Del Toro’s latest is a remake of the 1947 film which is based on a book by William Lindsay Gresham. The story takes place in the early 1940s and finds man-with-a-secret Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) joining a carnival troop to survive hard times. There, he befriends a couple who perform feats of clairvoyance (Toni Collette and David Strathairn) and falls for the pretty Molly (Rooney Mara). He takes what he learns from the couple and leaves with Molly to start his own act that soon finds him the fame and fortune he seeks, conning the rich and gullible. When that is not enough, he tries to con the wealthy Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins), enlisting the help of Grindle’s femme fatale psychiatrist Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett). This may be one con, however, where the hunter becomes the hunted.
Crime thriller is directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) from a script by he and Kim Morgan, based on Gresham’s book. It is a beautifully shot movie and very well made. The first hour is basically the set-up, then the second and third acts find Stanton and Molly as a grifting clairvoyant couple and thus leads to Stanton’s attempt to pull his biggest con yet, using a personal loss and pain to bilk Grindle out of a lot of his money. Then there is the mysterious Lilith Ritter, who seduces Stanton and may even be conning the con artist. It is very well directed and methodically paced and as with all of del Toro’s films, has its moments of brutal violence when things start to go bad. There is a wonderfully eclectic cast, also including Ron Perlman, Willem Dafoe and Mary Steenburgen, with Cooper and Blanchett doing some of their best work. It’s an old-fashioned film noir with some contemporary touches and is sumptuously shot as with all del Toro’s movies. Very entertaining, if you get what the director is going for, though at this point, it also doesn’t seem like a film that one would necessarily need to continually revisit like some of his previous flicks.
Spider-Man: No Way Home opens immediately after the shocking mid-credits scene of the previous film with Peter being outed to the world as Spidey and accused of killing Mysterio. When Peter approaches Dr, Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to create a spell to make everyone forget he is Spider-Man, some last-minute indecision causes the spell to go awry. Instead, it starts bringing villains from other universes into Peter’s world to wreak havoc. Worse still, many of those bad guys died battling Spider-Man and returning them to their universes would sentence them to death. This puts a morally torn Peter in conflict with both friend and foe.
Sequel is again directed by Jon Watts from a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. On the negative side, the film teeters on the edge of becoming a mess with so much going on and so many characters. Thankfully, it doesn’t, though the middle section drags, as Peter tries to find a way to cure the villains so they may have a second chance when they return home. It’s a bit convoluted. Finally, the whole murdering Mysterio sub-plot is brushed aside with a simple line from a surprise cameo and that is the end of it. What could have been the most interesting aspect of No Way Home—a fugitive Peter Parker trying to clear his name while battling multiple villains—is quickly discarded ten minutes into the movie. It’s simply lazy writing. On to the good stuff…
There is far more positive than negative, which makes up for a lot of the film’s flaws. The banter between Peter and his friends with Dr. Strange is a lot of fun, as are the conversations between the villains from both of the previous Spider-Man series. It’s entertaining to watch a Raimi era villain trading barbs with a Webb era villain and the dialogue is well written here. The battle scenes are also very good, such as Peter’s first introduction to Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) who is expecting another face under the mask. The last act is a real blast, though discussing most of the reasons why would spoil some great moments. Let’s just say the battle royal at the Statue of Liberty is worth the price of admission alone. The film has a couple of scenes that have some very strong emotional resonance, too, and there is some nice closure given to a few characters’ storylines from previous films. The FX are fantastic, and the cast all perform their parts well.
Tom Holland continues to be a great Peter Parker and he handles a complex story with varying emotional requirements skillfully. He’s charming and sympathetic as a superhero still trying to find himself while in over his head with bad guys and multiverses. Zendaya is still the smart, sarcastically funny and sweet girl next door beauty that is MJ, and she gets to be involved in a little more of the action. Cumberbatch is still solid as Dr. Strange, as is Benedict Wong as the briefly seen but lovable Wong. As for the villains, Willem Dafoe returns as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin and it’s as if he never left the role. Same can be said of Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, who has some of the better lines. Jamie Foxx gets a second go as Max Dillon/Electro. There is a brief reappearance by his blue form from TASM2 till the energy in this world alters him to a more traditional character look. He’s a badass in this new incarnation. Sandman and The Lizard are mostly CGI with ever so brief appearances by actors Thomas Hayden Church and Rhys Ifans. The supporting cast, such as Jacob Batalon as Ned, Tony Revolori as Flash, Jon Favreau as Happy, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, all recreate their endearing and entertaining supporting characters, and all have their moments.
