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A subject such as the sexual abuse of children will always be one cast
down to the independent filmmakers with far less money and far less at
stake. Greg Araki, always an outsider looking in due to his graphic and
intentionally shocking style, may have felt an intimate connection with
the material, not necessarily because of the child abuse so much as the
isolation and alienation experienced by the two main characters. Even
in a place like Hollywood, it cannot be easy being a gay Asian-American
director with a penchant for explicit stories and characters.
Despite this treacherous foundation, Araki was able to gain funding on the basis of adding two up-and-coming actors of their time, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michelle Trachtenberg. Interestingly, the scenes these two share together garner the best emotional elements of the film, conjuring up feelings of unrequited love as well as a kinship expressed without words, instead based on implication and shared past experience and secrecy. However, Trachtenberg has far too little time on-screen, making her character close to obsolete and nearly ruining the sweet chemistry her scenes with Gordon-Levitt create. Curiously, Araki maintains a strict editing style of crosscutting between two young men on very different pathways who nevertheless will inevitably come together since they always do in these types of stories. Brady Corbet, in the film's best performance, plays the shy, introverted and perpetually skittish Bryan, a marked distinction from Gordon-Levitt's Neil, who is sexually self-destructive and unafraid of whatever crosses his path.
Corbet, looking like a young, more passive Jeffrey Dahmer, brings a quiet sensibility to the film through his tousled blond hair, thick and bulging glasses and a still, intimate voice that can boom when necessary. His scenes involving a search for aliens as a possible solution to his nightmares are both quirky and seductive, giving us an off-balanced portrayal of isolated teens in a faraway town doing what they feel is absolutely nothing of importance or value. In the same area, Gordon-Levitt's Neil, with a strangely shaped black mullet and lips curled slightly down to give off a sexual charge, reacts to domestic insecurity by being as irreverent and adventuresome as possible. This decision eventually takes him to New York City and back home again where he is forced to confront something he has known his whole life but has kept from everyone except Trachtenberg's Wendy, despite it involving Bryan.
Without going into the full details, it requires one to say that the last few minutes of the film will certainly challenge almost everyone watching. Yet, for some, it may be a challenge of logic rather than taste and acceptance. Gordon-Levitt recounts the film's early events so plainly that it makes it impossible for us to feel any sympathy for his character and how he turns out. After all, he seems to feel no trauma, so perhaps he wasn't? Furthermore, his decisions of vocation as a young man leave one feeling he gets what he deserves rather than empathy and victimization. The only true victim of this film is Bryan, who reacted in such a starkly different way that it makes us more interested in his case rather than Neil's, whose story has been told before in other films.
This disconnect leaves Araki with the irony of having a story line that he does not need but cannot get rid of if he stays on the course he wants. In the end, he holds onto his straight and narrow path, giving us almost exactly what we expected from the beginning. This causes the early scenes to be uncomfortable but not for the reasons Araki intends. They are uncomfortable and unnecessary, a most lethal combination. Whatever Araki's intentions with this story, it can be safely assumed that his message was already widely accepted beforehand, rendering anything he had to say all but useless and redundant. Even though one may have the reputation for being provocative and graphic, this may not always be the best course of action in order to lure in a consistent audience.
Lymelife begins exactly the way its creators want it to. It has a
confusing, off-kilter feel to the opening scenes, forcing its various
plot points onto the audience in order to, they hope, root you in the
story and its characters. However, when it's handled with such dizzying
force and the tone rolls around like a pinball, the audience can only
respond with bewilderment and indifference.
Brother writers Derick and Steven Martini based the screenplay loosely on their own lives growing up on Long Island in the late 1970s. It always amuses me when writers and directors attempt to exploit personal experience as a catalyst for exploring supposed universal themes and ideas. Why use their own lives at all if so loosely? Certainly the outcome of this film did not happen to them, meaning what was the point of starting with a pseudo-real outline if they were just going to divert from it so quickly? At the same time, why is this story set in the late '70s? There are a few cultural references such as US troops being sent to the Falklands and a brief reminder of the Iran hostage crisis, but otherwise the setting is completely arbitrary. If anything, this points to the Martini's attempting to emulate The Ice Storm too much. They strain to give their story emotional content through the setting rather than the characters. As a result, both remain lifeless and inert.
