Tag Archives: James Gandolfini

The Iceman

24 Nov

the iceman

 

Director: Ariel Vromen

Writers: Morgan Land (screenplay), Ariel Vromen (screenplay)

Stars: Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, James Franco

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 106 minutes

This is based on the true story of a contract killer living and murdering in New Jersey in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The hitman, Richard Kuklinski, achieved notoriety because of the number of murders that he was associated with (approx. 100), the iceman nickname that the press gave him and because of the very ordinary and healthy family life that he maintained. Kuklinski, of Polish origin, appeared to be a regular Joe, but was far from it. His psychopathic tendencies were funnelled into contract killing for local mobsters and that allowed him to support and to nurture a family. This film focuses on the central contradiction of his life.

Michael Shannon plays Kuklinski and his towering frame dominates the film. He is a large man and a brooding and menacing presence. Here he is reminiscent of James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, but with added threat. Shannon is well respected by other actors, but is far from a household name. Acting like this, he probably should be; this is a big performance from a very talented actor. His large head, cold eyes, slow and purposeful walk fit the character, but Shannon is more than his physical attributes and imbues Kuklinski with magnetism, depth and a strange poignancy.

There is not a great deal of plot and when the story gets more complicated it less easy to follow and oddly less interesting. The second half mainly involves a lot of tough guys mumbling about double crossing each other. The most intriguing scenes later on provide an insight to the Kuklinski childhood dominated by an abusive father. The young Richard is prone to torturing animals in a clearly desensitized reaction to the physical abuse routinely met out by dad. A conclusion is that the contract killing work of the adult Richard is a way to stay level and to keep demons at bay. He thus manages to live a normal life with wife and kids.

This is a good and mostly gripping film. The 1970’s production and design are on the mark and there are a couple of very good supporting turns by the likes of Ray Liotta. Shannon is excellent throughout and pulls the audience in as his two wholly separate and compartmentalized lives unravel and collide. There are some smart observations about psychosis too in between the assortment of murders. It is not perfect by any means, but is very nicely done. A small, tight and rewarding movie. 

Zero Dark Thirty

27 Jun

zero dark thirty

 

 

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Mark Boal

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 157 minutes

 

Zero Dark Thirty is the award winning film of the hunt for Osama bin Laden (OBL) from the award winning director Kathryn Bigelow. The film and manhunt start with the 2001 terrorist atrocity in New York and end with the 2011 raid on the compound in Abbottabad in northern Pakistan. The opening phone recordings of people trapped in the twin towers are distressing. That the film jumps straight to a black site where a CIA operative is engaged in water boarding a prisoner is telling.

The film-makers are clearly keen to try and debate the subjects of rendition and torture, but ultimately fail to do so as they simply don’t commit to a position. Later in the film a CIA man complains that since they ‘scrapped the detainee program’ they cannot confirm if OBL is in Abbottabad. He feels that holding and interrogating detainees is critical to success in the so-called war on terror, but what do the film-makers think?

The central character of this movie is Maya (played by Jessica Chastain). It is her crusade to locate and kill OBL that drives the film forward. Most of her CIA colleagues lose interest, but she is obsessed and consumed by the hunt. Why that is the case is not clear, but the brief glimpses of Maya’s non-military life reveal a woman with little else to fill her time. She is a loner and she is socially inept. That is not enough to flesh out the character and a flaw with the film is the ambiguous and flat aspect to Maya’s personality, especially when compared to the far more interesting Dan (played by Jason Clarke).

Another flaw is the length and pacing of the film. It is brutally long at 157 minutes and it cannot sustain that duration. Why pad out a film where everyone knows the ending? I got the feeling that Kathryn Bigelow was so excited by her access to participants of the manhunt that she got carried away retelling the story. Certainly there is no need for the endless array of situation room briefings, debriefings, meetings and planning sessions in which operatives mumble away at each other in hard to fathom CIA speak. Talk is quick, elliptical and strictly for insiders. That might be highly authentic, but it does little for the audience.

There are a few positive aspects to this film such as the raid on OBL’s compound. That is a very well-conceived and tense segment with excellent use of night vision. Jason Clarke as Dan is very good and there are good cameos later on from Mark Strong and James Gandolfini. Unfortunately, that is not enough to redeem the film. It sidesteps the serious subject of the role of detaining and torturing prisoners and the central character of Maya is far too opaque. Those are big flaws and I am surprised that Bigelow missed them. Why, after all, did she make the film?

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