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The Counselor (2013)
A successful art film
"The Counselor" is Ridley Scotts newest film and has been met with literally every rating available. It is understandable that audiences the world over would ponder the strange composition of dialogue and use of overly graphic violence. Some viewers may even find it drowns under the weight of it's own script and misinterpret this brave attempt as a failed action film. I call it a successful art film.
We're introduced to the main character, throughout the film known only as "The Counselor", a successful lawyer who through questionable friendships decides to go into the drug dealing business in an attempt to maintain his lavish lifestyle. The deal, however, goes awry and the counselor quickly finds himself on the run.
What at first glance seems like a pretty cool action thriller turns out to be a philosophical look at the consequences of bad decisions and learning to live with mistakes. Each sequence of dialogue is complex and reflects the cinematography in a pretty unusual way. It gives a socially realistic and artistic feel, but lose younger audiences in the process. Especially the opening and closing scenes of the movie are exceptionally shot and testaments to the bravery of Ridley Scott. The movie also implements the use of symbolism in the form of colors and make up, which seems a bit obvious compared to the complexity of the rest of the film. It seems almost insulting to the audiences when Cameron Diaz, who is often referred to as a "hunter" and a "cheetah" throughout the film is dressed up with claw-like nails and a cheetah tattoo down her back. Even though they don't leave much of the symbolism to the imagination, it gives an unusual and cool feeling that draws you into this world of fast cars, women, drugs and nightclubs. Very unrealistic but unlike anything I've ever seen.
The film is beautifully shot. The "closeness" of each shot seems to draw you through the screen and right into the room with the characters. You feel close to the counselor and care about his struggles and problems, as he tries to navigate his way out of the issues he's made for himself. It is the constant guessing of what will happen to our hero that keeps the audiences interested and on the edge of their seats, but also the moral struggles, self realization and moral redemption he must face. You want a happy ending, and it is that hope that keeps your attention. Otherwise the movie would merely be a series of extremely graphic violence and pointless dialogue.
As most people know by now, successful novelist Cormac McCarthy has written the script. As several of his books have been made into successful film, it is only natural he would make the transition to screenwriter. It is, however, obvious that it is not his niche. Most of the lines are very long and complex and would have probably worked much better as a book. Not thereby saying it doesn't work great as a film, because it definitely does. It's just not what you would expect when you watch the trailer or see the poster. The movie operates on a much deeper level and explores profound subjects about life, death and consequences.
Needless to say the acting is excellent. Michael Fassbender who's become one of the most "in demand" actors in Hollywood delivers the performance of a lifetime as The Counselor. He simply owns the character and works wonders with a script I imagine have been difficult to get into character with. The same goes for Brad Pitt who doesn't really have anything to prove. He plays "Westray", an ice-cold drug runner and business partner of the counselor. It's a shame that his combined screen time doesn't exceed more than 20 minutes or so, because the character is really interesting and probably the coolest in the movie. Javier Bardem is absolutely hilarious as "Reiner", a flamboyant club owner and drug dealer who brings some much needed light humor to the table. His scenes are very funny and give you pause to breathe through the waves of dialogue.
As much as I love Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem and Michael Fassbender, I find it necessary to note how utterly ridiculous Cameron Diaz is. It is impossible for her to carry this ice queen of a character and what should have been an intimidating and dangerous femme fatale ends up being a complete fiasco and a parody of itself. You look at her and can't think anything but "There's Something About Mary". I also heard Angelina Jolie was supposed to play her role, which would have been 1 million times better. I'm not questioning Cameron Diaz's acting skills, but she should probably stick to what she knows, which is comedies.
To summarize, "The Counselor" is a very deep, very well played movie with several philosophical aspects put into a modern setting. Sadly it's been marketed as an action thriller in an attempt to reach a wider target audience. It's unfair to judge it on that background because I find this movie revolutionizing in terms of genre. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before and works as it is; an art film.
Ben Affleck is a director, not an actor!