No Way Home isn’t perfect, but still delivers a lot of what we expected from this venture into the multi-verse. It dispenses with some of the last film’s set-up too quickly, has some convoluted plot points and drags in the middle after an action-packed start. The film makes up for a lot of it with a great last act, some strong character interaction, some spectacular battles and some wonderful returns and cameos, not to mention a young actor really growing into the role now after multiple appearances. Stay through all the credits.
Justice League was a movie fans had been waiting a long time for and was sadly, not the movie we’d hoped we’d get. Originally it was to be brought to the screen by Zack Snyder from a story and script by he and Chris Terrio. When a family tragedy forced Snyder off the project, Avengers director/writer Joss Whedon was called in to finish post-production and write and direct re-shoots. A lot of the film was changed and the result was met with less than stellar reactions from fans and critics. Now, four years later, after relentless campaigning by fans, Zack Snyder has returned to finish his version of the film and HBO Max is presenting the Snyder cut exclusively on their streaming network.
The story now opens with Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death and his final scream echoing across the planet, the effects of his loss rippling across the world. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) begins searching the planet for meta humans, as he feels an attack on earth is imminent, while the world and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) mourns Superman’s death. Earth soon does find itself under attack from an ancient being called Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), in the name of an even more powerful being named Darkseid (Ray Porter). He needs to recover three powerful ‘mother boxes’ to come to his full strength and conquer the planet…something Steppenwolf and Darkseid failed to do once before. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are trying to put together a team of meta humans to join in the fight. To do that they need to convince Arthur Curry, The Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Barry “The Flash” Allen (Ezra Miller) to unite with them to stop Steppenwolf from conquering Earth and retrieving something here that Darkseid badly wants. But even with these heroes united, their only hope of defeating the villain and his army of pandemons, may lie six feet under in a grave in Smallville.
Under Snyder’s guidance the film is a lot more somber, but also packs a lot more emotional resonance. We are truly made to feel not only the difference Superman made in people’s lives, and the effects of his being gone on the mood of the world, but on his family and friends as well. It is also twice as long, at over four hours, and is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which may not sit well with those used to more panoramic superhero epics. The film is far more intense in it’s violent moments and is not quite as family friendly, as was the theatrical cut, as it now carries an R rating. There is, though, a lot of character development now, Cyborg and Steppenwolf in particular, for everyone involved and this greatly improves on giving the comic book material a lot of depth and substance. Sure it takes a long time to get to the heroics, but the battles with Steppenwolf have far more weight, as now do all the characters involved. There is also a healthy amount of action added too, so the flick is far from talky. There is also the added caveat of an anti-life equation that Darkseid wants and Steppenwolf believes is here on Earth. It adds even more urgency to the proceedings and echoes of future conflict to come. We see a lot of the humor that was added to the theatrical cut removed, but it is not all doom and gloom, as there are still some nice lighter moments between characters. Obviously, there was a healthy amount of Snyder’s material still in the theatrical cut, so there are many familiar scenes, but the amount of new material, added story elements and alternate versions of sequences makes it practically an all new film. On a production level, the new FX sequences merge flawlessly in with the original material and the mood is well set by a very effective and more fitting score by Tom Holkenborg, who goes under the stage name of Junkie XL. Overall, this Justice League can stand up far better next to the Infinity War saga from it’s MCU counterparts.
