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 →
Saul and Carrie – mentor and protege – sane and insane?
In the middle of its first season, I successfully turned key players in my family and several coworkers. Homeland was not a show to watch half-heartedly – you had to commit to the cause. I extolled the series’ virtues in the midst of season one when I presented Five Reasons Why You Should Be Watching Homeland. And people, once introduced to its brilliance, were willing to take up the banners in support. The show recently moved from cult status to mainstream success with its bevy of Emmy wins.
And as spectacular as that first season was, I had this feeling in my gut that this could become another Dexter. Like Homeland, Dexter was near genius in its inaugural season, wholly unlike anything else on television at the time, and shockingly entertaining. Yet I knew then eventually someone would catch Dexter Morgan, the serial killer who killed serial killers while working for the Miami PD as a blood-spatter expert. I mean how many serial killers could there be in one city and how dumb could the Miami PD be, right? And now that show is a parody of itself, ridiculous beyond belief, and limping through another ill-advised season far past its prime. Homeland, too, faces a similar conundrum. How long can Brody (Damian Lewis) keep this up? Won’t he eventually get caught? Won’t Carrie eventually remember “Isa!” or won’t someone in the government or someone in his family catch on that he’s working for terrorist mastermind numero uno, Abu Nazir?
But I forgot a key difference between these two shows. Homeland has balls. Continue reading →
A nameless writer (Ewan McGregor) is hired to finish the autobiography of the shamed former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) after the first man on the job dies under mysterious circumstances in Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ oh-so-timely political thriller. Polanski uses the contemporary thriller to play on his classic theme of a man pretending to be an artist (or is it an artist pretending to be a man?) getting in way too deep and swept up into events much larger than himself.
What a treat it has been for cineastes this bitter February (normally the harshest of months for fans of the art form) as we’ve had new entries from filmdom’s greatest living masters, both putting their own stamp on the Hitchcockian thriller: Martin Scorsese’s bombastic and psychologically disturbing Shutter Island and Roman Polanski’s subtly handled political potboiler, The Ghost Writer. 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.