China Moon (1991)
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Proof that good noir still exists. This film never saw the inside of an UK cinema it went straight to video on release. However the plot is a good tangled web of murder, mystery and deceit. It manages to be twisty despite the fact that this sort of thing has been done many times before. The plot unfolds late and very quickly, managing to be believable and gripping.
The main reason for this is a great performance from Ed Harris. The feeling of him being sucking into something is written all over his face and the way he goes from cop in control of all the details into a hunted animal is really good. Stowe is also really good and the support cast also has quality whether it be Charles Dance or a young looking Del Toro.
Overall this may not break box office records but as a thriller it is twisty, contains plenty of good lines and has a great lead performance from Harris.
Though the plot is derivative, this is a classily done film with terrific acting, sensual love scenes between the two leads, an easy pace and beautiful photography. It reminded me a little of "Body Heat." The plot won't be hard to figure out, but be prepared for a couple of twists.
Ed Harris gives a forceful performance as Kyle, and del Toro is understated as Lamar. When the camera rests on Stowe, she's flawlessly beautiful, and what clothes! She gives an effective performance and has a nice chemistry with Harris.
"China Moon" is a small, meticulously done movie with loads of talent behind it. The story has been told many times, but somehow, if it's done well, it's always good for another encore.
Critique: Nifty little thriller borrows from the film-noir tradition. The solid screenplay by Roy Karlson introduces many elements of the genre. There's the honest cop who falls for the habitual 'femme-fetal', and the violent husband as 'middle-man' who ends up dead. But just when you think things are headed into conventional plotting, there's a twist.
Good direction by first-timer John Bailey elicits excellent acting all around. Ed Harris gives another powerhouse performance, Madeline Stowe plays the would-be 'femme fatale' role beautifully, as well as an array of solid supporting actors including Benicio del Toro (who reminded me of James Dean in his younger days). Great ending too.
QUOTE: Kyle: "You were just fV@*!ng me weren't you?! I was loving you and you were fV#!ing me!"
Kyle Bodine (Ed Harris) is an ace detective who's extremely adept at examining murder scenes, deducing how the crime was committed and then identifying clues about the nature of the perpetrator. He's a decent man who's well respected by his colleagues but he's also lonely and sometimes arrogant. His powers of observation are normally exceptionally strong but he doesn't see what's coming when he meets and then gets seduced by the beautiful and mysterious Rachel Munro (Madeleine Stowe).
Rachel is married to a rich banker called Rupert (Charles Dance) who's a serial adulterer and wife beater. During a particularly heated confrontation with her husband, Rachel shoots and kills him in self defence and then persuades Kyle to assist her in disposing of the body and covering up the evidence of what has happened. Kyle carries out these tasks with his usual efficiency but problems arise when the body is discovered and his rookie partner Lamar Dickey (Benicio del Toro) discovers some clues which lead to the finger of suspicion being pointed at Kyle.
Ed Harris looks perfectly comfortable in his portrayal of Kyle's unassuming demeanour and is totally believable as he becomes passionate about Rachel and then increasingly desperate as he tries to prove his innocence. Madeleine Stowe shows the despondency which has overtaken Rachel as a consequence of suffering years of abuse in a loveless marriage but at other times it seems that her depression has made her unresponsive and difficult to read. This type of inscrutability is a classic trait of the femme fatale but Rachel doesn't fall unequivocally into that category as she is clearly a more sympathetic character than the conventional noir archetype.
Charles Dance is good at conveying just how violent and despicable Rupert is but his attempt at a southern accent is lamentable. Benicio del Toro gives an interesting performance as a detective who initially shows a number of significant deficiencies in his range of abilities but then later in the story surprisingly seems to acquire a much better grasp of the skills needed to investigate a homicide.
The visual style of this movie with its beautiful settings and wonderful shots of the lake at night contributes strongly to the overall mood and is a great credit to the work of cinematographer Willy Kurant.
There are enough twists and turns to keep you off-balance, but without the story confusion that often accompanies that kind of plot complexity. A surprise final scene provides a satisfying closure. The murder and resulting forensics are on the bloody side, but it's not out of place in the story line. Harris and Stowe turn in believable performances, making for an overall rating of 7 out of 10 stars.
If you haven't seen the movie, please stop reading here.
There are a few things that indicate that Rachel wanted to use Kyle from the beginning. There are also hints that Lamar, Kyle's detective partner, is into something. How could a good detective like Kyle fall prey to the exchange of the the bullet that is extracted from Rupert Monro's body? The filmmakers take a chance in presenting a half baked pie to the viewers, many of whom are into mysteries, and think the plot will be taken at face value, when in reality, our minds are going in different directions. The fans of this genre solve the puzzle before the movie's conclusion.
That said, the movie is easy to watch. Ed Harris, makes a credible Kyle. This actor is one of the best working in movies today, and even if it's not a good picture, Mr. Harris can be counted to give an excellent performance. His detective offers a good character study of a professional man that makes a fatal judgment when he gets involved with Rachel.
