Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2007 8:36 am 
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SHORT CUTS: CRONENBERG'S EASTERN PROMISES, SHEPHARD'S THE HUNTING PARTY, AND DOMINIK'S THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD.

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EASTERN PROMISES isn’t as brilliant as some of Cronenberg’s fans, still dazzled by his History of Violence, seem to think, but it’s a compelling if repulsive yarn with a new set of evil men (Russian mafia in London) set off against the goodness of Naomi Watts’ innocent young midwife, of half-Russian heritage herself, who is led in by the death of a young pregnant woman in her hospital to Armin Mueller-Stahl’s gang boss, Vincent Cassell’s messy, groveling son, and Viggo Mortensen’s cool, mysterious "driver." Steven Knight, who penned Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things, again weaves good guys in with bad guys nicely enough but (also again) doesn't really get under anybody's skin. The editing and visual style aren’t exceptional but the mise-en-scen is great and there are some striking tableaux and camera angles. There's also momentum (as well as more gruesomeness than befits a moral tale). The nude knife fight in the steam bath with its eye-popping finale is a stunner, but there’s only cold comfort here.

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THE HUNTING PARTY. Matador director Richard Shephard gives Richard Gere one of his more appealing (and surprisingly well-fitting) roles as the reckless, brave war journalist Simon. He and Terrence Howard's photographer Duck were a fabulous combat news team till Simon had a meltdown on the air and was exiled to obscure freelancing while Terrence was kicked upstairs to working with the network's chief anchorman in New York. A reunion to cover the fifth anniversary of Bosnian peace causes the two to reunite, joined by a network VP’s eager young Harvard son (Jesse Eisenberg) on a wild hunt for "the Fox"—a Bosnian war criminal responsible for the rape and slaughter of thousands of Moslems; supposedly there’s a $5 million reward for his capture. Simon is broke, but says he just wants an interview. As soon as they get within miles of what may be the Fox’s lair they’re assumed by everybody to be CIA assassins. Mayhem—and a happy resolution—follow. Gere catches just the right wild ironic tone throughout and his cohorts are fine. More successful and more satisfying than Eastern Promises. But who’d want to see this? It’s mostly just factually true, and the treatment is a little too cynical for its political punch to follow through. Adapted from a Scott K. Anderson Esquire magazine article of several years ago, the movie relates to Three Kings and Salvador.

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THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. New Zealander Andrew Dominik’s Chopper(2000) had Eric Bana very effective as a notorious criminal. This overblown, overlong, artily shot rehash (with intermittent fake-antique "refracted" camerawork) of Jesse James’s last days has been admired and hated. Brad Pitt got the Venice Film Festival’s Best Actor award. In fact Pitt lacks the presence needed here to make his role interesting. Casey Affleck, with his embarrassing faux-naïve eagerness, is the one who holds the screen. With this and the upcoming movie brother Ben has debut-directed with him as the star (Gone Baby Gone, from a novel by Mystic River author Denis Lehane), he may be moving up to major roles, and that's the most interesting thing about this otherwise misfired effort. Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepherd and others are wasted in scenes and conversations that ramble on and never make much sense. The Seventies-style quirkiness isn’t backed up by solid ideas, and at over two and a half hours, this is a long, tedious slog to sit through.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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