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The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
Decent acting by Washington but poor performance by Travolta and a bad script
I don't know if Tony Scott, Travolta, and Washington were hard up for money or what, but that is what this movie felt like. The basic plot is that Washington is happens to be on duty at the New York subway authority when Travolta highjacks a train with innocent civilians on it. Travolta holds the hostages for ransom and Washington serves as the intermediary between the NYPD hostage negotiator (John Turturro) and Travolta (who goes by the name Ryder in the movie). The remainder of the movie is spent over the one hour that Travolta gives the NYPD to deliver the ransom money. The characters are horribly developed and the audiences is forced to make rather bland inferences on the motivations of Washington and Travolta. The cinematography is standard Tony Scott, so if you have scene "Man on Fire" or "Deja Vu," it will be rather familiar. Travolta's character lacks any sort of decency or reason so it is tough to identify with any of the criminals. The climax of the movie is more of plateau due to the poorly written resolution. Bottom line, this movie would have gone straight to DVD if it weren't for the names of Scott, Washington and Travolta. See it if you must.
Wonderfully acted and shot, if not exceedingly long and under edited
Solid performances from both Damon and Eastwood (director) and an excellent portrayal by Freeman. "Invictus" looks at the issues faced by the new government in post apartheid South Africa and one of the ways, support of the "White" Rugby team, that Nelson Mandela tries to heal the country. Freeman is very convincing in his role, maybe because he finally plays a role closer to his age, as Nelson Mandela. He exudes leadership and understanding. Damon plays the Rugby team Captain that presses his team to continue their quest for a rugby championship despite the distractions of the time. His performance is good but not great as he doesn't really show any range on emotions. The final piece of the triangle is Clint Eastwood. He continues his exploration of important contemporary topics and gives us the expected excellent cinematography. Where he lets down the audience is in the editing. Many scenes are much longer than required and summation makes the movie a half hour longer than it needed to be to achieve the desired end. Good movie, but I would wait for it on DVD.
Gritty perspective on the war on terrorism
Don Cheadle selected another excellent role for himself in a movie that tells the tail of Jihad from the Western and Muslim perspective. If you are expecting an action flick, this is the wrong movie for you. Traitor focuses more on personal relationships than high-tech weapons. The movie makes good use of the actuals tactics and methodology of present day jihadists. But some of the terms, such as the halawas, could be better defined. The way the movie portrays interaction between American security agencies is interesting, but better represents the Cold War era than modern day. The limited information presented about Cheadle's past also leaves just enough for the imagination to wonder. The one negative is that Archie Panjabi's character was not developed enough. She did a solid job with the few lines she was given. However, a more developed Panjabi character would have added more depth to Cheadle. Overall, very good movie that makes you think.
The Strangers (2008)
Suspenseful but flat movie
"The Strangers" did an excellent job of achieving suspense; but fell far short in supplying the other ingredients that make up a successful movie. The movie did little to develop or explain any of the characters. After the exposition of the main characters dealing with isolation and assault by unknown assailants there was no crescendo. Finally, the tactics by the protagonists became unbelievable about an hour into the movie. It was upsetting that the writers failed to address these three key issues because the director did a very good job handling suspense with a minimum of special effects and blood. On the whole this movie is a B minus, and only worth watching if you can catch it for less than a couple of bucks or you want your girlfriend to grab you tight.
Reign Over Me (2007)
One of Sandler's best
Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle showcase great chemistry in this tale about human loss. Jada Pinkett Smith and Liv Tyler perform adequately in supporting roles, but neither is anything to write home about. The basic story of the movie is that Sandler has lost touch with reality following the death of his wife and three daughters. Cheadle and Sandler went to dental school together, but the two had not spoken to each other in several years. Cheadle has issues of his own (introduce Tyler as the serious, yet compassionate psychiatrist) and the chance reunion with Sandler provides Cheadle's character with a vent for his own frustrations. Sandler does a magnificent job playing the grieving husband. He handles the shifts between emotions very well. The are two issues with this movie that keep it from being great. The first is the length and the second is the slightly unbelievable relationship that Sandler has with his parent's in-law.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Solid effort at a Cormac McCarthy tale
The characters in the movie were excellently portrayed by all actors. The only thing that keeps this from being a 10 is Tommy Lee Jones relationship to the main plot line. If the characters were better tied together I would have given it a perfect score, but there was too much left for interpretation by the movie goers. This fault aside, Bardem is clearly the muscle in the movie. Although his exact motivation appears to be money and greed, you get the feeling that there is something more primal to Bardem's path of aggression. Bardem's cool calculating ways are contrasted by Josh Brolin's gritty understanding of his precarious situation. The grit shown by Brolin is typical of the modern day southern Texan. Woddy Harrelson makes a bit more than a cameo appearance, but his small part accomplishes what the Cohen's intended. Bardem's confrontation with Harrelson shows just how competent the maniacal killer really is.