Tag Archives: Christopher Plummer

Syriana

Syriana (2005) 3.97/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 84.4
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Duration: 128 mins
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer

For a film that boasts lots of stars and acting talent, Syriana is a rather more unorthodox thriller than we might expect. Set amid the world of oil trading and based on Robert Baer’s book, it follows Amirs, petroleum executives, senators, high profile lawyers, terrorists, and CIA agents as they engage each other in a global chess match where the tool is geographical instability and the prize is power. The result is a collage of intersecting plots that thrill on a variety of dramatic levels. Political machinations, corporate intrigue, religious extremism, cultural ambition, and personal tribulation all bound together with coherence and momentum.

An ambitious project to be sure but one that succeeds due to a tight script and intelligent directing which combine to give a story of such scale much focus while, at all times, giving the audience the benefit of the doubt. Nothing is spoon-fed here as every deal, negotiation, and conversation is veiled and approached at an angle. Much is left for the audience to work out, a tactic that encourages them to invest in the story. But what really defines Stephen Gaghan’s film is its overarching sense of realism. The plot is allowed to increment forward in a manner where little looks to be happening but where a lot feels like it is. A triumph of efficient directing where each character is embellished richly with a mere half-glance or dinner order. Back-room wheeling and dealing portrayed so incidentally that what would appear outlandish comes across as chillingly real.

And the cast contribute strongly too. George Clooney puts in an Oscar winning turn as a spy very much caught between two worlds and cultures, who is sent to Beirut on CIA business only to be frozen out when things go wrong. Jeffrey Wright is deviousness personified as the Washington lawyer asked by his sinister senior partner Christopher Plummer to take a closer look at a merger between two oil giants, one of which, is headed up by the always excellent Chris Cooper. A host of other top names and some talented newcomers fill out the lesser roles but it’s fair to say everybody plays second fiddle to the intricate plot. That it all plays towards a deeply moving and emotional crescendo is what precludes this almost experimental political burner from unravelling. Instead, it seems to cohere rather impressively and honestly around some unappetising home truths and leave everyone thinking. Impressive indeed.

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The Night of the Generals (1967) 3.57/5 (1)

 

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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.

 

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The Insider (1999) 4.86/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 84.1
Genre: Drama
Duration: 157 mins
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer

Corporate whistle-blower dramas are generally done quite well in Hollywood but this powerful adaptation of the Vanity Fair article is top of the heap. Russell Crowe is excellent as the former tobacco scientist Jeffrey Wigand who breaks his confidentiality agreement by doing an interview with 60 minutes. Al Pacino is just as good as the news show’s producer Lowell Bergman who initially recruits Wigand but inevitably becomes his devoted protector. Mann’s dialogue has always had the ability to strip away any superfluous emotion from his central characters to reveal their underlying obsession (usually with their profession). Though the characters in The Insider are just as driven, Mann’s screenplay and particularly his ability as a director to catch the actors’ more idiosyncratic glances or twitches (as if by accident) gives the characters in this film a real depth of emotion that combined with the superb acting (from all parties) imbues the proceedings with a pervasive sense of authenticity. What more could you want from a true story?

The New World (2005) 4.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.4
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Duration: 135 mins
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: Colin Farrell,  Christian BaleChristopher Plummer

   The Good – 72.4


Genre: Adventure, Drama
Duration: 135 mins
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale

Terrence Malick can be an acquired taste but if you accept what you are about to see is not a “film” in the conventional sense, the images, sound, and emotions he so skilfully weaves together on screen can be some of the most rewarding movie experiences. The New World tells the familiar story of the native American girl Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) and 17th century explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) who form an unlikely relationship in the early days of European colonisation. This is no Disney version however, as the film offers a harsh look at the barbarity of the times. In many ways, The New World mirrors Malick’s earlier The Thin Red Line which also dealt with one man’s admiration of nature and the simpler life that comes from being close to it. As you would expect from a Malick film, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematograpahy is out of this world and together with Malick’s sense of timing the film becomes an enchanting, melancholic trip into a long-since vanished world. Despite all that, one really must be in the right mood to watch The New World. As with all Malick films, narrative takes a passenger seat to the the experiential context as the director’s desire to stretch out that context and invert the components of the story is given free reign. There’s a story told here all right, and the actors and characters are invested in it. But there’s also a grander focus that sometimes feels too big for those more traditional primary movie components.

