Here’s one of the many reasons why the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman will be so sorely missed: his mere presence prompted other actors/actresses to up their game. Case in point here in A Most Wanted Man: the couldn’t be lovelier but normally vapid Rachel McAdams, shaky German accent and all, manages to actually make you feel for her troubled lawyer accused of being a social worker for terrorists. What’s even more amazing is that in an adaptation of John Le Carre novel you actually feel anything for anyone! With the emotional powder keg of The Constant Gardner being the exception to the rule, Le Carre’s spy procedurals are normally colder than an interrogation room metal tabletop. Yet Anton Corbijn wisely allows his A-list cast to tap into the quiet, bubbling under the surface, heartbreak of this post 9/11 spy-eat-spy world.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is Gunther Backmann, a world-weary German intelligence station chief in Hamburg who was burned by the CIA at his last post in Beirut where assets were betrayed and lives lost. He’s quietly been toiling away, utilizing McAdam’s liberal lawyer to reel in his minnow, a Chechen Muslim who entered Germany under cloak and dagger, that he hopes to dangle in front his barracuda, a renowned Islamic political activist and spiritual leader thought to be secretly funding a shipping company with terrorist ties. He tries to keep the CIA, represented by a professionally flirtatious Robin Wright, at bay, while aided by his right-hand woman played with subtle skill by the fantastic Nina Hoss. Willem Dafoe, meanwhile, plays a banker used as a pawn to channel the alleged funds that were left behind in secret by the Chechen’s recently deceased Russian crime lord father. Continue reading →
I could’ve done without the “the” in Terrence Malick’s latest cinematic symphony To the Wonder.
…that is what Malick’s life as an artist has been all about. To wonder…what it’s like to kill for the heck of it (Badlands)…to love when life is like a shaft of wheat blowing in the wind (Days of Heaven)….to wonder what it’s like to kill someone and mean it, to live
and love in war (The Thin Red Line)…to wonder what it was like to discover a new land, a new love, a new way of life (The New World)…to wonder about the beginning and end of time and the loss of a loved one (The Tree of Life).
In present day Paris, a hack Hollywood screenwriter named Gil (Owen Wilson) finds himself on an extended vacation with his spoiled dolt of a fiancé (Rachel McAdams) and her hateful parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy – both spot on). Gil hopes to uncover some literary inspiration in the City of Lights so he can finally finish that novel he’s been working on. Soon he finds himself on the streets at midnight and transported back to his favorite time-period – the 1920’s. There he discovers himself in the midst of artistic geniuses and idols such as Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, the Fitzgeralds and Pablo Picasso. While putting up with the inanity of his stifling present situation during the day, his dreams are fueled at night by his time-tripping walks where Gertrude Stein gives him manuscript critiques and he falls in love with one of Picasso’s mistresses, Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris follows the trend of his latter-day persona where a change in venue invigorates his imagination. Continue reading →
A gruff old-school reporter (Russell Crowe playing his A-game) becomes personally entangled in a breaking news story surrounding his old college buddy turned congressman (Ben Affleck, not as bad as you would think) and a young female aid who died under mysterious circumstances in the surprisingly plausible political thriller State of Play from director Kevin MacDonald who was previously responsible for The Last King of Scotland. Though designed as a throw-back to paranoid investigative thrillers from the 1970′s, relevance is gained when the massive cover-up revealed becomes a vehicle for the filmmakers to explore the death of print news at the hand of digital mediums.
The twisty and engaging screenplay is credited to three scribes: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray. But it’s Gilroy’s fingerprints that shape the story with all the overlapping dialogue and conspiracy talk that will remind many of his Michael Clayton. Adapted from a sprawling BBC miniseries created by Paul Abbott, the trio is especially deft in their condensing of the story into a fully digestible two hours. Even as new characters and twists keep coming, the audience is never left out in the cold. They also give the cast plenty to chew on with some great throw-away lines amidst all the posturing between the cops, reporters, politicians and sleaze-bags.
Though it’s Crowe and Helen Mirren as his sparring and quick-witted boss who shine the most, this is essentially an ensemble piece, and it’s especially clever when Jason Bateman arrives on screen for a few pivotal scenes as a smug public relations guru who’s too dumb to realize he knows too much. The cast also includes Robin Wright Penn as Affleck’s wife, Jeff Daniels as the arrogant majority whip and Harry Lennix, who as a D.C. detective makes a compelling case here for the lead role in the Barack Obama Story. The only miscalculation in the casting is poor Rachel McAdams, lovely but annoying in her high-pitch as Crowe’s blogging tag-along looking to kick it old-school and get something in print.
By the third act State of Play overplays its hand in its attempts to be timely with too much talk of the privatization of the military, Capitol Hill sex scandals and traditional newspapers losing out in the digital age to bloggers more concerned with gossip than real journalism. It could’ve also been more subtle in its preaching about the importance of serious investigative reporting. It should be commended, however, for an otherwise smart screenplay that doesn’t spell out all its twists and turns too early and the well polished cast who give the film a slick sheen. Even though it might be reporting on yesterday’s news, State of Play still makes for solid rainy day entertainment and is worthy of blogging about.