Reviews written by registered user
|26 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
People say (and write) many things about this movie, most commonly that
it's some sort of a "message" movie, or allegory, about the war in
Vietnam. Whether it is or isn't (and I say it isn't), it doesn't matter
a whit. The movie stands on its own merits as (1) a fine movie, (2) a
John Wayne movie --one of his last, (3) telling a good story, (4) a
coming-of-age story, (5) with fine acting all the way around. In
addition to The Duke, we have Roscoe Lee Browne playing the role of
cook and philosopher, charming, dignified, and charismatic, and Bruce
Dern, occupying the role and position of probably the all-time most
evil "bad guy" villain in cinematic westerns history, and Dern more
than delivers the goods. Through it all, the movie remains a coming of
age story for the ages, and the proof is in the fact that it stands up
well, even now, 43 years after its release.
I believe the controversy stems from the fact that it's a John Wayne movie, and he was a known hawk when it came to the war. So people read into that what they want to read into that. But simple logic dictates otherwise, that this movie is not about the war. Wayne would never have participated in an anti-war film, so that rules that out. And Bruce Dern and director Mark Rydell were both known for their liberal and anti-war politics, and would not have signed on to a pro-war movie. Ergo, the movie was not making any kind of direct and intentional statement about the war, for or against.
It's a bit ironical for me personally that the film carries with it that pro Vietnam war or anti Vietnam war controversy, either way (and people say both things about it). I was in Japan on R&R from Vietnam when I saw this movie in the Spring of 1972, in a Japanese theater amusingly dubbed into Japanese with English subtitles. To this day I still don't know why they did that. Why not just Japanese subtitles? But the buzz about the movie at the time was not that it was pro-war or anti-war, and I never heard any such theory like that until many years later. The only popular buzz about this movie in 1972 had to do with the nature and fact of the demise of John Wayne's character.
Many reviewers note and comment upon how this series transitioned over
the seasons, for the worse. Most pivotal was the shift from it being a
series about the travails of James and Florida, raising a family and
trying with make ends meet, and overall do the right thing, and doing
it with dignity, to a show about the antics of their teen-aged/young
adult son, J.J.
The show had good ratings in its early seasons, so why the change?
As is always the case in life, follow the money. In this instance it's about selling advertising time. The good ratings this show enjoyed during it's first seasons did not hold up in the key demographic: 18 to 34 year-old viewers, with money. They were trying to attract a younger audience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the Rambo universe this is the best Rambo movie of the lot.
Admittedly we're talking about a limited and perversely esoteric
universe, but, hey, that's a given going in.
Why does this film enjoy this lofty perch? It's hard to put your finger on it, but I say it's Sylvester Stallone's relative evolution and maturity as a film maker. Stallone built into the story and into the Rambo character itself some understatement and subtleties not before seen. Understatement and subtleties were never Rambo/Stallone's main calling card, preferring instead brooding and vengeful extreme blunt force trauma, and make no mistake, we get heaping portions of the latter here too, but Stallone layers a little texture into the plot and into John Rambo not much before seen. "Not much before seen" rather than "never before seen" because in truth the first Rambo film, First Blood, did contain texture to the story and to the character, but it was of a different sort (Rambo as mentally unstable, a victim of an unpopular war). Besides, since that first entry Stallone took the franchise and character off in a different direction.
The story begins with Rambo living somewhat contentedly in semi-retirement as a snake hunter and riverboat operator in Thailand. The inner-brooding Rambo, and maybe even traces of the inner-simmering Rambo are still there, but he seems to have to some degree come to terms with himself and the world. He is approached by a team of American Christian missionaries to take them upriver into Burma. The team's leader, Michael Burnett (played by Paul Schulze) earnestly tries to persuade Rambo to take them, but Rambo is having none of it. During this early scene some of Stallone's newly found understatement and subtlety shows itself. Michael, negotiating with Rambo to take them uppriver, tells about their humanitarian mission, while Rambo is tending to his caged snakes. While tersely telling Michael that Michael can't make a difference, Rambo unobtrusively feeds a little white mouse to a snake. Where the old Stallone would've highlighted this act, focused the camera on it, and then made an ostentatious display of the snake devouring the mouse, the mature Stallone does not. The focus is on the conversation and the mouse is in the background, and it happens quickly. We the viewer are left to ponder what we fleetingly saw, and only later realize the conceit of the metaphor.
