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R E V I E W S
The Founder (2017)
“The Founder” is mesmerized by its hero, McDonald’s chain founder Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), but horrified by how he built his empire. That kind of ambivalence is great; in fact it’s a hallmark of good drama. But there are too many moments when “The Founder” becomes a business-drama variant of that war film problem identified by Francois Truffaut: it’s hard to make a truly anti-war film because war is inherently cinematic, and when you show it, people get swept up in the action anyway.
The bloodshed in the business drama is (usually) figurative, but the conflict is still thrilling, and so a lot of films about business end up grappling with Truffaut's war movie problem. “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Wall Street,” “Wolf of Wall Street,” “Boiler Room” and the like are filled with the kinds of people you'd cross a room to avoid, yet you hear their lines quoted by businesspeople and b-school students as inspirational texts, probably because it's more fun to identify with the bastard who gets things done than the people who suffer from his actions. Ray Kroc is a local Chamber of Commerce version of Gordon Gekko. Keaton plays him with such laser-beam focus that even when the movie is appalled by Ray's shady maneuvers, it still leans on his every word.
As written by Robert Siegel (“The Wrestler”), directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Rookie”) and acted by Keaton, Kroc at first seems a riff on “Death of a Salesman” hero Willy Loman, or one of the real estate strivers in “Glengarry Glen Ross” who say they can't close deals because the leads are weak. We see him cold-calling restaurant owners and trying to sell them mixers out of the trunk of his car, then returning home to get pep talks from his wife Ethel (Laura Dern). By the end of the tale, he’s become the Charles Foster Kane of hamburgers—a bland megalomaniac surrounded by enablers and worshipers, ruling a corporation that he built by exploiting the optimism and trust of McDonald’s originators Richard and Maurice McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), who were bought out at a too-low price and robbed of future royalties after accepting a handshake agreement that Kroc never honored.
The film’s depiction of the McDonald brothers is devastating, far and away the strongest thing in “The Founder.” Every stop on their road to ruin is flagged and catalogued, from their decision to let Kroc expand into other states to their capitulation to production and profit-making ideas that they fear will turn the restaurant from a profitable but self-contained labor of love into a purveyor of unfrozen beef patties and powdered shakes. The movie does such a good job of showing the brothers’ bond as a relationship founded on can-do spirit that when Kroc enters the picture, lavishing praise on their idea for a “fast food” restaurant with an assembly line service model, you can see why they’d quit resisting his vision of a centralized franchise.
Up until to the point where documents get signed and large sums start changing hands, the film treats Kroc as a sad sack chasing one last shot at redemption, so we’re not surprised that the McDonald brothers would see that in him as well, and be moved to make his fairy tale (and theirs—they failed to build their own chain) come true. (Offerman and Lynch, two of the best character actors alive, top themselves here; each has several close-ups so filled with betrayal and regret that even the film seems awed by their power.)
Siegel’s script treats Kroc as the embodiment of a certain way of looking at American business values: smiley-faced positive, forever treating capitalism as a pure virtue that does so much good for society that its casualties are unimportant. On the road, Kroc repeats inspirational phrases he memorized from a self-help record. He believes in them as a cleric believes in a sacred text. His conversations with other characters are filled with formulations that you might hear from the mouth of a cult leader. They’re bold and startling but also self-serving and cynical, as when he tells the brothers that he wants the McDonald’s logo to be as ubiquitous as the American flag and the cross: “The new American church … Feeding bodies, feeding souls.”
And yet despite his blatant opportunism, Kroc sees himself as an idealist and myth-maker, not a huckster. He’s not a knowingly evil person. But there’s a void at his center—which, “The Founder” suggests, might be as much a requirement for legendary business success as the persistence that Kroc's self-help record keeps praising. (An especially deft screenwriting touch: Kroc, who claims the McDonalds’ brothers’ food service concepts as his own and ultimately steals their name, is shown repeating the “persistence” speech in a business award speech without attribution.)
