REVIEW: AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

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AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

“Whatever it takes” ―The Avengers

Fourth Avengers flick finds the surviving heroes still devastated by the mass genocide caused by Thanos and the Infinity Stones. Five years later, hope is reignited as the reappearance of one of their number thought dead, gives The Avengers one last chance to possibly set things right.

Joe and Anthony Russo, again armed with a script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, give this ten year journey the best ending possible. It’s an emotionally draining roller coaster ride as The Avengers enact a desperate plan that will lead them to a final showdown with the Mad Titan…and we’re along with them, every step of the way. It’s the type of movie best enjoyed going in knowing as little as possible, so this will be brief. There are loads of surprises, epic battles, some wonderful cameos and a plot that cleverly wraps up the story and also manages to pay tribute to what came before. There are some truly great moments here and heartbreaking ones, too. The audience in attendance laughed hysterically, cheered thunderously and some even wept openly. It wraps up the last ten years wonderfully, while opening some doors to the future. Simply a great flick and an enormously entertaining 181 minutes.

The cast is once again, too large to discuss each individually, but all deserve kudos. Our mainstays from the series all perform these now familiar characters with the expected gusto. A great ensemble cast that has endeared us over the last decade and have grown into their roles so well. Josh Brolin again impresses as Thanos, the Mad Titan. The clever script gives us a bit of a different Thanos, one possibly more dangerous than he was in Infinity War. There are too many great character cameos to mention, which is fine, as they will not be spoiled here anyway. A spectacular cast.

There are a few flaws, but for all the spectacle and emotion you get in it’s three hour running time, they are too small to bother discussing. A clever script and story gives us everything we could hope for from epic battles, heartbreaking actions, nail-biting suspense and some truly hilarious moments, all mixed very well. It rarely slows down and only stumbles slightly here and there, but otherwise is an epic finale to a great series of movies. While there is no post credits scene, stay during the entire credits anyway for a wonderful sendoff to our beloved heroes.

…and, on a personal note, I can’t remember the last time I laughed, cheered and even teared up so much in one movie…and I’ve been watching movies for over five decades-MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) infinity gauntlets.

 

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REVIEW: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

“In time, you will know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.” ―Thanos

Third Avengers film finds the “Mad Titan” Thanos (Josh Brolin) deciding to restore balance to the universe by killing half of it’s population. To do this he must track down six powerful infinity stones to be placed in a gauntlet, that once completed, will give him the means to do so. To stop him, The Avengers must put aside their differences and The Guardians of the Galaxy must learn to play nice with The Avengers. Not as simple as it sounds as Thanos and his four children…The Black Order…will destroy anything in their path to get the stones…two of which are already on Earth.

Spectacularly entertaining film is directed with a wonderful mix of intensity, action and humor by Joe and Anthony Russo, who gave us the best Marvel film…until now…Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely who get a whole lot of story going without the film ever feeling like it’s too busy or a mess. Our heroes are split up on various quests. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to forge a new weapon, Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to keep Thanos from getting the Time Stone and Cap (Chris Evans), Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) are trying to keep the Mind Stone in Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head out of Thanos’ mitt as well. The action scenes are far more spectacular than we have yet seen in the MCU and in this film series we’ve seen a lot. What can you say about a film that gives you Thanos vs Hulk in the first five minutes and that’s just for starters. What makes this film work so well, though, is not only some wonderful camaraderie between the many characters, but some very emotionally powerful moments, too. The Russos give this film an emotional depth that this series has rarely experienced and Joss Whedon’s first two Avengers movies rarely touched on. There are some side-split-tingly funny dialogue exchanges, too, between characters…such as Banner’s “There’s a Spider-Man AND an Ant-Man?”…and some heart skipping moments, that won’t be spoiled here. The writers pick some great character team ups, like Strange and Stark and Thor and Rocket with some great cameos that also won’t be spoiled here. None of this would work, however, with a weak villain and thankfully Thanos is one of the best MCU villains so far. He is given depth, a purpose…although, a diabolical one…and a powerful presence. It all combines for a villain who lives up to his threat factor big time and puts our heroes in more danger than they have ever been in…a danger they all face valiantly.