Rebuffed, Michael gives up. Undeterred, the only woman in the group, the comely Sarah (played by Julie Benz), picks up where Michael left off. She pleads with Rambo in just about every way possible to take them to Burma. Rambo still says no. More than once he tells her to "go home." After pleading doesn't work, Sarah resorts to basically stalking Rambo. In a conversation on the dock in a monsoon-like rain Sarah is able pierce through Rambo's impenetrably hardened exterior, touching him inside. "Maybe you've lost your faith in people. But you must still be faithful to something. You must still care about something. Maybe we can't change what is. But trying to save a life isn't wasting your life, is it?", she asks him. There's something about Sarah that reaches Rambo unlike anyone else, this Rambo or any previous Rambo. And we know at this point that Rambo has in some manner bonded with Sarah, because he finally relents.
As an aside, I briefly wondered if this wasn't a set-up for some sort of love interest for Rambo, however counter-intuitive and implausible given their age differences, but at the same time it seemed possible, being uncertain about the state of Stallone's ego nowadays. Sarah informs Rambo that she and Michael are engaged, and that changed the dynamic, but didn't necessarily dispel the notion. Instead, it was Sarah's persistence and ability to reach Rambo on a purely human level --in no way sexual-- that dispelled it. At one point she says to Rambo, "You have family back home?" Rambo: "Father, maybe. I don't know." To which Sarah says, "Aren't you curious to see how things might've changed back home?" That simple exchange left Rambo at least contemplative, working on the soft inner Rambo, the Rambo of First Blood, who couldn't find his way home after all he'd been through.
The first action scene follows soon, when they are overtaken by well-armed Burmese river pirates. The pirates quickly focus on Sarah, with obvious malevolent lascivious intent. At crunch time, with no way out, Rambo kicks into action, dispatching the numerous pirates with extreme and bloody prejudice in seconds flat. At this point we know that Rambo hasn't lost any bit of a step since we last saw him. We also now see that Rambo has bonded with Sarah, and that he's got her back forever and ever.
Rambo ultimately drops the group off in Burma, where they'll go overland to their destination, and leave that way too, so they bid themselves adieu. But we know it's not really adieu.
What follows for the next 60+ minutes is pretty much your standard issue search and rescue operation, Rambo style. Modern special effects galore. A veritable blood-fest . The film, despite its sensitivities and appeal to the soft side of Rambo, is perfunctorily taken out of the chick-flick genre. A little different twist though: Rambo works with a team of hired mercenaries, led by former SAS commando Lewis (played by Graham McTavish). Also of note is former SAS sniper extraordinaire, "Schoolboy" (played by Matthew Marsden), a loyal and efficient operator who has Rambo's back. Rambo shows himself a capable team player and leader, in addition to being a one-man doomsday machine.
At the end, we see Rambo back in Arizona walking up the drive home to his father's ranch, presumably for the first time since he left oh so many years ago.
Is this the end of the franchise? Maybe. Probably. We'll just have to wait and see. I'm betting it is. Rambo at rest.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I won't say people will either love this movie or they will hate it.
I'm sure it breaks down that way to some extent, and the range of
opinions expressed about the movie support that notion, but I'm
nevertheless also sure there are those out there who are ambivalent or
indifferent about it, neither loving or hating it. That's because I'm
one who was ambivalent about it after I first saw it in 2001. There was
much to like about the movie. Film makers par excellence, Stanley
Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. Does it get any better than that? The
cast was good too, all of it. Especially Haley Joel Osment. Production
values galore. The film is beautifully rendered. But even with all that
there was something about it that bothered me, even annoyed me, and
whatever it was it got in the way of my enjoyment of it. So I dismissed
this movie and didn't even think about again it for years. Recently it
popped up on HBO. I took the opportunity to watch it again. I found
myself not being as bothered by the movie as I was before. HBO being
HBO, I watched it again. And then again. Now there is nothing about the
movie I dislike or that bothers me. I now like this movie without
reservation. I also figured out why I reacted the way I did in the
My suggestion to those who don't like the movie is watch it again, and give it your thorough attention. Your opinion may change. For a couple of reasons.