Unfortunately, “The Founder” often articulates its ideas in a tedious way, by having its characters deliver reams of exposition (some of it aided by documentary footage and old photos) in place of real conversations. The first third of the film is so thick with slide-show storytelling that it plays like a celebratory video that could be screened at a convention of McDonald’s franchisees. The film also has such trouble integrating the business story with Kroc’s tumultuous personal life—he divorced Ethel for a younger woman named Joan (Linda Cardellini)—that its women end up being defined by their level of support for Kroc’s vision. The McDonald brothers are secondary characters, too, but they’re fleshed out as individuals. You can picture their lives apart from (and before) Kroc. That’s not the case with Ethel (a wet blanket, despite Dern's best efforts) or Joan (who likens Kroc to Alexander the Great not as a warning but as a compliment).
Had "The Founder" focused solely on Kroc’s relationship with the McDonald brothers, it might have been one of the great intimate, sour character studies of recent times. All the stuff with Kroc on the road acting like a beleaguered Jack Lemmon character and the scenes with his first wife nagging him and second-guessing him feel like attempts to will a three-dimensional, somewhat sympathetic biography into existence, even though the material resists it. The nagging suspicion that the filmmakers could not help but succumb to the charisma of Ray Kroc (or Michael Keaton?) lingers through the final stretch of “The Founder,” which tries to visualize a hypnotic emotional void in the spirit of “Raging Bull” or “There Will Be Blood" without laying the proper groundwork for it. (This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”)
Still, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about "The Founder" constantly since seeing it. It's possible that a sharper, bleaker, more articulate film might not have resonated as strongly as this messy, self-canceling one. It's an ad that becomes a warning before circling around and becoming another, darker kind of advertisement, and one of the most intriguing and surprising things about "The Founder" is that, in the end, it seems vaguely ashamed of itself for letting this happen. Kroc steals the movie from Hancock and Siegel just like he stole McDonald's from the McDonald brothers. I guess you could say it stole my objections, too. I left the theater with a bad taste in my mouth. Then I went to McDonald’s for the first time in over a year and ordered a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a vanilla shake.
[ Official Movie Site ]
A welcome return to form from 'The Sixth Sense' director M. Night Shyamalan, whose unhinged new mind-bender is a worthy extension of his early work.
Multiple personality disorder, like amnesia, is one of those aberrant mental states that has been a curse to those who suffer, but a gift to screenwriters over the years. From Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” to Brian De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill,” filmmakers have long exploited how little we truly understand about the condition — though none has pushed it quite as far as M. Night Shyamalan does in “Split,” treating dissociative identity disorder not as the twist, but as the premise on which this wickedly compelling abduction thriller is founded: James McAvoy plays a lunatic kidnapper with at least 23 personalities to his name.
Rest assured, there are plenty of proper twists to follow, none more unexpected than the fact that Shyamalan himself has managed to get his groove back after a slew of increasingly atrocious misfires. To be fair, it’s hard to imagine any writer/director sustaining a career based almost entirely on surprising audiences. And though he lost us for a while there — water-intolerant aliens, anyone? — by trading on ingenuity rather than big-budget special effects, Shyamalan has created a tense, frequently outrageous companion piece to one of his earliest and best movies.
But Shyamalan isn’t the only one getting a makeover here. Presumably tired of playing handsome, uncomplicated leading men, McAvoy — a talented Scottish actor best known as the young Professor X in the “X-Men” prequels — has recently expanded his repertoire to include unsavory creeps in films such as “Trance” and “Filth.” Those roles may as well have been practice laps for the Olympic main event that is “Split,” in which his performance is splintered between a gay fashion designer, a renegade nine-year-old, an obsessive-compulsive control freak, and a crazy church lady, among others.
Shyamalan introduces these wildly different personae one at a time, revealing them through the eyes of the movie’s three main characters, a trio of teenage girls taken prisoner from a high school birthday party, who wake up — like the victims in a nightmarish new subgenre of sadism that includes films like “Saw” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” — in a bunker-like cell with only the dimmest clue of the fate that awaits them. Popular above ground, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are the first to panic, reacting as most audiences probably would in their shoes, while brooding outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) seems unusually calm … at first, at least.
