Rating: The Good – 72.1 Genre: Action Duration: 126 mins Director: J.J. Abrams Stars: Tom Cruise, Michelle Monaghan, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Easily the better of the first two sequels, Mission Impossible III isn’t as much defined by its traditional set pieces as it is by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s über-villain. After retiring from the field to get married, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is drawn back into the fold when his protege is killed by the aforementioned nasty arms dealer who among other things is attempting to secure some kind of doomsday device. Picking up the ball after John Woo had somewhat fumbled it in MI:II, J.J. Abrams, fresh from his television successes with Alias and Lost, shows an intuitive touch in his handling of some modestly conceived but impressively staged set pieces. And though opening in perhaps too high a gear, the movie does eventually settle to the extent that a decent story plays out.
After a six year hiatus from the role, Cruise gives us the same enjoyable but watered down version of Ethan Hunt as he did in the first sequel. No doubt the movie could’ve used the cheeky verve of his cracking original turn but what he fails to provide, Seymour-Hoffman makes up for in spades. Not known for his roles in action thrillers, Seymour-Hoffman spits his wonderfully acidic dialogue at everyone and anyone who gets in his way right before he tortures them in some novel but psychologically cruel manner. He’s as thrilling a bad guy as you’ll find and a scene in which he wakes up in chains yet immediately turns the tables on his captors through sheer force of will is chilling to behold. The majority of the characters excluding Hunt’s new bride (Michelle Monaghan) and his sarcastic tech-specialist (Simon Pegg) are merely vessels through which the extended action sequences play out but so brisk is the pace Abrams sets, it won’t really be noticed.
Rating: The Good – 76.8 Genre: Action, Black Comedy Duration: 103 mins Director: Shane Black Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
A playful action comedy with an ability to shift towards darker gears is what we got when seminal action writer Shane Black stepped behind the camera to resurrect the careers of two of Hollywood’s most interesting would-be leads. Robert Downey Jr. stars as a New York thief hiding out in Hollywood who gets caught up in a noir style mystery involving his former high school crush (Michelle Monaghan) and Val Kilmer’s gay private detective.
As much as this film’s curiosity and success rests on its novel story, riff-abundant script, and fairytale like narration, the three leads are in smashing form. A natural chemistry among the cast is a gift for any action director because it can breathe additional layers of life into the necessary action set pieces and Black found himself triply blessed here as Downey Jr., Kilmer, and Monaghan reflect the best trio since Gibson, Glover, and Pesci. The story is a purposeful mash up of those that the great detective noirs served up replete with converging subplots and dark subject matters. Ever in cheeky mode though, Black spins the character archetypes on their head and none more so than Downey’s central hero who is more Jack Burton than Mike Hammer. This or course only adds to his charm as the movie’s narrator and, for his part, Downey is in commanding form and perfectly self-deprecating – in line with where his career was at the time.
If anything, Kilmer is better as the sarcastic detective batting for the other team. Though his character’s sexuality is the basis for most of his jokes, Black occasionally shows a subtler touch when he uses it to merely inform the comedy background. Purposefully avoiding one character stereotype only to unwittingly embrace another is the definition of self-defeating but thankfully, Kilmer’s impeccable timing and natural presence compensates and he gives us one of the better characters Hollywood has offered up in recent years – an original and interesting good guy and wickedly funny to boot. Far from being eclipsed by any male double act, Monaghan is just as quirky and even more charming. Moreover, by virtue of the story’s construction, it’s usually up to her to carry the story forward and she combined her dual roles with an effortless vibrance.
Black’s direction deserves some comment given it was his first time taking the reigns and though he allows the self-referential narration to ironically interfere with the narrative rather than aid its progression, the visual profile of the movie is flush with personality. Aaron Osbourne’s production design combined with Michael Barrett’s photography gives L.A. a modern fairytale quality in keeping with the themes of the story. The action sequences too are well handled thanks to some innovative ideas and deft editing. However, the most impressive feature of Black’s helmsmanship is perhaps his ability to change the tone of the movie without warning. There’s a moment when Downey confronts a heartless hitman – who had previously pulled off his recently sewn on finger in a nihilistically amusing episode – and it chills to the bone. It adds gravitas to the overall experience and enriches the film’s homage to the great noir. And in doing so, it rounds off this little gem in admirable style.
Rating: The Good – 74.3 Genre: Crime, Thriller, Mystery Duration: 114 mins Director: Ben Affleck Stars: Casey Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris
Ben Affleck turned many heads with this thoughtful and deftly crafted tale of two private investigators searching their local neighbourhood for traces of an abducted little girl. There are many things that make this film work so well but the writing, casting, and decision to make the working class Bostonian neighbourhoods so central to the story are paramount. Affleck co-wrote the script with Aaron Stockard and it’s fair to say that the result is one of the most insightful and authentic sounding screenplays. The cast of (mostly local) actors are just as integral to this authenticity as their accent, attitude, and mannerisms reel the audience in their world one scene at a time. Affleck captures the feel of the streets perfectly never missing a chance to contrast their geography and identity with the big city which is ever looming in the background of the interluding shots. The central characters are played with real authority too with Casey Affleck and Ed Harris being supremely engaging in very different ways. Ben’s younger brother is proving to be one hell of a unique character actor who never fails to make his unusual voice work for his characters. He leads the cast brilliantly here and being a local boy himself is never better than when he’s interacting with the locals. Ed Harris is equally interesting as the seasoned detective who Affleck and his partner Michelle Monaghan must work with. There are times when the freshness of the dialogue threatens to sound more important than the story but they always reign it in before it gets that far. The story of the missing girl never leaves the audience’s mind even though there are an array of other things going on and at all times it’s dealt with maturity and intelligence. The clever writing develops the plot into a well above average mystery thriller and there are some lightning quick moments of action and terror that are dealt with in the guttiest of ways. Kudos to all involved for sticking to their guns when it came to the decisions Hollywood normally balks at. Gone Baby Gone could stand to be 10-15 minutes shorter but in the main this is a terrific and unique thriller which reflects well on all involved.