Madeleine Stowe is a beautiful woman. In this movie she plays Rachel with conviction; her scenes with Ed Harris shows clearly she can hold her own against anyone. Benicio Del Toro's Lamar, as Lamar, offers an interesting performance, something we expect from him as a matter of course. Charles Dance, as the rich husband who likes to fool around, is only seen too short.
This is a movie to watch when the weather is bad outside. It will please anyone who doesn't expect too much.
It also goes to show that you do not necessary need to have awesome special effects, elaborate sets or costumes to make a movie captivating. Just a good story plot (keeping in mind that the audience are not morons or idiots) and a few good actors/actress is just enough to keep people glued to their seats.
It is really rare to find such movies lately. Really hope to see such movies that will keep people thinking what will come next, as the saying goes, its the story that counts and not blow-your-mind-but-forgot-about-it special effects or actors/actress or is that cardboards walking down the aisle with pretty clothes trying to act etc, etc.
Just intelligent story telling which people will still talked about it when they leave the threaters.
'China Moon's main defect is its full-of-holes plot: with the photos of her philandering husband taken by del Toro, and the testimony of two cops against Dance for attacking his wife, Stowe could have got a very very juicy divorce.. O.K. she wants all the money. But setting-up Ed Harris as the fall guy is an unusually tricky business : among others, it demands first that del Toro steals from Harris his .38 police gun and replace it by an other .38; it requires later that del Toro has in hand the 9mm murder bullet before Ed Harris does, and exchange it UNNOTICED against a .38 one fired previously from the Harris gun and sand -ingrained ( ! ), which cannot but rouse Harris's suspicion ( and he is a very good cop ); Harris could also have agreed to come clean when so offered. The plot does not explain that anonymous phones calls attract attention on Harris as the 'guilty' person because the corpse must be found in order that Stowe gets her money. And at the very end,when Harris exposes del Toro, the police is called by a witness and arrives ten seconds later ( !! ), at the very time when Ed Harris goes out, a gun in hand, and is killed without warning shots.***** but if you do not look too closely at such errors and holes, you can enjoy the acting of the four above-mentioned players,... and Madeleine Stowe's extraordinary beauty.
SPOILERS -- Ed Harris is a by-the-book detective, a homicide investigator. Early on we know he will be sucked into a plot by Madeline Stowe to get rid of her husband (we learn near the end she stands to gain $12million), so we spend most of the film trying to figure out her tricks. We see early that her husband is having an affair. We finally find out that Harris's sidekick, played by Benicio DelToro, is in on the plot. He switches guns, fires bullets into the sand to get slugs, plants Harris' bullets to make him look guilty.
There are a few inventive items. After Stowe shoots her husband in self defense, and she asks Harris to help conceal the incident by getting rid of his body in a lake, he throws her 9mm gun onto the top of a big rig truck so it will end up some where distant and not be found. DelToro figures out which lake the body is in by noting the odometer reading and finding a lake half that distance away. But the shoot-out at the end didn't seem to fit, but was I guess a convenient way to bring closure to the characters. However, since Stowe shoots DelToro as she watches Harris die, are we to suppose she was sent to jail for a long time? Probably not, she could afford a good lawyer and probably get probation based on mental anguish.
Not a waste of time, but Ed Harris must do some incredibly stupid things in the name of "love" to get this movie to come to its intended conclusion. "China Moon" will not go down in movie history as one of the better films.
On the plus side are a clutch of strong performances,although Dance is quite dreadful,with an American accent that strays all over the place and goes missing altogether at times.I still shudder at the memory of his sheer woodenness as "Coriolanus "at Stratford some while back,and he should not be allowed within a country mile of a movie camera ever again.Harris subtly conveys the gradual coming apart of a cool,and proficient pro when in thrall to lust,and Stowe is never less than compelling even when as here the dialogue is a little cliche ridden.Del Toro shows why he has since gone on to better things The movie sat on the shelf a while and I guess was disinterred following Stowe's higher profile after The Last of the Mohicans and Blink I am glad they revived it since it is watchable and intriguing but Dance and a slight flatness in direction by John Bailey,whose work as cinematographer I admire plus the egregious Mr Dance see it marked down a tad in my estimation
Spoiled what was a good good movie!
Body Heat did it right.
Kyle a Little too drunk for his own good ends up-against his better judgment- getting hooked by Rachel's looks and, even though he knows that she's married, starts up an extramarital affair with her. It's not long after that Rachel's tells the love-sick Kyle that her marriage with Rupert is on the rocks with her wanting to get out of it but can't. Rupert has all the dough, 12 million smackers, and she wont get a penny of it if he divorces her. As for Rupert he's having a little action on the side with his girlfriend Adele, Patricia Healy,which in fact his wife not only knows about but has very incriminating photos of Rupert & Adele, with their clothes off and in hot and heavy action, that she can use to blackmail him.
With all this evidence of infidelity on Rupert's part it seemed to make no sense to me why Rachel would try to hook in the innocent Kyle in a plan to off her husband in the first place. It's later when we find out who's really behind this whole dirty rotten scheme it becomes very apparent that the very naive and innocent Kyle who was just looking for a good time-that fateful evening at JJ's Lounge-and nothing else was set up right from the start before he ever laid eyes on Rachel.
