Tag Archives: based on a true story

Detroit – Review

9 Aug

In 1967, Detroit was shaken by the 12th Street Riots which lasted from July 23 to July 27. In just 4 days time 23 civilians were killed and 16 police and military members were also killed. The number of wounded on both sides go way into the hundreds. It was a very dark time in America’s past that was caused by racism, classism, and poverty and the tensions among the three being pushed to their very limits. In the middle of all this, an incident occurred at the Algiers Motel in which 3 people were killed under unknown circumstances. This is the focus of Kathryn Bigelow’s new film, Detroit, a shocking look at what has remained unseen for 50 years. While it’s true no one really knows what happened, it’s clear that Bigelow did a lot of research and investigating of her own, and Detroit will remain as one of the high points of film for 2017.

Amidst the 12th Street Riots in Detroit, multiple lives are affected while some are changed forever. Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is a private security guard and factory worker who is called to defend a small convenience store overnight, which is situated right beside a National Guard outpost. Larry Reed (Algee Smith), the lead singer of The Dramatics, and his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) become separated from the rest of the group and end up at the Algiers Motel. It’s here that they meet Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) and try to hit it off. A prank involving a starter pistol attracts the attention of the National Guard where Melvin is and they all head over to the Algiers. It also attracts the attention Officer Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), a racist cop who believes he has complete authority over the streets of Detroit. At this convergence at the Algiers Motel, violence and hatred erupts which ends in the death of 3 people and a subsequent investigation that held the eyes of all in Detroit.

Detroit is a very intense movie that depict real life events, so it’s important that Kathryn Bigelow and the rest of her crew depict things in a very specific way. Luckily, Bigelow has shown herself to be just the person to portray very dramatic real world events with her other films The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. With Detroit, a sense of environment is very strong and it succeeds at putting the viewer right in the middle of things, regardless of how chaotic and disturbing something may be. There are times where this film is a marvel to look at and listen to. It feels so genuine and authentic at times that I actually felt like I was transported back to a certain time and place. Part of this has to do with the excellent cinematography. Handheld camera work is something that can be completely overdone nowadays, and it’s often used in movies where it’s unnecessary and is just something to be seen as “artsy.” It’s used perfectly in this film and it never feels out of place. There’s also a very heavy usage of close ups where character’s faces are held in full frame for a good amount of time. It’s a risky move for Bigelow and it requires her to also have found just the right actors for the parts.

The performances in this movie are so good it’s almost scary. In fact, in a couple cases it is scary. John Boyega isn’t in the movie as much as I thought he was going to be but he gives such a natural performance that feels completely unlike his role in Star Wars, which is a good thing since it’s practically impossible to compare these two movies in any way shape or form. Will Poulter, who plays Krauss, is a force to be reckoned with in this movie and it’s by far one of the best and most complex performances of the year. His character is a complete psycho, and the frightening thing is that he doesn’t see that he’s doing anything wrong. Poulter gives a performance that is as horrific as it gets. Finally, the breakout star of this movie is Algee Smith, who I’d say is more of the focal point of the ensemble cast. His IMDb only has in credited in some random things and a part in Earth to Echo, which I think MAYBE three people saw. He is outstanding in this movie and has a bright career ahead of him. Seriously, Hollywood, keep your eyes out for this guy.

Detroit also had pacing that I wasn’t expecting, but it’s really the best way the movie could have been done. When I saw that the run time was about two and a half hours, I was a little concerned that it would be overstuffed with useless plot elements that could have easily been removed to turn it into a two hour movie. I really had nothing to worry about, however. The first part of the movie sets the stage for the riots and the characters for a while. Once we get to the Algiers, however, we remain there for a very long time. The whole incident is shot in real time and during this whole event we hardly leave the premises of the motel. This goes on for a really long time, but it never feels boring or overlong. Finally, the third part is the aftermath which keeps the stress from the time at the Algiers raised high. I hate using this word, but the storytelling really was riveting and I couldn’t peel my eye away from the screen for more than a second.

