Rating: The Good – 68.8 Genre: Horror Duration: 119 mins Director: Scott Derrickson Stars: Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Laura Linney stars as a successful defence attorney who agrees to defend a Catholic priest (Tom Wilkinson) when a young woman who he performed an exorcism on died shortly thereafter. As she delves into the case, she not only begins to believe the priest’s story but she comes to suspect that the same dark forces are now working against her. Scott Derrickson’s film strikes an original chord within the genre by attempting to examine the case from a legal perspective and he sets a wonderfully sinister atmosphere that peaks in some truly chilling moments. Linney’s skill in the lead lends even more credibility to the film’s serious aspirations as does the wider casting from Wilkinson’s beleaguered clergyman to Campbell Scott’s determined prosecutor. However, things go wrong with the screenplay just as it should be ratcheting up towards an intriguing conclusion. The relevance of the exorcism to the law is only barely glanced at as evidenced by Wilkinson’s marginalisation as a character and the main plot gets a little silly towards the close. Most disappointing of all, however, the creepy subplot concerning Linney’s inexplicable experiences never really amounts to anything. Instead, the movie satisfies itself in the main by offering multiple retrospective accounts of the events leading up to and including the exorcism which themselves bear an awfully familiar bent. At the very least, a Rashoman-like contrast between the various firsthand accounts would’ve added an interesting layer of ambiguity to the proceedings but given that they’re all in accordance with each other, we’re left with a clear but less intriguing delineation between truth and mistruth. Thus, it can be argued that The Exorcism of Emily Rose turns its back on its most promising story angles to serve its most ordinary:- a real shame give the calibre of talent on hand.
Rating: The Good – 73.4 Genre: Thriller Duration: 129 mins Director: Gregory Hoblit Stars: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Edward Norton
An urbane legal thriller starring Richard Gere as a big shot attorney defending a naive and seemingly gentle young man who is on trial for the murder of an archbishop. As the plot is slowly excavated, he and his team begin to suspect their client may be suffering from multiple personality disorder and the real murderer is buried in his psyche.
Its irrelevant and generic shelf-title aside, Primal Fear is a layered and nimble thriller with just enough sprinkles of political, social, and romantic drama to enrich the tapestry of the central murder trial. Gregory Hoblit’s usual sophistication makes the thing very watchable as his eye for composition combined with his overall discipline and sense of balance, ensures the visual tones never intrude on the plot. Instead they perfectly complement it by sitting in the background and allowing the engrossing characters and story to at all times occupy centre stage.
The shining cast adds an additional touch of elegance as Gere, Edward Norton, Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, and John Mahoney give us one well rounded character after another. Norton in particular created one of cinema’s more memorable defendants and he’s liable to blow your socks off if you’ve managed to remain oblivious to this movie and the direction it takes. Of course, as always, Gere is a proper lead and he owns the movie even if Norton is responsible for the more agile acting.
Beneath the movie’s sheen, the movie looks less sure footed. There’s some loose construction of the story especially early on as Hoblit and his editors place one or two of scenes out of sequence. And while the weaving of the different subplots starts out promising and proceeds in accomplished fashion, their connections become less focal as the story moves past them. Inevitably, a degree of tension is spilt when this occurs. Linney is, as always, a tremendous addition to the proceedings but an unfortunate regression of her character from strong female attorney to helpless victim of her clever male opponents, (one using charm, the other force) negates much of what made the script so promising to begin with. If Gere’s brash yet somewhat conflicted legal maestro has the tables turned on him late on, it feels less like an attempt to parallel it with her degradation and more like a rather unadventurous examination of ego. In the end, it matters little for the film aims primarily to be just a cracking good thriller with strong shades of class throughout. And that some are lighter than others doesn’t do too much damage.
Rating: The Good – 77.4 Genre: Thriller Duration: 110 mins Director: Billy Ray Stars: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Dennis Haysbert
The real life case of former FBI agent Robert Hanson who in the 1980’s and 90’s committed the most damaging acts of treason in American history on behalf of the Soviet Union. Breach is a pensively weighted thriller that offers a mature and unromantic angle on the subject of espionage. Delving equally into Hanson’s private and professional life as a means to laying the infrastructure of an explanation for his actions, the film offers a bleak examination of one disturbed man’s psyche and the toll it places on the young agent whom the bureau charges with reporting on his daily movements.
Shot with a predominance of greys, blacks, and dark blues, director Billy Ray seems to go out of his way not only to capture the bleakness of the script but to also set as realistic and subjective a tone as possible. The drama is moved forward in an eminently patient manner so that the actors are entrusted with more responsibility than most dramatic thrillers. And when two of those actors are Chris Cooper and Laura Linney, that’s a safe bet. As one of the most talented actors of the last thirty years, Cooper produces a darkly textured performance on which the entire film hangs. Everything from the pacing to the set design seems to feed off the meticulous paranoia which he breathes into his character. He gets to the core of this complex personality by striking a believable balance between Hanson’s overt religiousness, his deep ridden insecurities, his hypocrisy, and his bitter contempt for what he sees as a lack of recognition in his career. Ryan Phillippe gives yet another impressive turn as the inexperienced and conflicted agent sent to spy on his movements while Linney helps to round off the central cast with her usual timing, insight, and overall professionalism.
For an almost wholly dialogue driven film, Ray and Adam Mazer’s script is impressively lean. There’s little in the way of superfluous dialogue nor are there any token moments of action crowbarred into the story. At times, this integrity places too much of a drag on the film’s momentum but the acting always comes to the rescue. For this reason, Breach is not to be misinterpreted as a traditional spy thriller and those looking for as much will probably be disappointed. But for those looking for an affecting drama with the edge of espionage and Cold War machinations, then Breach makes for compelling viewing.
Rating: The Good – 76.3 Genre: Drama Duration: 103 mins Director: Peter Weir Stars: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris
Peter Weir somehow manages to turn what could’ve been just another mundane concept piece into a deeply touching tale of loneliness, celebrity, and self-determination in this story about a young man named Truman who is the unwitting star of a reality TV show based around his life. Having grown up in a self-contained artificial bio-sphere where day and night are at the whim of a manned control centre and where everyone he knows are actors playing to a script, Truman’s life has been staged and manipulated from the minute he was born. At the centre of all this is the guru-like producer, Christof, who treats Truman like his greatest artistic masterpiece and who professes love for him. That is until that Truman begins to suspect that there is something strange about his world and decides to leave his “town” for the first time in his life.
Jim Carey turns in one of his best and most straight-laced performances as the star of “The Truman Show”. His eccentric qualities turned out to be well suited to playing a person who had a less than normal upbringing while his genuine acting ability allows him to make the entire thing believable particularly in the more emotional third act. Ed Harris is in terrific form as the temperamental Christof and he too pulls some acting aerobatics in grounding what would in other hands come off as a rather wild concept. Laura Linney is her usual expert self as Truman’s on-set wife and Christof’s most surgical tool of manipulation.
Of course, as with any Peter Weir film, the director is the true master behind the project and as ever, his iron hand in a velvet glove approach ensures this is a subtle but powerful piece of film-making. The humour of the early sequences is well handled but it’s the shifting of gears in the third act that makes what he does here so special for out of nowhere, The Truman Show (both the film and show within a film) becomes a profound and touching crucible for the exploration of free will, personhood, and self-expression. Carey is with him all the way and the by the beginning of the closing scene, they’ve firmly got a hold of their audience which allows them to deliver one hell of an emotional pay-off.