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Review: True Grit, Inside Job and Wild Target

By Cinema and Reviews

Once again the Coen Brothers set a stand­ard for every oth­er film to try and match. True Grit is every bit as bril­liant as its repu­ta­tion would sug­gest: the best west­ern since Unforgiven and a cent­ral per­form­ance from Jeff Bridges that is twice as good as the one he secured an Oscar for last year (Crazy Heart).

Bridges plays iras­cible one-eyed Deputy Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a man with a repu­ta­tion for shoot­ing first and ask­ing ques­tions later, a man with a taste for whis­key and a dis­taste for author­ity. He is hired by spunky 14 year old Mattie Ross (aston­ish­ing new­comer Hailee Steinfeld) to hunt down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her law abid­ing, decent, cit­izen fath­er. Also, hunt­ing Chaney for a huge Federal reward (that dwarfs Mattie’s small bounty) is suave Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) and soon the chase is on, into law­less Indian ter­rit­ory where the fugit­ive is holed up.

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Review: No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, 30 Days of Night, The 11th Hour and Talk to Me

By Cinema and Reviews

No Country for Old Men posterNo Country for Old Men is essen­tial cinema in two senses of the word. First and fore­most you must see it, prob­ably more than once. But it is also cinema reduced to its essence. Everything con­trib­utes: Cormac McCarthy’s respect­fully adap­ted ori­gin­al nov­el; beau­ti­fully com­posed images superbly pho­to­graphed by Roger Deakins (the only cre­at­ive on the pro­ject not named Coen); edit­ing that could be a film school in a box. The stand­ard music­al soundtrack is replaced by the music of the every­day: foot­steps, cof­fee pots, car engines, gun fire.

A hunter (Josh Brolin) stumbles across a wil­der­ness drug deal gone wrong: many corpses, a flat­bed full of drugs and briefcase full of money. He takes the money hop­ing to start a new life away from the West Texas trail­er park he inhab­its with Trainspotting’s Kelly MacDonald. But instead of a win­ning lot­tery tick­et he has unleashed the epi­tome of cinema badass-ery: Javier Bardem as an angel of ven­geance determ­ined to retrieve the cash by any means necessary.

All the per­form­ances are won­der­ful but the heart of the film is Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Ed Bell. Always (aggrav­at­ingly) a couple of steps behind he is a good man ill-at-ease with the sheer, inex­plic­able, evil he is con­fron­ted with. A masterpiece.

30 Days of Night posterJosh Hartnett plays anoth­er small town sher­iff, out-gunned and out-matched, in 30 Days of Night. He runs Barrow, the northern-most town in Alaska, so far north that one month of the year is spent in dark­ness. This is the per­fect setup for a smart vam­pire to take advant­age of: 30 days of feed­ing with no enforced hiberna­tion and a bunch of unsa­voury char­ac­ters (well-led by Danny Huston) cer­tainly go to town. Entertaining and styl­ish, 30 Days goes about its work (with­in its genre lim­it­a­tions) respect­ably enough.

Michael Clayton posterI’m begin­ning to think that George Clooney is so good that his pres­ence has actu­ally made some films seem much bet­ter than they actu­ally are: Syriana would be an example. This the­ory comes in to focus when dis­cuss­ing Michael Clayton, anoth­er Oscar con­tender from first-time dir­ect­or Tony Gilroy. Clooney plays the eponym­ous leg­al fix­er, a middle-aged man los­ing his bear­ings: his mor­al com­pass is as adrift as the mal­func­tion­ing sat­nav in his Merc. He is try­ing to fix a rap­idly unrav­el­ling case defend­ing a dodgy agri-chemical com­pany when he real­ises that he is prob­ably on the wrong side but his tenu­ous per­son­al situ­ation doesn’t give him the free­dom to do the right thing. He is con­flic­ted, in oth­er words, and Clooney plays that con­flict superbly. But, while George is act­ing his heart out, the rest of the film doesn’t quite meas­ure up. Performances mis­step and the plot weighs the themes down more heav­ily than it needs to. A good film but not a great one.

The 11th Hour posterLeonardo DiCaprio for the Nobel Peace Prize? Following in the foot­steps of Al Gore’s act­iv­ist phe­nomen­on An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, DiCaprio stakes his own claim with a doc­u­ment­ary about envir­on­ment­al destruc­tion and the urgent need for change: The 11th Hour. Sadly for the earn­est DiCaprio, there’s noth­ing here we haven’t seen or heard before and (des­pite his star power) he is an uncon­vin­cing presenter. Perhaps he should have stayed behind the cam­era and paid Morgan Freeman to front it – he is God after all.

Talk to Me posterTalk to Me is an enter­tain­ing and mov­ing little film, destined to be over­whelmed by the heavy­weight Oscar con­tenders open­ing all around it. Oblivion would­n’t be a fair out­come though and if you find your­self with the time and inclin­a­tion to give it a try you won’t be dis­ap­poin­ted. Always reli­able Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) plays real-life Washington DC radio star and act­iv­ist Ralph Waldo “Petey” Green and the excel­lent Chiwetel Ejiofer (Dirty Pretty Things and American Gangster) is his best friend and Programme Director Dewey Hughes. The racial powder­keg that is DC in the 60’s is well recre­ated on a lim­ited budget but it is the rela­tion­ship between these two very dif­fer­ent men that works best.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 6 February, 2008.

Special thanks to D at the Embassy for let­ting me go back to see No Country a second time before deadline.