Denis Villanueva’s “Prisoners” certainly deserves some admiration for spinning a tale that’s as black and brooding as a Hollywood funded film can get. With an all star cast- yet sometimes one can feel the overwrought big acting moments- it’s a film that ponders the twisted morality behind vigilante justice and anchors itself perilously close to the procedural grittiness of “Zodiac”. When two girls go missing in a small Pennsylvania suburb, fathers Hugh Jackman and Terence Howard find themselves out for blood while local detective Jake Gyllenhall has to not only fend off their violent tendencies, but unravel the mystery as well. Like “Mystic River”, ‘Prisoners” is more interested in the volatile dynamics of how grief perpetuates moral sadism in the face of a tragedy than the murders themselves, which becomes increasingly clear when the film stumbles towards its climax of neat resolution and killer unmasking. It’s here where the film falters a bit, undoing some of its brooding momentum, yet “Prisoners” is still a strong film. With cinematography by Roger Deakins that ranks as one of the best looking films of the year, full of low angle shots through doorways and crisp tracking shots, it also features one of the most bracing scenes of the year as cop Gyllenhall races through a rainstorm to reach the local hospital. The mixture of sepia-tinted nighttime shots with a camera that seems to be mounted somewhere up above the car and the quiet interior as his siren flashes blue lights across his blood-stained face add up to a sequence that had me holding my breath.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints
The nostalgic 70’s western noir “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is a derivative effort, but a tremendously well made and well-meaning one. Written and directed by David Lowery (whom I had the pleasure to exchange words with over the years through his now defunct blog), his first full length film is a throwback film of the highest order, evoking everything from “Bonnie and Clyde” to the mumble core movement which he’s been a mainstay in for several years now. Starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, the film opens with their separation after the lovers-on-the-lam are arrested and Affleck is sent to prison. He eventually escapes, and the rest of the film charts his desperate attempts to get back to her. Also circling in her life is local cop Ben Foster, in what is certainly the best performance in the film and probably of his intense career. All low-key and humble, Foster personifies the small town sheriff in touching and accurate ways. And those descriptions could ft the entire film. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is a quiet but revelatory film that dispenses plot in whispers and charged glances. Yet Lowery also understands the language of violence and dread…. both factors that play out in superbly realized and edited sequences. Filmed in and around my own stomping grounds of Central Texas (as well as parts of Louisiana), “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” feels like an authentic Texas film as well, maximizing the droning sounds of cicadas that flourish every sundown here in Texas and creating baroque symmetry out of stark, disheveled wooden barns that one often stumbles across. Yes, I’m completely in love with this film.
Ron Howard’s re-creation of the 1970’s racing feud between hot-shit Formula 1 racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is all fumes and no real spark….. including the character driven moments that give us no appreciation or understanding of the men themselves. “Rush” barrels through its emotional build-up like the racing scenes, which are competently filmed, yet fail to provide any depth behind the atmosphere. For example, Olivia Wilde is given a thankless role as Hunt’s first wife. When they separate, it feels like a narrative plot point checked off. Just a generic effort.
I'm in the middle on Joseph Gordon Levitt's directing debut. At one level, it's refreshing to see a young actor (like James Franco) attempting something adventurous like "Don Jon", a film that is focused in its worldview of a generally unaccepted mainstream subject- watching porn. And for the first half of the film, Levitt does an adept job at utilizing editing to convey the titillating aspects- at least for men. But then, "Don Jon" turns a bit inconsequential. It also follows the now ubiquitous structure of indie filmmaking- establish a shot routine and then continue to follow that thread throughout the whole film... overhead shot of Levitt making his bed, walking up the steps of his church and the lateral pan across the faces of his family. It's effective, but safe.While Levitt does eventually tread into some ambigious territory (featuring a nice, awkward supporting turn by Julianne Moore), the feeling of "safe" hovers over the entire film.