The cast is too large to discuss each individually. Our mainstays from the series all perform well with some stand-outs. Hemsworth is a highlight with Ragnarok’s changes to the God of Thunder carrying over here. While initially critical of Cumberbatch as Strange, he has grown into the role very well and the Russos use him wisely. Holland is turning into a great Spider-Man and the script, under the Russo Brother’s guidance, fix the awkward relationship between Peter and Tony that didn’t gel so well in Spiderman: Homecoming. Almost everyone is given their moments, there is some great dialogue for them and the whole cast are given some really intense scenes, unlike they have been afforded before, to shine in. The real force here is Josh Brolin as the Mad Titan. He does voice and motion capture for Thanos and really gives him a powerful presence and an intensity, few MCU villains have mustered in the film series’ decade history. You believe he is a threat and yet, they give him some emotional moments of his own, which give him a depth which only adds to his effectiveness. He makes this epic work. If there is any issue with characters, it’s that Thanos’ CGI children…Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive, Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian mostly come across as generic monsters, save for the creepy Ebony Maw…but Thanos gets most of the screen time.

There is very little to gripe about here. At 160 minutes, one or two scenes run on a bit long and a few characters, like Black Widow and Falcon get shortchanged in the whole of things. However we do get a comic book movie of epic proportions that brings spectacular action, nerve-wracking intensity, dramatic weight and some outright hilarious dialogue moments, all mixed to perfection by the Russo Brothers. Sure there is more to the story and the end leaves us wanting that more, but next summer the fourth installment arrives and it is going to have to be something else to surpass this, one of the MCU’s absolute best installments so far. Spectacular entertainment!

…and don’t forget to stay during the entire credits for a post credits scene that will knock your socks off.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 infinity gauntlets.

 

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REVIEW: I KILL GIANTS (2017)

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I KILL GIANTS (2017)

Graphic novel based film finds young, eccentric loner Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) believing that she can kill giants and claiming to have done so in the past. Her sister (Imogen Poots) is trying to take care of her and her older brother (Art Parkinson), but Barbara’s constant behavior issues and insubordination at middle school is taking it’s toll. Barbara finally finds a friend in new student Sophia (Sydney Wade), who has just moved to the US from England. The two girls bond and while Barbara slowly let’s Sophia into her complex fantasy world, the psychologist at school, Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana) tries to find out what Barbara is really trying to escape from in her fantasies. Meanwhile, Barbara prepares, as a new colossal adversary nears, one she might not be able to handle.

Sweet-natured tale is very well directed by Anders Walter from a script by Joe Kelly, based on the graphic novel of the  same name by Kelly and Ken Niimura. This is the kind of movie that could have drowned in over-sentimentality, or sugar-coated the more serious issues, but it is handled with just the right mix by director Walter and Kelly’s script. The film never patronizes Barbara’s living in her own fantasy world, nor does it overplay or exploit the real story of a young girl unable to face a painful reality in her life. We see how involved Barbara’s fantasy world is and also see how it alienates her from her classmates and even makes her the target of the school bully (Rory Jackson). Walters slowly let’s us through the facade, giving us clues as to what is really happening, as Mollé tries to get through to the girl. We are drawn in as this and Barbara’s friendship with Sophia threatens the walls she’s thrown up. As the story plays out, it is ultimately Barbara herself who must tear down those walls and face her painful reality with the same courage she faces her imaginary giants. It’s all splendidly handled by the first-time feature director and very engaging despite being a very familiar story. On a technical level the film features some nice cinematography by Rasmus Heise of the Belgium and Ireland locations which stand in for the East Coast, United States. The FX portraying our fantasy creatures are very well executed and not over-used and Walter gives the film some nice atmosphere, aided by an effective score by Laurent Perez Del Mar.

The director gets good work from a solid cast. Madison Wolfe is very strong in her portrayal of Barbara. A complex young girl, who is eccentric and imaginative and who creates an alternate reality for herself to hide from pain she can’t handle in her real life. She keeps Barbara likable, even when being difficult and handles the transition from denial, to fear and to finally facing those fears very well. Zoe Saldana is also good in what could be seen as a clichéd role. She gives Mrs. Mollé a sense that she really cares about Barbara and conveys the patience and frustration of trying to reach her. Sydney Wade is sweet as her new friend, Sophia and Imogen Poots is also good as Karen Thorson, a young woman being overwhelmed by what’s going on around her and trying to handle the care of her siblings and maintain a grip on her own life. A strong cast who do good work.

This is not the first film to feature a child hiding from intense emotions in a fantasy world. It’s also not the first film to feature characters trying to reach that child. It does feature a strong debut from a first time director, who mixes all the elements well and in the right amounts. He treats his main character with the respect she deserves, gives her fantasy world the sense of wonder needed, never exploits the more serious story elements, or takes the easy way out by letting this degenerate into a routine tear-jerker…which it is not. A very entertaining and heartfelt movie that deserves more attention than it’s quiet release in limited theaters and on VOD gives it. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 girls who kill giants.

