Rating: The Good – 77.1 Genre: Drama, Satire Duration: 102 mins Director: Mike Nichols Stars: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Mike Nichols turns his prodigious talent for satire to Aaron Sorkin’s clever adaptation of the true story of a Texas congressman’s attempts to secure the covert military funding that would ultimately tip the balance of the Soviet-Afghan war. Tom Hanks as the unorthadox good-time politician and Philip Seymour Hoffman as his irreverent CIA adviser form one of the best on-screen partnerships in recent decades as they bat Sorkin’s indignantly funny dialogue back and forth while Julia Roberts and Any Adams help to fill out the support roster intelligently rising to the spirit of Sorkin and Nichols’ storytelling as they go. The movie that unfolds is a delight of sardonic wit in both its writing and directing but, in typical Mike Nichols fashion, it effortlessly doubles as an engrossing political drama by perceptibly accounting for geo-political implications and character development alike. Sorkin’s feisty screenplay zips along at its usual pace but Nichols knows exactly when to channel that momentum or temporarily contain it so that its energy is maintained without dumbing down the drama. Unsurprisingly, Wilson comes out smelling like roses but only because Hanks and co. know exactly how to turn those warts into beauty spots and so, like the man himself, Charlie Wilson’s War charms its way into the audience’s hearts.
After successfully landing in Normandy on D-Day, a platoon of US Marines are sent on a unique mission of mercy to locate and bring to safety a soldier whose brothers have all been killed in action. Naturally, the orders put the men’s perspective on duty and morality at odds with one another as the needs of the few are seen to outweigh the needs of the many. Outside of the opening sequence which is undeniably terrific, Saving Private Ryan is a largely ham-fisted affair when placed side-by-side with the great WWII movies. Steven Spielberg shows little patience or subtlety and rather than giving us a real picture of humanity and war in the manner of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (released the same year), he instead falls back on a cartoon depiction of good guys versus bad guys. The greater success of this film comparative to Malick’s film, would seem to be therefore attributable entirely to the first 15 mins – a battle sequence so spectacular and visceral that it seems to act as a cloak for the rest of the film – as if the audience will be so desperate for the remainder of the film to be worthy of its opening that they will willfully ignore the most blatant of shortcomings. The simple truth is that the remainder of the film is driven by childish and cliched moral quandaries the likes of which were addressed just as superficially and ad nauseum throughout years of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spin-offs. But it wouldn’t be nearly as frustrating if Spielberg wasn’t (as usual) trying to ram the sickly sweet sentimentality (so primitively intertwined with cardboard notions of patriotism) down the audience’s throats. This is something he has done for far too long now and with too few exceptional interludes to excuse it. This is not to say Spielberg is a poor director. He’s a truly brilliant director who just lives up to his talent far too seldom due to an over-reliance on visual effects and/or reluctance to move out of his comfort zone.
Rating: The Good – 73.5 Genre: Drama, Adventure Duration: 143 mins Director: Robert Zemeckis Stars: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Paul Sanchez
Robert Zemeckis’ soulful approach to the old desert island idea is a unique and deeply engaging tale. Tom Hanks scores well as the sole survivor of a plane crash who finds himself washed up on an isolated and uninhabited island and torn away from his bride to be Helen Hunt. In retrospect, it seems Hanks was the perfect actor for a film which goes long stretches without conventional dialogue and he uses all his craft and innate humour to keep the audience’s attention. The film is full of memorable moments tied together in an unpredictable yet effective manner. The most memorable of these is the plane crash which is surely one of the more terrifyingly real cinematic experiences. The island scenes are exceptionally conceived and not overdone. There is of course that now infamous volleyball named “Wilson” but despite the humour it evoked (either intentionally or unintentionally), it was in essence a very clever Kuleshov-like device which gave Hanks and the audience a much needed emotional counter-point. Cast Away is Hollywood at its best and the ending is a case in point, as Zemeckis manipulates us with big emotions rooted in a truthfully resonating story. You’ll be surprised by how easily it sucks you in and it’ll stay with you for a long time.
Rating: The Good – 74.8 Genre: Comedy, Horror Duration: 101 mins Director: Joe Dante Stars: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher
“I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen anyone drive their garbage to the street and then beat the hell out of it with a stick. I’ve never seen that.” Joe Dante’s affectionate homage to old horror films and westerns alike ranks way up there due to Dana Olsen’s witty script, Dante’s direction of said script, and great performances from all concerned. Tom Hanks plays an uptight family man who takes a week off work to unwind but begins to suspect his new neighbours of being homicidal maniacs who are burying their victims in their backyard. Together with his fellow suburbanites (Bruce Dern and Rick Ducummon) they begin a campaign against the new arrivals resulting in all sorts of mayhem. Dante brings his usual bag of slickly interwoven film references to the party and with Jerry Goldsmith’s clever score and the instinctive humour of Hanks, Dern, and Ducommun he creates a thoroughly entertaining and genuinely funny movie. “I’ve been blow up. Take me to the hospital!”
Rating: The Good – 78.7 Genre: Thriller Duration: 134 mins Director: Paul Greengrass Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman
Paul Greengrass channels his high energy ultra real style of direction into the true story of the Maersk Alabama under the command of Captain Richard Phillips and its hijacking by Somalian pirates in 2009. It might sound a bit low key for the director of both The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum but when one considers that the incident culminated in a naval confrontation involving two destroyers and a SEAL team, one begins to appreciate the former wartime documentarian’s interest. A similar predisposition can be discerned within the appetites of its star given that Tom Hanks has, throughout his career, shown a preference for real life characters who have experienced extraordinary events and/or characters who walk a line between tense action drama and inner turmoil. The result is just about everything such a collaboration promises to be.
After a sturdy but efficient introduction to Hanks’ Captain Phillips before he leaves the US for Africa, the film begins switching back and forth between the Somalian pirates as they prepare for their next mission and the Maersk Alabama as its captain and crew set sail. Through these sequences we get to know the two main players: Phillips, the serious-minded but decent company man and Muse, the deceptively diminutive and equally no-nonsense leader of the pirates, played with real electricity by Barkhad Abdi. The stage is set for a tense battle of wills and from the moment the pirates are sighted approaching the ship to the close, Phillips and Muse make for a fascinating pair of adversaries. Hanks for his part is simply terrific and he is pushed all the way by the nascent talent of Abdi who announces himself on the screen with astonishing composure.
There’s no doubt that Greengrass is in his element here as he weaves this central dynamic with a series of spell binding set pieces. There’s an impressive scope to these sequences too ranging from the pirates’ daring attempts to commandeer the ship (and the equally valiant attempts of the crew to stop them) to a scintillating SEAL operation at the apex of the film. There’s an awesome quality to this story that centres on bravery, expertise, and desperation and with the help of Barry Ackroyd’s luscious cinematography and Christopher Rouse’s pulsating editing, Greengrass teases it out with a series of immense images such the SEAL team parachuting towards their objective in near total darkness or the Alabama zigging and zagging in an effort to avoid the pirate skiff. It adds an energy to the film that few movies can equal and combined with the authenticity of everything from the ships to the actions of the various crews, it gives the film a real sense of weight.
However, it’s the the synergy between action and acting that makes Captain Phillips so special and this is best illustrated in the final 20 minutes when Greengrass, his cast of actors, and actual navy personnel work together seamlessly to produce an utterly breathless and remarkably affecting finale – a finale in which Hanks reminds us all of exactly how good an actor he really is. Captain Phillips does run a little long (as is the increasingly irritating trend these days) but this ending, the central pairing of Hanks and Abdi, and the brilliantly held and ever tautening tension more than offsets this single weakness.