Breck Eisner’s “The Crazies” strains for any real value, taking an original George Romero premise and updating it into that washed out, flickering light bulb-lit aesthetic that has come into prominence with the Michael Bay updates of 70’s horror classics. All of this to say that “The Crazies” isn’t terrible, it just never delineates itself from the rest of the pack. Every scare is telegraphed with crushing music and I never cared for any of the characters… or at least as much as anyone can really care for people in a horror film.
The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski’s quiet thriller is a subtle thing of beauty. As the lead character, Ewan McGregor is yet another cipher for mystery, adding him to a string of protagonists like Jake Gittes and Dean Corso (Depp in “The Ninth gate”) serviced to walk through a series of deeply shattering lies and deception. This time it’s ratcheted up to a political level as McGregor is assigned to write the memoirs of an ex British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) and becomes enveloped in international intrigue. Pregnant with allegory- such as Brosnan leaning against his office window as if the whole world is between his arms- and filled with the precise point of view shots that parcel out hidden meaning, “The Ghost Writer” is a tour de force. It also features what is probably the first use of a GPS machine’s previous destinations function to put some pieces of the puzzle in place. One of the year’s very best.
Jacques Audiard’s epic prison crime film deserves the lauds. Starring Tahar Rahim as Malik, “A Prophet” charts his ascension from lowly prison inmate to eventual drug kingpin with brutal exactitude. Each step in this progression is shown in increments, giving us a fully realized (and at times mystical) journey.
The stomach and head can only take so much of Paul Greengrass’ seemingly now trademark approach to filmmaking, but as he did with the Bourne films, the violent shaky-cam approach yields a much stronger purpose. As a military officer in the early days of the Iraq War, Matt Damon is reliable as the lone voice in the prevailing winds of war. Working from a script by Brian Helgeland, Greengrass obviously loves revisionist history and he spins a compelling fictional tale out of reality and (now) reported knowledge on some of the possibly false pretenses that led us to war in Iraq. And if anything, as Greengrass demonstrated in “Bloody Sunday” and “United 93”, he understands how to stretch a live-wire act across 100 plus minutes, managing to heighten the tension and claustrophobia with each act. Snippets of dialogue and split second images, at first, seem to be lost in a chaotic montage of whirling helicopter background noise and gunfire, but Greengrass’ roving, herky-jerky camera provides just the right amount of context for the viewer to understand the logistics of the action. “Green Zone” is not the ‘rah-rah’ vehicle that most audiences seem to think it is, and that’s a good thing. It’s ideas are smarter and its cavalcade of characters (namely Brendan Gleeson as an imbedded spook who allies himself with Damon) avoid easy party line identification. It’s also one of the strongest modern films to explicitly explain the heated quagmire that would eventually absorb that country.
For a few years now, British director Christopher Smith’s straight to video mini-triumphs have been on my radar. Straying down some very dark avenues of horror with his subterranean monster film “Creep”, he burst onto the scene with atmospheric chops. Office politics got a very tongue in cheek (and gory) once over in “Severance”. His latest film, “Triangle” is a mind-bending thriller that evokes some pretty spacey ideas and it rates as his most mature and entertaining film to date. Without going into detail (since the film‘s most bracing attribute is its element of surprise) a group of friends are shipwrecked and then rescued by a ghost ship where some really strange things begin to happen. Space and time are played with and “Triangle” continually forces the viewer to re-assess everything he/she has just witnessed as the film rolls along. Ambitious and unnerving, “Triangle”, at times, feels like an Alain Resnais film updated with modern tinges of gore. It’s that good. It may not be the most original premise, but Smith’s camera placement and sense of detail within a narrative that shifts and folds in on itself over and over is exciting. See this one.