This has been a pretty wild summer for movies. There has been so much great stuff that it’s hard to keep track of it all. Amidst all of the cinematic joy, Detroit stands tall as one of the best 2017 has to offer, and yes I realize how often I’ve been saying that. This is a powerful movie about a really dark and tense time in American history and Kathryn Bigelow has the hard task of dramatizing it. The performances and film making are all top notch in this movie and it has to be remembered come Oscar season.

Final Grade: A+

Dunkirk – Review

26 Jul

The Dunkirk Evacuation, which took place in late May and early June of 1940, is an event which the late Winston Churchill deemed a “military disaster.” Even with that infamous description attached to it, it has become known as The Miracle at Dunkirk because of the amount of British Allied forces that were saved despite the odds due to bravery from the British Navy, Air Force, and civilians who were all too willing to help. It’s an incredible story and it’s a story that has now been scooped up by film making master Christopher Nolan, who not only succeeds in telling stories, but also sculpting them to feel new, unique, and memorable. Listen, The Dark Knight is a fantastic movie, Inception killed it in the imagination department, and Memento completely reinvented how to tell a simple narrative. That being said, Dunkirk may be Nolan’s masterpiece.

The story of Dunkirk is split up into three separate narratives that become interweaved as the movie goes along. The first story that is introduced is that of a British private named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead). Tommy narrowly escapes Nazi forces and finds himself on the beach with thousands of other British and French soldiers waiting for evacuation. Throughout the next couple of days, Tommy must survive bombings by German planes, submarine attacks on their ships, while also navigating through an environment where everyone is fighting desperately to survive. The next story is that of Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and family friend George (Barry Keoghan) who use their small civilian boat to sail to Dunkirk and rescue whoever they can. Along the way they find a soldier (Cillian Murphy) who’s ship was sunk by the Germans and who is also suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress. Finally, we come to the eyes in the sky. Royal Air Force pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) and his partner take on numerous German bombers in order to protect the civilian ships and the troops on the beach. This becomes a much harder task when his fuel gauge gets destroyed and he has to rely on memory to know how much fuel he has left.

Dunkirk is almost more than a movie. It’s an experience of sight and sound that is above the norm when compared to most of my trips to the theater. It’s almost as if the movie just wrapped around me and didn’t let up until the very last frame. The first shot of the film pulled me in immediately. It feels so sudden and unnatural, but at the same time beautiful. It sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the film. The camera swoops around the skies with the planes and runs along the beaches with the soldiers all while the devastating sound effects complete the audio/visual immersion. I don’t think I’ll be getting the sound of the German planes out of my head anytime soon. Even though that horrifying whine steals the show, the other planes, gunshots, explosions, and ricochets boomed out of the sound system and made me jump a few times. Finally I have to give major credit to Hans Zimmer for his subtle yet intense score that moves with the plot perfectly.

Something that really surprised me about Dunkirk is the way the story is told. Nolan is known to tell intricate stories, and his earlier works like Following and Memento especially play around with narrative structure. While Dunkirk isn’t quite as broken up as Memento, it still has a unique flow to it. The soldiers on the beach have a story that lasts a week, the civilians in the boat span a day, and the pilots span an hour. This really enhances the story because we’ll see something happen through the eyes of one character and then later on in the movie we’ll see it again from a different perspective. This gives the viewer a fuller view of the event as it happened. It’s also just a lot of fun putting the pieces together as the movie goes along. It was a little bit confusing at first, but I got into it pretty quickly. Could the movie have been told in a linear way? Yeah, I’m sure it could have been but I’m also glad it wasn’t.

A complaint I’ve been hearing is that there isn’t enough character development. This kind of confuses me because I never really looked at this movie as being about the characters, but more so about the events that happened on those brutal days and nights in Dunkirk. The characters in this movie serve as archetypes for real soldiers. From the PTSD ridden soldiers to the heroic English civilians, these characters represent many. This doesn’t mean there aren’t some great performances, however. Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, and Cillian Murphy are the real powerhouse performances in this movie, but there wasn’t a shaky actor in the bunch. I really don’t mind not seeing their backstories or what became of them or what their motivations for their actions were, and honestly there just wasn’t time in the narrative to slow down.

