Rating: The Good – 77.8 Genre: Crime, Drama Duration: 112 mins Director: Sidney Lumet Stars: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant
Sidney Lumet is not a man you’d expect to direct a dark psychological drama set in the north of England but The Offence is in many ways one his most brilliant films. Sean Connery plays a hard case veteran detective whose most recent case has finally pushed him past his breaking point. What follows is a dark and disturbing exploration of a scarred and tormented psyche. Connery is superb in a role that shoulders most of the drama and together with Lumet’s gritty direction they slowly reel the audience into that psyche resulting in a fascinating yet deeply uncomfortable experience.
Sidney Lumet’s second collaboration with Sean Connery was for this inspired & subtly satirical story of surveillance, perception, & a recently paroled thief’s last big job. Connery is that thief and he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself in what must be one of his best roles. His character is proud and tough but generally good-hearted and you can’t help but weight in behind his optimism and certainty that he’s masterminded the perfect heist. The team he assembles are just as interesting with Christopher Walken’s electronics expert & Martin Balsam’s camped up merchandise valuer being the picks of the bunch.
The Anderson Tapes is imbued with that peculiar 1970’s paranoid vibe but there’s a much more light-hearted, satirical, and even comical sentiment insinuated into the narrative and in particular into those surveillance sequences which recurrently punctuate it. It makes for a highly original movie and one that has really been under-appreciated in terms of the subtle undertones Lumet and co. bring to the party.
Rating: The Good – 78.3 Genre: Fantasy, Action Duration: 116 mins Director: Russell Mulcahy Stars: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown
Great fantasy films are usually grounded in gripping concepts, the different elements to which usually drive the key scenes along the way. Highlander is a case in point. The story is based on the idea of immortals living secretly among humans for centuries, who instinctively battle each other through the ages until there is only one remaining. Christopher Lambert plays the 400 year old Highlander who becomes the subject of a police investigation after a man’s body is found decapitated. Gregory Widen’s script quite cleverly uses the progression of that investigation to present us with the uniqueness of the central premise and it is through the eyes of its forensic investigator, Brenda (Roxanne Hart), that we are tied into the story.
To say that Russell Mulcahy’s direction is superb is to completely understate the case. The level of innovation he demonstrates in sewing this story together and the sense of pacing he shows in balancing the savage momentum of the battle sequences with the more pensive emotional scenes are the hallmarks of a truly great director and one is left wondering how he didn’t rise to the lofty heights this effort promised. Coming from the music video business, it’s no surprise that he builds the film around its sound and when that sound is largely provided by Michael Kamen and Queen that’s no bad thing. In fact, when combined with its excellent sound production, Highlander is not just one of the most uniquely looking films of the 80′s but also one of the most uniquely sounding films.
Despite the muddling of who had what accent, the acting is first class with Lambert in top form and Sean Connery stealing the show as his ancient mentor. Furthermore, Clancy Brown is thoroughly menacing as one of the nastiest bad guys the medium has offered up. The action is phenomenal and thanks to Mulcahy’s seminal direction, it’s head and shoulders above anything delivered today. In fact, the training sequence alone would put most martial arts films to shame, such is its power and grace.
There are too many highlights to mention but one to look out for is the scene where Brenda learns the truth about Lambert’s character. No “Oh, so he’s immortal then” moments. Just a dull refusal to accept what she’s hearing and a seriously annoyed computer technician who (we are left to infer) either thinks he’s the subject of a joke or doesn’t like what she has made him face. Immortal? Definitely!
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.
Richard Attenborough’s WWII epic counts as a spiritual sequel to The Longest Day by providing a sprawling account of Montgomery’s overambitious Operation Market Garden. The film moves forward at a beautiful pace taking its time to develop each of the several main characters. It eases between the various divisions and units that are responsible for leading the different elements of the attack and it’s a testament to Attenborough’s direction and William Goldman’s screenplay that it never loses the audience’s attention. The cast of A-listers are too numerous to account for but like any good military campaign they all do their bit. The action scenes are in the main sensational and on a scale rarely seen in even the biggest and most modern of films. In fact, in many ways A Bridge Too Far is a case of art imitating life as the logistics involved in the production of this film must have rivaled those that went into the actual battles themselves. It isn’t all perfect as some of the close-shots during the fighting come off a little rushed and a small few of the battle sequences are a tad uninspired. There are also a couple too many subplots crammed into the 175 minutes and dispensing with the weaker ones (such as James Caan’s attempts to protect his fragile young lieutenant) would have given the film a more streamlined feel. That said, what makes A Bridge Too Far so special are the moments in between the battles that don’t quite add up to subplots but just a series of vignettes that acknowledge the personal dimension to soldiering. And on that criteria, there are few that can rival it.
