Tag Archives: James Caan

Thief (1981) 4.51/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 83.6
Genre: Crime
Duration: 122 mins
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson

Michael Mann’s seminal crime thriller focuses on James Caan’s master thief who, in an effort to attain the family he always wanted, eschews his independence and reluctantly agrees to work for a crime king-pin (Robert Prosky) only to find himself locked into an interminable contract. Caan rated this as his best performance outside of Sonny Corleone and he is utterly mesmerising as the balls-of-steel Frank who is willing to sacrifice everything rather than lie down for anyone. Prosky is immense as the old mobster who can switch from genial father-figure to ruthless monster at the drop of a hat. Thief has all the trademarks of the great Mann films. The ultra-real dialogue, the technical proficiency of the criminals, a subtle yet powerful score (courtesy of Tangerine Dream), and slick night time shots of Chicago’s mean streets. Moreover, Mann’s films are often based on the study of obsession and disciplined dedication to one’s craft and nowhere is this better realised than here. The set pieces are as innovative and disciplined as we’ve come across and when combined with the searing performances and inspired dialogue, it becomes truly captivating. Thief is a crime classic and arguably one of the genre’s greatest representatives. It achieves a gritty realism that movies of that genre are always in search of but rarely attain.

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A Bridge Too Far (1977) 3.57/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 78.1
Genre: War
Duration: 175 mins
Director: Richard Attenborough
Stars: Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, James Caan, Michael Caine

Richard Attenborough’s WWII epic counts as a spiritual sequel to The Longest Day by providing a sprawling account of Montgomery’s overambitious Operation Market Garden. The film moves forward at a beautiful pace taking its time to develop each of the several main characters. It eases between the various divisions and units that are responsible for leading the different elements of the attack and it’s a testament to Attenborough’s direction and William Goldman’s screenplay that it never loses the audience’s attention. The cast of A-listers are too numerous to account for but like any good military campaign they all do their bit. The action scenes are in the main sensational and on a scale rarely seen in even the biggest and most modern of films. In fact, in many ways A Bridge Too Far is a case of art imitating life as the logistics involved in the production of this film must have rivaled those that went into the actual battles themselves. It isn’t all perfect as some of the close-shots during the fighting come off a little rushed and a small few of the battle sequences are a tad uninspired. There are also a couple too many subplots crammed into the 175 minutes and dispensing with the weaker ones (such as James Caan’s attempts to protect his fragile young lieutenant) would have given the film a more streamlined feel. That said, what makes A Bridge Too Far so special are the moments in between the battles that don’t quite add up to subplots but just a series of vignettes that acknowledge the personal dimension to soldiering. And on that criteria, there are few that can rival it.

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The Way of the Gun (2000) 4.09/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 83
Genre: Action
Duration: 121 mins
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Stars: Ryan Phillippe, Benicio Del ToroJames Caan

Stunning actioner written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (he who wrote The Usual Suspects). How this one slipped under the public’s radar is hard to tell but if you haven’t heard of it, make sure you see it and prepare to be blown away! Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe play two down-on-their-luck hit-men who stumble across an opportunity to kidnap a woman (Juliette Lewis) doing surrogate mother duties for a big noise with mob connections. A complicated pursuit begins in which her ruthless bodyguards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt) on one side and the mob’s bag-man (James Cann) and his accomplice (the always excellent Jeffrey Lewis – Juliette’s father) on the other, attempt to out-manoeuvre each other for their own reasons.

The Way of the Gun is every bit as edgy and original as The Usual Suspects with some action set-pieces that will leave your jaw on the floor. Even more so than in The Usual Suspects, McQuarrie favours intelligence over explosions and the result is a lot of heavy hitters going head to head in a game of tactical gun play, the likes of which, you’ll never have seen before. Del Toro and Phillippe are sensational in the lead roles with the latter being a true revelation. In fact, the acting from all parties is well above first rate which isn’t surprising because the actors are given one mouth-watering line after another to chew on. This is without doubt one of the freshest and coolest screenplays written for an action movie and the words capture the momentum of the story with all the lyrical precision of a classic film-noir. As with the best scripts from that genre, this one is flush with subtext which that cast and director tease out with exquisite half-glances and discretely shot mannerisms. The plot is fully engaging and is replete with one fascinating character after another and when the vast majority of those are all seasoned tough guys, there’s only one place this is heading. It might not be as slickly shot a film as The Usual Suspects is but it’s one hell of a film in its own right and easily one of the best action thrillers to come out of Hollywood in decades. Do Not Miss.