Dunkirk is a masterpiece of epic proportions and is quite frankly the best work I’ve seen from Christopher Nolan. This has been a pretty strong summer with the movies I’ve been seeing, but nothing can top this one. If another movie comes along this year that hits me as hard as Dunkirk did, I’d really be surprised. This is a movie that can’t be missed. It tells an incredible story of survival, but it also reworks the tropes of the war genre in ways that I haven’t seen done before. This film is outstanding and I can’t wait to see it again.

Final Grade: A+

Margin Call – Review

30 Jun

Many economists believe that the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 is the worst of its kind since the Great Depression. I don’t find that too hard to believe, but I’m just as much an economist as I am Elvis Presley. In 2015, an adaptation of Michael Lewis’ best selling book, The Big Short, was released, and it told the story of how this all happened using a comedic edge to help unravel the proceedings. Before this movie, however, was J.C. Chandor’s debut film from 2011 called Margin Call. Unlike The Big ShortMargin Call tells a fictionalized account surrounding one corporation while also using very little to no humor to tell its story. I’m not faulting The Big Short at all, in fact, I loved that movie. Margin Call is, however, a much sterner look at the inner workings and failures that made this crisis happen while also being an intriguing and intelligent film.

On Wall Street, a company is facing a day of massive layoffs, much to the chagrin of its employees. Amongst these employees looking down the barrel of a loaded corporate gun is Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), a junior risk analyst who has the potential to be something even greater. After seeing his boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), get fired, he is given a USB drive by Dale to investigate with the ominous warning to “be careful.” What Peter finds is something that will destroy the company if it is ignored. The calvary is called in which includes the Head of Trading Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), his boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), and all the other higher ups until CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) arrives. What’s discovered is that the historical volatility of the company, which measures the risk of investments, is stretched incredibly thin and that if assets decrease by a certain amount, the company will go bankrupt. Thus begins the war of morals that takes places in the boardrooms on Wall Street about wether or not to sell these worthless shares or take the hit and lose a fortune.

One of my biggest fears with movies like this is if I’m going to be able to fully understand what’s going on. I haven’t the slightest idea about the ins and outs of Wall Street and trading and the stock market. Luckily for me, Margin Call had an excellent screenplay that deserves a lot of praise. The way the dialogue is set up and the way the actors are delivering their lines helps make a lot of the more technical stuff clear, but it never feels like I’m being talked down to. There’s scenes where stuff is explained, but it never stops sounding like Wall Street traders are having a discussion. When this movie isn’t in financial mode, it dives deeper into its drama and the characters. This isn’t a robotic film that shows these employees just as money hungry thieves that just so happen to be operating in the gray areas of the law. These characters are written as human beings, for better or for worse, and they’re all very memorable with all their faults and achievements.

One of the first things I noticed about this film is its all star cast of really fantastic actors. Zachary Quinto is one of the main driving forces of the entire plot and he sells his role with ease. Alongside him is the always excellent Kevin Spacey in yet another performance where he just commands the screen. He gives two speeches in this movie and while they are cinematic, they also feel natural. Another standout performance is Jeremy Irons in a role that’s the closest thing this movie has to a villain. There’s something about Irons that makes him the perfect choice to play the most reprehensible people. The way he carries himself in this movie is something I’ve seen before in real life. It’s this uncompromising and in your face smug confidence that contrasts his actual lack of important knowledge and human empathy. Probably my favorite performance in Margin Call goes to Paul Bettany, who like Irons, has a lot of confidence but it wavers ever so slightly as the story progresses until we see the real weakness behind people as rich and powerful as these characters.

While the characters in this movie are all top notch and the performers play them very well, this is also where the movie runs into a fault. In the beginning of the film, Stanley Tucci’s character is introduced, and he’s great. Unfortunately, after this beginning scene he’s not in it again until the end, and when he does finally return he doesn’t get a whole bunch to do except deliver a great monologue. After the monologue, he just falls into place with the rest of the cast. Other than underutilizing Tucci’s character, the balance of the cast and how much they are used is done very well. There’s a lot of people in this movie all with unique characterizations, so seeing them all balanced so well was a relief. It’s not rare to walk out of a movie thinking how unevenly represented all of the characters were. I’m looking at you Free Fire.

