Monthly Archives: March 2011

Review – The Lincoln Lawyer (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

There have not been many legal-thrillers made in recent years. The Reader and The Social Network are two that spring to mind. The Lincoln Lawyer is not, over-all, as good as those two films, but it certainly gives one value for money.

The Lincoln Lawyer is based on the book by Michael Connelly. It is about a smooth-talking, alcoholic defence lawyer, Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey – Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days, The Wolf of Wall Street), whose job is to keep criminals on the street. He’s quite good at it too – and knows it – which is why Lewis (Ryan Phillippe – Cruel Intentions, Breach, Flags of our Fathers), a thirty-two year old man from a wealthy family, demands that Mick represent him. Lewis has been charged with violent assault and rape against a prostitute; although, Lewis is adamant that he has been set up. Yet, no sooner does Mick agree to represent Lewis when things begin to get murky and twisted.

The prostitute giving Lewis her address, before he allegedly beats her up and rapes her at knife-point.

For a film that is dominated by courtrooms and legal technicalities, The Lincoln Lawyer is surprisingly interesting even to those who care little for the law. The plot is gripping and relatively simple to follow, provided the viewer is concentrating. At times, one may wonder which law-case Mick is referring to. The storyline also has a couple of flaws and things always seem to work out coincidentally well for Mick (as they tend to do for main characters in films), but not to the extent that the movie becomes ridiculous by any stretch of the imagination.

The plot is aided by very good choreography and a dialogue that is generally well-written. The director, Brad Furman (The Take), and the script-writer, John Romano (Intolerable Cruelty, Prodigy), have certainly done their homework and appear to have quite a solid knowledge of American federal law as well as Californian state law. (I do not know enough about such matters to be able to pass a proper judgement. I can only get a feel for the American legal system based on what has been said throughout the film.) There are a handful of sensationalist lines that obviously would not be said in a real court; yet, this does not take too much away from the script’s over-all quality.

Mick representing Lewis in court.

The script’s main beneficiary is Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey plays very well as a conceited barrister. (One should be aware that a common theme in movies is to make the main character look good by placing him/her next to or against weaker actors. In The Lincoln Lawyer, particularly in the courtroom scenes, McConaughey comes up against a less competent barrister than himself. The director also gives McConaughey the last word in the vast majority of the scenes, which makes him stand out more than he should.) Although McConaughey’s performance is not quite worthy of an Oscar nomination due to a lack of depth in Mick’s character; he illustrates that he is versatile and far from doomed to solely play hopeless-romantic roles like the one he did in How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days.

Without a doubt, McConaughey outshines Ryan Phillippe, the main supporting actor in The Lincoln Lawyer. Philippe does an alright and competent job; but has not really enhanced his reputation as an actor much here. Just like in Cruel Intentions, he plays here a spoilt rich kid needing to get his way. In all of his films, including Breach (wherein he plays a spy), Philippe conveys the same passion. In addition, he has the same scrunched-up facial expression that does him no favours. In Philippe’s defence, one can argue that he is not given the tools or the time to express himself in order to make the audience empathise with Lewis’ situation. But this is not a convincing argument; especially considering that Melissa Leo won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress after having less time on the screen in The Fighter than Phillippe did here.

All-in-all, The Lincoln Lawyer is certainly worth watching. It is entertaining and, seemingly, portrays the American legal world quite accurately; despite being a little theatrical on occasions. Indeed, by the end one should leave the movie feeling very satisfied.

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Review – The Adjustment Bureau (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2/5

Some critics proclaimed that The Adjustment Bureau was a fine amalgam between the Bourne series and Inception. Well, it bears no resemblance to either film. Moreover, it is a poorly executed movie in just about every sense.

The Adjustment Bureau begins with Congressman, David Norris (Matt Damon – The DepartedTrue Grit, Contagion), running for a seat in the Senate. On election night, he goes to the toilet to prepare a speech when he bumps into Elise (Emily Blunt – The Devil Wears Prada, Young Victoria, The Wolfman). Attraction is instant, but Elise leaves without giving David her contact details.

The agents who work for the Chairman. It is their job to 'adjust' peoples' fates to ensure they fit in with the Chairman's grand design for humanity.

Coincidentally, soon afterward in the film, they meet again on the bus; and this time David acquires her number. Yet, after leaving her, David comes across some people he was not expecting to meet. These men are agents who ‘adjust’ people’s futures in order to follow the plans set forth by the Chairman (God?). They inform David that he was not supposed to have met Elise for a second time and that he can never see her again. But David is determined to be with Elise; even if it means forfeiting his political ambitions. This, in turn, sets him on a collision course with powers greater than mankind.

