Wolfgang Peterson’s star-studded thriller proves yet another mainstream success for 1990’s cinema as Dustin Hoffman’s USAMRID Colonel attempts to stay ahead of a lethal virus which is laying waste to a small California town. With former wife and CDC big-wig (Rene Russo) in tow alongside his own team (an Oscar-laden Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.), they go about town disobeying orders from their shadowy superiors, breaking quarantine, and any number of other drastic measures in the hope of manufacturing an antibody before Donald Sutherland’s nasty General destroys the whole town – simply to keep the virus for his own biological weapons programme! It’s a sweeping popcorn movie expertly crafted to draw every bit of tension out of an old plot and infused with all manner of personality, chemistry, and light humour by that glittering cast. Hoffman, in particular, seems to be enjoying himself no end while Russo shows yet again that she can not only hold her own next to any A-Lister in the business but enhance both of their performances with that endearing rapport she seems to so easily generate. Sutherland is the straight bad guy but Morgan Freeman gets his teeth into an altogether more textured role as the General who discovers that duty and honour make for poor bedfellows. Throw in a couple of cracking helicopter chases and a last minute dash to stop the town’s imminent destruction and you’ve got a decent night in front of the box.
Rating: The Good – 77.7 Genre: Thriller Duration: 128 mins Director: Wolfgang Petersen Stars: Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo
Superb thriller in which an ageing secret service agent and former bodyguard to JFK is taunted by a skilled but unhinged assassin as he puts into practice his plan to kill the current President. Several factors contribute to the success of this movie, from the quality of its cast to the tense set pieces. However, chief among them is Jeff Maguire’s taut, often witty screenplay and Clint Eastwood’s central turn. Typically better in quieter roles, Eastwood shines her as the strict old pro with a wicked sense of humour. In fact, outside of Unforgiven (made only a year earlier), In the Line of Fire is arguably his strongest overall performance across his career. Full of smart ass charm and gnarly wiles, he sets the stage for a great showdown with nasty John Malkovich who revels in the role of the aggrieved assassin. A game of mental chess ensues, played out over the telephone wires and the trail of clues the latter intentionally and unintentionally leaves behind. Renne Russo as a bemused female agent and inevitable love interest and John Mahoney as the Director of the Secret Service bolster this central dynamic and several high tension sequences interspersed throughout offer balance to the verbal drama. Director Wolfgang Peterson shows a deft hand during these sequences but one wonders what a more visually astute director would’ve made of the potentially much darker subject matter. As it stands, In the Line of Fire is strong on entertainment but perhaps a little light on mood given the rich psychological ground it ploughs. But the former is delivered in such accomplished manner, it’s of minor consideration and watching Clint sparring with Malkovich and Russo and getting as good as he gives is enough of a treat.
Movies that tread new ground are a rare breed these days but Dan Gilroy’s grimy psychological thriller gets neck deep in a premise, plot, and movie perspective that’s unlike anything we’ve really seen before. Jake Gyllenhaal headlines as Louis Bloom, a degenerate dork looking for a vocation in which he can shine not to mention make a quick buck. Happening by a late night accident, he rapidly immerses himself in the world of sensational nighttime news and places himself at its forefront by videotaping crimes, accidents, and anything that bleeds and delivering them to Rene Russo’s desperate news director fresh off the blood-soaked pavement.
Nightcrawler introduces us to one unsavoury character after another but each are rooted in a desperate need that makes their wretched deeds all too relatable. Gilroy lures us through this looking glass of fast food media and successfully captures the upside down personal morality of all involved. Everything seems a little too incredible but at no point do we disengage. In fact, we want more, even as, no especially as, the credits begin to roll.
A skeletal Gyllenhaal is electric in a performance that reflects the movie’s creepy themes of the ‘real unreal’ on a singularly focused level. We begin by dismissing the likelihood that anyone could be so deranged only to recoil later on at the frightening sincerity in his bulging eyes and the sound of his voice as he recites his night-school rhetoric for business success. Gilroy was certainly taking a risk building the movie around the one truly irredeemable character but the entire film gravitates around Gyllenhaal’s magnetism and though we loathe him, we definitely enjoy doing so. Russo is wonderfully complicated as the TV exec who crawls onto his web, soliciting everything from the audience’s pity to their curiosity. The always great Bill Paxton pops up in a compelling cameo as a fellow nightcrawler who crosses paths with the manic Bloom and Riz Ahmed rounds off the cast with a sympathetic turn as the latter’s weary assistant.