 

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REVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)

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GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)

Guardians Of The Galaxy was a blast of fun and a big hit for Marvel, so it’s no surprise the oddball band of heroes are back for another go around, this time bringing movie legends Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone with them. The film opens with The Guardians saving the day for a race called The Sovereign, but getting on their bad side before the dust even settles. This sets them on the run and into the sights of a celestial being called Ego (Kurt Russell) who claims to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father. Peter finds out he may have celestial powers of his own, but the more he bonds with his newfound father, the more Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) feel that daddy isn’t to be trusted. In the meantime, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Yondu (Michael Rooker) and “baby” Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) have to deal with mutinous Ravagers, angry Sovereigns and a vengeful Nebula (Karen Gillan).

Second adventure is an entertaining ride, thought not quite as much rapid-fire fun as it’s predecessor. Sequel is again written and directed by James Gunn, who returns with his quirky, sarcastic sense of humor that made the first flick stand out in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After a first film sometimes moved too fast, this film dials it back during it’s middle act to take time to allow Peter and Ego to bond and along the way deliver some backstory on more than one character. While father and son take long walks on Ego’s self-made world, Raccoon and Yondu also have some bonding moments as Ravager prisoners, where souls are bared and alliances made. It’s certainly not boring, but it does take a bit more time for the action to fire up again while we get some character development for characters both old and new. Ironically, the first film rushed the character development while this one makes it more the focus….maybe slightly too much for it’s own good at over 136 minutes. Once we discover daddy is a baddy and our displaced heroes reunite, then we get a spectacular and action packed finale that amusingly evokes the climax of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but with far better FX and a lot more fun. The before mentioned visuals and FX are truly stunning and the action is quite exhilarating once it comes and it comes in spades. There are some hilariously funny bits and some very funny exchanges between the characters, who still have that twisted love/hate relationship with each other. When the group is split into two separate plot lines, the film doesn’t quite have the same spark as when this bunch of self proclaimed “A-holes” are all together trying not to kill each other, or be killed. If there is a flaw with this worthy sequel, it is that it does disrupt the group chemistry by separating them for almost an hour. The film is at it’s most fun when they are all together and joined by new characters, like Pom Klementieff’s empathetic and naive Mantis and Sylvester Stallone’s veteran Ravager Stakar, who fit in quite well to the mythos. The film also has a touch more sentimental than we would expect from this delinquent group. It’s a bit corny at times, but it serves to cement the dysfunctional family unit that they are. This bunch is together for a reason…and they’re accompanied by another killer soundtrack of classic tunes!

The cast are all on point. Returning actors slip back into their now beloved characters flawlessly and as per the story, get to add a little depth to their roles, including the CGI Rocket and scene stealing baby Groot. The actors have a chemistry together and thus do the characters they bring to life. As for new faces, Kurt Russell is charming and charismatic as Ego. We almost believe, as does Quill, that he is the benevolent being he claims, looking finally to be a father to his estranged son. Once he reveals his true nature, Russell chews the scenery in just the right measures of megalomania. Sylvester Stallone also fits into the Guardian’s world well as a legendary Ravager named Stakar Ogord. He only has a few scenes but it is implied we haven’t seen the last of him and it’s nice to see Sly doing his larger than life thing in the Marvel universe. Adorable Pom Klementieff steals scenes as the delightfully ditzy empath called Mantis. She’s a fun and very likable character and never lets her performance go too over-the-top so that she becomes annoying. She fits in nicely and has some very funny scenes with Bautista’s all too literal Drax. The large cast of supporting and secondary characters also shine when they get their moments, too, such as Chris Sullivan’s boorish Taserface and a returning Sean Gunn as Rondu’s right hand, Kraglin. A solid cast with the usual funny cameo by you-know-who!

Overall, this was a fun adventure and a worthy sequel. It did slow down the pace down a bit for a more character driven middle act and may have had one too many sentimental moments for it’s own good, but there is still plenty of eye-popping special effects, hilariously sarcastic moments, rapid-fire action and some sumptuously rendered alien creatures and world’s. We get some of the character development that was a bit lacking in the first film, though do sacrifice some of that great group chemistry and dialog exchanges when the story chooses to separate them. Still highly recommended for fans of the original and a solid start to the summer 2017 movie season.

