Thursday, September 13, 2007

Action takes movie litmus test


Nobody expects movies to be real, they're movies. So when people start shooting at each other in movies it always seems to look patently unreal.
There are stylistic excursions like Sin City. That's a movie where anything thing can happen as long as it adheres to the physical laws of that universe. But when I see a movie where the hero has tens of bad guys shooting at him with automatic weapons and they all miss, and meanwhile the hero picks off the baddies in one shot each that film better have some panache or I'm outta there.
A film like Death Sentence where the violence beckons comparisons to exploitation films, or Shoot Em Up that displays the aforementioned thugs who can't hit Clive Owen with multiple machine guns despite his being an easy target diving in slow motion, makes me cringe. No style, just cinematic excess.
So now comes Jodie Foster as a vigilante on the dark streets of Gotham in the Neil Jordan directed The Brave One (opens 9/14). This is only the third film in which she's starred in this decade (the other two being Panic Room and Flightplan), but it's also a return to form, as this is simply one hell of a performance. Foster conveys a kind of feral intensity playing a radio personality who's mugged, and beaten into a coma. When she revives she buys a gun and takes the law into her own hands. The violence also comes off as realistic because she shoots a handgun three or four times (as opposed to Shoot Em Up's 100s of times) and even misses once. In scene after scene Foster appears wearing tee shirts that show off her petite yet muscular build. One shirt is a red tie-dye thingy, I swear it's a copy of the same shirt she wore 30 years ago in Taxi Driver in the cafeteria scene between her and Travis Bickle.
If we're talking violence in movies being totally realistic however the go-to director is David Cronenberg. Eastern Promises, opening September 14, feels more like a chamber drama, similar to Spider than Cronenberg's last opus A History of Violence. The conversations and situations in Eastern Promises revolve around Eastern European mobs and how they operate in London. A nurse, Naomi Watts, trying to find the family of a baby whose mother was murdered goes deep into a little seen view of England's ethnic neighborhoods.
There's actually very little physical violence in Eastern Promises but when it rears up its ugly head you feel it in the pit of your being. Specifically an opening scene features a throat being slit while a guy's sitting in a barber chair and the film closes with a literal knife fight to the end. As another viewer remarked upon the movie's end, when you really engage in a battle to the death it has none of the glossy glory and slow motion histrionics of more deliberate filmmakers. Viggo Mortensen also stars and provides a steely portrait of how far a man can change into a machine when his allegiance is to gangsters.

- Michael Bergeron

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