First, this is a very complex movie. There's a lot to take in, visually, cognitively, philosophically. I've now seen it four times and I don't believe I've yet absorbed all there is. We're talking Kubrick AND Spielberg here. That alone tells you this movie contains much to behold. I'm not of the school who believes that Spielberg mucked this up after Kubrick died. Yes, Kubrick nursed this project along for over 20 years, from initial writing and treatment through rewrite after rewrite. But it was Kubrick who hand-picked Spielberg to direct it, years before it finally was made, Kubrick leaving his indelible imprimatur, but Spielberg likewise leaving his too was always anticipated, including by Kubrick. Kubrick wanted Spielberg's touch on this movie. Nor do I believe the movie is "20 minutes too long". Those last 20 minutes are not just Spielberg schmaltz, they are important to the resolution of the story. Throughout the first 126 minutes of the movie we are asked in myriad ways to care about David. The last 20 minutes gives meaning to that caring. Without that conclusion there is no meaning, just a cold void.
Which leads directly to the second reason why I recommend repeated viewings, and the explanation for my initial reaction. The story is about a robot designed and programmed to be just like a little boy, who wants to be a real little boy, and who literally spends thousands of years seeking the return of love from his human "mother" who he was programmed to bond with and love. That's the basis from which all manner of questions are asked and explored, about the meaning of love, humanity, and of existence itself. I submit that this storyline told that way --about a child-- ultimately overwhelms the emotional senses. It more than tugs at the heartstrings. It yanks at them. While we might care about the android Data on Star Trek, or about the robot Robin Williams plays in Bicentennial Man, both of which also want to be human, our caring for those "adult" robots is nothing compared to the caring we feel for the child David here. With an innocent child seeking his mother's love it all goes way over the top. Add to the mix that Haley Joel Osment played the role masterfully. With this recipe the movie bluntly manipulates our emotions, something it does too well. It becomes distracting and difficult to watch, let alone to process analytically. Think Bambi, but on steroids. Many of us just shut it down, saying to ourselves, "I don't need this maudlin stuff in my life." Thus affected, the viewer never appreciates the movie's rich themes because the shutdown blocks all that. What I found, however, is that subsequent viewings lessens the distracting effect, and the movie becomes much easier to watch and fully appreciate. Oddly, it appears that Kubrick and Spielberg knew exactly what they were toying with in this respect, and they did it intentionally. It is embedded in the story itself. The flesh fair's barker, as he was getting ready to destroy David, has to keep reminding the audience that David is only a machine, not a real boy, and he implores the audience to not allow their emotions to be manipulated by the machine's child-like appearance. As David tearfully pleads for his life the audience is swayed, giving David an opening to escape. The inner audience, the audience within the story, is is being manipulated the same way we in the outer audience, were being manipulated. This must be a conceit by intent and design.
As a child actor Haley Joel Osment was nonpareil. The Sixth Sense told us that. This was his last role as a child, and after this he became a different actor (see e.g., Secondhand Lions). Puberty did that. His career as an adult actor is just now beginning, and what that holds in store remains to be seen. But as a child he was very very good. Maybe the best ever. And this is him at his best
If you haven't seen it, be prepared to see it more than once. If you have seen it, see it again. This is a movie that gets better each time you see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie in the theaters back in 1994. When it was released on
VHS I obtained that version. I've watched the movie about once every
two years since then. This is an amazing movie in any number of ways.
One big way it amazes me, is the way which it, as a simple and
guileless little story, like a feather wafting in the breeze,
nevertheless evokes raw rank hatred and eyeball-bulging, forehead
vein-popping, spittle-spewing vitriol from liberals and so-called
"intellectuals" who are absolutely certain that, like a guided missile,
it is seeking them out, intentionally, personally, to insult them with
rightwing thoughts and ideas, and by a nitwit character no less.