Much of the cast seems willing to go the extra mile necessary to breathe life into this story, yet director Derick seems to hold them back at the most critical moments. At this point in his career, Alec Baldwin has seemingly perfected the chiseled-handsome, narcissistic too confident in his accomplishments to see the reality of his actions. Yet, in at least two scenes where he is ready to pounce on the material and tear it wide open, Martini cuts away, as if to leave us hanging deliberately and ponder what might have been. This also causes Baldwin's performance (and others) to come across as stilted. He may be chiseled but his emotions are often trapped in that stony exterior, requiring a little excavation. Jill Hennessy floats but is still swept away by Baldwin in their scenes, while brothers Rory and Kieran Culkin show the best chemistry; effortless, smooth and very natural. Emma Roberts seems to have a breakout role on tap here, but again the director pulls away at times when she could have really let go on her character. Still, her alabaster skin and wide doe eyes are nearly irresistible, proving yet still that she is an actress to watch for in the future.
What will bother most is the ending, which is always problematic for these dysfunctional suburbia movies. After all this angst, guilt and turmoil, how does one leave the audience with something memorable and finalizing? Unfortunately, in this case the result is quite cowardly and feeble. If it is supposed to leave us hanging in the balance it does but not for the right reasons. Instead of wondering how or why, we don't wonder at all.
Paul Newman, may he rest in peace, will always remain a symbol of
virility and strength in cinema history. Even in the twilight of his
career, in roles such as Sully, he shows what an actor is capable of if
he takes care of himself. Physically, but also mentally, Newman
embodies all the elements most actors could only hope to obtain at such
a late stage. He commands nearly every scene he is in, bringing with
him a level of gravitas and realism which without this story could not
Indeed, it still may not. Adapted from a novel by Richard Russso, director Robert Benton is certainly capable of breathing life into a vast sect of quirky, independent characters who at the very least are a little memorable. After all, he did co-write Bonnie and Clyde (which does not escape this movie without a sly reference). Yet, throughout Benton seems confused or at least unsure as to what exactly he wants to say with these characters. Setting up much of the small town of North Bath, New York takes very little time. The real challenge is where to take them. The result, I am afraid, leaves much to be desired, unless of course one is keen on various plot threads not far beyond the level of a sitcom or hour-long drama on TV. By the end, most have reached their predictable conclusions all to the dissatisfaction of us. It's not that the end is completely unjustified; it's just that one would like more.
Technically, Benton remains on the soft side of filmmaking. His camera work is minimal, the cinematography is rather lax, and the town itself looks like a series of studio backdrops although it was filmed on location. What is most annoying, though, is Howard Shore's oppressive and sticky score, weighing down nearly every scene, causing one to think we are seeing a series of climaxes when in fact they are simply transitions. Besides Newman, the only other truly moving performance is, surprisingly, Melanie Griffith as the attractive wife of Lothario Bruce Willis, who flirts with Newman yet lacks any real confidence to use him to get back at her husband. Throwing in a subplot regarding Newman's attempts to re-connect with his son, stay vital in the community, get ahead and remain out of prison, what we're left with is a perfectly mediocre and innocuous representation of small-town, blue-collar life in northern New York.
No matter how popular this film becomes at the box office, Kevin Hart
no longer has to prove himself as being worthy of a lead star. His
comedic timing and graceful style more than prove that in Ride Along.
The trouble is that the film itself is so lacking in almost any
originality or intelligence that he would have had to do a lot in order
to show himself worse than the movie.
Playing the comic relief in a pale yet obvious retread of 48 Hrs. and Training Day, Hart fully utilizes his short stature and body language to his strength. Being rather short, indeed shorter than his female co-star Tika Sumpter, Hart compensates by playing a man-child with a large inferiority complex. Constantly attempting to prove himself capable of something of value, he still cannot help but invoke his knowledge of childish things, mainly video games. He also cries in terror, jumps into his brother-in-law's arms and looks for acceptance at every turn. He is, in fact, a fully-grown imp. What is astonishing about him is how he uses this to carry the movie along. Scene after scene drags along with the obligatory sense of having been done countless times beforehand but it is Hart's sentimentality that shines beyond the dull narrative. Though his facial expressions are often overwrought, he is still capable of carrying scenes purely through his timing and understanding of comic development. At times, he sounds like he is improvising a stand-up bit. Other times, he seems to invoke the speed-demon, whirlish style of Eddie Murphy. No matter his tactic, he makes it count despite a lack of support.
