Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Not That Strange After All

20 05 2011

Based in part on Tim Power’s historical fiction novel On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise sees Captain Jack Sparrow take center stage on a brand new adventure. Here’s the breakdown:

Jack Sparrow is back, but this time, lacking a ship and a crew. In an effort to reclaim his beloved Black Pearl, Jack must embark on a dangerous mission, a mission that ultimately leads to the coveted Fountain of Youth. Along the way, Jack will meet old friends and new enemies – and some who might be both. And with zombies, deadly mermaids and the dreaded Blackbeard thrown into the mix, Jack’s quick wit might not be enough to save him this time.

The Monkey: Johnny Depp IS Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp has made this character so thoroughly his own, it’s hard to image Depp in any other role. From the swagger to the lilt, Depp brings this beloved film character to life once more. Fans of the original trilogy will not be disappointed; the humor is back in force and the twisted logic and mesmerizing double speak of the world’s most “savvy” pirate will keep new and old fans alike pleased.

While this was most certainly Depp’s movie, the supporting cast did an admirable job doing just that – supporting. Geoffrey Rush returns as Hector Barbossa. Having traded in his pirating ways, the scheming “privateer” is now in His Majesty’s navy, and finds himself at odds with Jack. Kevin McNally is back as sidekick Gibbs. Ian McShane breathes life into the legendary Blackbeard, his dark-rimmed eyes holding all the menace necessary for the character. Oddly enough, it was actually Richards Griffiths’ simpering portrayal of King George that nearly stole the show. His five minutes of screen time were some of the most enjoyable of the film.

While the cast was well comprised, a summer blockbuster just wouldn’t be a summer blockbuster without the requisite visuals and action sequences. On Stranger Tides has several action pieces and stunning visual treats, but none so incredible as the eerily violent mermaid attack. Expel any notion of The Little Mermaid – these sea sirens are fanged, vicious creatures and their appearance in the film makes for one of the most thrilling scenes of recent memory.

While I still find that 3D tends to make the picture unnecessarily dark, On Stranger Tides was beautifully done and quite stunning in all its three dimensions.

The Weasel: The reason Captain Jack Sparrow became such a favorite was his unmistakable role in the previous Pirates franchise; he was the comic relief, the jester, the character that worked because he was surrounded by a strong cast of main characters. Unfortunately, On Stranger Tides loses site of this formula and places Jack smack in the middle of the story, giving him the responsibility of comic joker and main character all at once. And while this can and has been done successfully, in this case, it’s too much of a good thing. Depp is fascinating to watch, but is far more enjoyable when he is balanced out with more traditional characters. Here, Jack is the star of the show, giving little room to the other characters and giving the audience hardly any breathing room between clever one-liners.

It was clear that Penelope Cruz’s Angelica, Sam Claflin’s Philip and Astrid Berges-Frisbey’s mermaid Syrena were meant to fill the void left by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley; however, so little effort was put into these characters that, by the end, you wonder why the writers even bothered with them.

These characters weren’t the only things left half-realized; On Stranger Tides features so many half-plots and almost-themes that the story starts to feel cobbled together. Glimmers of deep plot points involving religion, the morality of immortality and familial bonds were left unresolved. Odd bits of supernatural elements (magical rigging, voodoo dolls, shrunken ships and the like) were taken for granted and never even cursorily explained. Then, add in two love stories that were thrust upon the audience with zero justification, the pointless inclusions of the “evil” Spanish Catholics, and the complete lack of convincing character motivations (particularly with Barbossa and Blackbeard) and you have quite a mess on your hands.

All these errant plot points caused the film to drag in several places – the scenes without Depp felt like mere filler until the camera could get back to Jack’s usual shenanigans.

A fun summer movie to be sure, On Stranger Tides will please both franchise and Depp fans. But if you’re looking for a sequel (or even potential second trilogy kickoff) that manages the same magic as The Curse of the Black Pearl, you’ll walk away disappointed. It turns out On Stranger Tides isn’t that strange after all – pretty standard in fact.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Do you think On Stranger Tides is the beginning of a new Pirates trilogy? Can Jack Sparrow carry a movie on his own? Share your thoughts in the comments!


SCRE4M: New Decade. New Rules. New Standard.