Hahahaha. As if.
So let's first thing pop that little pea right out of the shooter. Let's dispense with the bilge of this movie being some kind of sub rosa rightwing plot. Puh-leeeze. This is a mainstream Hollywood production. Robert Zemeckis, Tom Hanks, Sally Field, and Robin Wright Penn are all known Hollywood lefties, liberal devotees who would take the pipe long before allowing themselves to be associated with or be used by anything akin a rightwing movie, let alone be openly and voluntarily involved in making one. Bottom line, this is not a political movie. This is not a movie which is making any kind of political or social statements in any respect. People who think it is doing any of that are just working way too hard over-thinking it all. Period. It's odd because it's really not all that complicated of a thing to understand. Which leads directly to another amazing thing about this movie: it is amazing the way the simple little message the movie is actually sending just sails right over so many people's heads. Amazingly they just don't get it, and based on the comments here they still aren't getting it 14 years later and counting. So if you fall into that category let me help you out.
What is the message of Forrest Gump? Stripped to its purest essence, this movie is about loyalty and devotion, particularly to the ones in our lives we love and care about. These are the human values being reinforced. Loyalty. Devotion. Forrest Gump embodies loyalty and devotion. To his mama. To his good best buddy Bubba. To the love of his life, Jenny. To his leader, Lt. Dan. And in the end to Forrest Jr. One by one and all together Forrest sticks by and takes care of his family, friends, and loved ones. This is the thread running through the entire story. This is what carries Forrest to all of the remarkable places he goes along the way.
The use of a mentally challenged man as the leading man is a conceit, used to illustrate the point that loyalty and devotion are the most important things in life, trumping everything else. It drives home the point that nothing else really matters anywhere near as much. Indeed, it drives it home with blunt force. Maybe it drives it home too hard for such a simple little point. Maybe this is where the movie's detractors get themselves side-tracked.
There are a number of other amazing and remarkable things about this movie. The performances. The special effects. The almost poetic simplicity of the story and the way it is told. See it for all this and more, but please, don't over-think it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1979 I avoided this movie. Such were my tastes then. Most people in
my age group at the time, late 20s, were somewhat aghast about the
whole Brooke Shields-as-a-movie-star concept. People in my age cohort
will remember how she was regarded back then: a little bit gawky, and
with her long dark hair, flawless skin, and overpowering eyebrows, she
was also seen as preternaturally adult-like, uncomfortably so. Her
mother exacerbated that discomfort, with her apparent intent to get her
daughter cast into roles to highlight and exploit that preternatural
adult-like quality, to essentially sexualize her preteen, early-teens
daughter. Mom seemed convinced she had the next Elizabeth Taylor on her
hands which she was determined to cash in on. The camera loved Brooke,
no question, still and moving cameras alike, she was photogenic her
entire life, but this nevertheless was a phase when watching her on
screen was on the uncomfortable side. With all that I took a pass in
1979, and never really thought about it again. Brooke went on to have a
credible career as a real adult, particularly on television, and
particularly after she began making her own career decisions. When
thinking about Brooke Shields as she was, her early career, and her
being sexually exploited, I've flashed on Pretty Baby and The Blue
Lagoon. Wanda Nevada was forgotten about, at least by me.
Wanda Nevada was on cable TV this weekend, and I decided to watch it. I must say, it surprised me. Premium cable being what it is, movies shown are shown over and over, so I watched it twice. It is a charming, almost whimsical little movie. Equally charming is Brooke Shields in it.
A few things about the movie bothered me, but overall I found myself liking it more than not. This movie is largely Peter Fonda's movie. He directed and he starred as the male lead opposite Brooke Shields, but he didn't write it and he didn't produce it, the importance of which distinctions will become clear below. Fonda directed the players, mainly himself and Brooke. And with Brooke, he did it well. Little Brooke steals the movie.
One little thing Fonda could have corrected if he had known to is the annoying repetitive pronunciation of Wanda's last name as "Nev-ah-da," the way many east coast people say it. This movie was set in the desert southwest, where people know how to properly pronounce Nevada, something I know, because I'm from there. Nev-aaa-da. The middle "a" is a short "a", as in bad, mad, sad or dad.