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Inside Man (2006) 3.95/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.8
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Duration: 129 mins
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie FosterWillem DafoeChristopher Plummer

Spike Lee takes an above average heist story and turns it into a slick and deliciously layered minor classic. Denzel Washington plays the hostage negotiator who is called to the scene of a bank robbery where the hostage-takers (led by Clive Owen) employ a series of clever tricks which keep the police in a constant state of confusion. Add some conspicuous interference from the Mayor’s office, the owner of the bank (Christopher Plummer), and their pit-bull representative Jodie Foster, and matters become even more complicated for Washington’s character. The plot is gripping and the dialogue is Lee’s usual brand of real-cool/cool-real but the two standout strengths of this film are the acting and its structuring. Washington revels in his role as the seemingly carefree cop, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor as his deputies are great bang for your buck, Foster is pure nastiness and Owen seems in charge of everything. The story is structured slightly unorthadoxly so that as the heist is progressing, the film intermittently skips forward and gives us snippets of the hostages’ later accounts to the police. This allows Lee to send us wherever he wants in terms of our suspicions and keep surprising us as he does. Lee’s slick touch is all over this and, in general, it makes an already top story a real treat to watch.

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) 3.47/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 78.9
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Duration: 158 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer

With Zodiac and particularly The Social Network, David Fincher was proving that he was maturing beyond the edgy young talent who created Fight Club and Seven to a genuinely masterful and commanding director. Thus, when news broke that he was going to remake Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo only two years after the Swedish adaptation, one could be forgiven for assuming he had a dramatic reinterpretation in mind. After all, the book was hardly literary perfection and the Swedish film had already and very recently presented a faithful adaptation. Add to that Fincher’s own claim that this movie would be his “Chinatown” and there was reason to be very excited indeed. Of course, Fincher was never a writer but he certainly imposes his style on the structuring of his films and he’s demonstrated on numerous occasions that he should have the sensibilities to spot the weaker elements to the Larsson story.

Surprisingly, Fincher and writer Steven Zaillian had no such reinterpretation in mind but as it turns out, that’s not what this story needed. What it needed was a sophisticated story teller who could plum the rich depths which the book only ever really pointed towards. And that’s exactly what Fincher did. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an ultra slick and cinematically luscious version of the original adaptation which embraces the more idiosyncratic nature of the original story but gives it a steely focus. Like the book and the original adaptation, the three main plots (Lisbeth Salander’s ordeal with her new guardian; Blomkvist’s search for Harriet Vagner’s killer; and his quest to prove his innocence in the liable case) are all present and run in parallel to each other linked through the same overt manoeuvres used by the book. We have the same ‘false’ final act (including the bizarre shift in gears towards popcorn serial killer movie mode) followed by the actual final act where the most interesting plot conclusion is wrapped up in a mere 15 minutes. Given the sprawling and eccentric nature of the story, one might wonder how Fincher turned this into the focused and immersive experience it is. The answer lies in the force of Fincher’s vision and the meticulous craftsmanship which it stimulated from every corner of the film-making process.

From Fincher’s perceptive framing and composition to Rooney Mara’s electric portrayal of the disturbed young woman at the centre of the story, this film is immaculate in its execution. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ scene-bridging score is softly energetic and combined with Kirk Baxter’s and Angus Wall’s editing, it commendably ties the various and not always complementary subplots together so that Fincher’s steady, unerring, and magnetic momentum is maintained. Under the auspices of Fincher’s commanding direction, Jeff Cronenweth’s polished cinematography and Donald Graham Burt’s rich yet stark production design lure us into Larsson’s depraved world of corporate corruption, rape, and serial murderers to the point that we don’t mind being there –  a rare achievement. The acting is first class throughout with Daniel Craig’s Blomkvist being a fine counterpoint to Mara’s lethally focused Salander while Zaillian’s screenplay seems to add layers of intrigue to every last one of the characters. Combined, these forces seem to imbue the film with a richness and substance that bootstraps the story onto another plane.

