William Friedkin’s outstanding crime thriller is like all of Michael Mann’s 80′s crime thrillers rolled into one and injected with steroids. William Peterson plays Chance, a risk-taking secret service agent who’ll stop at nothing to bring a master counterfeiter who killed his partner to justice, even if that means breaking the law himself. Willem Dafoe plays the counterfeiter in question and as usual he makes the character his own and in doing so gives us one of the more memorable movie villains from that era. Despite its glossy exterior, this is a gritty film that through both anti-hero and villain explores the darker side to crime, punishment, sex, and ego. The action scenes are hugely impressive with Friedkin almost outdoing his French Connection car chase with an even more reckless and equally well acted chase through the LA freeways. The film exudes a self-destructive vibe like few others and that scene is the focal point for such tension. The acting is brilliant with Peterson putting in his second best ever performance after Manhunter (some may argue his outright best). Of course, he is helped by a brilliant supporting cast including the likes of Dean Stockwell, John Turturro, and John Pankow as Chance’s nervous colleague. Though on the exterior, this looks like a Friedkin version of a Michael Mann movie, one must remember that the latter picked up a lot of his favourite themes from Friedkin in the first place (e.g., the obsession of Popeye Doyle has been a recurrent theme in Mann’s characters). Moreover, Friedkin was always more unconventional and even experimental in his films which is why To Live and Die in LA closes in a way Mann would never dream of closing a movie – with an enigmatic psychological punch!
Rating: The Good – 95.5 Genre: Mystery, Thriller Duration: 180 mins Director: David Lynch Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Isabella Rossellini
David Lynch’s unhinged masterpiece follows the fresh faced Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle Maclachlan) into the dark underbelly of a seemingly idyllic all-American town where he encounters cinema’s most disturbing psycho Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). It all begins with the discovery of a severed ear against the backdrop of Jeffrey’s white-picket fenced suburbia. Where the investigation of that ear takes the curious young Jeffrey is almost impossible to explain for this is a uniquely skewed and powerful analysis of a world that exists just beyond our comfort zone in our subjective unconscious. In telling Jeffrey’s story, Lynch traverses a number of genres from film-noir to romance to outright fantasy but it’s the romance that shines through the strongest in his trademark “eye-of-the-duck” scene. On the technical front, the film represents nothing less than the perfect blend of image and sound with Lynch giving life to the latter like no other film before it or since. Machlachlan is truly outstanding in a role that is admittedly tailor made for him. Laura Dern is equally terrific as Jeffrey’s girl of interest while Dennis Hopper simply redefines the concept of madness on film. Raw cinematic power.
Rating: The Good – 77.1 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 137 mins Director: David Lynch Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Francesca Annis
David Lynch’s much maligned adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal novel has been criticised by lovers of the book (which, let’s face it, were always going to be difficult to please), those desperately hung up on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed adaptation (which, let’s face it, was mouth-watering in its potential), and those who seem to have a mind about as open as the vault door at Fort Knox. However, no matter what your bias or leaning, there’s no denying that Lynch brought a level of abstraction to this version that was startling and in its own way defining. The epic story is one of political intrigue 8,000 years in the future between powerful houses fighting over a planet which holds the key to the most valuable natural resource in the known universe. Kyle MacLachlan plays the prince of one of these houses who must realise his destiny on this strange planet and he is surrounded by a host of quirky characters played by equally quirky performers. This film is probably unlike anything you will have ever seen and the sheer breadth of its unfamiliarity will leave you disorientated and at times deeply uncomfortable. And of course, for a film set so far in the future that’s exactly the point! The one major criticism that is not levelled often enough against sci-fi films is their failure to give the viewer the impression that what they’re looking at is alien. Dune is a raging triumph of alienation and disorientation. Once you acclimatise to it, however, the film becomes a rather fascinating experience and while cheesy in places (often due to MacLachlan’s bright eyed naivety being dialed a tad high) for the most part it plays out as extremely sophisticated science fiction. Not for the feint willed, but if you’re a student of sci-fi in particular and film in general, Lynch’s Dune is a must see.
Rating: The Good – 75.3 Genre: Crime, Satire Duration: 103 mins Director: Richard Fleischer Stars: Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, Orson Welles
Richard Fleischer serves up a worthy take on the Leopold and Loeb case starring Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell as two blue blood overachievers who decide their superior intellects entitle them to the privileged experience of murder. However, it’s not long before the clues they inadvertently leave behind and their low emotional intelligence betray their perfect plan. With the arrival of Orson Welles as their defence attorney, the film then takes an unusual turn and attempts to parallel their premeditated killing with the prosecution’s case for the death penalty as Welles’ character attempts to help them avoid just that.
Compulsion is really two films in one, maybe even three. Like Hitchcock’s Rope (which was based on the same case), it picks up directly after the murder and as the two men gloat their way home, the dynamics of their relationship are revealed. Dillman is the leader while Stockwell follows. However, unlike Farley Granger’s character in Rope, Stockwell’s sinister streak is more exposed and he has some claws too. This opening act progresses at a leisurely pace as killers’ personalities are further revealed during their interactions with their wider circle of college friends. It delves deep into the killers’ psyches and pulls no punches in its conclusions. The homosexuality is only really skirted around and, thankfully, their personalities and intellectual failings are implicated as more likely causes. This gives Compulsion a rather perceptive quality and ranks it above most serial killer films. The two leads give their characters’ skewed view on reality a chilling credibility even if Stockwell’s contribution is sometimes dialled a tad high.
The court case is a dramatic change of pace culminating in a protracted monologue elegantly delivered by Welles and with Fleischer using a well constructed extended cut to pay homage to Hitchcock’s earlier Rope. Welles makes a massive contribution to this film and from the moment he makes his trademark boisterous entrance, he almost single handedly slows the pace of the film down to match the more weighty and considered final act which is about to begin. To turn an intriguing and clinical examination of two killers on its head and partially humanise them was a very brave decision and it can catch one off guard. Of course, there’s no better time to make a controversial argument and it’s fair to say that Richard Murphy’s intelligent and eloquent monologue drives the nail home in damning fashion. It’s to everyone’s credit that the killers aren’t let off the hook while this is going on and that integrity is maintained and indeed championed right through to the end.
Compulsion isn’t perfect. It can feel slightly trite at times and there’s an even slighter underlying confusion as to what type of film it wants to be. It opens with a strikingly comical vignette wherein, the filmmakers seem to be laughing at the two young men. It then shoots straight as a typical detective story would and then, after a more earnest final act, it closes with that same sarcasm it demonstrated in the opening scene. It’s not that these different approaches can’t be mixed, it’s just that Fleischer didn’t really massage them together cogently enough. That said, even if it is somewhat confused, the film has personality and it tells one hell of a compelling story while giving the audience much to consider.