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The Godfather (1972) 5/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 97.4
Genre: Gangster
Duration: 175 mins
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James CaanRobert Duvall

“It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” Francis Ford Coppola’s epic tale of the Corleone crime family’s battle to maintain their position at top of the mob underworld gives us two of the finest acting performances in history and is the peak of cinematic story-telling. The story opens with a lavish wedding which in addition to setting a contrasting tone to the latter half of the film outlines the dynamic of the Corleone family as well as the various political allegiances both of which will define the tensions to follow. This scene also counts as one of the most awesomely written, staged, edited, and shot openings in cinema history and has become a revered masterclass in film-making

With the main players and their relationships established, writers Mario Puzo and Coppola allow both to develop throughout the rest of the film in resonating style resulting in a tragedy of moral corruption as profoundly perceptive as anything we have seen before or since on film. Within the broader battles and strategies of the Corleone organisation’s fight to remain dominant lie the more interesting and richly drawn personal battles as hopes and ambitions are turned on their heads and Michael Corleone is drawn into the world from which his father fought to save him. There are no caricatures here as father and son, brother and brother, husband and wife, and enemy and enemy are turned and twisted against each other which intermittently boil over into one sublime and daring set piece after another. As Vito Corleone Marlon Brando is at his improvisational best and commands every bit of our attention when the camera is on him. It’s one of those rare performances that is so rich and intuitive that every aspect to the character’s personality and demeanor feels real and substantial. On the other hand, Al Pacino gives us the most complete and contemplative performance imaginable. He is nothing short of mesmerising as he transforms before our eyes from the young and innocent war hero to the cold and calculating puppet-master.

Rather than embracing the counter-culture of many of his contemporaries, Coppola tells the story in the classic style of old Hollywood and the result is a Shakespearian masterpiece of pacing and intrigue informed by Nino Rota’s seminal and mesmerising score. Philip Smith’s set decoration, Dean Tavoularis’ overall production design, and Gordon Willis’ cinematography are sumptuous to behold but seductive and engaging enough to comfortably contain a story as broad as the one told here. Coppola’s use of the visual feasts they serve up is truly inspired as he frames the slow and blisteringly fast drama and action with precision and controls their momentum with his trademark ultra-disciplined innovation. And in the scene where Michael meets Sollozzo and McClusky, he gives us perhaps the best example of tension building the medium has ever offered. Sublime indeed.

Eraser (1996) 2.86/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 65.4
Genre: Action
Duration: 115 mins
Director: Chuck Russell
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vanessa Williams, James Caan

Arnold Schwarzenegger top-lines as a specialist US Marshall who is charged with hiding government witnesses by erasing all traces of their identity. When his latest charge is targeted by the defense contractor she’s blown the whistle on, he finds the threat to her life comes partially from within his own agency.

At first blush, Eraser could seem like a cynical attempt to cash in on an “Arnold” formula which True Lies insinuated might be ripe for exploiting. And let’s not kid ourselves, it is…..and a poor man’s True Lies it is at that. Tight plot and clever dialogue are replaced by gaping plot holes and logical errors. The special effects are slightly above average for the mid 90s but were never close to those of Cameron’s movie and have consequently dated (effects which see crocodiles double in size before our eyes included). Characters whose actions and motivations are as laughable as they are contradictory. Moreover, it’s not as if this is a completely carefree tongue in cheek action comedy. There’s comedy but it’s much more a straight laced actioner.

But despite all this, Eraser works! Maybe it’s the top cast built around the ever watchable Schwarzenegger and the excellent James Caan. Maybe it’s the easy momentum which carries us through one somewhat novel action sequence after another. Or maybe it’s the fact that when it does go for the comedy, it hits every time (the “you’re luggage” one-liner notwithstanding). Maybe, it’s all these reasons together but what’s for sure, is that Eraser is very easy to forgive, very easy to watch, and very easy to like.

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