Rating: The Good – 78.4 Genre: Thriller Duration: 118 mins Director: Jonathan Demme Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn
One of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful thrillers, The Silence of the Lambs scooped all five top Academy Awards and gave us arguably the most celebrated villain in movie history. Starring Jodie Foster as FBI recruit Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Jonathan Demme’s film focuses on the attempts of the talented but inexperienced young agent to tap the mind of the brilliant but deranged psychiatrist in order to aid the bureau’s pursuit of a terrifying serial killer who skins his victims. Though The Silence of the Lambs is perhaps best remembered for its acting and writing, it’s Demme’s directing that sets it apart from the majority of thrillers by intricately setting and maintaining the right tone and mood throughout, an achievement that ultimately elevates the aforementioned acting and writing. In fairness, Foster didn’t need much help for she delivers a wonderfully vulnerable performance full of tempered resolve. As Demme’s moral crucible she helps ground perspective no matter how outlandish the story becomes. This is crucial because Harris has a proclivity for overplaying his hand and skirts the edge of caricature a little too often for comfort. This is best exemplified by his Lecter character. There’s undeniably an arresting quality to the cannibalistic therapist but it takes a deft touch to tease out the more fascinating features of his personality that, for the most part, lie latent. Brian Cox had masterfully humanised him in the seminal Manhunter (to which this film is an unofficial sequel) but Hopkins goes another way and, while he puts in a wholly dramatic not to mention memorable shift, it lacks nuance and therefore realism. There’s just too much looniness to his Lecter and altogether too much revelling in said looniness. Psychopaths, after all, are very good at concealing their pathology but this Lecter is blatantly bananas. However, what he lacks in sophistication, Demme makes up for. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography is rich in the grime of murder and Howard Shore’s score is softly invigorating and along with some exceptional production design, the director renders palpable a moody tension that carries the audience all the way to the close.
Rating: The Good – 76.8 Genre: Action, Thriller Duration: 134 mins Director: John McTiernan Stars: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn
John McTiernan was the undisputed daddy of action directors in the late 80′s to early 90′s and The Hunt for Red October shows exactly why. Set in 1984, the original adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” novels has Alec Baldwin playing the CIA field analyst who gets wind of a new type of Soviet submarine (the “Red October”) and heads off to Washington to report his suspicions. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Iron Curtain a distinguished Soviet submarine commander Ramius (Sean Connery) ignores the orders of his superiors and takes the new submarine straight for US waters. Ryan is charged with determining if Ramius is intending to attack or defect before the US navy is forced to blow him out of the water. McTiernan doesn’t hang around and before you know it Ryan is being helicoptered onto an aircraft carrier in the middle of the stormy Atlantic and so begins a nail-biting adventure that traverses every corner of that ocean and involves some of the very best naval battles you could wish to see (kudos to legendary action cinematographer Jan DeBont). The tension is handled perfectly by McTiernan and the 134 minutes never lag nor get confusing even though the action is relentlessly switching between three different submarines, an aircraft carrier, a battle cruiser, sonar planes, helicopters, Moscow, and Washington. The impressive cast is uniformly superb and in addition to the excellent turns from the two leads, Scott Glenn, Sam Neil, and James Earl Jones do particularly well in supporting roles. However, the real star is McTiernan, who strikes the perfect balance between writing and action and in sequence after sequence uses the claustrophobic atmosphere to create a permeating tension. Just check out that cat-and-mouse scene wherein Bart Mancuso’s (Scott Glenn) US Dallas silently stalks the Red October as Ramius explains to his first officer (Neil) his perspective on the modern world. Timeless.
Rating: The Good – 91 Genre: Drama Duration: 193mins Director: Philip Kaufman Stars: Sam Shepard, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris
One of the wittiest and most compelling historical dramas you’re ever likely to see, The Right Stuff details the events leading up to and including Nasa’s first manned space flights (the Mercury Mission). A glittering cast of actors play a glittering array of characters but none score better than Sam Shepard’s Chuck Yeger. Director Kaufman rightly went his own way with his adaptation of Wolfe’s book and built the film around the legendary fighter ace. Shepard is near mesmerising as the stoic Yeger but in truth there’s not one actor in the extensive cast who lets the side down. Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, and Ed Harris in particular are fantastic as the famous Mercury astronauts. Kaufman deserves huge credit for the way he brings this expansive story together as he crafts an extremely intelligent, often funny, often cutting satire of politics, ego, and personal ambition. However, rather than take the easy way out, he remains true to spirit of the book and skillfully interweaves the far more optimistic story about passion and dedication into the fabric of this ostensible critique. The result is a hugely complex and profoundly uplifting experience worthy of the esteemed literary source which spawned it.
Man-sized performances and slick direction define this excellent crime drama about a rookie cop’s one day trial with a hard core LA detective who crosses the line he’s supposed to be protecting all too often. Ethan Hawke proves yet again that he’s one of the most interesting actors around as the fresh-faced Hoyt while Denzel Washington (in a different kind of role to his more typical ‘good cop’ personas) puts in a blistering performance as the edgy Alonzo who roams the streets of LA like a king. Antoine Fuqua’s direction is both faultless and inspired as he brings a gritty, kinetic LA to the screens. David Ayer’s script gives everything an authentic feel and with Washington and Hawke as his mouthpieces, the dialogue is seriously cool. The always enjoyable Scott Glenn is one of the many decent support players but for the most part this film is all about the tense chemistry between the two leads.