The plot for this movie rapidly descends into a cliché love-story that tests the patience of those who believed that they were going to watch something a little more original and intellectually stimulating. The director, George Nolfi, to some extent tries to play to a more academic-minded audience by including the debate of free-will vs. God’s divine master-plan in the film. (Although, if anyone thinks that this debate is new, let’s bear in mind that it has been discussed regularly since the Middle Ages or, even more likely, since the Bible was written.) Yet, by only dealing with this debate vis-à-vis the love-story, Nolfi has ensured that all highly complex discourse on the subject appears only at a superficial level. It could have and should have been done better; especially when one bears in mind that this is the same man who wrote a well-crafted script for The Bourne Ultimatum.

David and Elise running frantically from the Chairman's agents so that they can be together.

Alike the debate, the dialogue is equally vain throughout The Adjustment Bureau. The acting is not much better either. Matt Damon gives his role a decent punt. Nevertheless, one questions why he chose to do this role in the first place. For the lesser known Emily Blunt, it is obvious why she has been chosen. But apart from looking pretty and having an over-all good physique, her performance is little better than her showing in the dreadful film, The Wolfman. Indeed, if it were not for her above-mentioned featured, plus her striking blue eyes and wonderful English accent; it is hard to see how she will ever be able to reach the dizzying heights that Natalie Portman has achieved in recent times.

The rest of the cast, particularly the Chairman’s agents, are woeful. Similarly, the special effects are pitiable because they look unreal. (Special effects have to at least give the façade of looking like they might be genuine.) The cinematography is not worth commenting upon as it is virtually non-existent. The choreography, on the other hand, has been pieced together smoothly, which enables the viewer to follow the plot easily.

How The Adjustment Bureau has been advertised as ‘Bourne meets Inception’ is beyond belief and nothing more than a marketing con. The Adjustment Bureau looks like it has been done on the cheap. It may try to be intelligent; yet that does not mean that it warrants comparisons to the aforementioned high-class films. The Adjustment Bureau needs a more original storyline; plus better acting, dialogue, special effects and care as a starting-point before it can be put into in the same bracket as the Bourne series or Inception.

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Review – Unknown (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

After viewing the trailer for Unknown, one gets the impression that they’ve seen this type of action film before. One knows the movie won’t be great, but will probably be worth the watch. On this premise, Unknown does not let the audience down.

The car crash that leaves Dr. Martin Harris, played by Liam Neeson, in a coma for four days.

The film revolves around Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson – Schindler’s List, Star Wars I, The Dark Knight Rises), a researcher/lecturer who is in Berlin for a conference, with his wife, Liz (January Jones – Madmen, American Pie: The Wedding, Anger Management). Martin realises, once he’s at the hotel he’s due to stay at, that he has left a suitcase at the airport. On his way back to the airport, an accident occurs. A fridge-freezer falls out of the van in front of the cab. The cab driver, Gina (Diane Kruger – Troy, National Treasure I & II, Inglorious Basterds), swerves out of the way; but loses control of the vehicle. The car smashes into a boundary on a bridge and crashes into the lake.

When Martin wakes up, he’s in hospital after spending four days in a coma. No-one has come to look for him, including his wife. Martin releases himself early from hospital so as to find Liz. However, when he finds her, she maintains that she’s never seen him; plus she is with another man who also claims to be Dr. Martin Harris (Aiden Quinn – Wild Child, Legends of the Fall, Frankenstein). Without ID ‘the real’ Dr. Martin Harris has no way of proving his identity. To compound matters for the ‘real Martin’, he soon discovers that people are after him and he has no clue why.

The plot for Unknown is entertaining and fast paced, despite having many loose-ends. It also has car chases so far-fetched that those in The Fast And The Furious series may not look so ridiculous anymore. The twist is not unpredictable either, but this does not ruin the film.

The ‘real Dr. Martin Harris’ being taken away by security after his wife, Liz, claims that she doesn’t recognise him.

The quality of the acting is about as good as the storyline. Liam Neeson plays decently enough as usual; although this is far from his most challenging role. As January Jones and Aiden Quinn don’t appear much on screen, it’s hardly fair to judge them. The same can be said for Bruno Gantz (who plays Adolf Hitler in Downfall; The Reader) and Frank Llangela (Superman Returns, Frost/Nixon, Wall Street 2).