Of all Brian De Palma’s forays into mainstream cinema this is perhaps the story that best met his overt style. Kevin Costner plays Elliot Ness, Sean Connery the tough Irish cop (questionable accent and all) and Robert De Niro toplines as Al Capone. At the time of release, Costner was entering the highpoint of his career and was doing a good job in very interesting movies. The Untouchables was no different as he gives Ness some nice depth and just enough personality. Connery may have got the Oscar for his entertaining supporting role but it’s De Niro who strips the paint off the walls with a searing performance as Capone.
The Untouchables was De Palma at his most extravagant and Ennio Morricone met him head on with an equally opulent (and when not opulent – thrilling) score. Thankfully (and not surprisingly) both the style and score work a treat and indeed, they really elevate the famed story to something altogether more interesting. As you’d expect from De Palma, the set pieces as are exquisite with the shoot-out in the train station standing out in particular. The chemistry between Costner, Connery, Andy Garcia, and Charles Martin Smith (with the latter two rounding off Ness’ unit as the gun hand and accountant respectively) is spot on and enjoyably to watch and overall this is a damn good treatment of one of America’s great legends.
Rating: The Good – 64.4 Genre: Thriller Duration: 129 mins Director: Philip Kaufman Stars: Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Harvey Keitel
Philip Kaufman takes on the task of adapting Michael Chrichton’s novel and creates a largely uneven but interesting story of murder and Japanese corporate intrigue. Sean Connery plays a seasoned cop specialising in Japanese relations who is asked to shepherd a younger detective (Wesley Snipes) as he investigates a murder that seems related to the Japanese corporate takeover of an American company. It’s a fascinating premise and Kaufman does a nice job in imbuing the proceedings with a sense of other-worldliness as we are introduced to the intrigue and ruthlessness of Japanese business culture (using some of the techniques he mastered in his version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers). The two leads work well together and Harvey Keitel pops up here and there to steal the show as a bigoted cop with a chip on his shoulder. Crichton’s story entertains and at times, it even captivates but unfortunately, there are too many broad strokes employed in its adaptation particularly when it comes to the plot construction. Ultimately, Rising Sun counts as an opportunity missed but as a thriller it does manage to offer something different to the norm.
Rating: The Good – 79.5 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 118 mins Director: Peter Hyams Stars: Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen, Peter Boyle
Writer/director Peter Hyams gives us “High Noon” in space and in doing so produces an underrated science fiction gem. Brushing over many of the personal complexities which High Noon examines in favour of tense atmospheric drama, Outland is one of the steadiest, best structured, and focused sci-fi thrillers out there. Sean Connery stars as the marshal of a mining station on Jupiter’s moon IO. When he starts taking down a lucrative drug smuggling racket, the nasty station manager (Peter Boyle) calls in some heavies to do away with him, knowing that the marshal will be forced to stand alone in a station full of hardened miners who only look out for themselves.
Like Zinnemann did in the western classic, Hyams burns this one slowly and lets the station clock steadily build the tension as it ticks unerringly towards the arrival time of the next shuttle – and its hit-men occupants. The production quality on Outland is actually quite impressive with the set-design and visual effects being particularly outstanding. Hyams was certainly going for that same utilitarian vibe that defined Ridley Scott’s Alien (just check out that opening title sequence and Jerry Goldsmith’s similarly minimalist score) where the station and hi-tech equipment form a quietly impressive but incidental background to the action. Thus, like Scott’s masterpiece, the simple story is all the stronger.
Connery is superb in a role that was tailor made for a man of his qualities and in truth, he was never better. He’s tough but not invincible and shows just the right amount of vulnerability to keep the audience on his side. Boyle, for his part, is in his element as the shady puppeteer and the scenes in which he and Connery square off are fantastic in both their overt back-and-forths and the subtext of those words. Again Hyams deserves huge credit here for giving the naturally stifling environment and context a little room to breathe during those more cerebral moments.
Overall, Outland is a terrific science fiction movie that has been far too under-acknowledged over the years. Not only did it go on to inspire many later films of the same genre including Duncan Jones’ seminal Moon but it reflects an era of film-making when the alluring qualities of science fiction were most clearly understood and quite often translated into minor masterpieces like this.