Rating: The Good – 67.1 Genre: Thriller Duration: 128 mins Director: Roger Spottiswoode Stars: Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris
Slightly above average war-drama from Roger Spottiswoode and starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, and Joanna Cassidy as war correspondents who rush from one third world country to another in order to get the scoop on the latest skirmish between despot and the poor. Landing in Nicaragua in time to document the final days of the Somozoa regime, the three find themselves caught up in a love triangle, bombings, and the political machinations of spies and government officials alike. Not quite as subjective and daring a film as Missing or as cavalier a film as Salvador, Under Fire falls in between as a safer and more mainstream examination of the South American political climate of the 70’s/80’s. That said, it’s an interesting story with solid performances and some decent action thrown in to boot.
Rating: The Good – 73.3 Genre: Sport, Drama Duration: 131 mins Director: Gavin O’Connor Stars: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte
One might expect a movie set in the world of mixed martial arts to be nothing more than another vehicle in the sport’s locomotive-like publicity convoy. That it’s not, is only the first surprise Gavin O’Connor’s fight drama servers up. Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy play Brendan and Tommy, two estranged brothers who were separated when the latter took off with his mother to escape their physically abusive father (played by Nick Nolte) years earlier. The older Brendan stayed with his father only to shun him at a later date and settle down as a physics teacher and family man while Tommy lost his mother, escaped poverty by joining the Marines, and served in Iraq.
The story begins with a ferociously volatile Tommy showing up at his father’s door 14 years later to throw insults at the now recovered alcoholic – not to mention his former wrestling trainer. However, it’s not long before he asks the desperate old man to train him for a blockbuster MMA event in which the winner takes home $5 million – so long as only training is discussed. Unbeknownst to them, over in Philadelphia, Brendan’s family are in danger of losing their home and so he too decides to return to fighting, eyeing the same prize as his brother. With the second half of the film dedicated to the all out carnage of the cage, the fraternal dynamic is only alluded to (in a standout night time scene that was shot on the Atlantic City waterfront) but it seems that the bluntly manic Tommy has never forgiven Brendan for not leaving with him and his mother and so their inevitable collision in the ring promises to erupt into a grudge match of biblical proportions.
There’s obviously lots going on here and that’s not the half of it. The film is beset with two or three needless subplots mostly concerning Tommy but given the tendency for these types of films to pay mere lip-service to back stories, the attempt to do more as opposed to less should be somewhat respected. It does come together thanks to some contrived character dynamics, some less than believable plot development, and O’Connor’s cleverly manipulative direction but so hair-raising is the end product that most will forgive the heavy handedness. Moreover, if you are content not to dwell on the negatives, the film can whisk you forward in a wave of unsubtle emotion right into the frenzied grinder of the tournament battles.
They’re a rousing bunch of set pieces connected with an adrenaline charged yet elegant montage of highlights from those fights we don’t see in full. And MMA fans won’t be disappointed either given the quality of the fight choreography. Yes, some of the physical untidiness of real-life fighting is filtered out in favour of more flowing moves but the hard edged savagery is represented clearly and authentically. The climax is a little on the nose and unashamedly gives the audience what they want but it undeniably works.
On the acting front, Edgerton shows once again what an interesting talent he is and Nolte does his best to battle the pathos with which his character is overflowing (a ridiculously overwrought drunken-relapse scene notwithstanding) but in truth everyone is overshadowed by Tom Hardy’s monstrous turn. As an unstable brute, it’s a commanding piece of acting that makes quality use of the writers’ best ideas for Tommy and avoids the pitfalls of their worst. Furthermore, not only does he maintain a deep and necessary vulnerability but he funnels it into his character’s personality so completely that it only juices his formidable energy all the more. Movie fans will get much from this film regardless of whether their preference is drama or action, but what will stay with everyone the longest is Hardy.
Rating: The Good – 76 Genre: Crime Duration: 132 mins Director: Sidney Lumet Stars: Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton, Armand Assante
Sidney Lumet’s gritty adaptation of Edwin Torres’ novel is a criminally unrecognised tour de force of acting, screen writing, story, and characterisation. Nick Nolte plays an old school hard-as-nails lieutenant who is been investigated for murder by a hot shot new assistant district attorney (Timothy Hutton) in a case involving Italian American and Puerto Rican organised crime. Hutton is more than decent as the naive idealist but he is helped by slew of charismatic performers such as Armand Assante, Luis Guzman, and Charles S. Dutton. Nolte, on the other hand, blows everyone off the screen as one of cinema’s most intimidating bad guys. We know all about Lumet’s crime drama credentials and while a little more flashy that Serpico or the Prince of the City, Q & A can proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with them as a fantastic trilogy of corruption in the New York police department. There is a weakness unfortunately in the form of the love interest. Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney) is clearly out of her depth and given her unconvincing sub-plot one wonders if it was simply a vehicle to get her into the film.
Rating: The Good – 68.4 Genre: Adventure, Thriller Duration: 123 mins Director: Peter Yates Stars: Jacqueline Bisset, Nick Nolte, Dick Anthony Williams
Peter Yates’ underwater adventure story about a young couple (Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset) holidaying in Bermuda, who discover a sunken wreck full of morphine and treasure while scuba diving. They soon get caught in the middle between a ruthless drug dealer (Louis Gosset Jr.) who wants the morphine and Robert Shaw’s local treasure hunter. The Deep is a beautifully shot film with plenty of impressive underwater action even by today’s standards. The story is based on Peter Benchley’s novel and is, in general, a fine sea-faring yarn. It’s well acted by all with Robert Shaw standing out as usual as the salty old sea dog (with echoes of his Jaws character Quint here and there). There are a couple of broad strokes taken in the plot development which will irk some but that aside the film as a whole holds up rather well.