…oh…and, obviously stay through the fun credits for FIVE additional scenes!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 cassettes.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)

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STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Flick picks up almost three years into the Enterprise’s five year exploration mission, which puts them cleverly “beyond” the first three years/seasons of the original show and thus into new story territory. This third installment of J.J. Abrams’ reboot series is now directed by Justin Lin and tells of a devastating attack on the Enterprise while on a rescue mission in uncharted space. An alien warlord named Krall (Idris Elba) wants not only an ancient device stored on the ship, but the crew itself to drain their life-forces. With their precious ship destroyed and now stranded and hunted on an alien world, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban) must figure out a way to rescue the crew, stop Krall’s diabolical plan and get home to friendlier space.

Justin Lin doesn’t quite bring the dramatic intensity Abrams did to his Trek films and his action scenes may not resonate as strongly, but with Simon Pegg and Doug Jung’s script in hand, he does give the series a lighter and more fun touch than the more dour Star Trek Into Darkness. The film also feels the most like a Star Trek episode which works for and against it, but mostly for. Giving the flick a less epic feel than the previous two, does reduce the spectacle aspect of the proceedings and the action is more close quarters fisticuffs than battling starships until the last act confrontation at a gigantic space station. Massive sets are replaced by alien landscapes and caves, but much like the 60s series and even the Next Generation series, these are settings our characters often found themselves in. This does give way to some really nice character interaction, as the FX take a back seat, with new character, alien refugee Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) fitting in nicely when paired with members of the prime crew. In true Star Trek tradition, the first two thirds of the film follow along as the crew does what they do best, use their wits to figure out how to survive and save the day. Then we get some of the spectacle we’ve come to expect from this reboot series, in the finale. In comparison, not quite the action packed popcorn flick the first Abrams Trek was, yet also doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as Into Darkness, which is refreshing. There are some really nice Trek moments, too, including a nice tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime and a shot quietly celebrating the original Trek crew for this year’s 50th anniversary, that will surely moisten the eye of even the hardest-hearted Trekkie. The film also earns extra points for dedicating the film to both Nimoy and Anton “Chekov” Yelchin, who was tragically killed just a few weeks ago. A real touch of class…which is what Star Trek was always all about. On a production level the film looks great, Lin has a good visual eye and the FX are spectacular, especially during the cranked-up and fun finale.

The cast once again bring these classic characters to life, but not without their own individual touches and the script from Simon “Scotty” Pegg and Doug Jung does it’s best to give each character healthy interaction and scenes for them to shine. It was nice to see Anton Yelchin get a generous amount of screen time with what is sadly his last performance as Pavel Chekov and Pine, Quinto, Urban, Saldana, Cho and Pegg all have their classic character interpretations locked in. As for the newcomers, Sofia Boutella is feisty and energetic as Jaylah, a survivor of Krall’s villainy whose “home” plays an integral part in our heroes’ plans to defeat the despotic bad guy. As Krall, we have a strong villain in Idris Elba, though we could have used some more time getting to know him a little better as his motivation aren’t really clear till the last act reveal…a reveal sadly seen coming almost from the beginning. If the script has a big flaw, it’s in failing to keep it’s big surprise from being obvious early in the second act.

Overall, this was a fun movie. Though in some ways the weakest of the three, due to Lin simply not being as strong a director as Abrams, especially on the last two films. He moves things fast enough but sometimes a bit more dramatic intensity was called for. Still, it is lighter and more fun than the last installment, though it being the most Star Trek of the three, might also alien-ate (had too) some of the non-Trek crowd that supported the last two flicks. For Trek fans it’s more like an episode than a movie and the most nostalgic because of that, especially when you add some really nice touches harkening back to it’s TV forefathers. Not a great flick, but a fun installment that earns extra points for it’s loving tributes to a legendary actor and his character, not to mention, a young talent taken from us far too soon…and if Star Trek is about anything, it’s about heart…and this film has plenty of that.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 starships.

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REVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

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GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

I’d never even heard of Guardians Of The Galaxy till Marvel announced a film version of the comic. So, I went into this flick blind though, I am a big fan of director James Gunn’s Slither and was familiar with his devious and sarcastic sense of humor. And while I do feel some familiarity with the comic would help a little going in, I had a blast of a good time nonetheless.

