Thursday, September 11, 2008

Recently Seen

Tell No One

"Tell No One", directed by Guillaume Canet and based on a novel by American writer Harlan Coben, has lingered in the art house just long enough for me to catch it. I think the strong buzz has bounced around most of the city as my early afternoon screening was almost sold out. Nice to see a French thriller getting that much recognition. And it deserves it. Alexander (Francios Cluzet) is a mild mannered pediatrician who loses his wife in an abduction that takes place on their family owned lake. Eight years later, he begins to receive e-mails from someone claiming to be his wife, which leads him down a compelling path to find out the truth about his wife's past. "Tell No One" should go down as an iconic modern French thriller. It's superbly paced, intricately plotted (so much so that you've got to pay attention early or very small details may pass you by and leave you in the dark when the conclusion rolls around) and exciting as hell. There are two scenes here- a rush to an Internet cafe tuned to a song by U2 and a chase across a busy French beltway- that are some of the most exciting moments I've seen on screen all year. This is the type of film where the lone image of a computer screen trying to connect to its server makes one hold their breath- it's that flawlessly executed. See this one if you can. One of my favs of the year so far.

"It's A Free World..."

In "It's a Free World...", kitchen-sink auteur Ken Loach has given the starring role to the exploiter instead of the exploited this time. Newcomer Kierston Wareing gives a superb performance as Angie, the attractive, tough and ambitious woman who gets fired from her job of corralling immigrant workers for labor unions in London. Fed up with the bureaucratic hypocrisies, she decides to start her own (unofficial) immigrant labor ring and comes face to face with the harsh realities of this menacing and shady underworld. As mentioned once, Wareing gives a tremendous performance, carrying the film on her shoulders. At times, Loach has his camera trained on her as if she were starring in a Dardennes brothers feature and she pushes forward with gusto, rarely leaving the scene and commanding every second. Written by long-time collaborator Paul Laverty, "It's A Free World..." continues Loach's study of the downtrodden, yet this time his central character is a few rungs up the social ladder. It doesn't take long before desperation sets in, though, and Angie is struggling against the commercial grind of everyday life, forced to compromise her ambitions with amorality. More of a character study wrapped around a sharply observed milieu, this is yet another steady effort from Loach.


Jeffrey Nachmanoff's "Traitor" posits its world view on a razor sharp balancing act- part "Jason Bourne" like action thriller and part political commentary on the state of terrorism- and it's a shame that both aspects fall flat. It's hard to not wince a little at the anti-hero portrayed by Don Cheadle. Here's an action hero who plants bombs (and sometimes accidentally kills people with them), watches a top ranking agent get shot down, and goes so deep undercover that no one knows whose side he's working on. I'm all for the non-traditional approach (I applauded when John Frankenheimer's "Ronin" actually showed innocent bystanders being mowed down by gunfire as collateral damage!) but with "Traitor", I never bought its nihilistic sense because everything has been cobbled from previous political thrillers. And the finale, while a true downer, is quickly glazed over for a preachy street meeting between Cheadle and a federal agent played by Guy Pearce. For all its supposed anger, "Traitor" can never decide between the nuanced approach and the kind that uses a sledgehammer to accelerate its rah-rah chest beating.

And now it's time to settle in with my full stock of tuna and hot dogs and "hunker down" as we say in Texas while Ike blows over. We're expecting it to be a freaking 1 category hurricane by the time it reaches just south of the Dallas metroplex. No fun for me this weekend, including a cancelled Mogwai show that I had tickets for. Oh well. Here's hoping at least the power stays on....


Fletch said...

I've seen the first and last, and I think I prefer Traitor more, though the two scenes you point out from Tell No One were indeed awesome. Tell No One is well made and acted, but the Scooby Doo ending just absolutely killed any momentum they had built up. It was also about 20 minutes too long.

I didn't love the ending of Traitor, either (I thought it sold out much of what had come earlier), but I guess the strong favor that the cast holds with me cast a spell, and I liked a lot of what it had to say politically.

elgringo said...

Tell No One kicked my ass. Loved it.
Went to the theatre not really knowing much about the movie. I was expecting some sort of run-of-the-mill thriller but the "Vertigo Meets The Fugitive" promotion seemed to hit it on the head.

I'll agree with Fletch about the ending though. That was sort of too bad. But I enjoyed having to sit at home for the next half hour and try to figure everything out. Nothing like a movie that makes your brain work.

By the way, great blog.