Trapped underground in an undetermined location (the actual spot is the film’s next-to-last twist), the girls spend several days trying to devise ways to escape. Each attempt will have moviegoers digging their fingernails deeper into their armrests, as McAvoy’s totally unpredictable character manages to gain the upper hand, while the girls try to make sense of the information before them. Meanwhile, to make things a bit easier on the audience, their captor slips out at regular intervals to visit his shrink, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley, the classic “Carrie” actress who also appeared in Shyamalan’s “The Happening”), a sympathetic ear who dispenses exposition by the wheelbarrow.
The more we learn, the scarier McAvoy’s character(s) starts to sound. At the same time, among the would-be victims, only Casey feels fleshed out, as Shyamalan gradually reveals the young lady’s troubled backstory via flashbacks to childhood hunting trips. Taylor-Joy, who recently starred in Robert Eggers’ “The Witch,” has a knack for suggesting dark undercurrents to superficially lovely characters, to the extent that we start to wonder whether McAvoy has meet his match.
Shyamalan’s goal is to keep us guessing, and in that respect, “Split” is a resounding success — even if in others, it could have you rolling your eyes. Still, scaling down to a relatively modest budget and just a handful of locations has forced him to get creative with the script, while a handful of new hires — most notably “It Follows” DP Mike Gioulakis, whose crisp, steady-handed gaze plays against the gritty confusion of the genre — elevate the result in such a way that we’re more inclined to consider the characters’ psychology, even though Shyamalan appears to be making it up to suit his purposes.
Ultimately, “Split” belongs to McAvoy, who has ample scenery to chew, but doesn’t stop there — he practically swallows the camera with his tiger-like teeth. With his head shaved, the actor depends ever so slightly on costume changes (sly contributions from Paco Delgado, who worked on “The Danish Girl”), but otherwise conveys his transformations through body language, facial expression, and accent, as his various selves take “the light” — since, per Fletcher, only one can come out to play at a time. As in “Psycho,” there’s a tendency to over-explain, and while Shyamalan is basically making up rules for dissociative identity disorder as he goes along, the condition has afforded McAvoy the role of his career.
[ Official Movie Site ]
The Accountant (2016)
“How can you make a financial intrigue thriller more exciting than average?” You can almost hear screenwriter Bill Dubuque ask that question and then crack his knuckles during the opening minutes of “The Accountant.” Said opening minutes, directed with customary nose-to-the-grindstone conviction by Gavin O’Connor, feature a strange scene of an urban mob massacre, tinged in sepia and boasting a lot of faux-celluloid graininess, to imply “period grit.” Then there is another scene, set in 1989, at a home for neurologically impaired kids, run by a kindly doctor who explains to a cranky dad and a less cranky mom why their “different” son might have a better chance at adjusting to life in the world if he spends a summer at the institute. Said kid, watched over by his brother, puts together a jigsaw puzzle not only scarily quick, but also in a VERY novel way.
The next scene takes us to the present day, where a strip mall accountant named Christian Wolff (the allusion is to the German philosopher and mathematician, not the contemporary avant-garde musician and composer, and you can only imagine how let down I am by that), an affectless fellow played by Ben Affleck (who, frankly, is trying a little too hard to be flat — the strain shows), dazzles a couple of his clients with tax code wizardry anyone who’s ever filed under “self-employed” will recognize as pretty basic. And then we are whisked to the Department of The Treasury, where avuncular bigwig Ray (J.K. Simmons) delivers some exposition on a mystery man—the fellow played by Affleck, as we already know. “He’s their accountant, an accountant, ‘the’ accountant,” Simmons says, sounding like he’s setting up an episode of “The Blacklist.” The junior officer he’s telling all this to, played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson, is intrigued. And soon she’s annoyed, as Simmons dredges some stuff up from her past to effectively blackmail her into tracking “the accountant” down for him.
