The Heart of the Matter in Beirut

There’s a great scene in Brad Anderson’s latest film, Beirut, where a former party-diplomat turned washed-up labor contract negotiator Mason Skiles (a frazzled-yet-still-dapper-perfect Jon Hamm) settles into his Beirut highrise hotel after returning to the city for the first time in a decade and after finding it a hostile, gunshots-outside-of-the-airport-and-checkpoint-riddled mess, pours himself a drink and walks to the window to take in the bitter, shattered view of a stooping, bombed-out skyline.  Anderson’s camera then shifts POV’s to that of the bombed out skyline as it pans out and we see Mason staring out his window, the hotel itself one of those battered buildings, a shell-hole and tentacled crack blighting its side just a few windows away from Mason’s own.

You can imagine a late-era Graham Greene having written the scene, but it’s Tony Gilroy who penned the screenplay instead.  Gilroy adroitly uses the civil war-torn era Beirut of the 70’s and early 80’s the same way Greene used WWII blitzkrieg era London (in The End of the Affair) and post-WWII era Vienna (in The Third Man).  It’s a cluster **** of diplomatic nightmares, crumbling buildings, intrigue and perils (of both the heart and the body).  Continue reading

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Boardwalk Empire: Battle of the Century

You really thought you were gonna mess with me? In my butcher shop? In Philly?

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide 

Boardwalk Empire – Battle of the Century

Season Two: Episode Nine

Directed by:  Brad Anderson

Written by:  Steve Kornacki

The Spin:  The helmer of last season’s finest hour (Belle Femme: Episode 1.9) returns to direct just a week following possibly the series’ finest hour thus far (Two Boats and a Lifeguard: Episode 2.8).  Brad Anderson crafts another tight hour full of drama on both sides of the pond.  While Nucky’s away in Ireland looking to score some whiskey for guns, Jimmy ascends to the throne awash in paranoia.  Jimmy gets Waxey Gordon to agree to take out Manny The Butcher of Philly (William Forsythe) leading to the episode’s greatest moment (hint: it involves a meat cleaver).  Meanwhile, things more momentous are transmitted subtly and with great care – witness the take out of a certain elder Irish statesman at the last-minute so Nucky’s deal can be secured.  This underhanded deal leaves Nucky with a bad taste in his mouth because Slater might be keeping secrets and all sons might like to kill their fathers.  Meanwhile, on the home front… Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Belle Femme

Tres belle.

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide 

Boardwalk EmpireBelle Femme

Season One: Episode Nine

Directed by:  Brad Anderson

Written by:  Steve Kornacki and Terence Winter (series creator) from the novel by Nelson Johnson

The SpinTranssiberian and The Machinist helmer Brad Anderson directs this taut episode with great restraint and the best pacing since Scorsese’s pilot.   Fresh from Chicago, Jimmy tries to reestablish his family life much to his little lady’s dismay.  When he tries to pull a number on Lucky Luciano with Momma’s help, that crafty Van Alden spoils the party by bringing him in on murder charges for the Hamilton Massacre.  But what Van Alden doesn’t realize is that his number two is in cahoots with Nucky, and he does his own number on their star witness against Jimmy.  Meanwhile, as Nucky sets his sights on fixing the local elections, Margaret does her own bit of politicking.  All of this leads up to a shocking denouement on the boardwalk, brilliantly pulled-off by Anderson’s slow-build.  This pretty lady of an episode was an absolute knock-out. Continue reading

A Review of Brad Anderson’s “Transsiberian”

Character Driven Train Ride from Hell, 1 September 2008
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher

Brad Anderson is probably the best unknown director working today. He’s the independent Christopher Nolan, often making character-driven, psychologically complex flicks that transcend the trappings of their respective genres. In the past he has successfully combined elements from time-travel thrillers and romantic comedies in 2000’s Happy Accidents, delivered a taut Shining-esque thriller in 2001’s Session 9, and then provided a stirring Hitchcock homage with 2004’s The Machinist, which also featured a gonzo performance from Christian Bale.  With Transsiberian Anderson attempts to breath life back into the often forgotten train-based thriller. Like those three earlier films, Transsiberian was made on the cheap, yet still manages to feature great camera-work and well known faces headlining the cast. In terms of the logistics of the location shooting in Lithuania (doubling as Siberia), this arrives as Anderson’s most accomplished film from a technical standpoint.

The story starts off with an American couple (a goofy Woody Harrelson and a criminally underrated Emily Mortimer) returning from missionary work in China by route of the famous Transsiberian railroad. Once on board the train, they befriend a young couple (Kate Mara and Eduardo Noriega) who claim to be student-teachers returning from Japan but might be hiding something sinister. The screenplay does a good job of building up to “something” and developing the characters, especially Mortimer’s Jessie, delving into her past with expository dialog that makes you care about where these characters are headed and think deeply about their motives. Without giving away too much of the film, entanglements ensue as a drug smuggling operation comes to light, and in steps Ben Kingsley (excellent as a Russian bruiser) as a narcotics detective with a special interest in the case.

There is a point, however, where (pardon the pun) the screenplay derails, and despite some unexpected twists, there never seems to be that big payoff. The film keeps the viewer on their toes with a bizarre turn of events at an abandoned church and a shockingly grim torture scene, but the psychological ramifications of these events are never probed as deeply as they could’ve been. The seductively cute Mortimer gives a nervy, complex, and excellent performance as Jessie, keeping the viewer invested in her character and what could happen to her even as the screenplay goes all over the map with her development. Woody Harrelson’s performance is more of a conundrum as he seems to be playing a book-smart version of his moronic character from Cheers. He makes you laugh during some of the more ridiculous scenes as the plot holes get deeper, and whether that was intentional or not to break the tension or gloss over the leaps of logic is never clear.

Transsiberian should please those looking for something different from your run-of-the-mill Hollywood thriller. Though the screenplay initially gives us characters that feel like real people, the mechanics of the convoluted plot spoil the potential of that development. However, the film still offers up an exotic locale, solid direction, and interesting performances, which makes it easy to recommend.