To put it simply, Margin Call was an excellent movie. After it was over, I had to really push myself to think of a couple negatives. That being said, it isn’t a perfect movie, but it is one of the most intriguing films about Wall Street and financial crises that can be found out there in the zeitgeist. There’s a great cast performing a really interesting story about a company that’s failing, but it’s also a strong tale of morality and the humanity of the people making these decisions. I say definitely give this movie a watch.

Final Grade: A-

War Machine – Review

21 Jun

In 2012, a book titled The Operators by Rolling Stone editor Michael Hastings was released. It details the times that Hastings spent with General Stanley McChrystal, who was the commander of the International Security Assistance Force. Soon after Hastings published an article featuring McChrystal and his team, which featured a lot of trash talking certain high level government officials, McChrystal was pretty much forced to resign his position. Now we have another look at the story in a fictionalized, satirical account of what happened by writer/director David Michôd and his latest film War Machine. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about this movie, so I was a little hesitant going into it, but I have to say I really had a blast with this movie, despite some of its minor storytelling set backs.

General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) is a man of principles, conviction, confidence, and opinions. While all of those words do perfectly describe the officer, he’s also loud mouthed, arrogant, and a buffoon. He’s also the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan at the tail end of the war. Along with his team of sycophants and cronies, McMahon has a plan to bring peace to the Middle East with the payoff being a huge boost of his ego. Of course, along the way he has to deal with bureaucrats and politicians cutting into his plans while also trying to manage relations with Afghanistan’s new president (Ben Kingsley). While formulating a plan to head into enemy territory in a major assault that will be the high point of his career, McMahon agrees to have Rolling Stone reporter Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy) join the ranks to see the inner workings of his squad. This, along with every other bad decision of his career, will ultimately be his downfall.

The first thing that I really came to appreciate after watching War Machine is the film’s tone. It’s silly and often times over the top, but it never falls into the realm of stupidity. The dialogue has some corny jokes, but it also has some pretty whip smart moments of really good satire. While all of the humor is well and good, I was also surprised to find some depth and drama to the storytelling. I was really just looking to have some laughs with this movie but I felt a little more than that. By the end of the film, I started to analyze the character of McMahon and his intentions and the consequences of his action. There are even a few quieter moments that were actually kind of sad, and that’s an area I really wasn’t expecting the film to go based on the trailer. This isn’t just a surface level movie that exists to provide some cheap laughs. War Machine has a message and actual depth to it to support the laughs and the sillier moments in the movie.

So, War Machine is a movie with a message and it’s one that I can agree with. Unfortunately, the film’s biggest problem lies with how this message is conveyed at certain times. Throughout the movie we hear Scoot McNairy’s character doing a voice over and explaining certain things that are happening in the film or describing a character we are meeting for the first time. This helps since there are a lot of minor characters in this movie and everyone is constantly traveling around. While this helps with certain things, it also comes across as annoying more often than it should. The character of Sean Cullen is fine when he’s actually with McMahon and the other soldiers, but his voice over is so cynical and snide, while also beating the viewer on the head with the opinions being expressed in the movie. It was kind of annoying being told how I should be thinking. If the writing of the voice over was toned down just a little bit, that would have been great. I can figure out the messages and themes of movies, so I really don’t need them explained to me in this way.

One of my main draws to this movie was to see Brad Pitt in yet another role where he’s playing someone completely out of the ordinary. Pitt takes this part of McMahon and completely embodies it. From his odd posture, to his facial ticks, and even the goofy way he walks and runs, he’s perfectly believable as this character and it’s easy to forget you’re watching an actor, even if his face is so recognizable. Sir Ben Kingsley is also hilarious as the off the wall president of Afghanistan that McMahon is trying to cooperate with, even if they’re both not on the same page with each other at all. Kingsley is really hardly in this film, but most every scene has Pitt in it. Unfortunately, while everyone else around them do their jobs fine, they aren’t given a whole lot to do other than the bidding of McMahon, and while there are funny moments surrounding their characters they don’t really have too much that stands out.