There’s quite a bit of stuff going on here, and for a good while “The Accountant” percolates on its multiplicity of plot threads even as it keeps adding to them. As it happens, the “accountant” that the Treasury agents are looking for is up to quite a bit more than providing tax relief for rural dwellers. He uncooks the books for a slew of deadly bad guys. Deadly bad guys who are, an observant viewer will note, subsequently busted by the Treasury Department. Despite his proximity to some of the most dangerous criminals in the known universe, this man of dozens of aliases stays alive. How? Part of the answer is provided by the recurring flashbacks, in which Wolff’s father (Robert C. Treveiler) provides young Christian with his more militaristic cure, which later manifests itself in sharpshooting and martial arts skills. I admit that it is a novel idea to take a “Rain Man”-type character and also make him into a Lethal Killing Machine, but it’s also in kind of bad taste, something the movie tries to ameliorate by depicting autism with sympathy and some progressive accuracy. Despite the fact that he has oodles of cash and precious art at his disposal, the accountant’s life is a welter of pain, much of it in the form of self-punishment. The viewer is left to wonder why he plays the dangerous games he does.
At that point, the nice British-accented woman who seems to be the only person he can truly trust, and with whom he communicates only by phone, tells him that it’s time for him to take on a “legit” big client, and plops him in the lap of a high-tech prosthetic firm headed by John Lithgow. Turns out that Dana, one of that firm’s accountants, played by Anna Kendrick — doing, as she did in “Up in the Air,” fine work in a Non-Romantic-Romantic-Interest role — has discovered a discrepancy. Christian uncooks it, as they say — and then very nasty assassins are dispatched to kill both Christian and Dana.
Here the action heats up. Christian kills a guy who looks a bit like Vice mascot and rapper Action Bronson, in a scene that is far and away my favorite in the movie. A very effective hitman/financial-malfeasance-avenging-angel played by Jon Bernthal shows up. The plot, as they say, thickens.
And then it goes south. It goes very far south, with two plot reveals that are among the most ludicrous that I’ve experienced in quite some time. The worse of the two twists is made genuinely hilarious by the cutaways to Lithgow watching things unfold on his home security cam monitors and looking in disbelief — echoing the likely expressions of the audience. In any event, it certainly DOES succeed in being more “exciting,” say, than 1981’s “Rollover.” But excitement isn’t always positive.
[ Official Movie Site ]
“Imperium” is a film that offers moviegoers the sight of Daniel Radcliffe as a young FBI agent who infiltrates a white supremacist organization, occasionally being forced to spew racist invective. As premises go, it's an undeniably odd one—cynics might even suggest that such eyebrow-raising casting could be a tactic to distract from a shaky screenplay. On the other hand, optimists might say the filmmakers wouldn’t have pursued this strange casting if it didn’t actually work in the long run. As it turns out, the cynics are right again as “Imperium” proves to be a depressingly familiar (when it isn’t just depressing) thriller and the casting of Radcliffe only contributes further to its failings.
When several barrels of a dangerous chemical go missing, the FBI, fearing a possible dirty bomb terrorist attack, begins to investigate, focusing most of its resources on pursuing the usual leads involving Muslims. However, agent Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette, who appears to be going through an entire pack of Nicorette in every single one of her scenes) is convinced they should really be targeting a white-power organization located in the Washington, D.C. area. Despite being pooh-poohed by her colleagues, Zamparo forges ahead and to get the goods on them, she recruits nerdy-but-eager FBI Agent Nate Foster (Radcliffe) to shave his head and go undercover as Nathan, an ex-Marine who has returned from Iraq with a plethora of grudges and some very specific ideas of who is responsible for them. Sure, he may not seem like the typical neo-Nazi at first glance but, with the exception of the occasional henchman whose suspicions are instantly rejected, he is welcomed into the shadowy world with surprising ease.
Nate’s search for information takes him on a tour of several different aspects of the modern white-power movement. The lowest rung of the pecking order is inhabited by the skinheads most eager to get messed up and instigate fights at the drop of the hat but who are far too reckless and undisciplined to be entrusted with anything important. A step up from them are the brownshirt types who are a little more organized than the skinheads but a glimpse of them at their compound in the woods makes them look more like overgrown kids at a decidedly sinister summer camp than anything else. Then there's Dallas Wolf (Tracy Letts, continuing his quest to be this summer’s Most Hated Supporting Indie Film Player following his turns in “Wiener-Dog” and “Indignation”), a secretive radio show host of the Alex Jones variety who has fired them up with his broadcasts and books such as “Genocide: The Murder of White America.” Finally there is Gerry (Sam Trammell), a well-off member of the organization who comes across as the most reasonable of a decidedly unreasonable lot—he and his picture-perfect family host barbecues to bring the various factions together, he's a vegetarian and not only does he listen to and wax ecstatic about classical music, he even admits that the recordings by Leonard Bernstein are his favorite. (“Jews listen to Wagner, don’t they?”). See if you can guess which of the above turns out to be the ultimate bad guy of the bunch—I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised.