Making things more frozen than necessary is Ice Cube, scrunching up his face in attempting to portray a hard-ass of a cop; one of those lone, righteous moralists who is willing to go against any and all authority in order to prove himself as being right all along about his case. Of course he is, but what is confusing is how the film seems to condemn his behavior as a loner, yet justifies his actions during the course of the story. It is never clear which side the movie falls on and it most likely does not matter. Truthfully, none of the characters or plot points seem necessary at all except to showcase the difference between Hart's ambitious high-school security guard trying to become an Atlanta policeman and Ice Cube's tough-as-nails detective on the hunt for the most ferocious kingpin in the city, so terrifying and imposing that no one has ever seen his face (You will guess who it is right away; the opening credits give it away).
The biggest fault in the screenplay is its lack of developing the relationship between the two key characters: Ice Cube and his sister. Supposedly, they are very close due to being raised in foster homes, leading to him playing over-protective daddy to her. The trouble is the writers never give them a scene for themselves. What kind of relationship did they have or have now? And how has it changed as they have gotten older? And, furthermore, what is Ice Cube's personal life? Does he have one? Clearly, these were not on the writers' or director's mind. The final priority seems to have been only to ensure Kevin Hart came out looking like a fine-bred, comedic leading man for years to come. In this, the movie has succeeded. However, the makers of the movie should not pat themselves on the back. Save that for Mr. Hart himself, the only saving grace in this entire tired, formulaic story.
A typical, straight-forward coming-of-age story focusing on a group of
boys attempting to fulfill their fantasies of coming face-to-face with
death by going on a two-day trip to search for the body of a boy from
their town who has been missing. While the plot itself meanders around
what it actually wants to do before it finally settles down in the last
third. Padding out the script through flashbacks, stories told by the
characters and cross-cutting with a parallel group of teenage boys.
Indeed, the strongest aspects of the film are the young actors and the characterization of each one of them. The four main boys have charming chemistry, each one embodying a different facet of the typical American young boy circa 1959. What is so remarkable about these characters is how the two groups of boys seem to represent the entire spectrum from boyhood to young manhood. Both gangs use adult language, play with adult toys and attempt to paint themselves in a much older light than they actually are. Reiner's use of cross-cutting allows us to compare and contrast how the two groups interact and view themselves. As an audience, it is also fun to see how certain famous faces got their start in the business. Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, John Cusack and of course the immortalized River Phoenix, whose portrayal of the conflicted, parental Chris only began to reveal the marvelous talent he possessed.
One of the most debatable elements about Spike Jonze's poetic,
melancholy ode to the nature of love and human relationships is whether
or not Samantha, the operating system (OS) which becomes the object of
the protagonist's affection is truly real or illusory. Indeed, using
the word 'which' seems to imply my stance that she is not. After all,
if I thought so I would have said 'who.' Nevertheless, this simply goes
to show how the ideas the film presents can become so deeply entrenched
within our own conscious, causing us to wonder not necessarily at the
plausibility of this scenario but rather the consequences it would have
on the human race collectively.
Jonze has always been seen as a hippsterish outsider of sorts. Part indie, part surrealist poet, his three features prior show a firm handle on the technological aspects as well as a creative mind pulsating with potentialities. Writing solely for the first time, he creates a mesmerizing tale of people in the future where it's not the clothes or hairstyles or city architecture that should worry us; it's the lack of true, meaningful interpersonal connections. Indeed, it is not just Theodore who falls for his computer's OS. Is this a satirical point or a reluctant admittance? Either way, everyone knows society is headed in this direction. The only question which remains is what would it be like to have this kind of connection with an entity largely understood as impersonal?
