Rating: The Good – 94.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 122 mins Director: William Friedkin Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow
When a young girl succumbs to an unknown illness, her movie star mother becomes convinced that there are demonic overtones to her convulsions and solicits a conflicted priest to examine her. To his shock, he comes to agree with the mother and turns to seasoned exorcist Max von Sydow to expel the intruder. The Daddy of all horror movies, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is a testament to the power of psychological terror. Turning the horror movie model on its head, this crawling piece of cinema limits its shocks and jolts almost entirely to one room, the girl’s bedroom, but bathes the external drama in a pool of socio-cultural unease. The canon and rituals of Catholicism are fertile ground for sophisticated horror cinema and, though Friedkin and author William Peter Blatty weren’t the first to plough it, most others did so directly on a mythological level. These guys, however, did it through everyday character construction and forensic examination of the intangible touch points between spiritualism and psychological vulnerability, between faith and the harshness of the real world, between taboo and subjectified sacrilege, wincingly subjectified.
Jason Miller’s Father Karras is a vessel of pure intensity as the troubled priest sent in conflicting directions by the doubt and fear that he was already experiencing through a crisis of confidence. Fear and doubt that are monstrously amplified when he’s called into help the girl. Von Sydow is calmer but more visceral in emotional demeanour as he wilfully uses a combination of intellect and profound belief against his nemesis. As the film’s sense of reason, the paranormal side to the story is bolstered all the more because his is an ability to reason against the unthinkable. Linda Blair, under close instruction by her director and with no little help from Mercedes McCambridge’s vocal support, is a bristling package of tortured spite and venom, a relentless abomination, and arguably the bold fella’s most ferocious screen incarnation. But sometimes forgotten in all this is Ellen Burstyn’s distraught mother. Given that little Linda isn’t much in the mood for conversation, Burstyn is the glue that binds together the disparate characters including Lee J. Cobb’s endearing homicide detective. It’s a remarkably levelled turn that is critical to the film’s balance.
Fantastic as the cast are, the movie’s power ultimately comes down to the full-on confrontation with the profane which Friedkin and his writer serve up here so relentlessly. The term “genius” is bandied about a little too freely these days but Friedkin and Blatty’s perceptive (not to mention daring) use of western culture’s deep-wired moral coding to impact the audience beyond the confines of the film was as extraordinary an accomplishment as Kubrick’s final act in 2001. It also laid the groundwork for some of the best horror movies of the last 40 years as that particular trick was exhausted to the point that Hideo Nakata was forced to have his demon actually crawl out of the TV in order to imbue his audience with the requisite sense of intrusion. Blatty’s script swings between the warm and scathingly twisted and spanned across its unpretentious dialogue is a clear idea of what he wants this movie to be. Though, on the issue of unpretentiousness and clarity, no review would get far without mentioning the film’s archetyping use of Mike Oldfield’s haunting Tubular Bells.
But the masterstroke comes courtesy of the director who ensures that the atmosphere and tension are defined primarily within the personal tribulations of his protagonists. At crucial moments, the insanity of the story’s events is snapshot back within the boundaries of the world in which we live as it refocuses around the authenticity of those personal trials. Friedkin complements this by keeping the movie’s visual profile rooted in the gritty lighting of contemporary crime cinema and the warmer production design of a family drama. Unlike most horror movies which can’t resist going ‘big’, at no point does he get sucked towards the absurd of horror porn or supernatural melodrama. And with that, the horror is kept pure and unabated so that, when it spikes, it will chill you to the core of your marrow. A peerless form of dissonant terror that’s even more extremely exemplified in that spider-walking director’s cut. A true classic!
William Friedkin’s outstanding crime thriller is like all of Michael Mann’s 80′s crime thrillers rolled into one and injected with steroids. William Peterson plays Chance, a risk-taking secret service agent who’ll stop at nothing to bring a master counterfeiter who killed his partner to justice, even if that means breaking the law himself. Willem Dafoe plays the counterfeiter in question and as usual he makes the character his own and in doing so gives us one of the more memorable movie villains from that era. Despite its glossy exterior, this is a gritty film that through both anti-hero and villain explores the darker side to crime, punishment, sex, and ego. The action scenes are hugely impressive with Friedkin almost outdoing his French Connection car chase with an even more reckless and equally well acted chase through the LA freeways. The film exudes a self-destructive vibe like few others and that scene is the focal point for such tension. The acting is brilliant with Peterson putting in his second best ever performance after Manhunter (some may argue his outright best). Of course, he is helped by a brilliant supporting cast including the likes of Dean Stockwell, John Turturro, and John Pankow as Chance’s nervous colleague. Though on the exterior, this looks like a Friedkin version of a Michael Mann movie, one must remember that the latter picked up a lot of his favourite themes from Friedkin in the first place (e.g., the obsession of Popeye Doyle has been a recurrent theme in Mann’s characters). Moreover, Friedkin was always more unconventional and even experimental in his films which is why To Live and Die in LA closes in a way Mann would never dream of closing a movie – with an enigmatic psychological punch!
Rating: The Good – 77.8 Genre: Crime Duration: 102 mins Director: William Friedkin Stars: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen
William Friedkin’s deeply psychological thriller about an undercover cop attempting to draw out a serial killer who operates in the homosexual sub-culture of S&M/leather is a bold piece of cinema and an enthralling watch. Al Pacino stars as the cop in question who spends his days and nights attempting to understand and infiltrate the closed community so that he can figure out who in this world of exhibitionism and hyper liberation he is looking for. The well timed yet fleeting interleaving of Paul Sorvino as his boss and Karen Allen as his girlfriend do enough to keep him grounded in his former life but each time he goes back undercover, he loses a bit of himself. Pacino is brilliant and captures his character’s transformation with an understated naturalness. His performance is just another example of how brave and actor he has always been and one who sees acting first and foremost as an exploration.