“Imperium” will no doubt seem familiar to anyone who has ever seen more than a couple of thrillers involving cops going undercover in dangerous situations and trying to maintain their cover while bearing witness to any number of atrocities. Two that immediately leapt to mind were “Betrayed,” the ugly 1988 Costa-Gavras film with Debra Winger as an FBI agent who infiltrates a white supremacist community and inadvertently falls in love with one of them, and the recent “The Infiltrator,” in which Bryan Cranston played a government agent who attempted to bring down Pablo Escobar’s drug empire from within. The film sits somewhere in the middle of those—it lacks the truly distasteful mixture of soap-opera sloppiness and utter sadism that marred “Betrayal” but it also lacks the kind of strong central performance that could help overcome the other shortcomings in the way that Cranston’s work did for “The Infiltrator.” If you can think of a cliché that could be attributed to this particular sub-genre—ranging from the stuff at the seemingly idyllic barbecue where Mom passes around cupcakes with swastikas and adorable little kids talk about the upcoming race war to the moment where Nate is out in public with his new associates and an African-American acquaintance sees him to the moment where Nate has to think fast to save an interracial couple from being attacked without blowing his cover—it's here. And while I suppose such stuff is inevitable in a film like this, it's used so ham-handedly by writer/director Daniel Ragussis that they feel more like rituals to go through—the Stations of the Iron Cross, if you will—than moments of actual tension or suspense.
Another problem with the film, quite frankly, is the inevitably distracting presence of Daniel Radcliffe as Nate. From a performance standpoint, everything he does is fine and again shows his willingness to use the international fame he gained from his signature role to try new and adventurous things. (This summer alone, he has already appeared as a gassy corpse in “Swiss Army Man” and appeared in the gassy corpse that was “Now You See Me 2.”) However, his mere presence unfortunately brought up a couple of things that, fairly or not, I quickly found to be distracting. For one, while I don’t have a problem with him playing an FBI agent going undercover in the white power movement, a key part of his alter ego’s background is that he is supposed to be a hard and tough Marine capable of intimidating those around him, an aspect so wildly unconvincing that it winds up undermining more than a few scenes. My other problem is that I couldn’t help but wonder throughout if actual white power groups might take the scenes from the film in which he, as his alter ego, is railing against Jews and “mud people” and cut them into a video designed to bring younger children into the movement. (“Sure, Harry Potter hates Voldemort but do you want to know who he really hates?”) I assume that it was Radcliffe's casting that helped get this film financed in the first place, but I have a feeling that it might have been better off with an unknown in the role with no prior cinematic associations that might be distracting.
“Imperium” is not an exploitation films by any means and I am sure that everyone involved had the noblest of intentions to make a film that would lay bare an insidious subculture that continues to thrive. Great, but if you are going to do that, why not really make an effort to present a challenging story along those lines, instead of simply making what could have been an extended episode of any garden-variety police procedural series? Considering the inherent dramatic power of this particular narrative material, to see it wasted in such an unproductive and unedifying manner as with “Imperium” is kind of a bummer.
[ Official Movie Site ]
Tom Hanks stars in the story of a hero pilot who refused to view himself as such after landing US Airways Flight 1549 on New York's Hudson River.
A REAL HERO IN THIS UNFORGETTABLE TRUE LIFE DRAMA
If there’s one Hollywood star you would trust to crash-land a commercial airliner without injuring a soul on board, it would surely be Tom Hanks. After risking his life in order to save his crew in “Captain Phillips,” the two-time Oscar-winner takes to the skies — and mere moments later, to the chilly waters of the Hudson River, after a flock of birds blows out both engines of US Airways Flight 1549 — in a remarkable true story that inspires confidence not only in its leading man, but in honest, hard-working Americans everywhere.