It may be an impossible question to fully answer, but based on Joaquin Phoenix's performance, we can at least attempt an educated guess. Never one to shy away from fully involving himself in a character, here he plays a kind one would think he never could: warm, romantic, almost feminine. His thick-wired glasses and curvaceous mustache cannot hide the deep-seated emotions he exhibits throughout. Pain, bewilderment, ecstasy are all prevalent in his face, which is the main subject of the camera, and proves once again Ingmar Bergman's famous statement that the human face is the most important subject of cinema. Just as effective is Amy Adams with a hairstyle like Cameron Diaz's in Being John Malkovich. Yet, most surprising is the voice work of Scarlett Johansson. It may have been a Catch-22 to use a voice most people recognize which is automatically attached to such a physically attractive figure, but, thanks in large part to Phoenix's reactions, it works. Her voice, here a grand mixture of breathy Marilyn Monroe and husky Candace Bergen, captures the true soul of this film. Johansson's Samantha is energetic, childish, exceedingly bright and always ready for fun. Most audiences may simply insert her face mentally whenever she speaks but she brings to the story a level of gravitas and sadness perhaps no other actress could have.
So, is Samantha real or illusory? Perhaps the real issue is whether or not her feelings towards Theodore are honest. As it turns out, the most important aspect of love may be the nature of exclusivity. Being alone with someone else, physically or aurally, has to be one of the most universal feelings humans share. Perhaps, as Jonze shows us, technology will someday reach that level, and even surpass it, as well.
After finding the greatest mass-culture success and reaction with their
searing, post-modern Western No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers
seem to have been on a journey throughout their last four films. As
always flouting the expectations of audiences and studios, they went at
the pace and direction in which they felt most comfortable. This
resulted in a high-energy, excitingly quirky and sometimes violent
comedy; a most studious portrayal of a man in 1967 struggling with the
greatest Jewish questions; and a straight-on genre piece made with the
finest touch of cinematic craftsmanship available. Do any of these
projects have a connection? At their basest, one could surmise they all
are about the characters' intentions of finding home. This, of course,
is a word used so often as to be overstated, yet the meaning has become
so varied it can apply to almost anyone and anywhere. Now, the Coens go
to a spiritual home of sorts for so many cultural figures in the early
1960s: Greenwich Village.
Intentionally set just before one young man from Minnesota came to New York and shook the whole scene out of its self-conscious doldrums, the story follows the titular character floating amongst acquaintances, sympathizers and fellow musicians as he attempts to put together his own career after a tragic loss. As has been noted, this is a great set-up for the cliché rags-to-riches story, yet the Coens are far too intelligent and savvy for that. They said they began writing the screenplay with the image of folk singer Dave Van Ronk being beaten outside the Gaslight Cafe after a concert, which is what happens to Llewyn Davis. He receives just about everything a down-on-his-luck artist could: physical and emotional beatings which leave him alienated from just about everyone. In most other stories of this kind, this would provide the artist with the perfect opportunity to dig deep within himself and find exactly what was missing previously from his output, resulting in the breakthrough success he was searching for all along. Yet, Llewyn's problems either go too deep or he is in the wrong business at the wrong time.
Like all their films, the Coens show a masterful ability to synthesize exquisite imagery, eccentrically memorable supporting roles and a bleakness that worms its way into your soul. Here, the bleakness comes out the complexity Llewyn Davis gives to the audience. Never ones to make a statement about how we should feel about their characters, Llewyn might be the Coens' fullest and most thriving creation on their resume. A bile-filled, slightly narcissistic, handsome rogue, Oscar Isaac plays him as almost upset by his own actions yet perhaps unable to stop himself from self-destructing. Trying to apologize to an ex-girlfriend, attempting to dine with intellectual supporters, even preparing to perform for a seemingly generous audience; all these instances are pure examples of Llewyn Davis' astonishing ability to screw himself over. He knows the consequences of his actions as soon as he says or does whatever it is, yet there is not necessarily a lack of sympathy for this man. He is an artist, struggling to find not only his voice but his purpose in finding his voice. Should this life-changing decision he has made be a defining time in his life, or is he still drifting, forever doomed to be unattached and undefined?
Other supporting roles are almost as superb as Isaac. Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake as a performing duo who reluctantly help Llewyn out in various ways; Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett as the academic couple who think they are helping Llewyn by treating him as fodder entertainment for their friends; and John Goodman as a corpulent, slightly sinister jazz musician who reminds one of Robert DeNiro in Angel Heart. His condescension and constant put-downs of both Llewyn and the folk scene express many peoples' feelings as well as perhaps Llewyn's self-hatred of what he has become.