Another thing I could've done without was the supernatural sub-text. The Native American lore was great. Even the psychological fear of Indian ghosts by itself would've been great. But when glowing ghost Indian arrows start flying, actually harming and killing real characters, verisimilitude goes out the window, and it stops being a movie which takes itself seriously.
My biggest problem with the movie relates to my comments above about the sexualization of Brooke Shields. First, let's be clear: Brooke Shields IS NOT sexualized in this movie, nor is she exploited in that way either. The story itself is nevertheless disturbing. Brooke Shields and her character were 13 years old here, and Fonda and his character were 38. There is no way to mistake or misinterpret the implied intended love interest between them, especially with them riding off into the sunset with one another, which is what we are left with, him 38 and her 13, together, that way, end of story. Beaudray is clearly not Wanda's father figure, guardian, big brother, or business partner. Happily, nothing overt, untoward, or even suggestive between them is explicitly depicted. No touches, kisses, embraces, not even any coy glances or facial expressions. Peter Fonda deserves enormous credit for this. My guess is whoever put this movie project together, along with the stage mother, conceived it as another explosively hot vehicle for Brooke Shields as the marquee player, fresh off Pretty Baby the year before, with The Blue Lagoon to follow the next year. In other words, to be exploited the same way. They knew what they wanted, and Peter Fonda was thusly told to follow the script as written. Fonda meanwhile recognized what this material was, and he knew what NOT to do with it. I read elsewhere that Fonda's acting performance was not good here, that Brooke out-performed him. Maybe that's for a reason. Maybe Fonda the actor was trying to take the Beaudray Demerille character some place other than that of a 38-year old man who would take a 13-year old girl as his lover, layering him with other nuances, giving him other motivations. Remember, Peter Fonda's daughter, Bridgette, is just a year older than Brooke Shields. Men with 14-year old daughters don't want such aged girls in the way this story goes, nor are they remotely titillated by the idea. Usually it's a repulsive thought. Which I submit is what may have been going on here with Peter Fonda. Left to his own devices and given the freedom, I say he would've told a little different story, and probably a better one too. Riding off into the sunset as they did, into the ever-after, was a disturbingly poor ending under the circumstances.
Chalk it up to the times. In the 1970s movie makers either pushed the envelope with these themes, or seemed oblivious to what they were doing. Summer of 42, Taxi Driver, Pretty Baby, The Blue Lagoon, Wanda Nevada. Could these movies have ever been made at any other time, before or since? Of those, maybe Wanda Nevada, maybe because Peter Fonda saved it from itself. Say what you want about the Fonda clan, but sexploitation of 13-year olds is not their style. And by the way, watch for the cameo of Henry Fonda.
It seems trite to say they don't make them like this anymore. But it's
a fact. They don't make them like this anymore. And it seems likely we
won't be seeing them making them like this ever again. This is John
Ford at the height of his career, at his best, doing what he did best.
On location in the Monument Valley, it is more than fair to say the
scenery, the colors, even the weather, along with Ford's
cinematography, particularly the patient framing of his shots and
making full use of the setting and environment in which he filmed, are
every bit as much stars of this film as are the featured human stars.
None of which is to say the human stars weren't good. John Wayne in the lead turned in a remarkable performance. Wayne was 42-years old when he made this, but he was playing a character much older than that, perhaps as much as 20 years older, and Wayne pulls it off. He looks and seems like a 60-year old man. He showed his acting chops here.
Ben Johnson had been around awhile at this point, mainly as a stuntman, but here he makes one of his first forays into real acting, and he does well, which no doubt boosted his career.
Perennial John Wayne sidekick Harry Carey, Jr. is here too, at the ripe young age of 28. It occurs to me as I write this in November 2008 that he seems to be the last surviving cast member of this movie.
Joanne Dru. What can be said? While this movie was made before I was born, Joanne Dru plays the fetching young woman wearing the yellow ribbon and stirring the male ashes deep inside as well as anybody ever could, and she was quite fetching indeed. Her performance still striking that chord precisely that way almost 60 years later.