Directed by Clint Eastwood with the same kind of unpretentious professionalism, the film makes a point of celebrating in its protagonist. “Sully” retells the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson” through the eyes of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who pulled off the incredible landing — if “landing” is indeed the right word when a plane touches down on open water — based on his book, “Highest Duty.” For audiences, getting to witness the feat in question is far and away the film’s biggest selling point (and no doubt the reason why it will be opening simultaneously on Imax screens Sept. 9), but Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki have opted for a counterintuitive approach, withholding the flight itself for as long as possible and focusing primarily on the aftermath of the accident, as Sully tortures himself with questions of what he might have done differently, and as a team of National Transportation Safety Board investigators attempt to ask him the same thing.
While that means more of the film is set in the hot seat of inquest chambers and courtrooms than in the cockpit itself, starting after the plane has safely landed is a shrewd storytelling strategy for multiple reasons. Not least of these is that it allows Eastwood to parcel out multiple impressions of the incident — from extended flashbacks to crude simulations — over the course of movie, effectively offering audiences six plane crashes for the price of one.
In fact, the film, which runs an efficient 96 minutes, in Eastwood’s typical no-fat style, holds back on what really happened until more than an hour in, and instead opens with a vivid nightmare in which Sully imagines a far different outcome had he followed through on his initial strategy of returning to LaGuardia Airport with practically no thrust in either engine, culminating in a fiery demise for all aboard as Flight 1549 crashes into a skyscraper. And then he wakes up.
The unsettling dream sequence is strangely less exciting than such airline-disaster openings as those in “Flight” and “Alive.” And yet, distasteful as it may be to watch a plane smash into the New York skyline, conjuring images of 9/11, it’s a reminder that Sullenberger’s actions potentially saved more than the lives of his 155 airline passengers.
This isn’t the first time Eastwood has opened a film with a major CG cataclysm: In the relatively heavy-handed “Hereafter,” he kicked off proceedings by demolishing the coast of Thailand with a dramatic recreation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. While only a dream sequence, “Sully’s” opening feels less like a stunt from a director who alternates between sober, seemingly timeless portraits of exceptional personalities (“American Sniper,” “Million Dollar Baby”), and corny, cardboard melodramas too old-fashioned in their approach (“Jersey Boys,” “Changeling”), occasionally landing somewhere in the middle (à la “Flags of Our Fathers”). “Sully” is an example of the last done right: a straightforward tribute to the extraordinary actions taken by an irreproachable character who refuses to see himself as a hero. It’s not a particularly great Clint Eastwood movie — it ranks perhaps ninth or 10th on a résumé of 35 features, two of them best picture winners — but it’s one that promises to resonate in a big way with Americans at this moment in time.
Ripped from the headlines, “Sully” offers a rare example of a movie inspired by good news — the best news, as one character points out, that New York has heard in a long time, “especially with an airplane in it.” And because most Americans already know the outcome, it makes sense to focus on the less-known “what happened next” of it all, after Flight 1549 had faded from the TV news cycle. (In the film, whenever there’s a television in a scene — whether in a bar or a hotel or back home at the Sullenberger residence — it’s covering the story.) What most people don’t know is the cruel irony that despite saving everyone’s lives, Sully still had to answer to the NTSB, which felt that his decision to effect a forced water landing had actually endangered everyone aboard. According to protocol, Sully should have returned to LaGuardia, or else tried to land at nearby Teterboro Airport, and both the airline’s insurance company and Sully himself are faced with the consequences of his decision — one that’s informed by the pilot having delivered nearly a million passengers over some 40 years.
Sullenberger may be haunted (visions of crashing planes become a recurring motif), but he’s not alone. His co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), sticks to Sully’s side like a faithful collie, while his wife, Lorrie (Laura Linney), offers encouragement from home via phone. But Sully’s network of support extends far beyond that, relying on all the other professionals who played a role that day, from the air-traffic controllers to the flight attendants to the emergency-response crew, and though viewers will shake their heads at the injustice of the fact that the authorities held Sully’s feet to the fire for what happened, Eastwood’s message is one of appreciation for those who responded to a crisis in which everyone survived, where the pilot did his job, and where people acted admirably across the board. As Skiles tells the NTSB investigating committee, “You’re not used to having answers to your guesses.” (He also gets the movie’s last laugh, an odd, “OK, I guess we can all go home now” chuckle.)
