Rating: The Good – 73.4 Genre: Thriller Duration: 85 mins Director: Wes Craven Stars: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox
A hotel manager is co-opted into an assassination plot by the man sitting next to her on the plane when he threatens to have her father killed if she doesn’t follow his instructions regarding a high profile guest staying at her hotel. Wes Craven coolly turned his hand to the art of straight suspense in this metronomic thriller that scores on every level it aims at. Rachael McAdams is the woman who finds herself next to Cillian Murphy’s very creepy passenger from hell and she delivers an admirably even performance as the likeable yet focused young woman. After his character dispenses with the not very deceptively charming persona, Murphy settles into the role of slimy puppeteer and the pair do well to shoulder much of the movie from the confines of the plane. That said, the always solid Brian Cox is on hand as the father on the ground and Jayma Mays is fantastic as McAdams’ nervous assistant back in the hotel. With a concept thriller like this, Carl Ellsworth’s screenplay was always going to be the ultimate decider in whether Red Eye rises above the ordinary and, happily, it sets a tempered balance between the psychological and visceral as Murphy’s threat bombardment intermittently boils over into physical intimidation. Craven uses the small space of the plane to quicken the pace keeping matters especially energised with his typically clever use of character movement. As the movie races to a close, he dips into his time honoured tool bag to generate some modest scares and, while somewhat familiar, they provide a tidy outlet for all that in-flight anxiety. At the production level, the movie boasts a degree of accomplishment that makes it all the more than enjoyable to watch.
Rating: The Good – 76.4 Genre: Action, Thriller Duration: 108 mins Director: Paul Greengrass Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Joan Allen
Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity may have changed the way action films would be made for the following decade but it was Paul Greengrass’ two sequels that ensured that all those influenced by the Bourne franchise would just be pale imitations. The Bourne Supremacy is the film that made all action heroes before or since look like amateurs. Matt Damon returns as the amnesiac assassin who is roped back into the murky world of the CIA when his girlfriend (Franka Potente) is killed in an attempt on his life. Joan Allen comes on board as the CIA agent charged with pursuing Bourne and Brian Cox is back as the former leader of Bourne’s unit.
Damon is just terrific as the stoic spy extraordinaire and with every glance, stare, word, and sentence he intrigues his audience with the unshakable notion of a razor sharp edge and a cast iron core. As good as Damon is though, it’s the set-pieces that make this franchise what it is and The Bourne Supremacy is a glowing testament to that. The action is simply sensational and Greengrass effectively uses his documentary-making skills to give every bit of it an ultra-real feel. Whether it’s hand-to-hand combat or car chases he and his hand-held camera up the ante on the first film by a factor of 10 with the final car chase in particular being a staggering feat of stunt choreography. In fact, while many movie car chases have and will continue to be remembered better, there has arguably never been a sequence so well conceived and flawlessly executed than what Greengrass and company serve up here.
Enjoyable espionage romp about a group of retired CIA agents led by Bruce Wills and including John Malcovich, Morgan Freeman, and Helen Mirren. After a very good opening, Red repeatedly threatens to be quirkier and wittier than your average Hollywood comedy but never actually manages to pull it off. The actors are all as watchable as ever with Helen Mirren and Brian Cox particularly standing out. Mary-Louise Parker proves very funny in the opening scenes but becomes nothing more than baggage as soon as Willis’ character hooks up with his old buddies. Having said all that if you’re in the mood for a comedy this will do fine.
Rating: The Good – 84 Genre: Crime, Thriller Duration: 119 mins Director: Michael Mann Stars: William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen
Michael Mann’s most artistic project is a tour de force in writing, directing, and acting. It’s also very likely the definitive ‘serial killer’ film as it covers the phenomenon from all possible angles: from the killings themselves; the motives of the killer; the manhunt; and the effects it has on the agents tracking the killer. Each of these four angles could themselves be the sole premise for such a film and it’s to Mann’s credit that he not only manages to deal with each of them in a substantive manner but also skilfully weaves them together into a coherent story. The film moves at a steady pace and, while always conveying the urgency of the characters’ actions, it never feels rushed. The process of tracking the killer is shown to us in meticulous detail right down to the unspoken rivalry and/or contempt that the different branches of the law enforcement system have for each other.
Unlike the 2002 remake and even the novel itself, everything important in Manhunter is subtly hinted at so it’s left up to the audience to infer: Graham’s ability to track serial killers (is he half-way there himself?); Graham’s motives for choosing Lounds to lure the killer (did he or didn’t he?); Dolarhyde’s disgust/insecurity at his own physical appearance (and the root of his desire to kill). This is the true brilliance of Manhunter. Rather than force-feeding the audience, Mann recognises the characters in this film are driven by their ability or inability to deal with their own psyches. The subject matter is therefore subjective and should never be clear-cut enough so that it can be explained in black and white. Giving substance to this psychological approach is a visual and auditory style of pure artistry. Each shot reflects a sublime synthesis of production design, art direction, score, and cinematography as Mann soothes or energises the audience with a variety of rich grading, sharp angles, hard and soft lighting, and an overall magnificent use of space.
Manhunter is not just a technical triumph in direction and writing but also in acting. Each character is fully drawn out by its actor and they each relate to the different characters in consistently different ways. Peterson has never been better as the introspective lead investigator who innately empathises with these killers and so understands how their profound insecurities can lead to murder. The progression of his character throughout the film is believable and quite expertly conveys to us his desperate attempt to separate himself from ‘his man’. Farina is, as always, brilliant and while Scott Glenn plays him very differently but equally interestingly in Silence of the Lambs, the former’s Jack Crawford is the grittier and more hard-edged. With every glance and eye-movement, Farina brings to bear his first-hand knowledge of what it is to be a cop doing his job under time pressure.
Standing out from this excellent ensemble is of course Brian Cox as Lecktor. Though there is some merit to Anthony Hopkin’s unfortunately more renowned portrayal of the same character, his is undeniably a caricature of a serial killer and, therefore, not realistic at all. By definition, a serial killer must appear to be a very normal person – that’s how he manages to kill a ‘series’ of people as opposed to just one and then being caught! The problem with Hopkin’s “Lecter” is that he is quite clearly not fully there in the head and so even the rawest recruit from the FBI down to the Cub Scouts would be able to pick him out as the killer. Cox gives us something entirely different to Hopkin’s more cartoon-like performance. His Lecktor is smart, charming, and beneath the surface empty, devoid of sentiment and compassion. It’s to the actor’s and Mann’s credit that by the time his three scenes are done with, we have an implicit feeling as to what may be driving this Lecktor as well as an uncomfortable liking for him.
Above everything else, however, Manhunter is a testament to the artistry of Michael Mann in his pomp. Three sequences in particular demonstrate this with striking clarity: 1) the ‘walk-through’ of the tooth-fairy’s letter through the forensic process: not a quick, flashy cut in sight. Instead we have a patient almost soothing series of scenes which convey exactly what the different forensic specialists do (and there is not one indication that Jimmy Price and co. carry a gun, let alone go tracking down the killers themselves!). 2) Graham’s visit with Lecktor: a dream-like sequence wherein, through Mann’s sublime framing, staging, contrast, and composition (as well as the two actors’ abundant craft), the two play the best game of mental chess we’ve seen on film. 3) Dollarhyde encountering and falling in love with Reba (played by Joan Allen): Michael Mann at his best shows how the fantasy-driven psychosis of a serial killer can be shattered to a point that the real person beneath is briefly exposed. File under “masterclass”.