer who’s crimes reflect the seven deadly sins is nonetheless a strong effort that still packs a punch. The drawback, however, is that the film has too strong a sense of itself which at all times seems to drive the narrative instead of the other way around. As such, it often veers into cliche and melodrama concerning the hopelessness of humanity etc, etc. Thankfully, the integrity of the performances and the graininess of Fincher’s direction does help to attenuate this problem, somewhat. Fincher was still in his angsty punk-cinema phase so we have lots of edgy direction and gritty force but we also have signs of the more mature and disciplined director he was to become as he frames and paces his story immaculately. Brad Pitt is interesting and enjoyable as the cocky young detective while Morgan Freeman is excellent as the more seasoned and disillusioned detective. It’s not always easy to watch due to scenes of graphic and implied gore but it’s worth doing so if only for the dramatic close this film comes to.