Cruising caused controversy among some in the gay community on its release and in truth, the film not only seems streaked with danger, it seems to feed off it. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what Friedkin did here but everything about Cruising, from the subject matter, to the dialogue, to the way it was shot and edited seems so far removed from mainstream cinema that it becomes almost the perfect case of form following function. Yet Friedkin is in total control. No matter how deep his characters psychologically descend and no matter how unconventional his central device is, he knows exactly how to make a story out of it. Thus, in the same way in which Pacino is experimenting, Friedkin is too. The ending might not be to everyone’s satisfaction but within the counter-intuitive parameters Friedkin set the story, it’s a genuine success, and extremely effective.
Rating: The Good – 77.4 Genre: Crime Duration: 102 mins Director: William Friedkin Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple
William Friedkin’s surgical irreverence explodes back onto the screen after a break of six years for this perfect illustration of that most illusive of genre concepts: the black comedy. Emile Hirsch plays a small time white trash drug dealer who along with his layabout father, Thomas Haden Church, plots to do away with his mother so they can collect the insurance money. Included in the plan are his unusual sister (Juno Temple), his step mother (Gina Gershon), and the disturbing hitman they hire to do the job:- a moonlighting cop by the name of Killer Joe (Mathew McConaughey).
The plot is both bizarre and intricate, a compelling combination to be sure, and with some delicious dialogue and a cast bang on song to breathe life into it, one might expect it to drive the film in typical noir fashion. But surprisingly, Friedkin chooses to use the plot as a mere background to the strange character dynamics and the sardonic tone that they set. Church and Hirsch form one of the funniest father-son dynamics we’ve seen on screen, Temple offers a bristling core of ambiguity to the film, while Gershon spits poison at everyone. And then, of course, there’s Joe. McConaughey has received much praise for this turn and he’s worth the vast majority of it if only for the solid momentum his steel tempered psychopath adds to the film. It’s his chilling presence that balances the film against the Jerry Springer melodrama of the idiotic criminal family and in that now infamous denouement, it’s in Joe’s gargantuan insanity that the audience find their only hope of a cohesive conclusion. It’s a level of twisted cleverness that we are given glimpses of here and there in the first two acts as Friedkin and Tracy Letts (adapting his own play) construct a skewed parable for a more jaded and desensitised age.
But within this grease-drenched discombobulation of crime and fable, an irresistible mechanism of black comedy turns over like clockwork. This is as precise and well timed an execution of the art form as we’ve been treated to in some time. A delicate parody of both childlike make believe and the crime genre itself that catches an audience who thinks it’s seen everything by the ears and stitches their jaw to the floor. It’s not the type of broad masterpiece that Friedkin delivered with The French Connection but Killer Joe is a return to the type of subversive agitation that marked Cruising and Rampage. There are those who will rail at the images of the last 20 minutes and allegations of gratuitousness have and will continue to be levelled at Friedkin. Thankfully, his recent absence from the screen has left his skin none the thinner and we have another enigmatic classic to ponder for years to come.
The ultimate cop thriller sees hard-boiled detectives Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Cloudy Russo (Roy Scheider) take on a deviously clever French drug dealer (Fernando Rey) as he attempts to smuggle “Grade A, junk of the month” into New York. As gritty as it is savage, this film pulls no punches as it offers us a glimpse into the obsessed mind like few other films have. Friedkin cleverly draws us into this dark world by familiarising us with the lead characters and their idiosyncratic relationships early on. From then on, it’s just the small matter of great dialogue, seminal acting, and startingly insightful direction that keep us glued to the screen. The French Connection seems to capture the essence of real New York like few other movies as William Friedkin chose the type of run down locations we had rarely seen in movies up until that point. The car chase has become the stuff of legend and as much as the end result was due to Jerry Greenberg’s editing and the death-defying stunt driving, it was also down to Hackman and Friedkin’s tight-knit understanding as to what Doyle’s face needed to show during the pursuit. Don Ellis’ minimalist score deserves a mention too as it remains one of the decade’s most effective. Just don’t get caught pickin your feet!
Rating: The Good – 85.7 Genre: Adventure, Thriller Duration: 121 mins Director: William Friedkin Stars: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal
William Friedkin’s thunderous examination of human desperation is one of the best films of the 1970′s and a worthy adaptation to follow in the substantial footsteps of Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. It follows a series of men who for different reasons (shown in the first 30 minutes of the film) end up hiding in the back end of the world in some nameless South American country where an oil company is building a pipeline. Desperation brought them there but desperation also drives each of them to want to escape the torturous way of life and lethal working conditions. When an oil well explodes four of them are given the opportunity to earn enough money to do just that. The only catch is they must drive two trucks loaded with unstable dynamite through 200 miles of the roughest terrain imaginable. Friedkin is in his element here and he captures the ferocious journey like few others could. He also takes his time in the buildup allowing us to become familiar but also unfamiliar with the four protagonists as the mystery within each of their characters deepens. Roy Scheider heads the cast in one of his finest performances as a former getaway driver and Bruno Cremer co-stars in an excellent turn as a French businessman on the run for fraud. On the technical front, John Box’s raw production design deserves special mention for managing so well to depict the sweaty squalor from which the four men are attempting to flee. Equally impressive is Tangerine Dream’s nightmare-like score which counts as one of their best and which Friedkin uses to sublime effect. Sorcerer is more of a visceral experience than a conceptual one and in that sense, it is a complete triumph. There are few films imbued with such passion and determination in terms of both the story it tells and the Herzogian like efforts that went into making it.