I haven’t seen many movies since my last roundup post here, but I did catch a few. Here are the details. The overall results are good, with one misfire starring George Clooney.
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
The lineup here is a good one, so the viewer has high expectations going in. It’s hard to complain about anything Ethan Hawke does on-screen; he has that great combination of innocent sincerity and righteous outrage that make his roles always a pleasure to watch. Director Amenábar is no spring chicken either, and when we throw in Emily Watson, we know we have a first-class lineup. The plot: in Minnesota in the early 1990s, a policeman (Ethan Hawke) investigates the alleged sexual abuse of a young girl.
The suspect claims not to remember anything, but after consistent prodding, he eventually implicates others as parties to the crime. Additional layers of complexity are eventually revealed. Soon it begins to look like some kind of Satanic cult is responsible for overseeing the entire crime…or is it? Hawke’s journey from doubt to certainty and back to doubt again mirrors the audience’s reaction to the twists of this tale. And it all rings true. If the director’s point is to show the effects of mass delusion and group hysteria on impressionable minds, he has very much succeeded here. This gives Regression the kind of contemporary relevance that we ignore at our own peril.
Walk The Line (2005)
Director: James Mangold
I should have seen this back in 2005 when it came out, but it was only recently that I was introduced to Johnny Cash’s music. Better late than never, as the saying goes. This is a great biographical picture, capturing perfectly the life rhythms of The Man In Black in all their troubled complexity: the early traumas, the rise to greatness, the self-destructive impulses, and the redemptive relationship with June Carter are all displayed with just the right blend of sensitivity and detachment.
Director Mangold wisely decides not to bite off more than he can chew here: he limits his story to the early life and career of his subject, and closes his narrative in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Every scene has a purpose, and nothing feels gratuitous or forced. Biopics of celebrities sometimes can degenerate into dreary scenes of over-the-top violence and drug abuse, but we get none of that here. For those who know nothing about Johnny Cash’s music and its themes–redemption, suffering, lost love, and rebellion–this is a great place to begin.
Mangold has respect for his audience’s intelligence, and it shows. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon both shine in their portrayals, never hitting a false note throughout the two hours of screen time. If you ever need a reminder of just how good an actor Joaquin Phoenix is, see this movie, along with the unclassifiable I’m Still Here.
Money Monster (2016)
Director: Jodie Foster
As I was watching this, all I could think of was that main actor George Clooney must have been doing Jodie Foster a favor by appearing in this puerile, derivative cliché of a film. This is a major misfire for Clooney, an actor I admire very much and who remains one of the few old-school leading men in Hollywood.
The plot: an angry working-class stiff (played irritatingly by Jack O’Connell) takes a cable-TV financial show host hostage because he lost a lot of money in a bad investment. He waves a gun and an explosive vest around and threatens to kill people unless he gets “answers” as to why the financial system is so rigged. Around this bare bones of a plot, director Jodie Foster piles the requisite measure of ham-fisted moralizing and crocodile tears to give the audience to the impression of deeper meaning. The problem is, there isn’t any. We’ve seen this “angry-guy-takes-someone-hostage-to-make-social-justice-points” plot over and over, and this movie gives us nothing new.
Clooney’s character comes across as an annoying prick in the mold of financial personality Jim Cramer; Julia Roberts does nothing special in her supporting role; and the message here is one everyone already knows. After a while, we actually start to hope that the hostage-taker will put us all out of our misery.