How quickly can things escalate? How much bureaucratic red-tape, coordination with allies and “referring-up” (where the political ramifications are cynically weighed with the moral implications) needs to happen before a decision can be made? What is the human price of preemptive strikes against known terrorists? These are the questions weighing heavily in the razor-sharp new thriller, Eye in the Sky.
Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren), who commands a drone squad surveying Kenya and other spots in the horn of Africa, wakes up one day to find three of the top ten terrorists on the East African most wanted list have gathered in a suburban home in the middle of a militia occupied neighborhood. The original orders from higher up (led by a Alan Rickman in one of his final roles) were to survey and capture (one of the terrorists is a British citizen), but that’s too dangerous with the militiamen around. When a bug-drone confirms they are preparing suicide vests inside, Powell pounds the drums to kill. But when an innocent girl selling bread in the market area outside the house enters the kill zone, things get even more complicated and everyone (and I mean everyone…at one point the British Foreign Minister is rung-up while he’s on the toilet with food poisoning in Singapore) must weigh in before the strike can be executed. Continue reading →
Oscar-winner Helen Mirren is at the point in her career where she is an institution in the world of acting. Actresses occupying this rarefied air (like Streep) generally will pick roles either for fun or to win awards (though they would never admit to that). Whether doing it for fun or for serious posturing, Mirren’s name instantly adds a sense of class and gravitas to any film she stars in. This past Labor Day weekend, movie-goers could see The Helen Mirren in two puzzling films, Brighton Rock and The Debt.
Helen Mirren in BRIGHTON ROCK
Helen Mirren in THE DEBT
***POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD – Read With Caution***
First up is Brighton Rock. Whether you view it as a remake of the 1947 quasi-classic (of which I wasn’t a big fan) or as a different adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic 1937 novel (which I loved and count among his best)…the film has no reason to exist, which isn’t to say it’s all that bad. Director Rowan Joffe lays on the atmosphere thickly, and for the most part the film is engaging enough. The seedy underbelly of England’s seaside resort town of Brighton is brought to life in grand fashion with nice production values, moody lighting and ominous waves crashing underneath the pier, though there is a rather oppressive music score to accompany it. 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.