The cast’s efforts in this cut are even more evident as we get much more of their strong work. Affleck is once again solid as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Batman is a bit more brooding and intense here, which is more in character, and we see where some of his lighter moments were added in the theatrical cut. Affleck shows again he is a solid caped crusader. Gal Gadot once again proves she was born to play Wonder Woman and she has some really good extended and added moments. The chemistry with Affleck’s billionaire hero is still evident, as is now with Alfred as well. Ezra Miller still steals his scenes as the sarcastic, slacker hero The Flash. He gets some of the best lines and his dorky charm fits the character perfectly. He also has solid chemistry with his co-stars. Ray Fisher is effective as the tragic, yet powerful Cyborg. He’s still learning how to use his powers and still conflicted over being Frankenstein-ed by his father (Joe Morton) and we sympathize. Another role nicely expanded by more footage. Jason Mamoa is less the surfer dude as Aquaman. Here he gets a lot more depth and there is some foreshadowing of his adventures to come and we see his inner conflicts clearer. By now it’s no surprise that Henry Cavill returns as Superman and here is he is a more conflicted and troubled hero before deciding to resume his role as protector. No CGI erased mustaches either, but there is a foreboding black suit. J.K. Simmons is still here as Commissioner Gordon, but again only has two or three scenes. Ciarán Hinds still voices a more imposing Steppenwolf, and here he also seems to have a lot more character development and depth, as we learn more about him and his debts to Darkseid. As for other returning cast members, Amy Adams and Diane Lane ease back into their roles as Lois Lane and Martha Kent respectively and get more scenes in this cut. Irons is still perfect as the cynical Alfred and also benefits from more footage. This version also has Harry Lennix as Calvin Swanwick, who is now revealed to be Martian Manhunter, Peter Guinness as DeSaad, one of Darkseid’s generals, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Ray Porter as Darkseid and Jared Leto returns with an absolutely chilling cameo as The Joker. A great cast, now even more evident with added performance material.
In conclusion, Zack Snyder’sJustice League is the flick were wanted the first time. It is a four hour opus filled with the emotional depth, character development and brooding intensity that was missing in the theatrical version. The casual viewer may find the 242 minute runtime a bit daunting, but fans of this stuff will simply eat up all the new material and it’s darker tone, though it’s nothing much darker than say the last two Avenger’s epics. It’s also satisfying to see Snyder’s vision come to light, one that is sweetly dedicated to his daughter, whose loss lead to his leaving the project initially. Now that this series is back on track, let’s see where they go with it.
The new film from The Witch director Robert Eggers has got a trailer. The Lighthouse stars Willem Dafoe and new Batman Robert Pattinson and opens in limited release 10/18/2019 after playing festivals earlier this year. The release will expand in the following weeks. The film was written by Eggers and his brother Max.
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DC comics flick is a mixed bag finding our aquatic hero (Jason Momoa) coming up against his half-brother King Orm of Atlantis (Patrick Wilson). The power and conquest hungry Orm wants to take control of all the undersea kingdoms and then use their combined might to lay waste to the surface world. Princess Mera (Amber Heard) of the undersea kingdom of Xebel defies her father (Dolph Lundgren) to warn Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman and inform him that if he retrieves the Trident of Atlan, he will have the power to stop Orm and take his rightful place as king. Standing in his way is a modern day pirate with Atlantean tech and a personal grudge against Aquaman, The Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
Superhero flick is directed by James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on a story by Wan, Beall and Geoff Johns. The flick is a bit of a mess, that bites off more than it can chew, though it can be a fun mess at times. The negative points are a thin story that gets poor development as the film steamrolls ahead from one set-piece to another. From the flashback meeting of Arthur’s mother Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and his lighthouse keeper father,Thomas (Temuera Morrison), to Arthur’s first meeting/fight with Orm, to a massive undersea battle, a lot goes on in this flick. Somewhere in between all this, the film stops and goes on a Tomb Raider style quest for the trident…wasn’t that the plot of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean flick?…and then finally back to Aquaman vs Orm, the rematch. It gives the film a choppy feeling for the first hour, or so, before it settles down a bit in the last act. None of the characters get proper development, especially Black Manta, whose sub-plot could have been eliminated completely with no harm done. At least we already met Arthur in Justice League…and, by the way, where were his League pals as this was a global destruction situation. The good points are that some of the action set pieces are quite fun and Wan has a great visual eye, so the film looks sumptuous and spectacular. The undersea kingdoms are amazing, there is a stunning Star Wars-esque underwater battle at it’s climax and the film has a lot of cool creatures. The cast all get the material and play their roles with the right tone and if the story was more involving, this might have been a bit more memorable, which sadly it’s not. A good time was had overall, though it didn’t resonate once the theater lights came up.
