Saturday, June 17, 2017

Three Films Make A Post: Fight back or die.

Harry Brown (2009): For a time there, Daniel Barber’s film about an elderly ex-marine turning vigilante played by Michael Caine, had me thinking it was trying to say something actually interesting about the rights, wrongs and consequences of vigilantism but in the end, it all turns out to be your usual reactionary fantasy about killing the poor and the supposed inefficiency of the law in doing that, not exactly something I have much of a taste for when it doesn’t go so over the top I can stop taking it seriously. This one doesn’t go over the top, but it is also just not terribly great as a crime thriller. The only truly memorable thing is a performance by Caine that suggests a load of emotions and ideas that don’t actually seem to be in the script, Caine showing a touching vulnerability that doesn’t often ring this true in movies about aging and elderly men of violence.

Gosford Park (2001): Keeping with great old men, this is one of Robert Altman’s final films as a director (and his last truly good one, I believe). Usually, the idea of an American playing with elements of the British country house mystery suggests a bumbling tourist not getting anything about class, but this being Altman, that fear didn’t even come up for me. And rightly so, for Altman uses the form (well, the parts of the form that interest him – this is a film that’s half over before the murder happens, and rightly so) to not just explore the British class system between the wars, or the way it already shows cracks, but is most concerned about the way the lives of people intersect in a society that puts the borders between the rich, the poor, and the working rich particularly high, finding heart-breaking moments that prove a murder to be much less important than basically everything else going on around it. Altman also has time for moments of acerbic whit, nods to popular culture of the age (Ivor Novello is one of the characters, as well as a fictionalized producer of Charlie Chan films), all filled with life by a thoroughly brilliant cast and by his accustomed way with organizing large numbers of characters in an intellectually and emotionally impactful way.

Narc (2002): Joe Carnahan’s neo noirish crime film about a former undercover cop (Jason Patric) who accidentally killed a baby during a wild shoot-out pressed into investigating the murder of another undercover cop, and teaming up with the other undercover’s former friend (Ray Liotta), a man even more damaged and violent – and possibly worse – then himself is certainly not a Robert Altman film in style or thought. Apart from a handful of scenes when Carnahan falls into the worst kind of “hey, look at me! I have a digital editing suite” filmmaking, this is a wonderful film. Heated, grim, and appropriately violent, Narc portrays the characters’ world as a cesspool of cruelty and corruption yet also finds time to give even the most minor drug dealer a human personality, does good by fantastic lead performances and also has a really well-constructed mystery at its heart whose solution plays expertly with the audience expectations of the genre savvy without feeling smug.

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