I wasn’t sure what to expect of The Last Duel, Ridley Scott’s medieval drama about justice and gender. The trailer looked interesting (once I accepted that some of the hairstyles in the film took some getting used to, to say the least), I liked the actors, and Scott knows how to do a good-looking movie. At the same time, the director has been rather hit and miss for me, in particular in the last ten, fifteen years or so. Obviously Alien and Blade Runner are stone cold classics, and I’ve enjoyed quite a few of his later films, but while the likes of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant looked gorgeous, they were saddled with scripts that were uneven at best and weak at worst, which in turn wasted the usually solid, at times even great acting in these films. Scott and his collaborators have often been better at the cinematic craft than at picking material deserving of the craftsmanship.Continue reading
First of all, my apologies for not updating my blog for the last two days. Things at the office and at home have been very busy, but from now on I should be able to update (practically) every day for the next two weeks. Promise!
And there’s enough to blog about, mainly the last film I watched at the cinema. Who’d have thought that Ben Affleck is so good at dealing with actors, especially after he didn’t exactly prove himself to be his generation’s De Niro? (Shades of Sophia Coppola, mayhaps…?) Gone Baby Gone is an accomplished first movie, with a brilliant cast and a wonderful set of moral grey areas to ponder for days after leaving the cinema.
For the record, I disliked Mystic River (which is also an adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane, just like Gone Baby Gone) intensely. I felt that Eastwood’s film at best paid lip service to the fact that many of its protagonist did pretty horrible things, but secretly it felt like the movie was condoning especially Sean Penn’s actions: after all, Tim Robbins’ character has been permanently broken by what happened to him when he was a kid, so a bullet to the head is in effect a mercy killing, even if done for the wrong reasons, right? Several people disagree with me on that reading, but I can’t shake it.
Gone Baby Gone is clearly by the same writer, and it shares many of the same concerns, but it’s more honest in addressing the moral dilemmas its characters are in. Many of the people involved try to do the right thing – but there is no right thing, so they try as hard as they can to go for the lesser of several evils. And the film doesn’t judge, which is quite amazing considering the story that it tells and the environment it’s set in. The Bostonian “white trash” isn’t looked down at or pitied as much as it is simply observed, just like the main character Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) doesn’t judge but simply tries to do what is right himself.
Casey Affleck is almost as brilliant as he was in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I was a bit irritated at the voiceover he had at the beginning of the film, because his voice is very characteristic and very specific. Its scratchy, somewhat adolescent quality (“You want fries with that?” – yup, that sort of voice) fit Robert Ford brilliantly, but I associated it with the character, not the actor. As soon as we actually saw Affleck, I was okay with it, though. It’s fascinating to watch his fundamentally decent character trying to figure out what the right thing is. When late in the film he kills a reprehensible character who has done an utterly evil thing, he doesn’t feel good or righteous, as would usually be the case in Hollywood films.
The rest of the cast is as fascinating. Much of the time you forget that you’re watching actors, as there’s something almost documentary about the presentation of the characters. Michelle Monaghan, whom I’d never noticed as much of an actress, makes her character into more of a Girl Friday/girlfriend type; Amy Madigan is as real as always; Morgan Freeman is remarkably short on Morgan Freeman-ness (Freemanity?), his usual, very pleasant style of (non-)acting; and Ed Harris seems to have swallowed Dennis Hopper whole, which is very disconcerting.
However, Gone Baby Gone may be a riveting film, but it’s not the most enjoyable film you could imagine. It’s less ponderous and heavy than Mystic River, but it leaves you with a very ambivalent ending, where those guilty before the law may be punished – but what is legal and what is right in this film diverges quite frighteningly. And chances are that the film will gnaw at your mind for a long time.
I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a bit longer ’till I start going on at great length about the films that didn’t click for me. You have my sympathy, though; it can’t be easy waiting even longer for something that highly anticipated… (On a related note: Amazon recently sent off my copy of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, according to the Moore-man “not my best comic ever, not the best comic ever, but the best thing ever. Better than the Roman civilisation, penicillin, […] the human nervous system. Better than creation. Better than the big bang. It’s quite good.” Sounds like something to look forward to.)
Anyway, the reason for today’s delay is this:
(Note: I’m afraid the YouTube video is in Spanish – here’s a link to the English video.)
While it’s probably a bit too precious for its own good, it’s still an amazingly well done advert. But what really throws me every time I see (and hear) Martin Scorsese is just how much he looks and sounds like an Italian-American, less neurotic though just as fidgety Woody Allen. And they both love New York.
Twins, separated at birth? Or are they actually the same person – i.e. Woody had better acting skills than we’d thought, and he’s been working on his Brooklyn accent? My guess is that this is just another one of those Hollywood mysteries that will never be solved. Like Ben Affleck’s success. Or William Shatner’s hair.