Back to the cast, Wan has assembled a top notch one. Momoa has locked it in as Aquaman and the character has never been cooler. His bad-ass surfer boy take works very well as a modern incarnation of the DC hero and Momoa has the charm and sense of humor to overcome the thin script. Amber Heard is beautiful and resourceful as Mera. She is a strong character and is not played as a damsel and Heard makes a solid heroine out of her. Patrick Wilson is a pleasant surprise as the vengeful King Orm. Wilson is usually cast in the straight-laced good guy role and here he chews up the seaweed and scenery with just enough restraint to keep Orm from flipping over into camp. He’s a better villain than Justice’s Steppenwolf and Wonder Woman’s Ares. Rounding out the supporting cast is Nicole Kidman as a noble Queen Atlanna, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta and Temuera Morrison as Arthur’s dad. All do good work in their roles and help keep this bloated flick from sinking.
So, Aquaman is a bit of a mess and DC still has a way to go to catch up to Marvel and set it’s cinematic universe right. The story here is thin and underdeveloped due to filmmakers being too overeager to do too many things in one film. There’s globe hopping adventure, epic undersea battles, a quest for a mystical object and a superhero battling to save the world and find his destiny. All we needed was a musical number. It has a solid cast, who get the material and a director who knows theatricality and how to make it look gorgeous. In lesser hands this might of been an awful mess, but Wan makes it an entertaining one. Overall, it’s a step back from Wonder Woman, but two steps ahead over the disappointing Justice League and the bloated Batman v Superman.
Two mercenaries, William and Pero (Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal), looking for gunpowder in ancient China find themselves prisoners at the Great Wall. They also find out why the wall was built as they are currently under siege by an army of reptilian creatures known as the Tao Tei. As Pero tries to find ways of escape, the noble William finds himself drawn into the struggle at the side of a beautiful woman general (Jing Tian).
Action/fantasy is directed by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero, Raise The Red Lantern) from a script and story by no less than six western writers. There is plenty of action and spectacle, though Yimou directs with a somewhat more moderate pace than one would expect from such an action and FX heavy epic. It is still enjoyable, even if not all the CGI is as effective as we’d like and fans of this type of Asian period fantasy and/or monster movies should have a decent time of it all. It’s amusingly over-the-top at times, as most of these Chinese flicks are and there is a nicely sci-fi origin to our creatures. The script could have been tighter and Zhang Yimou’s background in drama doesn’t serve the pace, but it’s not as bad as it was made out to be. Also stars Willem Dafoe as a knight who has been a “guest” at the wall for over two decades.
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Hot on the heels of the smash hit, Eddie Murphy debut 48 Hours, Walter Hill indulged himself with this “Rock & Roll Fable” about an up and coming rock star named Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) who is kidnaped by biker gang leader Raven (Willem Dafoe) at a concert in her home town. Her ex-soldier, ex-boyfriend Tom Cody (Michael Paré) comes to rescue her, along with her current manager/boyfriend Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) and another gruff ex-soldier McCoy (Amy Madigan). That’s kinda it, plot wise.
After a huge success with the action, buddy comedy 48 Hours, Hill took a stumble that he would never really recover from. Streets Of Fire is a bit of a mess and was a box office disappointment after the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte flick becoming a runaway hit. Co-written with Larry Gross, Streets is a combination 40s, 50s, 80s meets a bit of Blade Runner and never quite clicks and is definitely missing something. One of the big problems is the lack of a real story. The set-up is over within the first 40 minutes with Aim being rescued by Cody and company. The next 50 minutes is a meandering journey back home and then some soap opera level romantic melodrama when they get there. In the mean time, we wait for Dafoe’s villain to come after them, which he finally does in the last 10 minutes. Even at slightly above 90 minutes it gets tedious real fast. Another problem is that there is no energy or excitement to the action. The various fisticuffs and gunfights are very by-the-numbers and have none of the intensity of Hill’s previous films like The Warriors. On a technical level, the film looks really good, thought the time period mash-up doesn’t quite visually click either. There are some really good tunes from the music numbers on the soundtrack and Ry Cooder’s score adds some atmosphere to the proceedings. The legendary Andrew Laszlo delivers some top notch cinematography, as well. It’s that just for a “Rock & Roll Fable” there is very little “Rock & Roll” spirit in this flick and overall it’s kinda dull when all is said and done.
