The title kind of gives away the ending of this harrowing true story, which is worth a look despite its tendency to exaggerate the heroics. But it's also an unusually well-made military thriller that throws us right into the middle of the chaos with visceral filmmaking. And it's impossible to miss the point that these men rely on each other every moment of every day: they certainly can't survive alone.
The events take place in 2005 Afghanistan, where a Navy Seal team is sent into the mountains to find a feared Taliban leader (Azami). These men are like brothers, with Marcus (Wahlberg) leading Mike, Matt and Danny (Kitsch, Foster and Hirsch), under the command of Erik (Bana) back at the base. As they head out on their mission, everything goes to plan until they run into a group of innocent goatherds. Letting them go will compromise their mission, but it's clearly the right thing to do. And this decision sparks an escalating situation that seems increasingly hopeless.
From the very start, we know these Seals aren't normal soldiers: they undergo especially gruelling training and then bond tightly as colleagues, relying on their ruggedness, tenacity and camaraderie. Which of course allows writer-director Berg to portray them as superheroes. This is a problem, because it reduces the Afghans to faceless, murderous villains, at least until the much more complex final act in which an entire village risks its life to save an injured American soldier. And this strikingly moving sequence is the one we remember much more than the chest-pounding patriotism.
Continue reading: Lone Survivor Review
You know not to expect something deep and meaningful when a movie stars Stallone and Schwarzenegger, and indeed this is pretty much what we expect: a slick thriller that's utterly preposterous but not quite stupid. But the premise has a certain idiotic charm to it, and there are just enough clever touches to keep our brains engaged.
Stallone plays brilliant security expert Breslin, whose job entails being thrown into maximum-security prisons so he can find the weakness in the system. Clearly unbothered by being beaten and brutalised by guards and inmates, Breslin is backed up by a support crew (Ryan and Jackson) and his business partner (D'Onofrio) back in the office. But now the CIA wants Breslin to check out its new top-secret enemy combatant lock-down. To do this, Breslin must go off the grid. And when he realises that the evil warden Hobbes (Caviezel) isn't playing ball, he teams up with brilliant scientist inmate Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) to, yes, plan an escape.
As the story develops we get the feeling that the screenwriters sat around thinking of ways they could make this prison increasingly impossible to believe. Indeed, one mid-film twist is so incredible that it actually makes us admire the writers' audacity. Arthouse director Halstrom gleefully indulges in all of this silliness, keeping the imagery sharp and cool while name-checking pretty much every cliche of both prison and heist movies. There's even a bit of political context in the way a private contractor is abusing the system to profit from the War on Terror.
Continue reading: Escape Plan Review
What looks like a rather standard buddy action comedy is elevated by a smarter-than-normal script, skilful direction and surprisingly offhanded chemistry between Washington and Wahlberg. In addition to the usual action chaos, the film lets big issues gurgle under the surface while refusing to play it safe. For example, the villain here is the US government, rather than some cliched foreign nutcase.
It's set on the US-Mexico border, where smooth operator Bobby (Washington) is working with fast-talking Stig (Wahlberg) to make a deal with the drug kingpin Papi Greco (Olmos). When they decide to rob a local bank to get his attention, the whole situation blows up in their faces. Not only does it emerge that both are undercover federal agents (Bobby with the DEA and Stig with Navy Intelligence), but their bosses (Burke and Marsden, respectively) are unwilling to protect them. Even Bobby's colleague-girlfriend (Patton) can't really help. And now they're being chased by everyone, including Papi and a swaggering killer (Paxton) with connections to the CIA.
The rather crazy plot demands that we pay attention as each of these factions is brought into focus, and it's refreshing to see a big movie that never abandons its own internal logic. Everything does indeed fit together into a larger picture, and since Bobby and Stig are alone in trying to figure it out, we happily go with them. Washington and Wahlberg are having a lot of fun with these characters as they jostle against each other in various displays of messy bravado. Opposite them, Patton has a thankless sexy-female role, but Olmos is quietly fierce, and Paxton steals every scene as a cocky, sneering villain who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake.
Continue reading: 2 Guns Review
Even though this crime thriller is based on a true story, it never feels remotely believable. The problem is that writer-director Walker tries far too hard to force the real events into a standard movie structure, which leaves gaping plot holes everywhere we look. Still, it's a solidly made film, with a snappy pace, strong performances and beefy direction that holds our attention.
It's set in 1983 Anchorage, Alaska, where the cops struggle to believe the story told to them by 17-year-old prostitute Cindy (Hudgens): she claims to have been kidnapped, tortured and raped, barely escaping with her life, and she identifies upstanding citizen Robert (Cusack) as her would-be killer. With the police refusing to follow up on her statement, State Trooper Jack (Cage) looks into it and discovers similarities in the cases of several other missing girls. And even though his out-of-hours investigation strains his marriage to Allie (Mitchell), he is doggedly determined to find the proof that will put Robert behind bars.