When I first watched "Argo" I have do admit I had my doubts. Mainly because I have an ambiguous relationship with Ben Affleck, I was very nervous in terms of what to expect from him. As an actor he has always confused me, mainly because he's managed to cement himself as one of the top A-listers despite some horrible performances and choice of roles. Daredevil, Reindeer Games, Bounce, Jersey Girl were all titles that made us doubt the handsome brown- eyed actor. It seemed that he played the same role over and over again. For whatever reason we tolerated it for a while. Probably because we still remembered the glory days of Good Will Hunting and Armageddon. I remember seeing a spoof on Family Guy with Ben Affleck sitting on a dirty couch drinking beer. He suddenly exclaims "Whoah! I gotta be Henry the 8th in twenty minutes!" He practices saying "Hello" with a terrible English accent, snaps his fingers, says, "Got it", and leaves through the door. This 8-second clip pretty much summed up how I felt about him for many years and in 2003 he finally dropped the ball completely with Gigli, a movie often credited as one of the worst ever made. I for one, lost all respect.
We forget about him until 2007 where his little brother steps into the light with a strong performance in Gone Baby Gone directed by Ben himself. A well crafted fast-paced thriller that showed a new side of the forgotten star. 3 years later, it's clear. Ben Affleck is back with yet another brilliant movie. The Town. We realize that this man is a director, not an actor. His way of telling his stories is absolutely unparalleled and he manages to pull the viewer into the plot with wonderful character developments. The Town garnered Jeremy Renner an Oscar-nomination, and this is as much a compliment to Affleck as it is to Renner, since the viewers' involvement with the character and empathy is one of Affleck's main traits as a director.
Argo is no exception to Ben Affleck's brilliance as a director. It is so very easy to make a fast paced action movie with gunfights and car chases, and so extremely hard to make one with the finesse and fine-tuned timing that makes you sit on the edge of your seat. It simply goes to show you don't need all the violence, and fast paced hardcore action that currently dominates Hollywood. It is a revolutionary and brave attempt at bringing the thriller genre into a new era.
The movie sets off at the escalation of the Iranian hostage crisis. With no prior knowledge to this event, the viewer has no doubts about what is happening, and the conflict is as clear as daylight. 6 American diplomats working on the American embassy in Iran flees when Iranian rebels attack the Embassy. They seek refuge at the Canadian Ambassador's estate, who has to keep it a secret in order to maintain his peaceful and diplomatic relationship with the Iranians. When the CIA learns of the attack they hire their very best "extractor", Tony Mendez to extract the six refugees out of Iran. He comes up with an ingenious plan to make a "fake" movie, and use it as a cover to extract the Americans. He teams up with two Hollywood experts, director Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and special effects man John Chambers (John Goodman) to fake the movie and travels to Iran to extract the refugees.
The tone of the movie is set from scene 1, and the tension is build up exponentially from here. The before mentioned finesse shines through so brightly, since you never know what will happen next. It's an extremely exciting and intense storyline, and Affleck manages to keep you interested without your typical big, visually spectacular action sequences. Alan Arkin and John Goodman manages to breathe some fresh, lighthearted and witty life into the otherwise serious movie. Through their amusing dialogues, they give the movie a charming twist and elevate it to a whole new level. Goodman and Arkin seem to be very comfortable in their roles and Arkins' Oscar nomination is indeed deserved.
Ben Affleck's choices of actors for the roles always amuse me. In The Town he chose actors like Blake Lively, John Hamm and Titus Welliver who are all strong and well-known actors, but mainly in TV-series. The same goes for Argo. Bryan Cranston, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall and Rory Cochrane dominate most of the main cast. Whether or not this is intentional, it is worth mentioning since it says a lot about Affleck as a director that he doesn't necessarily choose the most famous actors, but the ones that are best suited for the role.
It pains me to have to write this last section of my review, but someone has to do it. Ben Affleck's role is not particularly good. It's not particularly bad either, but he just seems incredibly unnecessary in the sense that his performance is a bit spineless. I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this one, but his character just didn't speak to me at all. I read that Affleck originally wanted Brad Pitt to play Tony Mendez, but he had to back out of the project because of scheduling problems. Maybe that's why he decided to take over the role himself, and maybe that's why it seemed a little "rushed".