For all its focus, there are some peculiarities which require addressing. In this day and age, when audiences are used to reading subtitles even on television shows (many of them Scandinavian), the decision to set and partially shoot this film in Sweden but have American, English, Canadian, and even Swedish actors all speaking English in Swedish-ish accents is a little perplexing. Some might argue that the use of English and consequent lack of subtitles is a plus but, from an intellectual point of view, that’s difficult to defend. The question must be asked therefore, if the film must be shot in English, could it not have been set in northern Canada where a similar geographical and meteorological atmosphere to the book could be maintained? After all, the themes addressed here are universal and not distinctly Swedish.

In the final analysis, Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an eminently slick thriller and a marvelous piece of entertainment. It’s easily one of the better thrillers of 2011 and may even be one of the better thrillers in recent decades. More importantly, however, it is a testament to the power of a great director working over a talented cast and crew.

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Dreamscape (1984) 3.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 67.5
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 99 mins
Director: Joseph Ruben
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer

There have been many attempts to get the dreamscape scenario right in film and television (including some much vaunted and ridiculously overhyped recent efforts) but this obscure little sci-fi thriller from the 80’s has probably come the closest. Dennis Quaid is a charming young psychic who has left a life of experimentation where he played guinea pig to a group of curious scientists to instead use his abilities to make a quick buck. Convinced to return to the program to help out with a government funded project involving “dreamwalking”, he finds himself tied up in a national conspiracy involving psychopaths and sinister CIA operatives.

Despite its relatively flat dialogue, the characters and the actors who play them along with some perceptive direction raises Dreamscape above most of the low-budget sci-fi thrillers of its time. Quaid is a great lead and full of his usual charm and personality while David Patrick Kelly is deliciously creepy as the villain. Kate Capshaw is a vibrant co-star while Max Von Sydow and Christopher Plummer add some welcome gravitas to the lineup. Furthermore, director Joseph Ruben ensures the dreams are caught in a wonderfully hazy style that mimics the randomness of the genuine phenomenon (far from the slick contained and utterly unrealistic dreamscapes of Inception). Better still, the more nightmarish scenarios are really quite terrifying reinforced by some nasty incarnations of fear and Kelly’s cleverly written and nicely played character. Moreover, rather than some clumsy notion of dream purgatory, the jeopardy within the dreams is realised much more directly as it becomes the fear itself. Of course, they do also fall back on the life-death reality-dream conflation but even here they work it into the plot centrally so that it seems more reasonable than it has in the countless Star Trek and Inception like attempts where it was always an indirect possibility that was tacked on to compensate for a distinct lack of drama that their pretext for dreamscaping produced in the first place (i.e., helping a colleague overcome a deeply rooted and life threatening conflict and spying on the dreamers’ innermost secrets).

Ultimately, the best thing you can say about this one is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It just sets out to be a good thriller and doesn’t get caught up in deluded notions of cleverness. After all, dreamscape scenarios are themselves always teetering on the comic book end of the sci-fi spectrum and don’t suffer earnestness too well.

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Battle of Britain (1969) 4.19/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.3
Genre: War
Duration: 132 mins
Director: Guy Hamilton
Stars: Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Christopher Plummer

“Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” A spectacular account of the first entirely aerial battle in history as well as the first significant defeat for Hitler’s war machine. Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, Ian McShane, Laurence Olivier (as the Air Marshall), and a host of other big names play the various representatives of one of the most valiant displays of skill and fortitude ever displayed in battle. All the actors involved do their shift with nobody really getting the opportunity to stand out due to short amount of screen time each character gets and the fact that everyone was playing second fiddle to the aerial battles.

Guy Hamilton ties it all together impressively allowing the audience to grasp the scope and magnitude of the various air strategies and logistical requirements that were employed on a day by day basis. The momentum does drop at points which in some ways reflects the contrasting lulls and hysteria of combat but it doesn’t make for the best film viewing. That said, the splendid choreography and stunt work of the planes, once the fighting does get going, offsets those minor issues. The climactic battle in particular is elegantly captured in a suitably rousing and operatic style and even by today’s standards, it’ll have the audience quietly astounded.

The fact that the German approach to the battle is depicted in detail (not to mention in actual German) is a real boon to the tone of the film for it not only bolsters the technical angle taken in the movie, but it also gives us a more fleshed out human perspective. Overall, Battle of Britain is an admirable and nicely spirited WWII movie that does justice to the technical and human effort that went into Britain’s lone fight against the Germans in 1940 while also offering great entertainment to anyone who loves a great film spectacle.

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