Rating: The Good – 74.4 Genre: Crime, Thriller Duration: 115 mins Director: Mike Figgis Stars: Richard Gere, Andy Garcia, Nancy Travis
One of the more underrated crime thrillers of its era sees Andy Garcia taking on the role of the high-strung Raymond, a driven Internal Affairs detective who gets drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with nasty LAPD veteran Dennis Peck (in a thrilling turn from Richard Gere). As Raymond works hand in glove with his no-nonsense partner, played by the wonderful Laurie Metcalf, Garcia’s relationship with his wife (Nancy Travis) begins to unravel as Peck uses the young detective’s insecurities against him.
Henry Bean’s story has all the hallmarks of the great cop dramas and Mike Figgis proves more than capable in teasing out all the latent tension of its earlier stages and the troubled psychology of its latter scenes. A sophisticated touch reveals itself in the soft lit photography and edgy composition but, most of all, it’s the manner in which the film is sewn together that gives the movie its more seductive qualities. Figgis and editor Robert Estrin throw a hazy vibe over the proceedings that seems coded to the humidity of the LA streets and imparting a grittiness that graced the likes of To Live and Die in LA and Colors (which Estrin also edited). Within this aesthetic, Bean’s dialogue seems all the more subjective and the cast almost universally rise to its level. Garcia strikes just the right balance between vulnerability and intensity and Metcalf is a rock of supporting class by his side. Actually they serve each other rather well and share a wry chemistry. Travis has her moments of misjudgment but, in the main, she seems to ably represent the ambiguity that Figgis wanted from her. William Baldwin is surprisingly engaging as Peck’s burnout partner and it’s nice to see Faye Grant get a big screen run out worthy of her talent as Baldwin’s beleaguered but not so innocent wife (a small few will remember her as Julie in V). Gere is the unquestionable star of the show, however, and it’s an insidiously menacing turn that rivals any bad guy from the genre. It’s his sly streak that runs most clearly through the movie and backdrops its overall dark tone. An interesting if ultimately one sided sexual politics adds even more nuance to his character before Figgis overplays that particular hand in the final act.
Though serving up some tidy action sequences amid this thick dramatic soup, Internal Affairs still manages to just fall short of its ambitions. Bean attempts to draw an interesting parallel between Raymond and Dennis’ antagonists which the actors do their best with but there’s just not enough meat on the story to do it justice. A few less moments of pensive reflection and a few more subplots accented towards their complicated rivalry would’ve gone a long way in giving us the type of central confrontation that marked The French Connection or Heat.
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 – 78 Genre: Thriller Duration: 107 mins Director: Nicholas Jarecki Stars: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling
The thriller is very much the forgotten art in Hollywood given the easy applicability of its format to the modern television episodic template and the fact that in the 21st Century, it has been almost entirely conflated with the action genre. It’s a shame because few films can engage the audience like a taut, economically written thriller that’s given between 100 and 110 minutes to play out. Thankfully Arbitrage is one of the few films to defy this trend and build a classy, modestly premised thriller from the ground up tightening all (or at least most of) the nuts and bolts as it goes.
Richard Gere stars as Robert Miller, the head of a family owned financial empire that is in the process of being acquired by a larger corporation. A delay in the signing of the contracts at the beginning of the film generates an early sense of unease even though there seems, at least outwardly, no cause for concern. As Miller goes about his business, the veil is slowly drawn back on a financial overextension which places him and the deal on a complicated timetable. It’s at this point that writer-director Nicholas Jarecki turns the screw and plunges Miller into a nightmare of compounded pressures. An auto accident involving him and his mistress, prompts him to flee the scene and leave the dead art dealer behind in the wreck. As the pressure for him to finalise the acquisition escalates, so does the inevitable criminal investigation which Miller is simply trying to stay ahead of. Loyalties are tested, contracts both financial and emotional are made and broken, and the perfect image of him and his family tarnishes.
Critically for a purely dramatic thriller, Arbitrage establishes a series of layered tensions early on so the film has a low-key but rock solid momentum. The writing in these early stages is impeccably levelled so that the personal and business angles play off each other intuitively and not a scene is wasted. Gere reminds us what an accomplished lead he has always been. The good guy/self-server dichotomy that most find difficult to pull off has always been a staple of Gere’s and he continues to use it masterfully with every glance and half-smile. He is surrounded by a seriously impressive cast too. Best known of which is Susan Sarandon as his wife who does more than her bit to help Jarecki project such a sophisticated air of make believe (within the context of the Miller’s world) throughout the first act (there’s a look she conceals from the investigating detective as she gets into her limousine that is unleashed perfectly once in the safety of the car – a look that could be dismissed as nothing but means everything).
When it hits the fan, Jarecki doesn’t miss a beat either, and he keeps a steady hand on the proceedings. As such, the tension in Arbitrage feels very organic and brilliantly contained. There are a few moments here and there (mostly including Tim Roth’s ridiculously over-boiled detective) where the dialogue grates and a key scene in which Miller attempts to equate money with God (in a not too subtle commentary on modern money culture) partly misses the mark. But everywhere else the dialogue is sharp, polished, and wonderfully delivered. Jarecki shows a genuine talent in his physical set up too discretely phasing between cold and warm palettes and composing some striking shots along the way (there’s a conversation in a park which is like something out of a painting). This gives the dialogue-centric story a visually engaging vibe that will help justify the multiple revisits the story will more than likely prompt.
Where Arbitrage really stands up is in its conclusion. In a determined effort to insulate this genre within its traditional boundaries and embrace the inwardly dramatic climaxes of the best thrillers, a series of subtle face offs provide the stepping stones to a subtle but effective statement on life’s priorities and personal ambition. There are many things to admire in a film like this but best of all is that there are no traditional winners or losers in this story. Even if this does not facilitate a prescient commentary on the state of the modern financial world (though it probably does), it works because it’s just so damn refreshing. A class above.
Rating: The Good – 69.8 Genre: Thriller Duration: 117mins Director: Paul Schrader Stars: Richard Gere, Lauren Hutton, Hector Elizondo
Richard Gere plays a high class gigolo, Julian, who spends his days and nights escorting rich women around Beverly Hills until he becomes involved in a murder case and his clients begin to evade him. A film very much of its time, American Gigolo is Paul Schrader’s most visually accomplished directorial project. The set design, lighting, staging, and exterior locations all combine expertly to capture the comfort and skill with which Julian navigates the vivid world of 80′s Los Angeles. There are strong noir influences observable in both the lighting, plot, and dialogue as Schrader draws some inconspicuous (“all I can see is the frame”) and interesting parallels between the shadowy world of the 1940’s detective stories and the neon saturated counter culture Julian inhabits. On top of that, there’s a palpable sense of time and place as if this movie was made looking back at the 80’s retrospectively and as if Schrader was already perceiving the glossy vacuousness which was permeating the emerging Los Angeles of the time. This makes the film simultaneously nostalgic and prophetic and it gives Schrader’s central focus all the more thrust.
In the build-up, this sense of pervading vacuousness carries over into the story and makes the early scenes come across as somewhat insubstantial. Fortunately, however, much of this is offset by Gere’s curiously compelling performance. He’s both likeable and dislikeable and with reasonable subtlety gives us glimpses of Julian’s growing disenchantment with his lifestyle even though he still clearly enjoys the money and gifts that come with it. Lauren Hutton provides able support as the one client Julian seems to have genuine feelings for and the two work of each other well. American Gigolo is a unique film both visually and conceptually and despite a tendency to lose its way from time to time, it’s an intriguing piece of American cinema.