As for the cast they are all good enough, despite given sadly little to really do other than the lead males. Michael Paré is a solid hero. He does the smoldering intensity thing well and his loner Cody might have been more impressive in a better movie. Dafoe is also good as the slimy, somewhat androgynous Raven. His motivations for kidnapping Aim are thin, but that is the script’s fault and he is a good villain that sadly disappears for a good portion of the second half. Diane Lane is a bit bland, but again the character is little more than a damsel to be rescued and isn’t given much to do but stare with doe eyes at Cody. Rick Moranis’ douchey Billy Fish is a bit annoying, but the character is supposed to be, so we can cut him some slack. Rounding out the leads, is Amy Madigan who is fine and likable as the tough ex-solider McCoy and probably would have made even more of an impression with better material. There are supporting roles by Bill Paxton as an old friend of Cody’s, 80s icon E.G. Daily as a groupie and The Warriors‘ Deborah Van Valkenburgh as Cody’s sister Reva, who calls him when Ellen is abducted.
This is a flick that had a lot of potential, but drops the ball with a paper thin story and delivering some very by-the-numbers action from a director who was becoming known for his action flicks. It’s a self-indulgent misfire that could have been something special with a better script and it’s director not falling asleep at the wheel. There are some now classic tunes on the soundtrack…including a couple produced by Jim Steinman, who produced Meatloaf’s classic Bat OutOf Hell album…and there is some nice 80s nostalgia, but, overall, Streets Of Fire fizzles instead of blazes. This 1984 movie has developed a bit of a cult following and there was an unofficial sequel from Albert Pyun made in 2008 called Road To Hell reuniting Paré and Van Valkenburgh as “Cody” and “sister” with Anita Leeman playing “Ellen” and Lauren Sutherland as “Mc Coy”.
and the trailer to the unofficial sequel, Road ToHell…
John Wick is just simply a good, solid, popcorn action flick with no other intentions than to blow away bad guys and entertain…and it does that just fine. Keanu Reeves is really good as former assassin and man-of-few-words, John Wick. He retired as one of the most lethal killers in the business and after the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan), has resigned himself to a life of solitude. When a Russian mobster’s arrogant idiot of a son (Alfie Allen) makes the mistake of invading Wick’s home, stealing his Mustang muscle car and killing the puppy that was a final gift from his wife, Wick is back in business and the body count piles up quickly and bloodily.
The action is solid and there is some stylish direction by Chad Stahelski from Derek Kolstad’s script. There are some really well-choreographed shoot-outs and fights and the film does what it sets out to do, nothing more. Sure, there are flaws. The whole John Wick problem would have been solved if one of these gangsters actually took a shot at Wick, instead of rushing in close enough for him to get a hold of their guns, but who cares? Reeves kicks ass and it’s fun to watch him do it. An entertaining and stylish action flick. Also stars, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe as a fellow assassin/friend of Wick’s and sexy Adrianne Palicki as a female contract killer looking to collect the $2 Million bounty Russian mobster, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyquist) puts on Wick’s head. Fun and action-packed!
SINBAD: THE FIFTH VOYAGE (2014)
I’m a big fan of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films of yesteryear and so was looking forward to this homage from producer/director/co-writer and star, Shahin Sean Solimon. Despite being a one-man production company and having numerous stop-motion animated critters, Solimon’s 90-minute fantasy is a mess of poor SPFX, bad writing, lame directing and awful editing. The barely cohesive story has Sinbad’s beloved Princess Parisa (Danielle Duvale) kidnaped for some sinister purpose by the evil sorcerer, The Deev (Said Faraj). Sinbad and crew set out to find her and after some pointless adventures that barely follow a structured storyline, and equally pointless flashbacks, a plot convenience leads Sinbad to his love for a final showdown with the sinister magician.