Constantly on the outside looking in, folk music was at this time struggling to maintain its existence amidst the Red Scare but also the up-and-coming rock and roll scene burgeoning throughout the United States. Traditionally, Bob Dylan has been hailed as the savior of this genre, yet just like the concept of home this may be overstated. In the end, with a new figure emerging on the scene effectively rendering him obsolete, what may be most important for Llewyn is the future, rather than the present. His ex tells him he has no concept of the future and he counters by telling her she has no concept of the present. Perhaps they are both right about one another, but as it turns out, which side of this argument would it be worse for Llewyn to come out on? Presumably, the struggle maintains itself for as long as he tries to express it through music. For him, home may be just a five-letter word.
For whatever reason, Leonardo DiCaprio really wanted to play Jordan
Belfort in a movie; so much so that he went into a bidding war against
Brad Pitt's production company and won, though still having to wait
several years before being able to convince his long-time counterpart
Martin Scorsese to command the helm. Seeing these two names on the
marquee certainly stirs the blood up in most people, given their track
records both collectively and individually. Indeed, a mere five years
removed from what is now becoming known as 'The Great Recession' allows
for this material to continue to have relevance in our society.
However, this would have been the case regardless because like Oliver
Stone's Wall Street and Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story,
Hollywood continues to reveal its infatuation with what is perhaps the
most ruthless, notorious and powerful area in America.
Honestly, the plot itself is nothing too original. The rise and fall of the protagonist with plenty of drugs, prostitutes, scandal and outrageousness along the way. Scorsese and DiCaprio, as well as writer Terence Winter, knew this all along, even going so far as to mention Gordon Gekko and a few other well-known Wall Street figures. The unique element this film seems to present is its sheer unflinching portrayal of everything excessive and extravagant about this lifestyle, and the self-satisfaction afterward of mission accomplished.
Scorsese has never been a director to pull back and subtly craft his style; he is celebrated for the very reason of his viscerally lavish craft both visual and narrative. Having worked with him more and more, DiCaprio has carefully and steadily grown into perhaps the most fearless American actor today outside of maybe Daniel Day-Lewis. None of his other roles have required such out-of-control insanity, yet he handles it with the sure-fire steadiness of a true professional. Verging on the brink of camp, he always manages to stay right on course, keeping us interested in this character who narrates to the camera in a rather jovial manner of acceptance; he freely admits all his flaws and at times seems amazed at what he was capable of doing. In this film, Jordan Belfort loves the rush of addiction; he is willing to go to any length for any substance or satisfaction. Women, pills, cocaine, alcohol, yachts enormous enough to put a helicopter on top; all this is done with the smug satisfaction of a tested professional. In his own words, Belfort feels he "can spend my clients' money better than they can."
How did Belfort get to this level? Like most memoirs, he has a fall guy: Mark Hanna. Appearing for a mere ten minutes in this three hour marathon, Matthew McConaughey gives a performance that should demonstrate to audiences and executives that he is one of the finest American actors around. No more can we blame him for sappy, empty-headed romantic comedies and the strange satisfaction with constantly taking his shirt off. He has proved himself more than capable in movies like Mud and Dallas Buyers Club, although nothing quite prepared us for this. One scene, one speech to DiCaprio lays out how this film and, perhaps, the brokers themselves view Wall Street, America and the human race in general.
As mentioned before, this film continues to show Hollywood's fascination with the Wall Street broker lifestyle. Is this a cry for help or justification? After all, though they deal in a slightly different trade, it is even more well-known the excessiveness of movie stars and their circles. Maybe it's an affection between kindred spirits. Either way, it shows that once the powers that be begin to descend upon their happy existence, they soon turn upon the very culture and country which made all this possible. Certainly, one can see this and other films like it as an indictment of capitalism gone rogue; figures like Michael Moore will probably spin it that way. Yet, just like in his classic Mafia film Goodfellas, Scorsese prefers to look at people enjoying their addictions. Like his counterpart Henry Hill, Belfort narrates for us plenty of inside information to make us both desire and repulse this type of living. Of course, just desserts must be served. Yet, as many critics have surmised, there is an air of satisfaction from all these characters. Perhaps Belfort wrote his memoirs to prove to himself that he exceeded his own expectations of doing what he set out to do. This does not mean we have to admire him; we can only watch in abject astonishment at the possibilities America has to offer and the obstacles people are willing to scale for them.