In conclusion Argo is literally the point where art meets action, and the result is a redefining piece of film history, that has cemented Affleck as one of the top directors of our time.
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Wonderful performance by Renner and Weisz, despite the lack of a coherent storyline and a poorly written script.
The Bourne Legacy is the fourth installment of the Bourne franchise and evolves around a new main protagonist, Aaron Cross. The story runs parallel with the end of the third Bourne movie, and concerns itself with the result of Jason Bourne's exposure of the Blackbriar program.
"Outcome", another government program, is trying to cover up themselves by eliminating their agents in order to not get pulled down by the coming scandal set in motion by Jason Bourne's actions. Outcome is an affiliate of Blackbriar and Treadstone, with one significant difference however. Their agents are chemically enhanced to be quicker, stronger and smarter, by ingesting a set of pills. This is where we meet Aaron Cross. Being hunted by his own agency, while trying to get the pills he so desperately need.
What makes this movie watchable is NOTHING but the performance of the lead actors, Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz. Both talented actors with great depth and experience. It is obvious that they are struggling to tap into the emotional vein of their characters, and the script taken into consideration, it is not strange. Despite this, Renner and Weisz manage to pull it off beautifully. This is no doubt due to the undeniable chemistry between the two. Weisz's sensitive and innocent character fits together beautifully with Renner's stoic, cold, and very charming character. Weisz in particular brings some much needed sensitivity to the movie, which otherwise would have been pretty boring to watch. She becomes Cross's object of protection, and it is because of her we even care about his attempt to find safety from his assailants. Without her, this would have been a movie about a man trying to find medicine. In short I have nothing but respect for these two people, and they do a wonderful job despite what would have otherwise been an insult to the series and the genre in general.
Regrettably Edward Norton's character as Eric Byer, the "bad guy" hunting for Aaron Cross seems spineless and unnecessary compared to the other two. This makes him annoying and superficial when he's on, and you can't help but get the feeling that he shouldn't be there. Compared to Chris Cooper's mysterious and secretive character as Conklin, the head of Treadstone from The Bourne Identity, Norton seems even more spineless and unnecessary.This is once again more of a critique of the script than of Edward Norton as an actor, since we know (from for example American History X and Fight Club) that Edward Norton can really act.
This is the kind of movie, where they show every single action sequence in the trailer. As you start watching the movie, you're wondering when it's ACTUALLY gonna start, and when it does start you're wondering what it's actually about. It's very hard to keep track of, and it seems to want to be two things at the same time. It is impossible to watch it without forgetting what you saw in the last three films, because it is so far from the original ones. It is like you are in a completely different universe, and it lacks the charm, mystique and wit that makes a "real" Bourne movie. Paul Greengrass managed to be innovative without compromising the dark, mysterious, kind-of-charming feel of the first movie. For whatever reason, Tony Gilroy has not. The Bourne Legacy is so far from the other three movies that it is hard to believe it's in the same "universe". At the same time it is impossible to understand the plot without keeping track of what happened in the original ones. That way it's trying to be two very different things, and ends up worming itself into a strange borderland between "Knight And Day" and "Quantum Of Solace" which leaves you puzzled to its existence, and unconvinced to its plot.
The movie does have some pretty decent action sequences with great effects, but lacks the storyline, motivation, drive and intimacy to justify them. They're redundant.
Towards the end of the two and a half hour ordeal that this movie really is, you find yourself not really caring anymore and just want it to end decently. And then the air goes out of the balloon with a poof. Out of nowhere the movie ends, with no conclusion, no explanation and no reason whatsoever for it to exist. You're left with a lot more questions than answers, and feel unsatisfied with what you've just seen.
Perhaps it was due to my high expectations that I couldn't enjoy this movie as much as I wanted, but I feel like i've seen enough to know what makes a great movie and distinguish between a good and a bad scripts. It's a real shame, because Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton are three of my favorite actors and I think they could have worked miracles with the right script.
In short, I have nothing but respect for the actors but don't feel like this is worthy of being called a Bourne movie.