Ostensibly this is a western, but this movie is actually much more a military movie than just a western. John Ford was a military man himself, who ultimately retired as a Navy Reserve Rear Admiral. He knew what the military was all about, he understood and enjoyed military life, military ways, military customs, and military culture, and he clearly relished making military depictions. So that's what we see here. All that military stuff. Oddly, though, it all seems out of time in a way. This movie was made in 1949, just a few years after WWII. While making a movie about the cavalry fighting the Indian wars in 1876, the military culture Ford depicted seems more apropos of the 1940s than of the 1870s. For instance, I'm just not sold on this version of history where US cavalry men were burdened with and hauled around family members in the wild wild west. Maybe they did, but I'm not so sure. It seems much more likely this was a device added to appeal to 1949 audiences. There are other examples of this. This is the only flaw in an otherwise very good movie. And who knows, maybe it isn't a flaw at all, true or not. It's a good movie. Ford made a movie in which he talked to all those recently mustered out veterans he knew were out there populating his audiences. On that level he succeeds.
Others have nailed it. It's the casting that makes this movie
interesting. Makes it worth watching too. Many names here. Ironically,
Harrison Ford, probably the biggest name of all when one takes the long
view, was an absolute total no-named nobody in 1967. Glenn Ford was the
only true Hollywood movie star in the cast, although probably a little
past his prime at this point. Meanwhile, Paul Peterson, Inger Stevens,
and even Max Baer, Jr, who were household names in 1967, might well
have younger folks these days scratching their heads, saying "Who?" But
they were names then, mainly TV names of the day, but names
Based on the inspired casting, clearly somebody had some higher aspirations for this movie. Somebody was trying hard to inject superior production values into this project. Somebody wanted this to be a box office success, maybe even a noteworthy film. But, alas, whatever it was, something was lost along the way. We could speculate about it 41 years later, try to pin it on somebody, but why? No point to that. Suffice it to say that somehow somewhere before all was said and done it lost its edge.
Another consideration is the year, 1967. How could this offering ever hope to compete? As I've written elsewhere, 1967 was the very best year ever for movies. The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke, In The Heat of the Night, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde, The Dirty Dozen. Remarkable films all. There might be one such notable movie of the caliber of those in any one year. Two would be better than average. But six in one year? Extraordinary indeed.
The point is that 1967 was a remarkably good year for movies. Of course it's hard to flatly state that it was the very best movie year ever, because how could one possibly measure that? It is based on pure opinion. But try this: name another year that was any better than 1967. No can do. So this is the stuff A Time For Killing was up against as competition for the box office dollar back in 1967. It never really had much of a chance. In another year it might have fared a little better. But in 1967 it got lost.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I see where people say that Director Sidney Lumet drapes the characters
with moral ambiguity, and that the movie is "reprehensible" because we
are asked to cheer for mobsters.
This movie is based on real-life events and the dialog is taken directly from real testimony in the transcripts from the court proceedings of a real trial where real accused gangsters were acquitted by a real jury, and the courtroom actually did erupt in cheers when the verdict was read. It is what it is. And Lumet conveyed that.
After 27 years as a trial lawyer let me also tell you that the character of the prosecutor, the Sean Kierney character as portrayed by Linus Roache, was a spot-on bulls-eye. Most people never have any interaction with the criminal justice system so they just don't know, but prosecutors are very often some of the most loathsome, morally twisted, side-winding, double-dealing, four-flushing snakes in the pit. They are capable of anything, because to them the ends justify the means. They tell themselves that they have to be that way to be effective, to win, because they are up against evil and it's all really okay in the end because they are on the side of good. You may even agree with that since they are indeed charged with taking some very bad guys off the street and putting them away, which makes it much safer for all of us. Fine and dandy. But don't complain about it when a filmmaker like Lumet comes along and depicts that unpleasant and ugly truth like it really is. It's another thing that is what it is.