With a star-studded cast, lavish cinematography which so effectively
evokes the 1970's bewildering chic style, and a plot line intended to
rekindle memories of other hustling movies from this era such as The
Sting, American Hustle has all the glitz and glamor necessary to become
both a popular and critical acclaim. The co-writer and director, David
O. Russell, has emerged in recent years as a force to be reckoned with.
His most eclectic collection of works includes delving into the world
of existential detectives fighting nihilism, a truth-based story of an
underdog boxer fighting for his and his troubled brother's reputation,
and a romantic tale of two mentally unstable people falling in love.
Clearly, Russell has a wild imagination and he puts it on full display
in his most ambitious and commercial project to date. Loosely based (as
it so willingly tells us up front) on the ABSCAM scandal of the 1970s,
Russell treats the case like a true filmmaker: he takes what he wants,
abandons what he does not, and shakes it all up to create a perfect
concoction of Hollywood craftsmanship and subtle plot manipulation.
This is not to say that these traits are condemnations. Indeed, in the world in which Russell attempts to let this movie live, these are necessary hallmarks, as Christian Bale so smoothly tells us, "Everyone hustles to survive." Russell must have smiled with delight in writing that line since it so precisely reveals the justification needed both by the con artist characters in the film and the filmmakers in which they reside. Obviously, he prefers a character study to a straight-up Ocean's Eleven type double-crossing plot structure. Such an ensemble cast has swallowed his bait. Nearly everyone loves playing dress-up here, not just with clothes but also hair, jewelry and accents. It's an actor's dream come true. Bale goes method, as he so often does, gaining a gut and giving himself a noticeably bad, fake comb-over, which Russell fonds over for several minutes in the film's opening. Bradley Cooper wears mini-curlers to make his straight hair curly, lives with his androgynous mother and a woman who says she is his fiancé, and seemingly lives passionately for his job as an FBI agent determined to crack down on corrupt bureaucrats, politicians and ultimately, the Mafia. Jeremy Renner must have needed several bottles of hairspray, but mostly plays it straight as a mayor with a heart of gold, evident from his large, multi-cultural family, who wants only to protect his community from financial crisis.
While the men fuss over their looks so profusely, the women in this film almost certainly went overboard as well, though for them the effect must have been even more profound. Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence raid the Elizabeth Taylor closet and layer themselves with furs, backless and strapless dresses of the gaudiest colors, as well as hairstyles that would make any 18th century French woman jealous. If it seems that there has been too much emphasis on the look of this movie, it must be stressed that the movie stresses these elements on its own volition. It grows almost to the point of overpowering the story and characterization. Most audiences will claim to not have a problem with it, but for those trying to see what lies behind the material elements will prove difficult.
While Russell freely admits to not basing his entire story on true events, the fact that he even inserted the title card "Some of this happened" at the beginning shows his desire to remind us that the acts and personalities of these characters are rooted in reality. Why is this necessary information to digest before the film begins? The intended effect on the audience, presumably, is to trick us into believing more of the outlandish results and developments as we continue to watch. No matter what we see, we are still reminded some variation of these events did happen at one point to people faintly like the ones we are watching on the screen. At this point, is it even worth mentioning? Why not simply take a story like this and use it as a launching pad for a completely new and different take on the con game sub-genre? Even if this was Russell's original intent, it still renders the use of that title card almost entirely useless.
Perhaps the greatest fault one can find with this film is that it is too self-conscious. Having focused so much effort on the look of the film, one gets wrapped up in a story that is all surface with little substance. Yet, on one level, this may be a clever ruse by Russell. After all, the entire story is about various people conning one another for various reasons, as well as themselves into acting in ways they wouldn't ordinarily consider. Though this would seem to rustle up some emotional conflict, Russell practically telegraphs his intentions through dialogue and the actors' faces, thus deflating any intent of luring us in for the whole movie. All the actors are clearly enjoying themselves, especially Lawrence who plays her role as a sassy, fiercely unstable woman determined to hold on to whatever remains of her shattered life. It is a brave performance, although in the end she remains mostly obsolete to the story. By contrast, Adams is thoroughly stunning in all her outfits as well as a great counterpart to the introvert and conflicted Bale. Indeed, all the actors chew the scenery as though it were delicious beef jerky. The result is a mostly interesting, though altogether somewhat unfulfilled experience which is a letdown considering the buildup this film gives itself. In a way, this is just another con by Russell, but the audience may not be as receptive as the FBI.