The film opens with a young boy, Peter Quill being abducted from Earth by a space ship and then fast forwards 26 years later with Quill (Chris Pratt) now a renown thief who calls himself Star Lord and runs with a group of space pirates know as the Ravagers. He steals a mysterious orb which is also on the wanted list of a vicious Kree usurper called Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) and when he tries to sell it without involving the Ravager’s leader Yondru (Michael Rooker), he also earns a price on his head. And when he collides with Ronan’s assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and bounty hunters Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) and the plant-like Groot (Vin Diesel) all four land in jail. It is there they bond over common issues and enemies and hook up with their eventual 5th member Drax (WWE Superstar Dave Bautista) and the Guardians Of The Galaxy are born! Now they must escape from prison and somehow keep the orb out of Ronan’s hands as he seeks to use it’s powerful contents to lay waste to anyone who stands in his way, including the Nova Corp home world of Xandar and even the powerful Thanos (Josh Brolin) himself.

Yea, Guardians is a little plot heavy but, makes it work in just over two hours. One of the few flaws I had with it was, that the plot is a little complex in terms of characters, which there are a lot of, and backstory, which is kinda rushed through in quick exposition sequences. The first half hour is a bit clunky as we have five main characters and two or three villains to introduce us to and the flick tries to get this origin stuff out of the way as quick as possible to get the story moving. And this first segment is a bit too fast paced for it’s own good. But, once the heroes bond inside the Nova Corp prison and form a misfit group with a mission, the flick accelerates into a incredibly fun, and hysterically funny at times, sci-fi adventure that is one of this Summer’s best movies and one of the most outright entertaining movies Marvel has put out since The Avengers. Director and co-writer, with Nicole Perlman, James Gunn has shown us his audacious, mischievous and deviously sarcastic sense of humor in his previous films and here he delivers some really funny lines and scenes that test the boundaries of Marvel’s PG-13 movie universe while not disrupting the dazzling and action packed space opera going on around it. He keeps the film moving like a rocket, though a little too fast at first as said, and there are some truly dazzling action and battle scenes throughout. And the best thing of all, is the film also has some nice emotional resonance to go along with the one-liners and space battles and the film has a huge heart to go along with all the CGI wizardry. The characters fast become very endearing and the villains are strong and help add weight to the story. There are dozens of bizarre and unique characters that populate Gunn’s vision of the Guardian universe and the production design reminded me of the classic Heavy Metal comics when it was in it’s glory with artists like Moebius. I really loved the look of the film and the FX were flawless and amazing. Top that off with another strong score by Tyler Bates supported with a great assortment of classic tunes and you have a real blast of a movie with a refreshingly mischievous and rebellious edge to add contrast to the other Marvel films in this ongoing series.

There is a large cast and all of them do good work at bringing their colorful and offbeat characters to life. Pratt makes a strong ‘bad boy’ hero and is a nice addition to Marvel’s canon and is nicely flawed reminding one of a less genius and far less polished Tony Stark. Saldana is a strong and passionate Gamora and has a nice chemistry with Pratt and the others. Bradley Cooper steals the show as the voice of Rocket Raccon and he has some of the film’s best lines and delivers them with some deft comic timing. Diesel’s Groot has only one line the tree creature can utter and gets the point across and adds a little different tone and inference to that line each time he says it. Rounding out our heroes is a surprisingly very funny Dave Bautista. The WWE Superstar gives some hilariously dry line readings as well as creates a very noble and imposing warrior in Drax. He shows much more range then some of his other roles. As for the rest, Pace makes a very threatening villain in Ronan, Karen Gillan made a strong villainess in his assassin assistant Nebula and Rooker is top notch, as always, as the out for himself Yondu. Add to that, eccentric character appearances by Benicio del Toro, John C. Reilly and Glen Close and you have a deep cast that really make the offbeat characters come vividly to life whether it is a large role or little more then a cameo… and let’s not forget Josh Brolin giving a lot of weight to Thanos, who is to play a far larger role in future Marvel films.

To finish up, I had a blast with one of the most audaciously fun and uniquely toned and designed space operas in some time. It’s a refreshingly different entry in the Marvel film series but, somehow fits right in. It starts off a little awkwardly with a lot of backstory and characters to establish but, ones it gets going it’s a roller coaster ride of sci-fi action and fun, that isn’t afraid to test the boundaries of Marvels family friendly movies. A real blast and probably the most fun I’ve had in a movie since The Avengersand not to mention a dynamite soundtrack of classic tunes that are perfectly used and placed throughout. Highly recommended!

… and, obviously stay through the credits!

3 and 1/2 Gamoras.

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REVIEW: OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013)

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OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013)

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.

3 and 1/2 bulletts.

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