Right at the beginning we have a nagging question that's never answered: why do the police discount the victim's account, especially as it's accompanied by physical evidence? And the screenplay brushes past other big issues along the way, making us think that this might be the most inept police squad in the world. Although we never doubt for a second that Jack will crack the case, even though the script continually throws in random movie cliches from the characters' pasts in an attempt to ramp up the emotional stakes. It also randomly places Cindy in the middle of an under-developed war between two pimps (Jackson and Henke).
Continue reading: The Frozen Ground Review
While this thriller plays with themes of political ethics and ambition, it merely lets them simmer in the background. Director Hughes is clearly much more interested in macho posturing and the convoluted scandal-based plot, so he lets the cast members merrily chomp on the scenery but neglects to give us anything that engages our brains.
The broken city of the title is New York, where Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) covered up a shooting involving cop Billy (Walhberg) to protect himself seven years ago. Acquitted but disgraced, Billy is now working as a low-rent private detective when the mayor calls in a favour. He hires Billy to find out who his wife (Zeta-Jones) is having an affair with before it derails his re-election campaign against the passionate rising-star Valliant (Pepper). It doesn't take Billy long to get the incriminating photos, but clearly there's something much bigger at stake here, so he continues to investigate the situation, which uncovers such high-reaching corruption that Billy's life is in danger.
Demonstrating how little the film cares about its characters, Billy's long-time girlfriend (Martinez) is dispatched suddenly after a series of arguments during which she refuses to put up with his boorish, chauvinistic stupidity. Why she stuck with him this long is the real question. But this and other eccentric relationships in the plot are much more interesting than the dull property-development boondoggle that Hughes instead decided to focus on. The problem is that this leaves Wahlberg with the only remotely complex character, an intriguing mess of a man who overreacts wildly to everything and yet seems to want to do the right thing.
Continue reading: Broken City Review
A strong sense of camaraderie sets this edgy police thriller apart from the crowd. And it's also a change of direction for writer-director David Ayer, who has explored the dark side of police corruption in Training Day, Harsh Times and Street Kings. But this film focusses instead on two good-guy cops just trying to do their job and have happy private lives.
On the gritty streets of Los Angeles, officers Taylor and Zavala (Gyllenhaal and Pena) continually make important arrests, which really annoys their serious-minded colleague Van Hauser (Harbour) because they're usually joking around as well. But their captain (Grillo) is slowly starting to respect their work. Meanwhile, their loyal partnership in the streets spills over into their private lives, and they lend support to each other as Taylor falls in love with Janet (Kendrick) and Zavala's wife (Martinez) gives birth to their first child. On the other hand, a Mexican cartel boss has just put a price on their heads after they busted his operation.
Ayer shoots the film like a fly-on-the-wall doc, with hand-held cameras capturing each scene. Sometimes the shaky imagery is a bit distracting since it has nothing to do with the plot, but it encourages the cast to deliver offhanded, bristly performances that build our interest during the nicely meandering first half. Then things shift drastically as a major plot kicks into gear that involves what the cops call the three food groups: drugs, money and guns.
Continue reading: End Of Watch Review
Born in battle, Conan (Howard, then Momoa) is set on vengeance. His people, the Cimmerians, were slaughtered by the evil Khalar Zym (Lang), who was looking for the barbarian-held pieces to a mythical all-powerful mask. Once the mask is reassembled, Khalar Zym and his fiendish daughter Marique (McGowan) need a pure-blood of Acheron to activate it and, as luck would have it, the last one is hot babe Tamara (Nichols). So of course Conan and Tamara team up to fight off the villains and save the pre-historic world.
Continue reading: Conan The Barbarian Review
When hard-boiled rapists, pedophiles, murders, and drug lords slip through the legal system, are people who take the law into their own hands criminals or heroes? Righteous Kill explores the familiar subject of vigilante killers with a slight twist. This time, the killer is a cop.
Continue reading: Righteous Kill Review
King of California is cute, innocent, and precocious, just like the little 10-year-old niece you want to kill. Cahill's film aims to be quirky and quizzical and it has the feel of the kind of anti-establishment films made in the '60s and '70s along the lines of They Might Be Giants or Daddy Douglas' The Lonely Are the Brave. But there is no ballast for the whimsy, and the whole concept wisps away like a leaky balloon full of hot air.
Continue reading: King Of California Review
The story begins with decent promise as Freeman is revealed to be a stellar hitman, only his cover is finally blown and the many enemies he's made over the years come after him. He escapes an elaborate assassination and runs into the wilderness, only to be apprehended (because he's in handcuffs) by a camping father (John Cusack) and his son. While the trio attempts to get back to civilization to turn Freeman in, they're pursued by the bad guys and the good guys, and they still have to deal with harsh terrain surrounding them. Beresford's setup starts strong but soon peters out and gets repetitive as Cusack faces down one impossible situation after another, but never with much finesse. It's just running around on a mountain, often in the dark: The final showdown takes place completely and absurdly without lighting and pretty much seals the movie's doom.
Continue reading: The Contract Review