Rating: The Good – 76.5 Genre: War Duration: 170 mins Director: Terrence Malick Screenplay: Terrence Malick Stars: Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, George Clooney
Fascinating introspection at the mental landscape of war and man’s natural or unnatural relationship to it. The Thin Red Line is very much an ensemble piece with an array of Hollywood A-listers all lining up to participate in Malick’s take on the WWII pacific theatre. There are many standout performances but Jim Caviezel’s overshadows all of them. There’s an untidy serenity to it which, though sounding like and oxymoron, is exactly the type of enigmatic quality the film needed at its centre. Malick chose well.
John Toll’s cinematography is intuitively informed by Malick’s perspective but while the visuals are in general deeply arresting, they are no more so than the use of sound in this film. The sounds of nature, man, woman, and child which Malick has always seemed attuned to like nobody else, gently come to the fore here to contextualise the narrative in their own way. Hans Zimmer provides a perfect score (perhaps his best) which lifts the film at crucial junctures and it is intricately involved in the movie’s crowning moment (in fact this score now counts as one of the many wonderful pieces of music which Zack Snyder has “borrowed” to give his trailers at least an overt sense of depth).
The decision to shoot the movie from the individual’s perspective was a brave one because it diverges from the traditional film-making template significantly. However, not only does it provide a platform for a more honest account of what soldiers go through, it also elevates the action to a level of reality beyond that of a typical war movie. The Thin Red Line came out in the same year as Spielberg’s WWII feature Saving Private Ryan, and while the latter received much praise for its realistic opening sequence, it really doesn’t touch the former in honesty or perceptiveness. The Thin Red Line is a triumph in that regard and while that may displease more mainstream movie fans who have set expectations from a war film, it will should excite those who want to see the envelope pushed further back.
Rating: The Ugly – 63.2 Genre: Thriller, Crime Duration: 93 mins Director: Walter Hill Stars: Eddie Murphy, Nick Nolte, Brion James
The two boys are back together again after convict Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) is targeted by a drug dealer who detective Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) has been tracking for two years. The story is predictable enough and rehashes most of the first movie. However, the chemistry between the two leads which made that movie so popular is still there in abundance and combined with two interesting villains and some decent action from one of the great action directors Walter Hill, Another 48 Hrs. maintains a certain charm.
Rating: The Good – 77.7 Genre: Drama, War Duration: 121 mins Director: Terry George Stars: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte
Solid film but an utterly imperative synopsis of one of the most despicable atrocities in modern world history. The film tells the story through the actions of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who sheltered over a thousand Tutsi and Hutu refugees from the Hutu sanctioned genocide that decimated the Tutsi Rwandans in 1994. Hotel Rwanda is a stirring film that plays on the brain as much as the heart. Rusesabagina’s ability to curry favour with the bloated generals and officials of the corrupt regime, his intelligence in his day to day “handling” of those around him, and his all round dignity in the face of horror continually belie the disdain that the west has for his people. And it’s this disdain as much as the willful hatred rippling through his country that becomes the target of the film.
Don Cheadle gives his character all the inner strength and sense that such a role required because, after all, he was playing a people more than a man. As the murderous fervour is whipped up through radio propaganda and political ineptitude, we witness his struggle to balance his fear for his family with his concern for his guests and his own personal terror. It’s a performance full of compassion and great discipline and it centres the entire picture.
The background to the story is of course more complex than a two hour synopsis can do justice and there’s no doubt the invasion of Paul Kagame’s well oiled Tutsi resistance army gave the hate mongers a platform to whip up fear and resentment in the Hutu majority. However, Terry George’s film rightly aims it’s cross-hairs on the two guiltiest parties. The Hutu militia for their part in orchestrating and executing the genocidal murder of 800,000 Tutsis and the western superpowers for their complete apathy in the face of such carnage. George shoots this one straight in a seemingly deliberate avoidance of any overt directorial craft that might abstract the audience’s attention away from the essence of the story. It wears its heart on its sleeve peaking in big moments of thick emotion but a more subtle directorial craft comes in the restriction of those moments to only a handful and delivering them at the right times. George and Keir Pearson’s script is solid if at times a little unassuming but again anything more polished might have taken from the clear tones that George aimed for.
An essential companion piece to this film is Lt Col Dallaire’s account of the crisis “Shake Hands With the Devil”, that itself was turned into a film by Roger Spottiswoode and was also the subject of Peter Raymont’s award winning (Sundance) documentary. In Hotel Rwanda, Nick Nolte plays the role of the UN commander which was in reality Dallaire’s position and while not having enough time to do his story justice, he does imbue his “Colonel Oliver” with shades of the same wretched torment Dallaire suffered. Other big name stars such as Joaquin Phoenix’s US photo journalist and Jean Reno’s president of the hotel group suffer equally in their character development because of the short screen time their characters were afforded. Reno steers his ship home while Phoenix doesn’t fare so well but any damage that does to the film is outweighed by the attention their presence in the movie undoubtedly attracted and the quality of the true support such as that from Sophie Okonado as Rusesabagina’s wife.
Hotel Rwanda is one of those rare films that transcends the medium becoming a memorial to an event that can’t be forgotten. The power inherent in the story dwarfs anything even the best writers, directors, and actors can muster and so long as they guide it with intelligence and a delicate hand, the rest will take care if itself. That George and Cheadle did more than that allows Hotel Rwanda to become the film it deserved to be.