At the end of it, War Machine is a pretty funny film with a memorable lead character and a sharp satirical look at America’s goings on in the Middle East. It isn’t really a heavy film, so if you’re looking for serious war and drama, look elsewhere. War Machine is packed with great satire and a tad too much cynicism for my taste. Still, as far as comedies go, it’s definitely one that’s worth a look.

Final Grade: B+

Snowtown – Review

5 Jun

You know that feeling you get when a movie just completely obliterates you? The credits are rolling and you’re just sitting there, numb to the world, with the film acting as a sort of pressure prohibiting you from doing anything at all? That’s how I recently felt after my viewing of Justin Kurzel’s 2011 film Snowtown, also called The Snowtown Murders in some parts of the world. This piece of unequivocal horror is based on the brutally true story of Australia’s worst serial killer, and the people he drew into his web of torture and murder. This is not an easy film to watch, and I’m sure there are some that may call it unwatchable, but I firmly believe that this may be one of the most horrifying films I’ve seen in a long time.

Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is a teenager growing up in a poor suburban area of Adelaide. He has a couple of brothers and a loving mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), who despite the love has a hard time making ends meet. After the short lived relationship she’s in with her neighbor ends with her sons becoming in danger, Elizabeth doesn’t know where to turn. That is until she meets John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), a charismatic man who has a sort of team of vigilantes who keeps a harsh eye on certain people in the neighborhood. Jamie takes and especially strong liking to John, and it doesn’t take long for John to become Jamie’s mentor and father figure. As Jamie spends more and more time with John, he begins to notice certain behavioral patterns that don’t seem quite right, and when more and more neighbors begin to disappear the pieces really begin to fall into place.

Snowtown is a ten ton punch in the gut, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Kurzel does not mess around with what he’s willing to show and it makes the movie all the more horrifying. There’s terror to be seen everywhere from the people living around this family to the actual members of the family and finally from John, who is a presence that’s hard to describe. It was also a smart choice to have this film shot mostly in a hand held style with the surroundings often times being close to colorless. This is a very down to earth movie in the way it’s presented, but the lack of color brings in a layer of hopelessness and the living situations make it seem impossible for these people to escape the horror that is plaguing their lives. This is how you do it, ladies and gentlemen. This is top tier horror film making.

It’s kind of hard to find really serious problems with Snowtown because they really feel very few and far between. There’s some unnecessary padding to the plot in a couple of scenes. A few bits go on a bit too long, but it’s really nothing that noticeable unless you’re really trying to nit pick, which I’m certainly not. The plot moves at a very certain pace, which boarders between being a slow burn and an edge of your seat thriller. The only thing that really sticks out to me that I can complain about is the way the passage of time is shown. There are a few cues to show that time is passing, but I feel like a lot happens in this movie without any sort of clue as to how much time has passed from one scene to another. This movie could happen over the course of years, months, or weeks. I’m really not too sure. This does add a layer of disorientation, which is kind of cool, but it still would have been nice to have seen progress shown in a more clearer fashion.

With this movie being told in the way that it is, the actors would really have to sell that they aren’t actors playing characters, but are the actual people they are playing. It’s clear Kurzel wanted the audience to completely lose themselves in this movie and not just switch off and watch it. That being said, he casted a lot of people who aren’t actors, but were rather people who lived in the area. Lucas Pittaway, who was never in any kind of film before this, is excellent as Jamie, who gets completely entangled in John’s plans. His mother, played by Louise Harris, was also virtually unknown before this and she does a great job at bringing this character to life in a realistic way. Finally, Daniel Henshall, who plays John Bunting, was only known for some performances in television, but he gives a horrifying performance as the murderous mentor of Jamie. It’s something I won’t soon forget.

Snowtown is a prime example of true, excruciating horror. Justin Kurzel and his team do not hold back with this movie. Some truly terrible acts that really happened are depicted in this movie, which may turn some people off. It’s definitely not an easy movie to sit through, but it does tell a story that will guarantee to send shivers down anyone’s spine. I can’t emphasize enough that this is the way horror films should be made, even though this particular one is also filled with a lot of drama and true crime elements. If you ever get a chance and think you can stomach the content, I would highly recommend checking this film out.

