A drug addled corrupt cop, soldiers who have to notify next of kin of a loved one's death, and a post apocalyptic world traveled by a father and son. Tis the season for prestige films and that does not necessarily mean songs, yucks and romance.
I've ventured to three films these past five days looking for a movie that will bowl me over. I was so bowled over once and impressed twice. Not bad and to some degree a measure of how selective I am about what I'll plunk down cold hard cash to see outside the comfort of my own home. Happily I only once had to deal with a large crowd -- what did I expect the day after Thanksgiving? -- and sadly that mob included a few chatterboxes and one person who kept rifling though a plastic bag. Otherwise my fellow patrons were on good behavior. Bless you.
I sat through many of the same trailers and all the same adverts. I also maintained my streak that now goes back many years, of not spending a dime on movie theater garbage -- I mean food. If they ever offer their fare at reasonable prices and upgrade their selections to include something healthy, I may reconsider this policy.
Here's what I saw.
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Which would make a more interesting main character for a film? 1) A law abiding accountant who regularly performs charitable tasks; or 2) a corrupt cop who's addicted to heroin and has a hooker as a girlfriend? If you said the former you're...Well, I'm not sure what, but you've certainly not seen a lot of films. Nicholas Cage stars as a chap as described in the second film scenario. Werner Herzog directed and both did a splendid job. Cage plays a very bad man indeed and you'll find yourself wondering how low he can go. Will he hit bottom? It's bound to be a deep one and cause a mighty crash. Or will he survive the film? Perhaps settle down with his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes)? There is a crime at the center of Bad Lieutenant but the film is much more of a character study. Seriously, who needs a plot when you've got a degenerate junkie cop as the lead? For all that, this is a more accessible film than the original Bad Lieutenant which starred Harvey Kietal and was about as hopeful and merry as a urinary tract infection.
The Messenger. My daughters used to watch this silly kid's sitcom from Canada called Flash Forward. One of the co stars was a geeky teen named Ben Foster. He's no geeky teen anymore. In fact, he's an actor who gave one of the best performances you'll see this year, if not the best. He plays a Iraq war hero back in the states to finish the last few months of his stint in the army. He's assigned to arguably the worst possible home front detail, delivering the bad news to families that their son, daughter, or spouse has died. He is under the tutelage of a sergeant played by Woody Harrleson who gives a similarly brilliant performance. Doesn't exactly sound like the makings of an entertaining film. Didn't to me but I trusted the legions of critics who sang the film's praises. Those critics were spot on. I should, at this point, trot out the world "powerful," to describe The Messenger. Sounds right. But frankly I wouldn't know what the hell I meant any more than if I tried this one: "moving." So let's scrap the cornball adjectives. The utterly gut wrenching scenes of family's being notified are endurable because they seem so real and such an integral part of what war is and does. But more than that they are a thread that runs through this story that is about much more. The relationship of two men and how they deal with their own experiences as soldier's and as guys trying to make sense of life. Samantha Morton plays a widow and her relationship with Foster is both touching and surprising. There are no cliches in this extraordinary film.
The Road. Listen everyone, I'm going to save some of you a lot of time and bother. If you've read and loved a book that is subsequently made into a motion picture don't not go to see that film if you cannot stand the idea of one iota of said book being altered. And if you do go see the movie, spare us your complaints about the it deviating from the book. Films are under no obligation to reproduce books exactly. In fact, they couldn't do it if they tried. I was one of the many, many people who read and loved Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, upon which this movie was based. (Please note the use of the word BASED.) Today I saw the movie and enjoyed far more than those who whine about how it "doesn't live up to the book." Two different forms of art. A painting based on song is not going to be the same either. The story is about a father and son trying to head south and to the sea, navigating a post apocalyptic landscape in which animals are dead, powerful earthquakes occur daily, nothing grows and cannibalism is rampant. Sounds like fun. The point the boy constantly needs re-assurance on is: are we good guys? Dad insists they are. They would never, under any circumstances, resort to eating their fellow man. It is a basic question too few of us ask ourselves, least of all those in positions of power. Are we doing "good" or "bad" for the others and our world and is there any ambiguity about it. There is in the case of the father, as film goers will see. Ain't nobody perfect. The film will, inevitably draw usually unfavorable comparisons to the Pulitzer prize winning novel. That's a shame because it's an important work in its own right and deserves a wide audience.