Now in Cinemas: Reviews for August 2, 2007

Reviews: Fracture, Venus, and Next

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
for Expats.cz

A mildly compelling courtroom drama, Gregory Hoblit´s Fracture reels us in with a can´t-miss premise only to slowly lose us over the course of the rest of the film. Terrific leads – ideally cast as cat-and-mouse opponents – and a game supporting cast keep things interesting for the most part, but unnecessary subplots and unconvincing legal logic derail a potentially top-notch suspense thriller. Pic recalls director Hoblit´s 1996 Primal Fear, which had similar strengths and weaknesses and an equally muddled outcome.

Fracture
Rating:
Directed by Gregory Hoblit. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davidtz, Billy Burke, Cliff Curtis, Bob Gunton, Josh Stamberg, Xander Berkeley. Written by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers.
Showtimes
IMDb link

Anthony Hopkins stars as Ted Crawford, an engineer whose job it is to find the weak points in structures. We begin the film as he leaves work, goes home, and shoots his cheating wife in the head. A hostage situation develops, and a negotiator is sent in – Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), who just happened to be sleeping with the victim. In any event, Crawford is caught, admits to the crime, and spends the rest of the film playing mindgames with prosecutor Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), attempting to break his case on shaky legal grounds and get away with murder (well, attempted murder – wife ends up in a coma). Such a great premise – how can this miss? Somehow, it does. Gosling´s personal subplots – especially a romance with Rosamund Pike – take up far too much screen time and detract from the main story; in fact, whenever focus is taken off Hopkins (which happens frequently in the second act), the film suffers greatly. On top of this, credibility is strained and broken under the weight of questionable legalities; my favorite is when the judge throws out Crawford´s confession on conjecture alone – shouldn´t it be proven that Nunally was sleeping with his wife and the confession was coerced? Nah, let´s just take Crawford´s word for it. The ending heaps these on to the point of unintentional comedy, topping it off with that old double jeopardy situation – has this ever happened in reality? A murderer confessing to their crime after being found innocent because they can´t be tried again?

Hopkins and Gosling are both terrific, though their characters are too shallowly written; the mistakes these characters make in order for the plot to move forward feels forced. Supporting cast is good, in particular Burke, David Strathairn as Beachum´s boss, and Cliff Curtis as the cop on the case. Film is polished, but the script is rarely credible, and the direction isn´t fluid or suspenseful enough for us to overlook this; rarely does a thriller succeed when we´re given ample time to think about the plot. Premise is somewhat reminiscent of Elio Petri´s 1971 Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, which featured Gian Maria Volontč as a police inspector who murders his mistress, leaves clues behind, and waits the rest of the film to be caught.

***

Venus
Rating:
Directed by Roger Michell. Starring Peter O’Toole, Jodie Whittaker, Leslie Phillips, Richard Griffiths, Vanessa Redgrave, Bronson Webb. Written by Hanif Kureishi.
Showtimes
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A towering, deservedly-praised Peter O´Toole performance is the sole reason to see Roger Michell´s Venus, a strangely distant and ultimately disappointing look at lust in the later years of life. O´Toole plays Maurice, a lonely, aging actor dying of prostate cancer who spends much of his time with friend and fellow actor Ian (Leslie Stevens). Into their lives comes Ian´s niece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), who can kindly be described as brash and disrespectful. Ian wants nothing to do with her, but our Maurice sees something in her, and thus begins the problem – Jessie is so rude, annoying and unpleasant, that we side with Ian – we simply don´t like her. Poor Whittaker attempts to dominate the screen with twentysomething hysteria while O´Toole has already grabbed our attention with a quiet dignity; scenes between the two are unpleasant, but not for the intended reasons – the 50-year age difference is fine, but can´t he find a nicer girl? Film is at its best during scenes of banter between the aging actors, or scenes between Maurice and ex-wife Vanessa Redgrave, during which O´Toole finally has a suitable actress to play off of. But a film about lust should leave the audience as lustful as its lead, and have an object worth lusting over (I´m thinking of, say, Bo Derek in 10); Jodie Whittaker – a fine actress, perhaps – is not that object. This is not Harold and Maude, nor a story about love or affection; O´Toole plays a dirty old man and he plays it to perverted perfection. If only we could identify with his dirty old mind. That the film itself doesn´t live up to the standards of its lead performance is the likely reason that O´Toole still doesn´t have an Oscar. A disappointment from director Michell, who explored similar themes with greater success in The Mother. See Manoel de Oliviera´s I´m Going Home for a much more affecting portrait of an aging actor.

***

Next
Rating:
Directed by Lee Tamahori. Starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel, Thomas Kretschmann, Peter Falk, Tory Kittles, José Zúñiga. Written by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh, Paul Bernbaum, based on the novel by Philip K. Dick.
Showtimes
IMDb link
Hopelessly mediocre Nic Cage actioner, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, aims low and mostly succeeds. Cage has fun in the role of Frank Cadillac, a Vegas magician who can see two minutes into the future, and for a while the film coasts solely on his lazy charm (a brief Peter Falk appearance also helps). Then comes the romantic subplot with Jessica Biel as Cadillac´s object of obsession, followed closely by the terrorist subplot with some amazingly bland baddies, and everything is wrapped up in cliché and predictable fashion. Julianne Moore is wasted as the FBI director who needs Cadillac´s help to prevent the terrorist plot. Director Tamahori does give the film a slick style and presents the “powers” in an interesting fashion; we´re never quite sure – whether Cadillac is preventing a casino robbery or trying out pickup lines – if what we´re seeing is actually happening, or if it´s just Cadillac looking into the immediate future and trying out different scenarios. Though fun at first, the technique quickly becomes overused and repetitive; no points for being able to guess the ending. While the film does mostly succeed on its own meager terms, it feels like a waste when considering the source material; Dick deserves better than forgettable popcorn fare like this, or Imposter, or Paycheck. Similarly, director Tamahori has come a long way since Once Were Warriors.


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