Films viewed in 2011

Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

470. To Live and Die in L.A.

In Crime on February 2, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Dir. William Friedkin

A fearless Secret Service agent will stop at nothing to bring down the counterfeiter who killed his partner.

MY TAKE

Director William Friedkin will live and die as the director of The Exorcist and The French Connection, but he has at least one big contender fighting for retrospective respect. To Live and Die in L.A. is a neo-noire that understands action and crimes in ways most films only pay superficial attention. From the detailed counterfeiting scenes with William Dafoe to the fantastic freeway car chase with William Petersen, there’s a lot to love here. What likely put people off was the nihilistic tone and anti-climactic violence, but that’s also what makes the film less disposable than competing big action films of the 80s. The ending is also a make-or-break moment for audiences, but I felt invigorated.

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465. Manhunter

In Crime on January 31, 2012 at 12:43 PM

Dir. Michael Mann

An FBI specialist tracks a serial killer who appears to select his victims at random.

MY TAKE

Before Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecktor got his big screen debut in Michael Mann’s sometimes unbearably 80s crime thriller Manhunter. Once you get past the florescent opening titles and soundtrack, however, the film delivers some deliciously good mysteries, navigated by a hard-boiled William Petersen.  Brian Cox takes a stab at the role that would later be immortalized by Anthony Hopkins, but his few scenes are only to supplement the hunt for Tom Noonan as the Tooth Fairy, who brings all the creepiness the films needs.  More valuable to completionists of the Hannibal series than fans of the genre, Manhunter still manages to surprise and entertain, just not always for the reasons intended.

461. Shallow Grave

In Crime on January 30, 2012 at 11:14 AM

Dir. Danny Boyle

Three friends discover their new flatmate dead but loaded with cash.

MY TAKE

Oh, Danny Boyle, Danny Boyle, you’ll get knocked down, but you’ll get up again, and it all starts with Shallow Grave. This edgy black comedy deservingly shot the director to international attention, even if the premise may no longer be as shocking as it probably once was. That doesn’t diminish the returns, however, to a smart and slick film that seduces us with great chemistry and light laughs before propelling us into a world of greed and darkness. Equally notable for launching the career of Ewan McGregor, this is a notable first film that’s worth digging up.

460. Hard Eight

In Crime on January 30, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

A veteran gambler teaches a stranger the tricks of the trade to try and turn his luck around.

MY TAKE

Before fully hitting his auteurish groove in Boogie Nights, writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson took a calculated gamble in the crime drama Hard Eight (originally titled Sydney). John C. Reilly, as always, is a convincing down-and-out figure who gets mentored into the world of scamming casinos by a mysterious but personable Philip Baker Hall. The early dialogue-heavy scenes are particularly strong, when we’re introduced to the rules of the game but still aren’t fully aware of the stakes involved. Gwenyth Paltrow is also good, and balances her eventual breakdown well in the climactic motel sequence that takes the brave final step of following logical choices instead of pursuing dramatic conveniences.

448. J Edgar

In Crime on January 25, 2012 at 9:03 AM

Dir. Clint Eastwood

A look behind close doors at J. Edgar Hoover – a man who was at once feared, admired, reviled and reveredthe as face of law enforcement in America.

MY TAKE

The same problem that is the central plot of Clint Eastwood’s biopic J Edgar is also the film’s biggest issue – namely, how do you sum up the legacy of a storied 50-year career? Without any convenient myth-making anecdote to tie a bow on his legend, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black tries to turn the question into the answer. The tangential implications of homosexuality and cross-dressing, however, feel downplayed and unsubstantial. At least when it comes to aging, Leonard DiCaprio does an admirable transformation, but Armie Hammer’s make-up feels completely false.

 

444. Bonnie and Clyde

In Crime on January 20, 2012 at 10:25 AM

Dir. Arthur Penn

A somewhat romanticized account of the career of the notoriously violent bank robbing couple and their gang.

MY TAKE

The movie that shook Hollywood out of its self-imposed censorship slumber still holds up today as an exciting and entertaining biography. Remembered primarily for it’s ruthlessly bloody final scene, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde is anything but an exploitation film and earns the emotion that it violently arouses by sending the two fated lovers to their infamous end. Faye Dunaway has looks that could kill in every frame, while Warren Beatty brings an almost “ah-schucks” approach the action that feels appropriately naïve and insecure. Both do a bang-up job that somehow gets away clean at being pretty wicked people.

424. The Conspirator

In Crime on January 4, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Dir. Robert Redford

A woman must rely on her reluctant lawyer to acquit her as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln.

MY TAKE

A formidable cast anchor Robert Redford’s lovingly crafted period picture about the assassination trial of President Abraham Lincoln. The vengeful tactic of even prosecuting a mother of the accused is portrayed as cruel and harsh, but one can’t help but think the same approach would still be possible today, somewhere on Guantanamo Bay. The story then becomes both historically important and still culturally relevant. Like most courtroom dramas, the bulk of the on-screen action is front-loaded, while the resolution unfolds within the confined spaces.  The ending, however, breaks open with some expansive shots and a memorable conclusion.

 

419. The Pledge

In Crime on December 21, 2011 at 9:25 AM

Dir. Sean Penn

A retiring police chief pledges to catch the killer of a young child.

MY TAKE

Throwing a detective into a tough case on the eve of his retirement has been the premise for many films. What makes director Sean Penn’s film The Pledge different is how well Jack Nicholson embodies the struggle trying to solve a final murder, and more importantly his personal unraveling as the clues don’t add up to an obvious conclusion. The first scene foreshadows how bad things will get, which hits the bullseye of giving the audience what they want but not the protagonist what he needs. Supporting performances by Patricia Clarkson, Benicio Del Toro and Robin Wright Penn also anchor the films appeal for adult audiences who care about seeing good people try and do the right thing.

 

371. Out of Sight

In Crime on November 4, 2011 at 10:35 AM

Dir. Steven Soderberg

A career bank robber breaks out of jail and shares a moment of mutual attraction with a US Marshall he has kidnapped.

MY TAKE

Jennifer Lopez has never looked better than she does in Steven Soderberg’s sexy crime thriller Out of Sight. Playing opposite George Clooney in almost everyway, the two manage some perfect screen chemistry in every scene they appear together. The non-chronological sequencing of the film (which was apparently and afterthought) also gives just the right rhythm to a story that spans a few years and circles back on itself. A strong cast of supporting characters in Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Steven Zahn and others all bring memorable flavour to the tale, and help shape the unlikely romance into a funny and slick looking feature.

370. Thief

In Crime on November 4, 2011 at 9:59 AM

Dir. Michael Mann

Before retiring, a professional safecracker agrees to do a job for the mafia, who have other plans for him.

MY TAKE

Thief is one of Michael Mann’s earliest films and the blueprint for what would become his signature style and themes over the next three decades. Near perfect nighttime exteriors bring just the right mood to whole piece, including James Caan’s slick but provokable performance. The synthesized soundtrack probably felt a lot more edgy 30 years ago, where today it seems laboured and dated. The “last job” storyline has also been done to death over the years (and probably even before this film), but there’s something about Mann’s treatment that makes it feel authentic and fresh. As a result, the film holds-up well and survives as a well-off crime drama.