14 04 2011

It’s been fifteen years since Drew Barrymore spilled her guts onscreen in the first Scream movie, ushering in a new era of horror and sparking a wave of subsequent sequels and spoofs. Now, writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven return to the franchise that started it all, joined by the intrepid trio that managed to survive the original trilogy: Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell. But as the tagline suggests, it’s a new decade, there are new rules, and there are plenty of new cast members, thrills and deaths. Here’s the breakdown:

Sidney Prescott (Campbell) is on the final leg of her book tour. Her last stop? Woodsboro, the town where Sidney’s dark past was born. And she just happens to be there on the anniversary of the infamous “Ghostface” killings. Once home, Sidney reunites with local sheriff, Dewey Riley, and his wife, intrepid reporter turned fiction writer, Gale Weathers-Riley. But Sidney’s past won’t die, and gruesome murders once again shake the small Woodsboro community. It’s up to the three friends (who’ve survived Ghostface thrice before) to find the killer and save the next generation of unsuspecting victims.

The Monkey: Where to begin. Oh, right…this movie was perfect. From its ingenious opening sequence to its twisted finale, SCRE4M is everything fans of the franchise hoped it would be and more. The film is so self-referential, so tongue-in-cheek, so self-aware, so meta that you can’t help but be impressed with Williamson’s razor-sharp wit and deft storytelling. It’s as if SCRE4M is staring at itself in a mirror, while holding up its own mirror – you’re left with an infinite loop of self-references and meta-jokes, making your head spin…in a good way.

There are even large portions of the dialogue dedicated to veritable cinema commentary and philosophy; the characters are practically delivering monologue treatises on the state of the horror film in modern cinema, critiquing the very genre with which it sits squarely. SCRE4M is wickedly funny, in that it covers any of its own shortcomings by the mere fact that it has analyzed, panned and dismissed them already. Brilliant. It’s like writing a book about the death of the paperback and the domination of the eReader, only to publish said manifesto in paperback; the irony is scathing and delicious and will have savvy audiences grinning from ear to ear the entire film.

The story progresses quickly, the kills are numerous and sufficiently grizzly and the characters are all shrouded in mystery. You’d think after decades of “whodunits” audiences would be numb to these types of movies, that there would be no surprises left. But Craven and Williamson perform magic onscreen, cobbling together a mysterious collage of hooded glances, impromptu entrances and noticeable absences for every single character, making it wonderfully impossible to guess the outcome. When they say everyone is a suspect, they mean it.

Campbell, Cox and Arquette reprise their roles with enthusiasm, brining a sense of history and gravity to a film that, otherwise, features a young, fresh (and unscarred) cast. And not only is the meta subtext confined within the realm of the fictional world – there were several real world nods as well, most notably, to the very public relationship between Cox and Arquette. A move like that could have easily been seen as cheap and could have pulled audiences right out of the movie – but Craven is a master and the references did nothing but strengthen the movie’s near academic self-evaluation.

As for the young cast: Emma Roberts as Jill Roberts, Sidney’s cousin, and Hayden Panettiere as Jill’s friend Kirby Reed led the new generation of teenage slasher film fodder expertly. In a wise move, SCRE4M didn’t try to fit the new characters into blatantly obvious roles (aside from Jill’s similarities to Sidney, there really weren’t any “younger versions” of Gale or Dewey, for instance). This allowed the new cast to stake a claim in the franchise on their own. It was this independence from the original trilogy that made it that much more satisfying when shameless throwbacks did show up. Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen played the film’s version of Jamie Kennedy’s Randy from Scream and Scream 2 – the somewhat stereotypical film nerds. They deliver the franchise’s signature “rules” lecture, introducing a whole new slew of meta references and ushering the franchise into an era of shaky-cam horror and YouTube fame.

It was this juxtaposition of old and new, young and old, traditional and edgy, familiar and unfamiliar that made SCRE4M such a delight and will not only please die-hard fans of the original, but will garner a horde of new fans as well. SCRE4M speaks to the YouTube generation while playing to the generation that grew up with the originals. It still amazes me how well the film was able to balance the myriad dichotomies that were created by its very existence. This movie just might give cinema theorists existential crises.