The only other actor with a notable role in Unknown is Diane Kruger. Despite looking pretty (and skinny) throughout the movie, her Bosnian accent is hardly plausible. It is interesting that the director, Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, House of Wax, Goal II: Living The Dream), chose to play her as a Bosnian when filming in her native country. Then again, one does suppose that actors are paid to act. If that is the case then Kruger’s performance is not much better than her Bosnian accent. It is also hard to imagine one behaving in the way Gina does; especially once she grasps the reality of Martin’s situation.

All in all, Unknown is a distinctly average movie that is fun and entertaining. It is a light film devoid of complexity and quality; yet, filled with action and a solid performance from Liam Neeson.

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Review – The Fighter (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

‘Why do we fall down, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.’ Thomas Wayne may have asked his son this question in Batman Begins; yet, the question (and subsequent answer) is an equally valid motto for another excellent movie: The Fighter.

The Fighter is based on a true story. Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg – The Lovely Bones, The Italian Job, We Own The Night) comes from a deprived area in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is a street-sweeper by trade and an aspiring boxer on the side, struggling to make an honest buck. Mickey has been taught everything he knows by his older brother, Dickey (Christian Bale – The Machinist, The Dark Knight, 3:10 To Yuma), who is an ex-boxer that never quite made it big. In recent times, Dickey has become a crack-addict. As much as he is Mickey’s best aid, Dickey is also his brother’s greatest liability. Mickey’s mother and manager, Alice (Melissa Leo – Hide and Seek, Conviction, Red State), as well as the rest of this family (possibly minus his father), are not much better either.

Mickey does and, simultaneously, does not have the right kind of support. His confidence is low; he hasn’t done well in his previous fights. He’s struggling. It’s only after he meets Charlene (Amy Adams – Catch Me If You Can, Enchanted, The Master), a not unattractive college drop-out with little going for her; takes a battering against a boxer with twenty pounds more muscle on him; and after he recovers from a broken hand, that Mickey’s fortunes begin to change for the positive. But it does not come without an immense amount of hard work and sacrifice.

The plot may not move at breakneck speed, but it is still quite inspiring and entertaining. The quality of the acting by Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams and Christian Bale is undoubtedly the best feature of the film. Due to Wahlberg’s performance, one has little difficulty empathising with Mickey. Wahlberg wonderfully captures the timidity of a humble person that suffers from low confidence and dejection, without being melodramatic. Likewise, Wahlberg maintains his character’s dignity admirably when he regains his self-assurance. This is no easy feat. Why Wahlberg was not nominated for an Oscar is a mystery.

One who was nominated for an Oscar is Amy Adams. Here, she plays the role of Mickey’s highly supportive girlfriend splendidly. Charlene has her issues as well, buttressing Adams’ performance because it makes her act more realistically. The only thing that works against Adams is that Charlene does not have an overly challenging personality. This may stop Adams from an Oscar triumph.

The same cannot be said for Christian Bale’s acting in The Fighter. In arguably his finest performance yet, Bale outshines his co-stars. When he’s not on-screen, one almost wishes him to return as he is that good. One could feasibly believe that Bale is a drug-addict from this movie, such is the intensity and energy he puts into the role. (And this is saying something for a man who has played many diverse roles extremely well throughout his career.) If he wins an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, it will be fully justified.

The cast could not have acted so well without brilliant scripts. For this, credit must go to the script-writer, Scott Silver (8 Mile), and the director, David O. Russell (Three Kings). The scripts may not be as elegant and witty as that in The King’s Speech, or as intelligent as that in True Grit. Still, the dialogue between the characters in The Fighter is indicative of the environment from which Mickey, Dickey and Charlene come from, and, therefore, gives the movie a greater sense of realism.

Charlene (Amy Adams) at the bar where she meets Mickey.

If one were to be ruthless, one could argue that the choreography and the music in The Fighter were not as sublime as the above films. Some scenes did not flow as smoothly as they could have done; and, with regards to the feel-good factor, the music here was not as uplifting as the scores in The King’s Speech. Similarly, it is also a shame for the director that the cinematography could not have been as beautiful as in other films (for example The Way Back), since The Fighter is shot in depressing neighbourhoods. This should not, theoretically, take anything away from the film. Nevertheless, seeing miserable areas is not as aesthetically pleasing as picturesque landscapes. Again though, this is being very harsh (and semi-unfair) on the director.

All-in-all, The Fighter, despite some minor defects, is a fantastic film and has a cast worthy of their nominations; Bale particularly so. The movie also has plenty of moral messages. It illustrates how bad environments can hinder one’s progress and shows us the possible results of drug addiction. But most importantly of all, The Fighter emphasises that when one gets knocked down by life’s challenges, one has to learn how to stand up again and fight on.

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