Final Grade: A

Hacksaw Ridge – Review

21 Nov

I recently wrote a review of Mel Gibson’s 2006 film Apocalypto, which I think is one of the coolest and most passionately movies I’ve ever seen. Since then, Gibson has gotten into all sorts of trouble, and his career has certainly suffered for it. While I can’t get behind anything he’s said or done, I’m still a huge fan of his work and it was unfortunate to see him fall so far off the radar. After 10 years, Gibson has returned to the director’s chair with Hacksaw Ridge, an anti-war film that’s based off an incredible true story of one man’s courage and beliefs that are often at odds with the rest of his brothers in arms. All I can say is that this is a very strong return which will hopefully remind Hollywood and movie goers everywhere about an intensely strong talent that has been missing from the spotlight for the past decade.

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Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a young man living in Lynchburg, Virginia during World War II. Throughout the years of the war, he sees his friends and neighbors leave to enlist and often times never return. When his brother enlists, much to the anger of his WWI veteran father (Hugo Weaving), Desmond also enlists as a conscientious objector with a goal of becoming a field medic and never picking up a weapon. As Desmond leaves his family and his love of his life, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), behind he finds that the Army isn’t quite as accepting as he thought. After jumping through legal hoops and defending himself against his platoon’s leaders, Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Cpt. Glover (Sam Worthington), he and his brothers in arms are shipped off to Okinawa to a strike point known as Hacksaw Ridge. There, Doss is witness to the brutal horrors of war and the violence one man can inflict upon another, but his strong beliefs and courage never waver and he becomes a truly respected hero of WWII.

There’s many different ways to go about telling a story. You can jump right into the action or you can take your time and build up the characters and motivations before really getting into things. There’s no objective right or wrong way to do this, but the writers and Mel Gibson really landed how to tell the story of Hacksaw Ridge. The best way to describe it is that the story is broken up in two halves. The first half of the movie show Desmond at home with his family, his decision to enlist, and his time defending his beliefs at basic training. The second half of the movie is the battles and other heroics at Hacksaw Ridge. The second half is such a devastating experience that is guaranteed to exhaust the viewer, but it wouldn’t have had that same impact if time wasn’t spent building up Desmond’s character and his relationship with his family, peers, and superiors. When something terrible happens to a character in this movie, I felt a physical reaction because of the previous half of the movie turning a fictional character into what felt like a real person. This is a war film at its most effective.

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I’ve seen from some critics that Hacksaw Ridge glorifies extreme violence. While the violence may be extreme, it never glorifies it. There was no time during the battle sequences where I thought an act of violence was cool. That’s not what this movie is about, and by the end I felt like I couldn’t take that final trip up the cliff and face the horrors again. This is a movie about two conflicting themes being met at a place that is hell on earth. Desmond’s pacifist and religious beliefs seem to have no place on the battlefield, and you’d expect these beliefs to change once he saw what his fellow humans are capable of. Gibson shows war in a straightforward and unflinching way which is reminiscent to the violence that is seen in Saving Private Ryan. Sure, there’s really brutal incidences that receive a lot of focus, but this was for the purpose of showing a religious individual faced with a situation that can be seen as entirely godless.

I always say that the writers are nothing without the actors and the actors are nothing without the writers. It’s a symbiotic relationship that walks a fine line with the director present to make sure everyone stays on track. Here we have actors all performing at the top of their game. Andrew Garfield seems to completely become Desmond Doss and Oscar consideration has to be given to Hugo Weaving for his small but unforgettable performance. Vince Vaughn gets more respect from me as well along with Sam Worthington in a career best performance. These are the names that stick out when I think of Hacksaw Ridge, but the rest of the cast also bring their best no matter how small the part may seem. A realistic movie requires realistic and believable performances and they radiate from the screen in the movie.

Hacksaw Ridge is a confident and impressive look at the horrors of war and is among the best and most powerful war movies ever made. The performances stand high amongst the carnage and the themes tower right along with them. This isn’t a movie about religion, but more so a movie about beliefs and conviction and the sacrifice it takes to uphold them. This is a masterwork in the genre of war and quite simply one of the best movies of the entire year.

