Tag Archives: Viggo Mortensen

Appaloosa (2008) 4.22/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 77.5
Genre: Western
Duration: 115 mins
Director: Ed Harris
Stars: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen

Written, directed, and starring Ed Harris, Appaloosa isn’t merely a revisiting of the quintessential American film genre nor is it exactly a revisioning (which is, in its own way, kind of refreshing). It’s more a slowly exhaled understanding of what makes it so damn special as a context for storytelling. A celebration of its principles like the restoration of a great art without the controversy of compromising any of its natural glory. Harris and Viggo Mortensen are the hired guns Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, brought into the town of Appaloosa to offer protection from Jeremy Irons’ ruthless rancher Randall Bragg, who killed the last sheriff when the latter attempted to arrest two of his men for rape. Recalling the rich and intriguing relationship of Fonda and Quinn in 1959’s Warlock, Harris and his faithful companion are a thoughtful yet hardened pair of lawmen who live by the gun and wield it like it comes naturally. The film’s broader comprehension of life on the frontier is reflected at a personal level within their dynamic, the edges and corners of which being exposed only when Rene Zwellweger’s woman of questionable motives enters the fray and attempts to destabilise it. Plot comes to the fore here in wonderfully unobtrusive manner and it offers a circuitous and totally understated testing of marrow and allegiances alike. Gnarly old Lance Henriksen pops up as a notorious colleague from Cole’s past and matters come to a head in blistering showdown that ups the ante on where the Unforgiven left off. Robert Knott and Harris penned the words that so adequately express the grizzled sentiment and honest wonderings of the men and women of this world and there’s plenty of perceptive and expertly timed humour to be discovered along the way. But it’s Harris and Mortensen who shine most bright under the prairie sun, the mutual respect shared by their characters translating fluently at the acting level. Characterisation helps mightily of course and you’d have to delve deep into the history of the western to find a couple of gun-slingers as intriguing not to mention as cool as these here guys. Harris shows a steady and considered touch behind the camera and lets it all play out with the ease of the era in which it was set. You won’t see anything new in Appaloosa but a visit every now and then will remind you of why the western has and always will be so cherished.

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Crimson Tide (1995) 4/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 75.1
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 116 mins
Director: Tony Scott
Stars: Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, Viggo Mortensen

A cleverly scripted submarine thriller which pits Denzel Washington’s erudite by-the-book executive officer against Gene Hackman’s old school authoritarian captain in the midst of a nuclear missile crisis. Tony Scott brings his usual big, bold, and brash style to the action whether it comes in the form of the two command officers verbally tearing into one another or in the form of their supporters amongst the crew physically doing likewise. The set design is pitch perfect and complemented wonderfully by Scott’s trademark moody lighting. Sure, some of the key moments are rammed down out throats in a manner that works contrary to his aims but, for the most part, this is Scott at his most restrained. And with a cast like this, he could afford to be. Hackman is at his snarling best while Washington provides the ideal counterweight: cool, considered, and unflappable. What sets Crimson Tide apart from the glut of similar action thrillers, however, is its perceptively drawn screenplay which works simultaneously and figuratively to reflect the moral ambiguity and outright confusion of a nuclear standoff. From the smirkingly camouflaged conversations regarding the origin of Lipizzan horses to the more overt discussions of the Hiroshima bombing, Michael Schiffer’s adaptation of Richard P. Henrick’s story is strewn with logical land-mines and moral quicksand (word has it Quentin Tarantino was even brought in by his ardent fan Tony Scott to zest it up in places). So much so that by the time the credits roll, you’ll be reprimanding yourself for not giving Scott enough credit to begin with.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) 4.86/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 70.3
Genre: Fantasy
Duration: 201mins
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen

Easily the weakest of Peter Jackson’s trilogy and by far the most over-rated, The Return of the King suffers from a tediously long ending, some rushed exposition regarding Aragorn’s decision to claim his birth-right, and Jackson’s decision to inlcude the undefeatable ghost army from the book which sucked the tension right out of the closing scenes of the central battle. Those three main problems aside this is a worthy climax to the great trilogy with all the characters remaining on form throughout. There are some stand-out sequences such as Gandolf shepherding the cavalry back to the White City, and that rousing speech from the great Bernard Hill’s “Theoden”. The subsequent battle for the White City is immense and the moment at which the Rohan smash through the Orc ranks will leave the hairs standing on the back of your neck. As with the first two films, The Return of the King is magnificently shot and the special effects are flawless which along with the pitch-perfect acting and tremendous story should ensure that this great trilogy will be enjoyed for years to come. Let’s just pray that Hollywood undergoes a serious culture change before some lazy executive decides to remake it.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) 4.86/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 80.1
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Duration: 179 mins
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen

Peter Jackson’s follow-up to the first installment of Tolkien’s trilogy may not be as complete a movie as its predecessor (bridging films never are) but it is without any doubt the most visually spectacular thanks to the gargantuan battle scene which the movie (throughout its entire duration) marches unerringly towards. The Two Towers picks up with Frodo and Sam as they now must trek towards Mordor on their own while being silently pursued by the creature Gollum. Meanwhile, in easily the more interesting side to the story, the remainder of the fellowship relentlessly pursues the Uruk-hai who kidnapped the other hobbits. The pacing of the film is intricate yet utterly flawless as Jackson sweeps with ease between the different elements to the story which begin to branch away from each other in this part of the trilogy before coming together again in the third. He also ratchets up the tension as each scene progresses, giving the movie a steadily increasing sense of momentum which brings you straight into what surely must be the most impressive battle sequence to ever grace the silver screen. The Battle for Helm’s Deep is everything an epic story promises but not often delivers in movie form and if anything, Jackson outdoes the book as he brings the Elves into the story thereby adding a touch of grace which perfectly counter-balances the brutal power of the Uruk-hai. The crowning achievement of this masterpiece in action cinema comes with perhaps the most potent demonstration of the power of concept in film as the White Wizard leads a cavalry charge down a vertical slope into the black midst of a seemingly unbeatable army of monsters. Wow!