In terms of acting, there’s not a whole lot for the supporting cast to do other than support, and some of the extras (most notably the passengers) can be distractingly amateurish at times. This is Hanks’ show, and he delivers a typically strong performance, quickly allowing us to forget that we’re watching an actor. With his snowy white hair and mustache to match, Hanks conveys a man confident in his abilities, yet humble in his actions, which could also be said of Eastwood as a director. As unfussy as ever, Eastwood juggles the script’s odd chronology-bending structure, steering by his central character’s conscience throughout, while supplying another of his simple piano scores, which doubles as the melody for end-credits song “We’re All Flying Home” — though if ever there was a film that called for “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” this is it.
Whether you view this on a giant IMAX screen, your own 50-inch plasma BluRay set or an annoyingly small Samsung 7 "Smart Phone," this is one movie you don't want to miss seeing as this summer draws to a close.
Telluride Film Review: 'Sully'
A Warner Bros. Pictures release and presentation, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, of a Malpaso production. Producers: Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Allyn Stewart, Tim Moore. Executive producers: Steven Mnuchin, Kipp Nelson, Bruce Berman. Co-produers: Jessica Meier, Kristina Rivera.
Director: Clint Eastwood. Screenplay: Todd Komarnicki, based on the book “Highest Duty” by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Jeffrey Zaslow. Camera (color, Imax), Tom Stern. Editor: Blu Murray.
Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Valerie Mahaffey, Delphi Harrington, Mike O'Malley, Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn, Holt McCallany, Ahmed Lucan, Laura Linney.
[ Official Movie Site ]
War Dogs (2016)
"War Dogs" is a film about horrible people that refuses to own the horribleness. It's too enamored with its glib arms dealer heroes, and although it's packed with scenes that might have inspired moral whiplash in works like "Scarface," "Goodfellas" and "The Wolf of Wall Street"—to name three superb films about guys who get equally high on drugs and the adrenaline rush of living outside the law, and that "War Dogs" references constantly—they're always softened by Hollywood special pleading: Aren't these guys adorable and funny? Don't you love what good friends they are? Don't you admire their audacity? Look at how troubled the hero seems — don't you feel for him?
Director and co-writer Todd Phillips (the "Hangover" trilogy) would seem to be an ideal, or at least promising, person to tell this tale of a couple of pipsqueak Miami arms dealers who make a fortune providing guns and bullets to the US military during the height of the Bush administration's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But "War Dogs," which is based on a Rolling Stone article and a subsequent book by Guy Lawson, lacks the courage of its convictions. Tone-wise, it's all over the map. Sometimes it seems to stare pitilessly at its hero and narrator, former massage therapist and bed sheet dealer turned arms trafficker David Packouz (Miles Teller), and his friend and boss Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), and recognize them as greedy, expedient men who only care about fattening their bank accounts. But other times it seems inordinately concerned with whether David and Efraim will stay pals once things turn south—as if it's a straightforward, un-ironic buddy flick about badass dudes doing badass things, sometimes in slow-motion, instead of a twisted and conflicted parody of that kind of film.
Worse, "War Dogs" presents David's barely-developed wife Iz (Ana de Armas) as a voice of conscience who's horrified by her husband's lies and furtiveness, never anything more. Whenever the movie concentrates on Iz and David's marriage problems, it confirms its softness. Every time it asks us to care deeply about whether David will lose Iz—who chastises David for his dishonesty, then supports him, then turns against him again, always according to the needs of the plot at that moment — it exposes its sweet-creamy Hollywood center. Henry and Karen Hill these two ain't.
