Gorgeously shot, this period drama has a terrific setting and vivid characters, but is edited together in a jarring way that distances the audience from the situations. As the story progresses, the film also shifts strangely from a riveting exploration of a power couple with a pioneering spirit to a more melodramatic thriller about corruption and murder. It's consistently engaging thanks to the power of the cast, but it should have also been darkly moving as well.
The story is set in the late 1920s, as lumber baron George (Bradley Cooper) struggles under the economic pressures of the impending Great Depression. Then he meets Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) and it's love at first sight. A feisty, outspoken woman with a background in logging, she immediately ruffles feathers in George's camp by giving out advice that's actually helpful. George's two righthand men, accountant Buchanan (David Dencik) and foreman Campbell (Sean Harris), both quietly wonder if this woman is going to mess up their all-male world of underhanded bribes and physical danger. But she develops a rapport with George's hunting tracker Galloway (Rhys Ifans). Meanwhile, the local sheriff (Toby Jones) is trying to get George's land declared protected national parkland.
Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) gives the film a grand scale with expansive mountain landscapes and a sweeping romantic tone. The Western-style bustle of the logging camp is lively and authentic, as is the continual threat of death or dismemberment on the job. Against this, Cooper and Lawrence have terrific chemistry both with each other and the characters around them, sharply portrayed by strong actors who know how to invest plenty of attitude into even a small role.
Continue reading: Serena Review
With a focus on messy family relationships, this thriller's deranged comical touches almost make up for its contrived plot and annoyingly thin characters. Director Ruzowitzky (an Oscar winner for The Counterfeiters) makes the most of the snowy landscapes and an eclectic cast, but the jarring combination of grisly violence, black humour, romance and drama never quite comes together.
In a northern Michigan blizzard, Addison (Bana) is on the run with his sister Liza (Wilde) after a casino heist. When their car crashes in the snow, they decide to head for the Canadian border separately. Liza is picked up off the road by Jay (Hunnam), a hunky ex-con boxer who's stopping to see his parents his parents (Spacek and Kristofferson) while running from the cops himself. Addison encounters a variety of local characters himself as he tries to catch up with Liza. And the local sheriff (Williams) relentlessly picks on deputy Hanna (Mara), his daughter, as they track the fugitives through the snow.
Every relationship in this film is deeply dysfunctional, and the actors have a great time playing with the soapy wrinkles. Bana and Wilde play up the creepy innuendo between the siblings, while the contrived romance between Wilde and Hunnam is like the set-up for a porn movie. Meanwhile, Mara's ambitious cop is so belittled by her awful dad and his equally sexist deputies that we don't really mind it when they start dying one by one in their encounters with Addison. And holding everything together is the wonderfully level-headed Spacek, who carries on cooking dinner while her husband goes out to shoot a deer, then cheerfully serves pie even with a shotgun levelled at her head.
Continue reading: Deadfall Review
Like Traffic, Syriana is a messy Gordian knot of plot, only with no Soderbergh to slice it neatly open. Instead of drug trafficking, the subject this time is the nexus where oil corporations, the U.S. government, Islamic extremism, and Middle East dictatorships come together in an unholy fusion of polity and greed. The characters are introduced at a leisurely pace, Gaghan laying it all out with perhaps a little too much care. Once things start to cohere, the film shunts into a political thriller about an unnamed Gulf State where the ailing king's two sons are jockeying for control; one is a lazy playboy beloved by U.S. interests and the other is an educated reformer who wants to modernize his country and stop kowtowing to the west.
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The story of the witch-hunt has endlessly retold, usually laden with the same self-satisfied 20/20 hindsight that afflicts stories of the civil rights movement, and fortunately Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov see no need to go through it all again. With admirable precision, they've sliced away most all the accoutrements often used to open up the era for the modern viewer, ala Quiz Show. This is a film that takes place almost entirely inside a CBS studio and newsroom, with occasional trips to hallways, elevators, and a network executive's wood-paneled office. Once, they all go out to a bar. It's best in the studio, because that's where we find Murrow - incarnated with almost indecent accuracy by David Strathairn - looking and sounding like as though Rod Serling had decided to rejoin the human race, his manner clipped and astringent, cigarette cocked in one hand like a talisman warding off evil.
Continue reading: Good Night, And Good Luck Review
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