Dallas Buyers Club is the type of film that seems to only receive the
green light if a brave enough, or obtuse enough, high-profile actor
attaches himself to the project, usually as both starring lead and
producer. Matthew McConaughey joins the list, following in the
footsteps of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and others. However,
none of them changed their physical appearance to quite the dramatic
level McConaughey has. Losing nearly forty pounds for the role of Ron
Woodruff, a Texas man diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, the pasty, sallow
skin stretched over a diminished skeletal structure certainly is a
shock to most audiences, especially considering McConaughey is best
known as a genial, strikingly attractive lead in various romantic
Moving away from that genre since 2009, McConaughey seems to have gotten tired of being boxed in as an actor and has put together a most impressive resume capable of showing his true potential as an actor. This is his most "method" performance, comparable to the likes of DeNiro in Raging Bull, although to the opposite extreme. Yet, beyond simply losing weight and gaining a mustache, McConaughey really digs deep into this character, willing to go to any length to show his drug abuse, unsafe sexual behavior and overall self-destructive tendencies as being rooted not just in Woodruff's life but in his community as well. Many of the early scenes in the film depict him at his favorite hangouts: the rodeo, where he seems to constantly hustle others, the bar where he downs shots and cigarettes like candy, and work where he shoots the breeze and more cigarettes. The main problem with the film is that just about covers its character study of Ron Woodruff.
As the film progresses, one gets rather frustrated at the seemingly inept structure and logic behind this story. For example, after being told that he has AIDS, Woodruff refuses to believe it, which follows what has already been shown. However, after some confusing visual tactics and a couple blank stares into the camera, he moves voraciously over books and articles, finding out enough information to be able to search out a certain drug he has read will slow down the HIV virus. Obvious to anyone who has seen this sort of rebel with a cause story before, the hospital and FDA refuse to give him anything more than a place in a study they are performing attempting to find out the effects of this drug. Rather than die by chance, he travels to Mexico, gets in contact with a formerly licensed doctor and discovers, or at least believes without much conviction, that there are alternate treatments which are not available in the U.S. due to said FDA. The battle lines have been drawn.
What follows lacks the energy and conviction one would hope for in a film of this type. McConaughey is game for this role, ready to pounce at a moment's notice. The problem is that the director, Jean-Marc Vallée, refuses to let him loose. Countless scenes seem so restrained and controlled that we get little sense of a man on the verge of dying from an incurable illness, which I can only imagine must be one the most terrifying and harrowing feelings possible in life. However, the film does not seem interested in such feelings, only in pushing the narrative forward but even that is disjointed at times. Jennifer Garner's frumpy doctor, with no life outside of work other than sitting at home and drinking wine, lacks any real interest or importance at all. So when she confronts Ron about a very serious development in the story, her lines come across as static and silly. How could she feel the way she claims to if we have seen little of this behavior?
The other noteworthy performance beside McConaughey is Jared Leto, an actor who seems to wait out for these kind of roles. Playing a transvestite and looking like the lovechild of Sigourney Weaver and David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth, he too is game for going all in and leaving nothing to the imagination in this portrayal of two men on the brink of death and willing to go all in. Yet, the film maintains its breadth-over-depth stance. By the end, all we are left with are more questions about who exactly this Ron Woodruff was. Scenes involving his starting up the buyers club have the only true excitement and movement in the film. He travels the world looking for exotic and unavailable drugs and doctors who will write prescriptions for him. It's a sad fact when these are the most interesting sequences in a film revolving around people dying of the most devastating disease discovered in the last century. Perhaps Hollywood isn't ready to tell this type of story yet. Philadelphia was close but got bogged down in cliché courtroom sequences. This film bogs itself down by relying on obligatorily timed moments that leave nothing to chance. This may make for a safe story, but it cannot fit the true happenings of a person battling AIDS.
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