The best thing about this movie, the thing that commends it, is the outstanding performance of Vin Diesel. The man showed his chops here as a first rate actor. He isn't who he appeared to be, he isn't who we thought he was. There's far more to him. I wouldn't be surprised to see Vin Diesel become and be known as one of the true Hollywood greats somewhere down the road. He shows that much potential here.
Also, let me join the chorus of other reviewers, and agree that Annabella Sciorra was totally awesome in the brief role that she had. Stunning is the word I would use to describe it.
See it for Annabella, and see it for Vin Diesel.
Underrated. I won't belabor relating and describing the plot, because
that's been recited nicely by numerous others. I'll simply return to my
one word point. Underrated. Even though Marisa Tomei broke through and
won Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards for her performance,
an award she earned and much deserved, I still say underrated. This
film really never got on the public's radar the way it should have,
probably because there are no big-name actors featured as box office
draw. Joe Pesci was as good as it gets that way. In 1991 he was the
hottest name in the cast. But has Joes Pesci ever established himself
as a leading man who could carry a movie by himself? I ask that in
open-ended wonderment, and certainly not disparagingly. Just asking, is
it fair, has it ever been fair, to expect Joe Pesci to carry a film?
Regardless of Joe Pesci's latent starpower, this cast of players as assembled possessed remarkable chemistry in the performances they gave, not only in their interactions with one another, but also in the creation of a final product that excels way beyond the sum of its parts, beyond any of their individual levels of genius, certainly beyond anything that could ever have been reasonably expected of them. Competent though they may have been, these were not thespian heavyweights or comedic savants. You ever wonder why this singular performance 15+ years ago and counting remains Marisa Tomei's magnum opus? That might be one big reason why. The Germans have a word for this. It's called gestalt.
My inclination is to give most of the credit for this winning final product to director Jonathan Lynn. It seems obviously to be his creation. Who else singularly deserves it? Along the way it would have been such a cheap trick and easy thing to surrender to the obvious, but Lynn didn't do it. This is a story built around stereotypes. New Yorkers. Ethnic Italian New Yorkers. Southerners. Small town southerners. Southern justice. Southern small town justice with New York Italians in the dock. It would have been so easy to traffic in those stereotypes, to over-the-top cash in on them, to submerge the movie in them and to exploit them for all they were worth. These people could have been made into cardboard cartoons of themselves. Surely the Englishman Lynn was thusly tempted, but it was a temptation he mainly resisted. Oh, almost obligatorily, he dances us over to that edge and gives us a big whiff of all that, but instead of jumping in and wallowing in the stereotypes, he deftly pulls it back and carries it all off and away in a new and different direction, indeed in an uplifting direction. Just as there are no cheap tricks in this movie, there are no cheap shots either. People are not ridiculed for who they are or where they are from. It rises above that. Lynn raises it above that. Yes, the regional differences that exist are juxtaposed. And yes, we get the fact that cultural differences divide these characters. But the beauty of it is that no one is treated unfairly. In fact, the viewer comes away with the feeling that these are all good people.
Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei are given a broad canvas to create great humorous art, bouncing one, two, three liners or more off of each other, at the other's expense. It's the game they play with each other, the nature of their characters' relationship, and it's fun to watch. And this must be said: not only does Marisa give an exquisite performance, she is an utterly delightful feminine creature to watch here. As for the southerners, in not taking the bait to exploit the southerners as dumb hicks, Lynne actually captures part of the true but rarely portrayed essence of the south: polite gentility. Lane Smith embodies that essence. And Fred Gwynne? He practically steals the show, and would have were it not for Marisa Tomei.
What has been going through Joe Pesci's and Marisa Tomei's heads for the last 15 years? What is wrong with their agents? These two needed a sequel. If not a sequel, then more film(s) together. The dynamic between them was too good to just be abandoned. We should have been treated to much more of them together.
As a trial lawyer let me say that the portrayal of courtroom events, while certainly not perfect, is more than adequate and passable. One thing that is accurately captured is the fish-out-of-water experience of a city lawyer when subjected to trying a case in a far-flung rural county. This depicton conveys the essence of what that's like.
This movie deserves more recognition. It is clever, funny, and fun. I recommend it. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and indulge yourself.
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