Kyle despite his partners homicide detective Lamar Dickey, Benicio Del Toro, warnings gets deeply involved with Rachel's troubles with Rupert beyond his professionalism as a policeman. Kyle gets involved in a murder that was secretly staged and cold-bloodily executed to not only do in Rupert but end up framing him in having committed it! In not just the murder itself but the blotched, with all the evidence of the crime pointing to himself, cover-up that was to followed it!
***SPOILERS*** With the noose tightly closing around Kyle's neck he soon comes to realize that the only way out for him is to come clean in admitting-to his immediate boss on the police force- what a sucker he was in falling for Rachel's trap that has him now the prime suspect in her husband's murder. It's then by studying the candid photographs of the late Rupert and Adeles secret affair that Kyle realizes just who besides Rachel was involved in Rupert's murder! Still with him now an accessory after the fact, in covering up the crime, Kyle's life is in shambles with even Rachel, if she decides to confess to the crime, not being able to save him.
Stowe is a great femme Fatale in this early 90's film starring Benicio Del Toro and Wayne Shorter. In a city where the majority of city blocks are occupied by industrial sectors of DeDonde Inc., conspiracies are frequently started for various reasons. In a town where cops help criminals and criminals help cops, Ed Harris is up against a web of deceit and confusion. He's the best man for the job, but is the "job" designed to frame him for MURDER? Madeline Stowe isn't telling him everything, and his detective partner Del Toro may have some cards up his sleeve as well.
Shorter is a local bar owner who sees it all, trying to help Harris before it's too late without letting Del Toro know the score, not to mention Stowe. With the help of a local inventor-gone-mad, Shorter is given a device that will help Ed Harris freeze time and therefore understand why all evidence points to him as the killer. (The device was intended for DeDonde Inc.) But Shorter is also double-crossed when MICHAELmATICIAN uses the device against him at the bar (in an effort to win a game of pool). Will Harris beat the rap? Will Shorter prove that it was Stowe? China Moon is real, as is the Michrotron. MICHAELmATICIAN states that we must learn to see the Michrotron at once. China Moon is also recommended.
2.342 (Jeremy Shingles)
To be kind since China Moon is a very good film in its own right, that is for lovers of film noir and its off shoot neo-noir, it's a film where its only crime is not being as great as previous instalments of noirs classic era and neo. Story treads deliciously familiar ground, where Harris' intrepid cop falls deep for Stowe's sultry babe and before he can say " I would do anything for you", he's in it up to his neck.
In true noir fashion there's a twisty road to be navigated, nothing is as it at first seems, with hidden agendas, shifty shenanigans and emotional turmoil all playing a hand. The police procedural aspect intrigues greatly, with the devilish kicker of Harris investigating himself, while the intricacies of crime investigation - such as bullet science - is not given short shrift.
As a mood piece it scores high, the sweaty Florida settings ripe for Bailey (a cinematographer by trade) to mix a bit of poetic ambiance with misty shimmers, rainy bleakness and colour coded criminality that's not detrimental to true noir essence. Perfs are from the higher end of the scale, and the makers add enough original touches of their own so as to not let this become a pointless retread.
Closing superbly with a double whammy finale, China Moon is one that film noir lovers should sample. 7/10
It's film noir, the most standard story in the repertoire; well meaning joe smitten by beautiful woman he chances to meet in a bar, someone's unhappy wife and pleads to him. We move through the customary points fairly quickly, we quickly establish them as in love, the husband as abusive cheat, and you don't even need me to tell you there's going to be a plot that backfires the day after. Ideally I would rather have this in a more spacious way, it's a bit constricted by the need to go through set motions.
Interesting is that we're not meant to know if she manipulated him that night or if there's another author in control of the narrative. We have only the enigmatic shot of her leaving the hotel and another woman going up to her room (to assume her place in the narrative).
The question is not just who done it here or will he get the rap. It's a question of if love that seemed so eager in her eyes was feigned after all. It's all the more devastating as we switch to his pov, that he wasn't just a dope tricked by sex, he was holding out for someone who was the promise of a life together.
It makes a real difference for me that we have these two people. In stuff like Romeo is Bleeding or Last Seduction, noir is turned into garish occasion, and I believe noir is enhanced all the more when we're able to see people who aren't cutouts truly struggle with how the world presents itself to them.
Harris is great in anchoring a fundamentally alert person who allows himself to stray for love. But it's the lovely Madeleine Stow who makes it, that we have at the center someone with a face as open as hers clouded by all these momentary flickers. She manages to anchor angst about her marriage, truthfulness in the love, from a soft distance that belies the inclination to reduce her to what we expect from familiarity with this type of story. It simply wouldn't be the same without her.
Look for example for the airport scene where she goes to pick up her husband, her steely-eyed look as she realizes the betrayal in plain sight might be a femme fatale's scheming of what we assume she is, or simply a woman's determination to end the charade. It's a more elusive view of noir machinations.
So I like that we have these two characters as we do, the wraparound into plot and eventual unmaskings less so.
Noir Meter: 3/4 | Neo-noir or post noir? Neo