Scorsese's "Wolf of Wall Street," which costarred Jonah Hill, drew critical fire (like "Goodfellas" and "Scarface" before it) for making its wheeler-dealer protagonists as fun to watch as they were morally repulsive; but that was part of the movie's design, and whether you thought Scorsese and writer Terence Winter succeeded or failed, it was obvious that you were supposed to feel torn about the characters and question if you should be having fun watching them get over. It was a variation on the gangster film attraction-repulsion strategy, where you share the hero's power trip fantasy and then feel the sting of reality slapping him in the face. "War Dogs" keeps the Scorsesean arrogant-macho banter (which can be very funny, thanks to the relaxed interplay between Hill and Teller) but it loses the ugly undertow that makes non-sociopathic viewers feel slightly dirty for feeling so excited. The detailed breakdowns of the fine points of arms deals come across as a guns-and-ammo version of hedge fund guys bragging about a haul.
The choice of storyteller is a big part of the film's problem. David, whose real-life equivalent served as a technical advisor and has a cameo, is depicted as nearly as big of a blank as his poor wife. He's a nice guy who was just going about his business when Satan showed up in the form of Efraim, rather than a quick study who ditched his two day jobs and within a matter of weeks was able to manage a soon-to-be-multimillion dollar business built on Beretta pistols and AK-47 shells bought on the cheap and shipped into war zones.
The best thing about "War Dogs" is the characterization of Efraim, as embodied by Hill. This actor portrays blobby, sarcastic, volatile men better than anyone since the late, great Chris Penn, and he's terrific here, using the character's squeaky laugh as an exclamation point at the end of a tense moment, and letting us see the calculations happening in Efraim's reptilian brain by letting his eyes go cloudy. There are moments where you can spot the exact moment when Efraim decides to betray or destroy someone; often the moment occurs when Efraim is insisting that he's all about loyalty and trust. If "War Dogs" had put Efraim at its center, it might have gotten closer to its apparent wish to be a scathing, Scorsesean take on arms dealing during the War on Terror—half madcap comedy, half expose. At the very least, it would have inoculated itself against claims that it's a safe film on a dangerous subject. Efraim is a slobbish but confident con artist who trudges through life in baggy leisure wear and expensive sunglasses, puffing up his ego with money and guns and telling David, "I'm not pro-war. The war is happening. This [business] is pro-money." At one point he even describes himself to an Iraqi as an "ugly American," frankly claiming a stereotype that he knows he embodies from head to toe.
You get the sense that Efraim knows full well what he is but has decided not to worry about it, a scenario that's considerably more chilling than all the scenes of David worrying that Efraim has gone too far but is too good a friend to abandon. Every time Efraim appears onscreen, the audience and the movie have to reckon with him. But "War Dogs" chooses instead to hang on David and take his exculpatory narration at face value, as if both Phillips and the audience are as gullible as Iz.
Phillips knowingly cites "Goodfellas" through various formal techniques (chatty narration, scary-funny violence, freeze-frames) to the point where you pretty much have to buy the idea that David is a twenty-something, 21st century Henry Hill. But "War Dogs" doesn't have the bravura visuals and electrifying coldness of Scorsese in gangster-scumbag mode. And you never get the sense, as you do in the best narrated Scorsese films, that the narrator is shading things to make himself seem more glamorous, or less culpable in horror than he actually was (as exemplified in the "Goodfellas" scene where Hill calmly describes the ramifications of a mob foot soldier killing a waiter on a whim, but the movie shows us close-ups of the character looking appalled and distressed).
"War Dogs," in contrast, wants us to take David at face value, as a nice guy who made a few mistakes and got in way over his head before coming to his senses but is still basically decent. In the end, he comes off as guilty mainly of loving and trusting his friend, and there's hardly anything in the film to suggest that this might not be the whole story. Efraim, meanwhile, comes across as more of an outrageous, hot-tempered clown than a grubby visionary pig whose lack of education and refinement are eclipsed by a predator's cunning. The film turns him into glorified comic relief, so funny that he can't be properly frightening. Most of the characters in the first "Hangover" seemed more disreputable and unpredictable than this guy, and Phillips seemed not to care if we liked them as long as we found them funny and interesting; here he wants us to like his slimy people, too—or at least the film wants us to like David, and root for him to stay friends with Efraim and win back Iz's love. It's a brief in David's defense that sometimes plays as if it was written by David himself.
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