There is very little purpose to anything that goes on here. The story creeps along at a dreadfully slow pace and the stop-motion critters are there just because past films have included them, and none really support the story by appearing. The FX are awful, with the meager creature animation being barely adequate and the sets and acting are as bad as the over-used CGI. Despite good intentions, this is a tedious mess with only a few brief moments that actually amuse. I liked that Solimon resorted to old-fashioned stop-motion to keep tradition, but next time build an actual film around it. How Patrick Stewart got involved to narrate is anybody’s guess.
Drag Me To Hell is an entertaining return to horror from Sam Raimi about a pretty young bank employee who pisses off the wrong gypsy and gets a nasty demonic entity sent her way. Poor Christine (Alison Lohman) has just three days to find a way out of this curse as her supernatural stalker gets stronger and stronger in it’s pursuit of her soul. More fun then scary, it’s like a carnival funhouse with it’s jump scares, loud noises and CGI phantoms that jump out at you without warning. And much like a funhouse it’s all phoney but, we play along anyway for the sake of entertaining ourselves… and that’s what Sam Raimi is counting on. And just so we don’t forget it’s all for fun, there’s plenty of gross out laughs to relieve us from all the jump scares ringmaster Raimi pulls out of his hat. A fun horror flick that makes you jump and giggle and usually at the same time. Also stars Justin Long as her disbelieving boyfriend and a creepy Lorna Raver as the vengeful gypsy, Mrs. Ganush.
An interesting and original horror film-noir about a world in the future where vampires rule and their blood supply, humans, is running out. Ethan Hawke plays Edward (The non-sparkling kind) a vampire scientist searching for a blood substitute before the lack of food turns the vampires into vicious savages who’ll turn on each other. What he finds, through a series of circumstances, is a cure discovered by an ex-vampire turned human rebel, Lionel (Willem Dafoe). Now Edward, Lionel and pretty rebel Audrey (Claudia Karvan) must battle a vampire hierchy (led by Sam Neil) that has little to gain by a world returned to it’s humanity. An intelligent script by writer/directors The Spierig Brothers adds a refreshingly novel take on the oft visited vampire mythos and they are aided by a good cast to tell their blood soaked story. Yes, while more of a noir/action flick, Daybreakers doesn’t ignore it’s horror roots and there are some deliciously gory moments mixed in with the abundant action. And this is not to say that Daybreakers is all action, as the Spierig’s make sure there is enough time devoted to story and character developement to go along with the bullets, chases and blood. A really entertaining and original vampire flick for horror, action and sci-fi fans alike!
HOME MOVIE (2008)
While not entirely successful, Christopher Denham’s horror flick is very creepy and disturbing at times. Told thru the home movies of the Poe family, is the gradual discovery that the Poe’s 10 year old twins (Austin Williams and Amber Joy Williams) are harboring increasingly violent thoughts and twisted behavior. There are some very chilling scenes and the young actors playing the twins are really good at playing creepy. But there are problems… the last 20 minutes is when things totally disintegrate but, I wasn’t as disturbed as I should have been. Maybe because you can see it all coming from a mile away. There are some annoying lapses in logic, especially when the parents start to realize what’s going on, and when they first try to deal with it themselves… their psychiatrist mother (Cady McClain) with pills, their pastor father (Adrian Pasdar) with an exorcism… you can almost understand why these kids are so messed up. Pasdar’s over the top performance also hurts because, the rest of the cast does so well in their roles. He tries way too hard. Overall a disturbing movie with some twisted scenes but, not as consistanly so as it should have been or we would have liked. Still worth a watch.