Final Grade: A+

Unstoppable – Review

20 Oct

 

I can’t really say I’m the biggest fan of the late film maker Tony Scott. His filmography is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I can’t get into movies like Top Gun or Déjà Vu no matter how hard I try, but on the other hand Domino is a highly underrated action film and True Romance might even be one of my favorites. Like I said, it’s a mixed bag. Scott released his last film in 2010 titled Unstoppable, and it kind of serves as an exclamation point for the run on sentence that is Scott’s body of work. It has that signature frenetic style that everyone will recognize, but it also has a really interesting plot based on true events and some good characters to keep that story going. I was kind of surprised by it.

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Will Colson (Chris Pine) is a new train conductor  assigned to veteran engineer Frank Barnes’ (Denzel Washington) train scheduled to make stops in a number of small Pennsylvania towns. All in all, it sounds like a pretty mundane day for the two railroad workers. What they don’t know is that further up north, a completely inept hostler has lost control of a half mile long train that has cars containing a highly toxic substance called phenol. Now this train is barreling through towns without any control and is a risk of derailing at any moment and releasing this substance that could poison an entire town. Yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) rounds up her usual employees to stop the train, but corporate interference is making the task almost impossible. With time running out, Colson and Barnes decide to catch up to the train and slow it down themselves. With Hooper giving directions back at the train yard, the two railroaders push their train to the limit to stop a massive potential disaster.

Going into this movie, I wasn’t really expecting too much. Every time I asked someone about Unstoppable or it was brought up in conversation, no one ever seemed to excited about it. I’m really glad that these unremarkable responses didn’t deter me from actually watching it and formulating my own opinion. This is a well paced, well directed, and well acted film that, along with Domino, is a highly underrated Tony Scott movie. The plot takes its time in many places and that’s a smart choice because a movie like this could easily be rushed and contain non stop action. The first half hour or so sets up the characters and the setting while also giving the audience enough information to be able to follow the story. I really don’t know much about trains or how they work, so without this set up, I would have been completely lost during some of the more technical discussions. So, just because the action doesn’t start right away doesn’t mean it’s boring. Scott’s visual style and direction always keeps things interesting until the real meat and bones of the story begin.

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When the action does get started, it rarely ever lets up. This is an incredibly fast paced movie that, like I said, doesn’t feel rushed. This is where Tony Scott’s direction really shines. For one thing, most of the crazy stuff that happens was all shot with very little CGI. Instead, Scott opted to go with stuntmen, real trains, and lots of disposable things for the trains to crash into. This is a great looking movie for reasons like that, and also Scott’s kinetic and highly saturated visuals. The way the action is laid out also gives the tension and thrills time to build up. When the train is first lost and out of control, it isn’t moving too fast. By the time the climax of the movie happens, however, it’s traveling nearly 80 miles per hour with all of those other train cars, some of which contain a highly toxic and combustible chemical. This is one of those movies where you’ll find yourself slowly inching to the edge of your seat and letting out those wonderful sighs of relief.

Amidst all the mayhem with the trains, there’s also a story of corporate interference and disrespect for all of the people working in the field and not operating out of a boardroom on the fiftieth floor. This isn’t a subject that’s often shied away from, because a lot of working people can relate to it, but Unstoppable handles it in a way that resonated with me well. A lot of it has to do with the surprisingly three dimensional characters. Washington’s character is the veteran who’s getting screwed over by the company, Pine’s character is just getting into the company that’s obviously flawed, and Dawson’s character is the person who has made somewhat of a name for herself, but still isn’t respected by the higher ups. It really all of the bits and pieces of a company from the completely inept employees to the veterans just trying to finish their time on the job.

Unstoppable isn’t going to go down as an action classic in the years to come, but not every movie has to have that kind of status. This is a very well put together action thriller with fully realized character and plenty of mayhem and destruction to keep your eyes glued to the screen. I wouldn’t call this movie great, but it’s certainly really good and epitomizes most of what made Tony Scott’s vision so unique. This one’s worth checking out.

Final Grade: B+