Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Eastern Promises, Things We Lost in the Fire

I didn't plan on seeing either of these movies 72 hours ago, and look it's Wednesday night, and I've seen both -- one that's pretty much out of theaters, and one that doesn't even premiere until... Friday? But I wanted to hang out with a friend (hence, EP), and I got a free ticket to see Things We Lost...

Let's start with Eastern Promises. You've read reviews by now and probably decided against seeing it because either a) it didn't release in your town, b) the trailer didn't grip you, c) you hate Russians, or d) you think Viggo Mortensen looks like your stepfather.
If it's d, dude! Me, too!
Anyhow, my take on the movie, which stars a French guy and an American guy as Russians, and an Australian girl as a British-Russian girl, is that it's trying too hard. It's too "Russian." Not that quite a bit of it doesn't ring true, but most of that is Anna (Naomi Watts)'s uncle, not the Russian mafia guys. OK, they kind of ring true, too, but so what? As much as I liked the movie, it just felt like it fit too well into a certain kind of group, like it should be partnered up with Mystic River or something for a double-feature.
And also, why film really brutal graphic violence when you know no healthy human being is going to be able to watch it? What's the point of forcing someone to throw up their hands? I get pushing the envelope, I get cinema verite really I do, but if the point of making a film is to make a story visible, why would you put something on film that people can't watch? It's like selling someone pre-dried-out markers. I don't think the climactic scene is terribly climactic. No heart-racing really, maybe because it comes so late in the movie (very end, actually), so I think really "what's at stake" is never thrust in the viewer's face. Could never run a successful TV series like that. This isn't exactly a gushing review, but you know what? I think you should watch it. It's a well-told story, gripping, so on and so forth. It's just not as stunning as A History of Violence.

OK, now onto Things We Lost in the Fire, in which Halle Berry loses her husband, and Benicio Del Toro plays the husband's best friend who, following the funeral, tries to help Halle and get sober. It's a rough time for all, but you can see that this is a good guy and this is a good family, and they're not going to just say, Oh, marry each other and make it all better. That's not quite how it works.

But does the film work? Well, sure. And, man, have I missed Benicio Del Toro. His face is so expressive, his eyes, his eyeBROWS - hell, his hair. He's just brilliant. Where has he been? He hasn't had a major role in anything since 2003! What the frick? Well, at least, that trend seems to be over.
The editing's a bit strange, the movie isn't going to win any Oscars, but I do feel it's probably the most honest film I've seen about how people in a family treat each other since, maybe, Ordinary People? Halle Berry's character is a real mother and wife, who has an idyllic sort of family life, but then is occasionally bitchy to her husband, and gets upset at her kids. And, boy, does she let Benicio have it, for things that are clearly more her problem than his. The children are equally well-drawn, and I think the way they treat any chemistry between the adults is really smart and faithful to what the story itself would want. Basically, the film manages to maintain that troublesome balance between being funny and poignant nearly all the time. I think the only flat part is David Duchovny, as the dead father. He's a bit one-note. You'd never know he had Californication in him, to be quite honest. Also, the obligatory breakdown scene for Halle near the end doesn't feel like the purging and facing of facts that it's supposed to be. It feels like Halle had a maniacal sob fest written into her contract, so she could remind people she won an Oscar for being all emotive and distraught in Monster's Ball. The film didn't need that, or the fluorescent runner AND the "accept the good" runner. One or the other would have been nice. Both made it a bit schlocky.

But yeah, Things We Lost. Good date film, and it's a pleasure and a joy to have Benicio back. The kid actors, especially the little boy, are pretty damn awesome. More likable than most kid actors that's for sure.

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In summing up, I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with. I don't. Would you take two negative messages?
-- Woody Allen