Gilroy’s script is gleefully twisted in its originality while behind the camera he, cinematographer Robert Elswit, and indeed composer James Newton Howard give the nighttime streets of LA a character and personality of the kind we experienced in Michael Mann’s Heat. And whether they act as a still background to the patient madness of Bloom waiting for his scanner to announce his next shot or the frenetic blur of the subsequent high speed pursuit, they bring a critical balance of grit and gloss to the proceedings. It all adds up to a triumphant movie experience that should easily stand the test of time not only as a satirical social commentary but as a pulse thumping crime thriller to boot.
Rating: The Good – 74.5 Genre: Crime, Comedy Duration: 105 mins Director: Barry Sonnenfeld Stars: Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito
The 90′s was easily the decade that gave us cinema’s coolest films and this was easily one of its top 5. The personification of cool himself John Travolta plays a movie loving loan shark Chilli Palmer, who heads out to LA to collect a debt and sees a chance to get involved in the movie business by protecting a down-on-his-luck director (Gene Hackman) from some smalltime gangsters he owes money to. Based on an Elmore Leonard novel this charming and often hilarious film has all the trademark twists and turns you come to expect from a Leonard story. Travolta and Delroy Lindo get most of the cool lines and although Travolta and Danny DeVito will get some chuckles the funniness of the film is primarily down to Hackman and Dennis Farina (as the gangster Chilli works for). Their respective characters are absolutely hysterical and the scene where they finally meet is unquestionably the highlight of the film. The last mention should go to director Sonnenfield who brings as much wit to the proceedings as anyone.
Rating: The Good – 70.7 Genre: Sporting Comedy Duration: 107 mins Director: David S. Ward Stars: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Rene Russo
David S. Ward’s sports comedy about a wealthy widow’s nefarious attempts to ensure her former husband’s baseball franchise, the Cleveland Indians, finishes the season in last place so she can up sticks and move to Miami is nothing more than 100% fun and entertainment from start to finish. Platoon buddies Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen team up again as a broken down former all-star (Berenger) and a young punk with a great arm but bad eyesight (Sheen) who among others are brought in to ensure the team stinks. Regardless of how cynical they might be, there’s nobody out there who can resist the small charms of this comedy. The jokes aren’t side splitting but they’ll consistently bring a smile to your face and who doesn’t like a good old fashioned against-the-odds-movie. Corbin Bernsen and Wesley Snipes are also on hand to add to the good vibes this little beauty gives off.
Rating: The Good – 73.9 Genre: Comedy Duration: 135 mins Director: Ron Shelton Stars: Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Don Johnson
“The word normal and him don’t often collide in the same sentence.” Delightful sporting comedy with Kevin Costner in top form as an eccentric golf pro who qualifies for the US Open in an effort to win the heart of his therapist (Rene Russo) but is routinely hampered by his constant desire to show off by doing things the hard way. Costner and Russo are excellent together but the real chemistry is between him and his long suffering caddy (the always enjoyable Cheech Marin) who together deliver some of the wittiest repartee since Lemmon and Matthau. Don Johnson rounds off the impressive cast nicely as Russo’s smug boyfriend and Costner’s more successful former golf partner. Writer/director Ron Shelton is a dab hand at sporting comedies as he proved with Bull Durham and White Men Can’t Jump but this little gem is his crowning moment. Just a shame that at the time of its release, the world was still preoccupied with hating Costner to notice. At over two hours, the running time is a tad long for a comedy but it doesn’t really drag because of the fun being had by all.
Rating: The Ugly – 64.3 Genre: Sporting Comedy Duration: 105 mins Director: David S. Ward Stars: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Rene Russo
More of the same but given the first time round was so much fun, that’s no bad thing. All the main players are back except for Wesley Snipes whose character Willie Mayes Hayes is played by Omar Epps and Rene Russo who makes nothing more than a cameo. The most interesting twist on the first film is Sheen’s “Wild Thing” going tame which gives heckler Randy Quaid fertile material for his utterly hysterical rants. “Wild Thing, you make by butt sting.”