Out Of The Furnace is a very intense and well-acted drama that only makes one glaring plot mistake in an otherwise solidly written film by Crazy Heart’s Scott Cooper. The film takes place in the run-down steel town of North Braddock, PA. and tells the story of brothers Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) Baze. Russell is a good natured and hard working man who, like his ailing father, works at the steel mill and earns a meager but honest living. Rodney is a traumatized Iraqi war veteran whose inner rage prevents him from finding peace with a normal job and turns to gambling and illegal fighting under the guidance of small town crook, John Petty (Willem Dafoe). A tragic accident sees a tired and mildly intoxicated Russell hit another car and kill the mother and child within. This sends Russell to prison while Rodney’s inability to take a fall when required, leaves him in growing debt. Once his time is done, Russell is released to find his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) has left him for the local sheriff (Forest Whitaker), his father has died and Rodney in deep with the sleazy local gangster Petty. But despite his efforts to set his brother straight and get his life in order, Rodney forces Petty to get him involved with an illegal bare-knuckles fight run by vicious backwoods gangster Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) in the Ramapo Mountains in New Jersey. Rodney hopes this big payoff will clear his debt with Petty and clear Petty’s debt with DeGroat. But Harlan DeGroat is a devious and vile person and despite taking the fall he was told too, Rodney and Petty do not return home. The law’s inability to pierce the veil of silence around these mountain-folk and exact justice sets the mild-mannered Russell on a vengeful collision course that will put him face to face with a very dangerous man.
Make no mistake, as directed and co-written (with Brad Ingelsby) by Scott Cooper, this is a strong and sometimes powerful drama about a man who wants to live a simple, peaceful life, but is forced by circumstance to put his good-naturedness aside and take vengeful action. During the 80s this kind of plot might have been a far simpler film starring the likes of Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal, but under Cooper’s guidance, a simple revenge flick becomes a powerful story filled with multi-dimensional characters. And it is the characters that are the focus of this tale and not the minimal gunfire or occasional violence…though that has it’s own intensity as well. Which does bring me to my one gripe….
…As this film does choose to focus on the characters and the effects the film’s events has on their lives, I found it very hard to believe that Russell would put innocent people in harm’s way and in one instance, get someone killed for his own personal revenge. I understand he is driven by anger and frustration, but especially after seeing how torn-up he was after his car accident cost two innocents their lives, the fact that even now he would again put lives in danger, other than his own, is hard for me to accept. It’s the only major flaw I find with this otherwise engrossing drama. I don’t believe Russell would put his quest for payback before the lives of others and here he does not once but twice. To discuss it any deeper would be to present plot points important to the story, so I won’t go any further, but it doesn’t make sense coming from the character we’ve gotten to know.
And as we are discussing the characters, it’s only fitting to mention the great cast that brings them to life. Bale is once again near brilliant as the simple, kind-hearted Russell and portrays his slow burn path from simple steelworker taken by the events around him on courses that shatter the quiet life he seeks and has him turn against his very own moral code. Casey Affleck is a rage-filled powder keg and despite his anger and inner pain, we do feel sympathy for a man who fought through a nightmare for his country and now feels lost and abandoned by it. He and Bale have some really intense scenes together and I do mean intense. Defoe is solid, as always, as the sleazy, yet somehow likable small time crook Petty. He seems like the type of small fish criminal who doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t play in the bigger pond until it’s far too late. Harrelson again delivers the goods with his portrayal of Harlan DeGroat. He is intense, frightening and a little intriguing as the backwoods drug dealer and crime-lord with very little morality or sympathy. He’s a monster, but one with multiple dimensions and not a cliché or caricature as the role could have been in a lesser film. Saldana shows she is more then a pretty face as Lena, but her character seems to disappear for the most part once the meat of the plot gets in motion. She is good in her scenes, but the character all but disappears in the last act and seems forgotten. Rounding out the cast is Forest Whitaker doing his usual good work as the sheriff with whom Russell has personal issues involving Lena and Sam Shepard, who can sit in a chair and ooze character, is very likable in a small role as the Baze boys’ uncle.
So basically we have a simple story made into a powerful drama by a skilled writer/director and a simply great cast that is able to overcome a glaring plot flaw to retain it’s strength and impact by the time the credits role. Not quite a great movie, but a really damn good one with some top notch acting by a first rate cast.