Tag Archives: Emile Hirsch

Guilty Pleasures

Lone Survivor (2013) 3.19/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60
Genre: Action, War
Duration: 121 mins
Director: Peter Berg
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch

Highly dramatised account of a Navy SEAL team’s desperate attempt to escape dozens of Taliban during a compromised mission in Afghanistan. Peter Berg is a curious director. A glance at his CV and he could look like simply another journeyman director. But every now and then he pops up with a film that seems uniquely his. The fact that Lone Survivor counts as one such movie is both good and bad for Berg. Good because we have a movie with its own personality but bad because the cheesiness and fundamental idiocy of the plot must therefore reflect largely on him. Far from being an unashamed propaganda movie, Lone Survivor is a crudely veiled one. It doesn’t focus on the skill of the soldiers as a more straight up propaganda piece would. Instead, it’s an attempt to appeal to the emotional bonds that exist between the them. By placing them in a hopeless situation and having them shepherd each other to safety, bullet-ridden and broken… but never beaten. Of course, most propaganda films will play on the audience’s heartstrings aiming for emotional resonance. But Berg doesn’t simply play on them. He bounces on them – trampoline style. Some action fans will forgive this. Many won’t – and the truly awful dialogue during these gut wrenching moments won’t help them to in the slightest.

But for those who can forgive it’s more ridiculous qualities, there are rich rewards to be had in the action department. For Lone Survivor is a relentless shrapnel cloud of an action film, more visceral than most. The final hour is an excruciating embellishment on the levels of pain and punishment these men supposedly volunteer for and, as the opening scene alludes to, even crave. Sure, we recently had a rather complex analysis of this peculiar personality in the The Hurt Locker and, in contrast, Berg’s more exaggerated and fallow depiction of war addiction seems all the more disrespectful to the actual men and women of combat. However, what it lacks in subtlety and insight it makes up for in thump by putting us right in the middle of his imagined experience. An experience that amounts to a discombobulation of close quarter hillside combat interspersed with bone crunching mountain tumbling and lung bursting falls.

If the film is let down by a lack of believability in the action stakes, it’s not making up any ground in its character development. The four SEALS are introduced briefly in the beginning but any notion of building on that gets lost once the bullets start flying. And when two of those guys are played by Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch, it’s an unforgivable waste. Needless to say, the bad guys, to specify, the Taliban, are even more one dimensional. Strangely bedecked with ‘Ming the Merciless’ inspired makeup (just in case their slaughter of unarmed civilians didn’t make them seem mean enough), the story would’ve been made at least somewhat substantial if they were given even a modicum of personality. So extreme are they in their badness that the inclusion of a village of kind Afghans towards the end seems all the more conspicuous and, worse, tokenistic. A painful coda dedicated to their real life contribution to the SEAL’s escape only compounds this.

Where Berg truly fails however is in confusing his audience with respect to how he frames his heroes. We’re asked to sit in awe of their dedication, skill, and courage yet the tactical ineptitude that these supposed elite soldiers demonstrate is mind boggling. Their decision making, rationale, and professional comportment appear rather sloppy even to the layman. In the absence of any commentary on this supposed true event, we are left scratching our heads as to how this could’ve happened. Who knows how much liberty was taken in the adaptation but Hollywood is usually guilty of overplaying their heroes not underplaying them let alone leave the audience uncertain as to how much respect they deserve. What is for certain is that we miss much of the action as we ruminate on it. Given that the action is the solitary virtue of this movie, that’s all the more unfortunate.

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Lords of Dogtown (2005) 3/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 64.8
Genre: Drama, Sport
Duration: 107 mins
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Stars: Heath Ledger, Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk

As with all films that deal with a particular subculture, Lords of Dogtown seems to gain as much criticism as it does praise for its relevance or lack thereof to real life. However, judging it simply as a film, this is a well directed story that properly evokes a feeling of a time and a place now gone. It tells the story of the beginning of skate-boarding as a legitimate sport in Venice Beach California by focusing on three of its originators. The acting is top notch by everyone except Emile Hirsch, who at times comes across a little stilted, and the story is compelling and well told. Better still, there’s also a levelled but genuine warmth towards the principal players that gives this film the kind of substance that most of its kind lack.

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Killer Joe (2012) 3.54/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.4
Genre: Crime
Duration: 102 mins
Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple

William Friedkin’s surgical irreverence explodes back onto the screen after a break of six years for this perfect illustration of that most illusive of genre concepts: the black comedy. Emile Hirsch plays a small time white trash drug dealer who along with his layabout father, Thomas Haden Church, plots to do away with his mother so they can collect the insurance money. Included in the plan are his unusual sister (Juno Temple), his step mother (Gina Gershon), and the disturbing hitman they hire to do the job:- a moonlighting cop by the name of Killer Joe (Mathew McConaughey).

The plot is both bizarre and intricate, a compelling combination to be sure, and with some delicious dialogue and a cast bang on song to breathe life into it, one might expect it to drive the film in typical noir fashion. But surprisingly, Friedkin chooses to use the plot as a mere background to the strange character dynamics and the sardonic tone that they set. Church and Hirsch form one of the funniest father-son dynamics we’ve seen on screen, Temple offers a bristling core of ambiguity to the film, while Gershon spits poison at everyone. And then, of course, there’s Joe. McConaughey has received much praise for this turn and he’s worth the vast majority of it if only for the solid momentum his steel tempered psychopath adds to the film. It’s his chilling presence that balances the film against the Jerry Springer melodrama of the idiotic criminal family and in that now infamous denouement, it’s in Joe’s gargantuan insanity that the audience find their only hope of a cohesive conclusion. It’s a level of twisted cleverness that we are given glimpses of here and there in the first two acts as Friedkin and Tracy Letts (adapting his own play) construct a skewed parable for a more jaded and desensitised age.

But within this grease-drenched discombobulation of crime and fable, an irresistible mechanism of black comedy turns over like clockwork. This is as precise and well timed an execution of the art form as we’ve been treated to in some time. A delicate parody of both childlike make believe and the crime genre itself that catches an audience who thinks it’s seen everything by the ears and stitches their jaw to the floor. It’s not the type of broad masterpiece that Friedkin delivered with The French Connection but Killer Joe is a return to the type of subversive agitation that marked Cruising and Rampage. There are those who will rail at the images of the last 20 minutes and allegations of gratuitousness have and will continue to be levelled at Friedkin. Thankfully, his recent absence from the screen has left his skin none the thinner and we have another enigmatic classic to ponder for years to come.

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