My review of The Counterfeiters [on Blu-ray Disc] is online over at Filmfreakcentral.net.
This year’s winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher) is defined in equal terms by what it is and what it isn’t. It is a
Holocaust survivor’s yarn told with a certain playfulness and no lack
of moral consideration, but it is not really a concentration-camp
movie; mostly, it feels like a prison caper yarn that happens to take
place in Sachsenhausen. The film’s weight comes from the things we know
about but cannot see within the frame: those haunting images of
emaciated Jews, the walking-dead stares of the prisoners consigned to
the gas chambers and crematoria, the tragedy of systematic genocide.
Don Cheadle, heart sewn to his sleeve, is badly miscast in this war-on-terror thriller — not for a moment did I believe that his gentle, soulful character had the stuff to function as a serial mass murderer, let alone gain the confidence of other cold-blooded killers. Nonetheless, this film is populated by radical jihadists who trust this American expatriate with the execution of the most elaborate paranoid fantasist’s orange-alert wet dream of a terror attack on U.S. soil. Cheadle is a cool enough character that this wouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker, but the transparency of his intentions renders the film’s coy guessing games about his allegiance more or less redundant. Writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s previous big-ticket screen credit is the screenplay for The Day After Tomorrow, and though his model for Traitor is obviously something like Syriana crossed with The Departed, what he’s come up with here is about as subtle as a Roland Emmerich film. His script strives to be even-handed in its representation of terrorists, who are depicted as thoughtful and well-spoken enough that a disaffected, revenge-minded American could fall in with them, but the unremittingly pointed dialogue betrays the characters’ two-dimensionality. (They’re most credible when they’re not talking.) Guy Pearce is quite good as the agent who suspects that Cheadle might not be the international sociopath the rest of the FBI has him pegged as, but the film isn’t as clever as it needs to be to drive the cat-and-mouse storyline. By the time Cheadle’s character makes the biggest chump move in the book — visiting his ex-girlfriend in Chicago even though any terror plotter worth his C4 would know she’s under surveillance — Traitor has proven itself to be about as realistic as any given episode of 24, but not half as much fun. C
My review of Untraceable on Blu-ray Disc is online at filmfreakcentral.net:
The makers of Untraceable never acknowledge their film’s own
ranking on the torture-as-entertainment scale. Instead, they’re
hell-bent on the idea that the online masses, guilty of exercising poor
taste, are somehow complicit in the worst kinds of crimes that might be
committed somewhere on the Internet by some sicko craving an audience.
The hectoring is so relentless that Untraceable obviously means
to send that message to its own audience–the sort of sick fucks who
would pay to see this movie in the first place. (For whatever reason,
moralizing filmmakers from Michael Haneke on down the line often fail
to implicate themselves in that downward spiral they so disdain.) D
As good as last year’s James Bond reboot was, The Bourne Ultimatum may provide an even better action-espionage fix. Where Daniel Craig’s Bond exuded a steely sex appeal, Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne seems to run on the same grim resolve that drives 24‘s lonely man, Jack Bauer. Deprived of a past and stripped of his present (Bourne’s only love interest was dispatched by an indifferent hit man in the previous film), there’s nothing for this CIA-tuned killing machine to do except try to find out who made him what he is. And, because his CIA bosses are hunting him down at the same time he’s looking for his own answers, the proceedings get brutal. Director Paul Greengrass (United 93) stages lively, intense action sequences, full of handheld camerawork and quick-cuts editing that would teeter on the edge of chaos if not for the tight coordination and choreography of each white-knuckle set piece–Bourne even boasts one of the most exciting martial-arts-style fight scenes ever concocted for an American film. (It’s a sign of the times when the new Matt Damon movie has better fight choreography than the new Jackie Chan.)
If you’re going to make a thriller about bored suburban teenagers, you could do a lot worse than use Hitchcock’s Rear Window as your template. The screenwriters of Disturbia have concocted a scenario that has high-schooler Kale (Shia LaBeouf) confined to house arrest and wearing an ankle bracelet after slugging his Spanish teacher. With his Internet entertainment options terminated by single mom Julie (Carrie-Anne Moss of Matrix fame), Kale starts snooping on his neighbors – including the new, bikini-sporting girl next door (Sarah Roemer) and a strange guy (the great character actor David Morse) who mows his lawn a lot and may or may not be piling up bodies in his garage. The story takes its time to get moving, with director D.J. Caruso (who has helmed episodes of The Shield and Smallville) paying an attention to character detail that’s rare in Hollywood movies these days, especially youth-oriented thrillers. LaBeouf is no Jimmy Stewart, but his performance has an engaging everyman appeal, while Roemer brings something extra to the requisite flirtyness. Disturbia is no masterpiece, but it gets a lot of things just right — including some sweet and engaging romantic-comedy business between the awkward-cool LaBeouf and the slyly self-possessed sexpot Roemer, who responds to the intrusion of the male gaze by heading into the voyeur’s house and having a look around to see if anything there suits her. Alas, just when you think Caruso is well on the way to ensuring that what’s on screen will add up to something more than meets the eye, the film’s impressively character-driven narrative descends quickly and shamelessly into horror-movie clichés. It’s a sudden comedown. B-
A version of this review was originally published in the White Plains Times.
You want your politically involved cinema? I got your politically involved cinema right here.
Imagine, if you like, that Se7en‘s Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) has come out of retirement. He’s been drawn back into the homicide department by the disappearance of his beloved niece. The investigation draws him out of the previous film’s nameless city to the relative serenity of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, where he finds that his niece’s case fits into a pattern of abductions of beautiful young women. Three of them have been found dead — molested horribly and left in the woods to be eaten by animals — but Somerset guesses that the others are being held captive by a “collector” of some sort. Set on stopping this guy, who has taken the vile nom-de-crime of “Casanova,” Somerset puts his considerable compassion and wisdom to work at cracking the case. I guess you could call this fictional movie Eig8t.
Bound is a thriller with a lesbian twist, starring Jennifer Tilly (Bullets Over Broadway) and Gina Gershon (Showgirls) as illicit lovers who conspire to swindle the mob out of $2 million.