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Was expecting more
Regarded in the trailer as "one of the most corrupt cops ever on screen," Woody Harrelson's character was honestly underwhelming. The actor did an exceptional job portraying a dirty cop, but was no where near the capacity of evil as Denzel in Training Day or Damon in The Departed. His portrayal was very real which is a characteristic that Oren Moverman appears to gravitate to in his films and while Moverman, in his second theatrical film, does a good job, it is no where near what he achieved in his amazing debut The Messenger. Harrelson did a fine job but he also failed to achieve the same greatness that he displayed in The Messanger as well. Some of the talented character actors in the film like Ben Foster and Sigourney Weaver deliver solid performances but aren't on screen enough make any impact overall to the film. It's a film that due to it's original limited release will likely struggle at the box office and moviegoers aren't missing too much in the process. I enjoy dramatic movies more than any other genre, but I found this film bland and the characters for the most part only OK at best. The actors did a good job but not good enough to make the film a success. There was just no wow factor in this film, which anticipated the wow factor being Harrelson's villainous performance. I'd give it a C in large part due to a broad and bland plot which could've been much better.
Predictable but highly entertaining
Despite being a typical and highly predictable alpha-male action hero flick, Contraband is a tense crime film that doesn't ask too much emotionally of its star. Now although every twist and turn is noticeably coming scenes in advance, the acting is actually on par and in large part to so some perfectly casted roles. As always, J.K. Simmons and Ben Foster deliver on point and pitch perfect performances. Even Giovanni Ribisi brings his A game as gritty criminal close to the bottom of the food chain. Now midway through this movie, I'll admit I was a little turned off by just how easy it was to foresee the near future, but some solid action scenes and particularly the heist scenes kept my interest peaked and ended up making me enjoy the film much more than I had anticipated I would. To put it simply, Contraband is for anyone who likes a good action-caper and quite enjoyable if you can excuse its predictability. I'd give it a C+.
The Descendants (2011)
Certainly one of the year's best
My only regret about this movie is that it took me this long to see it. The Descendants, is one of those films that fully succeeds at what it is trying to accomplish. George Clooney fully engulfs himself into the character of Matt King, and his emotional range sways from moments of pure pleasure to those of betrayal and discomfort. Clooney's spectacular and award winning performance is only outdone by Alexander Payne's ability to portray a beautiful slice of heaven in Hawaii while at the same time breaking the viewers heart with devastating character developments and scenes that will undoubtedly have an emotionally conscious viewer on the verge of tears. Even the brief supporting roles of Beau Bridges, Matthew Lilliard, and Judy Greer feel so real and intense that at times it felt like I wasn't watching a film at all, but rather the lives of several individuals in some of their most vulnerable moments. To put it simply, Clooney gives a knockout performance and the Descendants is surely one the most outstanding films of the year. If I had to choose one, this would have to be my choice for the Best Picture of 2011. A+