Star studded legal thriller with a still fresh faced Tom Cruise as the brash young attorney whose dream job at a Memphis law firm turns into a nightmare when he discovers they’re a front for the Mafia. Throw in a meddling FBI and a largely unseen Chicago mobster and the scene is set for some old school thrills and a nice spot of running for the always eager Cruiser. As usual for a John Grisham adaptation, an array of cracking characters lie at the base to this movie played by no one but the cream. Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter, Wildord Brimely, David Strathairn, Ed Harris, Gary Busey, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Paul Sorvino are all in top form while Cruise puts in a strong shift as he was, at the time, just emerging from the shadow of his late 80’s “pretty face” status. However, it’s Gene Hackman as Cruise’s incorrigible yet charming mentor who steals the show. The movie comes alive the moment he shows up and he adds much needed droll to the otherwise stiff suited side to the movie. As as you’d expect from the man behind some of the great 70’s thrillers, Sydney Pollack ratchets up the tension and strikes a relatively even balance with the personal drama even if he could do nothing for the Cruise-Tripplehorn mismatch as husband and wife! He does however manage to keep his audience distracted from the story’s sometimes ludicrous plot developments – a useful skill for a Grisham thriller! John Seale’s photography gives Memphis an intriguingly inviting yet obscure quality which actually complements the conspiratorial tone of the movie while not alienating the mainstream audience. Ditto Robert Towne, David Raybe, and David Rayfiel’s screenplay. It’s just a shame that Dave Grusin’s score couldn’t do the same as it bounces buoyantly among the octaves, too often oblivious to the cadences of the script. The whole thing runs about 35 minutes too long but it’s worth hanging in there if only to see Tom use his briefcase to beat seven shades of crap out of Brimely’s slightly ridiculous but eminently enjoyably bag man.
Rating: The Good – 78.2 Genre: Horror Duration: 89 mins Director: John Carpenter Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh
A classic ghost story about a town which, on its hundred year anniversary, is visited by the specter of a ship and its crew who were murdered by the town’s founders a century earlier. Director John Carpenter’s perfectly paced chiller has yet to be matched in the sense of sinister momentum it generates from the first reel to the close. The scares are actually basic enough but with Carpenter’s unorthodox and unsettling style and a variety of interesting characters on show the movie really does take on a life of its own and, as such, it has gone down as one of the most compelling horror movies of the last 30 years. Jamie Lee Curtis heads the cast as the hitchhiker passing through the sleepy coastal town just as things start to get strange and she adds a playful tone to the earlier sequences. The remainder of the cast is a who’s who of Carpenter regulars with the exception of the very first “scream queen” and Jamie’s mother, Janet Leigh, who puts in an excellent turn as the town’s mother figure.
Perhaps the best of all the 70′s conspiracy thrillers, this slow burning drama follows the investigation of Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein into the Watergate break in. The film captures all of the complexity of the story and can spin the head of even the most astute viewer. That said, the complexity actually serves to enhance the drama and ultimately the suspense as the two reporters find themselves targeted by the intimidating force they find it so difficult to put a face to. Alan J. Pakula’s direction is superb as he switches between long lens close-ups of the various notes and documents and wide shots of the offices and underground car parks. His use of deep focus and staging in these latter shots is truly extraordinary, a technique he uses on more than one occasion to set the historical as well as circumstantial context to the reporters’ investigations. In setting the tense atmosphere, Pakula is helped ably by David Shire’s subtle and foreboding score and it remains amongst the most recognisable scores from that period. There are some major heavy hitters duking it out on the acting front. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are brilliant as Woodward and Bernstein respectively and have great chemistry together. Jason Robards is in his usual scene-stealing form as editor Ben Bradlee and Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, and Hal Holbrook (as Deep Throat) are excellent in support.
An interesting but problem ridden account of the decisive WWII battle of the pacific sees Carlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford and others go up against their Japanese counterparts in the form of Toshirô Mifune and James Shigeta. The strength of the this film lies in its honest attempt to capture the ebbs and flows of the battle as tactics, mechanical and human error, courage and above all luck played their respective hands. This goes a long way in recreating some of the anxiety and panic that defined the days events. The cast is littered with big names from the aforementioned to Hal Holbrook, Robert Webber, Robert Wagner, Cliff Robertson, James Coburn, and most exciting of all Robert Mitchum. Though they all bring their presence in different ways most of them are mere cameos and so there’s a tendency to feel rather hard done by as the film continues. But that’s only a minor issue compared to major problems which beset this film.
First off, the Japanese characters either speak English in American accents or in most cases they are dubbed by Americans making no attempt to disguise their accents. While this reduces the authenticity which films like Tora! Tora! Tora! achieved so easily it also makes it difficult to discern which sides the various pilots belong to as they radio back to their ships. Even more unfortunate is the shooting of the battle sequences themselves. Pedestrian at best, laughable at worst, they lack any proper coordination and involve bargain basement visual effects. The director Jack Smight is most culpable here and one suspects his decision to incorporate actual dog fighting footage into those scenes was to compensate for the poorness of those effects but in the end, they only destabilise them further.
All this is a shame because the Battle of Midway is an important and critical moment in WWII and no other film before or since has brought the necessary scale to do it justice. That this is what hardened WWII movie fans are left with is frustrating especially give that it could be avoided. However, for those fans alone, Midway’s successful attempt to give a methodical blow by blow account of the day should prove enough reason to give this one a watch.