CIA analyst Jack Ryan must thwart the plans of a terrorist faction that threatens to induce a catastrophic conflict between the United States and Russia's newly elected president by detonating a nuclear weapon at a football game in Baltimore.
After being imprisoned for six years on a grand theft auto charge, Rudy Duncan (Ben Affleck) and his cellmate Nick (James Frain) are finally going to be paroled. After hearing endless stories during his incarceration of Nick's romantic correspondence to a woman named Ashley he has never met (Charlize Theron), Rudy is looking forward to returning to his family and having a fresh cup of hot chocolate. When Nick is killed during a prison riot, Rudy decides to assume Nick's identity upon release from prison and meet up with the unknown woman. Burdened with a base knowledge of Nick's Indian casino employment past, Rudy finds himself in too deep with Ashley's brother Gabriel (Gary Sinise) and is violently forced to cooperate with a casino robbery that Gabriel and his gang have been planning with Nick in mind. Written by
Reindeer Games is a semi-guilty pleasure to be sure. I don't feel it's one of those so-bad-it's-good sort of movies, but the script relies quite a bit on chance and one of the plot twists, though quite fun and unpredictable, is a bit on the implausible side. The likelihood of this situation panning itself out the way it did here isn't very high, but the film works because of John Frankenheimer's direction, the charismatic cast, and the dark humor.
Rudy Duncan (Ben Affleck), a car thief, and his cellmate and best friend Nick Cassidy (James Frain) are two days away from being released from prison. Rudy just wants to return home to his family, while Nick plans on meeting with his pen-pal girlfriend, a beautiful woman named Ashley (Charlize Theron). Unfortunately, a food fight breaks out in the prison cafeteria and Nick is killed, leaving Rudy with a dilemma. When he's released, at the last moment, he decides to pose as Nick to Ashley.
For the first few days, this is Heaven for Rudy. He and Ashley click immediately, and they make love in a motel. However, returning back to the motel from some shopping, he's ambushed and beaten by Ashley's brother, Gabriel (Gary Sinise) and his men. Having read Nick's letters and discovering he'd worked as a security guard at the Tomahawk Casino, he plans to use Rudy (whom he thinks is Nick) to help him rob the casino. Rudy has to now find a way to convince everyone he's Nick and get out of this situation alive.
From the opening scene featuring five dead Santas in the snow, Reindeer Games had me riveted. It's a fine way to open the film, giving the feeling that something disastrous has just occured, and it piqued my interest. Using the flashback method in this film is effective, which may now be considered tiresome in films overall, but it works here.
After The Island of Dr. Moreau, it looked as if though director Frankenheimer's career was almost over; then came Ronin, an action thriller that featured some exciting shootouts and one of the most brilliant car chases ever filmed. Reindeer Games still features Frankenheimer doing a first-rate job. While his direction is far from flawless (he has a pesky insistence to shoot many, many close-ups) he does an excellent job creating suspense and believable action scenes.
Reindeer Games tries to work as both action and suspense, and for the most part, it succeeds. The action is refreshingly not over-the-top in the "how do we top the next stunt" style seen in so many Jerry Bruckheimer or Joel Silver blockbuster films. Frankenheimer injects tension into the gunplay, fistfights, and chases, and these scenes work better than they probably could have in another less talented director's hands.
Ehren Kruger wrote the script, and he puts in a lot of dark humor. There are a lot of funny moments, due mostly to Affleck trying to ad-lib and convince everyone he's actually Nick. Of course, Kruger is also (in)famous for plot twists that just about nobody can predict, but are also wildly improbable. Actually, Reindeer Games' final plot twist is perhaps more likely to occur than the twists in Kruger's other scripts (Scream 3 and Arlington Road). Speaking of that twist, let me just say that you might or might not figure it out almost exactly a minute before it happens. Unlikely or not, there's no denying that last twist is a lot of fun.
Director Frankenheimer and screenwriter Kruger also seem to know what the audience wants from this sort of movie, and they fill it with everything they can, including violent action, the dark humor, the twists and turns, as well as a good dose of sex and nudity, provided mostly by Charlize Theron. The fact that she's a lovely woman doesn't hurt matters at all.
The cast plays a major part in the film's success. Ben Affleck has proven he's one of cinema's most charismatic young actors. His Rudy Duncan is character you can root for the whole way through because Affleck molds him into a likable and energetically funny persona. Gary Sinise chews the scenery big-time as the villain. Let's face it, he's easily one of the best actors around and it's somewhat of a shame to see him play a role like this when he's easily suited for something more complex, but he has so much fun in the role it's hard not to feel his enthusiasm. Charlize Theron doesn't really get a whole lot to work with. She has only a few modes, mostly just relegated to smiling or crying, or looking lost or angry. The supporting cast mostly consists of Gabriel's henchmen, which include Clarence William III, Donal Logue, and Danny Trejo, all of whom deliver okay performances. The only other cast member with signifcant screen time is Dennis Farina, who tries to chew the scenery like Sinise, but isn't half as effective or memorable.
Of course, not everything in the film is effective. The film has a dark tone and atmosphere almost the whole way through, and it creates more unpleasant scenes than are welcome. You also have to wonder about the intelligence of Gabriel and his men; they simply don't have a lot of it. They get fooled by Rudy a little too easily and after a while, it feels like they give him too many chances.
But ultimately, those are my only true gripes with the movie. Reindeer Games hardly takes itself ultra-seriously, and as a result it's a fun ride virtually the whole way through. There's nothing truly innovative or brilliant at work here, and the film's certainly not saying anything deep; it's just for entertainment value, and all the elements work together well to create an enjoyable and fast-paced thriller.
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