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The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 3.81/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 85.7
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Duration: 178 mins
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom

A masterclass in screen adaptation, pacing, and the use of special effects to augment story, Peter Jackson’s first installment of the Tolkien trilogy just shades The Two Towers as the best of the three. It sets the pretext to the drama wonderfully (evil force creates ring to corrupt and rule mankind) with a long but compelling monologue and then eases you into the story (ring is found by a Hobbit and a powerful wizard who set out for the evil lair in which it was created to destroy it). This allows the audience to see the best of Middle Earth and, therefore, ensures that they genuinely lament its demise at the hands of the Orcs of the west. The Fellowship of the Ring literally redefined how every aspect of a fantasy story should be portrayed on film and in doing so, it gives us one of the most original and engrossing stories of modern times and in a manner that complements the talent that went into writing it. The cast is uniformly excellent with Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen doing particularly well as Aragorn and Gandalf respectively. The production and costume design are utterly flawless and the makeup and special effects have yet to be equaled. In the latter regard, Jackson and his team show all the discipline, restraint, and intelligence that made the adaptation itself so successful. Everything included in this film is there because it helps the story be realised. There is not a single instance where style is put before substance and the result is that the audience comes to completely trust the director. This is a rare accomplishment and perhaps most relevant to fantasy films where the audience must follow the director and story-tellers into often impossible territory. Fairy-tales work because they are told to us by those whom we trust implicitly. The Lord of the Rings trilogy works on screen for the exact same reason.

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A History of Violence (2003) 3.14/5 (2)


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Rating: The Bad – 54.1
Genre: Action
Duration: 96 mins
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris

Okay, the first two acts of the film have a clichéd sub-plot involving an annoying son and some cartoon bullies but the premise was fascinating and had the potential to develop in to something really special. Small town man Tom Stall lives what seems to be the perfect small town life: close-knit family, respected around the community, and a solid little diner-business. Until one evening, two psychopaths stop by his diner and attempt to murder a waitress while holding the place up. Stall springs to life and disarms one of the assailants before killing him and his partner in a clear cut case of self-defence, albeit an incredibly heroic one. Things get even more interesting when some mob guys from Philadelphia, having seen Stall’s picture on the news, show up and claim that Tom is their old acquaintance, crazy Joey Cusack. Stall denies it vehemently and an enthralling guessing game ensues which sees even Stall’s family begin to doubt him. (Note: Spoilers are a necessary feature of this critique from this point on).

If you haven’t seen this film, then the set-up described should have you tingling with excitement and up to this point, the film lives up to any expectations you might have. Viggo Mortensen is excellent as everyman Tom Stall who just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cronenberg took his time getting there and had struck just the right balance between the more violent and calmer aspects to the story (with a fantastically staged opening shot capturing the essence of such an approach). Best of all, Ed Harris as the Philly wise-guy is electric in a role that has you guessing from the first time we see him. Unfortunately, just when Cronenberg should be ramping up the mystery and tantalising us with a resolution that is better off not provided, he resolves it flatly and in as manic and unintentionally farcical a fashion as you could possibly imagine. The third act descends into an eye-deceiving second-rate Jean-Claude Van Damme flick with unexplained martial arts ability, gratuitous sex scenes, illogical family behaviour, and cartoon gangsters everywhere.

There are those who have attempted to interpret this dramatic shift in tone as a facilitator for a kind of cultural commentary regarding violence and its place within us. However, there is simply no denying that any such commentaries could have been infinitely better explored by denying the audience the childish catharses of the third act. In fact, in resolving this story in the way it did, Cronenberg et al. refused to shine the light back on the audience and thus give credence to the notion that there was an intelligible social or cultural commentary in play.

It must be pointed out that, A History of Violence is an adaptation of a graphic novel of the same name (written by John Wagner or Vince Locke) and if anything, John Olson’s adaptation and Cronenberg’s interpretation do try to elevate the central mystery and consequently delay the thriller-action movie transition (there is no indictment here of Wagner or Locke as graphic novels are expected to be action heavy). But the fact that those making the film realised how important the mystery was but didn’t have the vision to protect it, is the biggest mistake a director of Cronenberg’s class is likely to make.

To say that this movie’s final act was a let-down is the understatement of all understatements. If you like brain-at-reception movies, then this is probably the film for you. However, if you believe a film which starts off intelligently should conclude in similar fashion (if not more so) then avoid, avoid, avoid! A History of Violence is a perfect example of a film that needs to be remade. Leave the classics alone, remake the films that had potential, but failed to live up to it because the writers didn’t have the perspective to see it.

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