While I, obviously, won’t divulge who the killer is here, I will say that I was pleased with the outcome: it was yet another instance of the film’s uncanny ability to self-critique, and, in this instance, provide a bit of uncharacteristically enlightening social commentary as well.

The Weasel: The concept of filming the murders was brought up as part of the “new rules.” But it wasn’t really touched on until about two-thirds into the movie, and even then, it almost felt like a throwaway reference, one that was never fully capitalized on. The influence of social media networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, while referenced, were similarly underdeveloped. And I have to say – initial buzz has it that SCRE4M is the first part of a second Scream trilogy. I’m beginning to hope otherwise. This movie outdid even its predecessors and it’s unclear how two more sequels could top what Craven has done this round.

A gem of a film, especially considering it’s the fourth in a horror franchise. The script is devilishly meta, the actors are above par and the direction keeps you guessing till the very end. So, what’s your favorite scary movie?

5 Death Stars out of 5

Please don’t reveal too much about the plot, the kills or who Ghostface is in the comments. Give those who haven’t seen the movie yet a chance to be surprised. If you give away too much in your comment, I’ll delete it, or ask you to edit it before posting. Thanks!

What do you think? Does SCRE4M live up to the original? Did you enjoy the self-aware nature of the movie? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Your Highness: A Great Idea That Wears Thin Quickly

14 04 2011

Danny McBride gets his first major starring role in Your Highness, co-starring James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel and Justin Theroux. Here’s the breakdown:

Prince Thadeous (McBride) is a worthless stoner of a prince, especially when compared to his brother, the heroic Prince Fabious. But when Fabious’ bride-to-be, Belladonna (Deschanel) is abducted by the evil warlock Leezar (Theroux), both brothers must embark on a quest to rescue her. Along the way they must overcome many obstacles and meet many strangers, including the beautiful and mysterious traveler, Isabel (Portman).

The Monkey: At its core, Your Highness is a stoner-comedy-road-trip-buddy-film-raunch-fest…set in the Middles Ages. The juxtaposition is quite comical.

There were some genuinely funny moments; McBride is a talented comedian and his comic timing (especially with Rasmus Hardiker who plays Thadeous’ manservant, Courtney) is enjoyable and spot on.

A pleasant surprise: the special effects. From a five-headed serpent to a spectacular finale, Your Highness manages to pack blockbuster-like action into a genre typically devoid of such visuals. It was also nice to see Weta involved with the creature work: from perverted pot-smoking gremlin wise-men (don’t ask) to horny Minotaurs (no, seriously, don’t ask) Weta proves they are the go-to workshop for creature makeup, prosthetics and the like.

The Weasel: Unfortunately, the hilarious juxtaposition of modern, raunchy humor with the medieval setting wore out its welcome about ten minutes into the movie. Watching a character say the ‘f’ word with a horribly (albeit, purposefully) fake British accent is a gag that only worked once – yet, for some reason, was continuously played out throughout the entirety of the movie.

James Franco and Natalie Portman were clearly hired for their notoriety. Both coming off Oscar nominations (and a win), it’s rather dumbfounding to see them in a movie like Your Highness. They offer nothing that couldn’t have been accomplished by any other actor. It’s not that they were bad (except for Franco’s GOD AWFUL accent), it’s just that they were…meh. Zooey Deschanel is hardly even worth mentioning as her screen time amounted to, maybe, five minutes.

The biggest flaw with Your Highness was its reliance on a one-trick ploy: let’s tell dirty jokes with British accents and swords in our hands. It would have worked marvelously as a Funny Or Die short (especially given those shorts’ preponderance for featuring notable actors like Franco and Portman). But imagine your favorite online sketch comedy segment elongated into a painful hour and a half. SNL has tried this multiple times, and has been met, multiple times, with failure. Just because the characters are wearing amour and flailing swords doesn’t make the penis jokes any more original.

A great concept…that should have been kept to five minutes.

1.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Does Danny McBride have a future as a comedic leading man? Do you feel Your Highness would have worked better as a comedy sketch short? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Arthur: A Talented Cast Does Not Good Chemistry Make

9 04 2011

A remake of the 1981 film starring Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli and John Gielgud, Arthur stars Russell Brand in the title role, as well as Helen Mirren, Luis Guzman, Jennifer Garner and Greta Gerwig. Here’s the breakdown:

Wealthy and spoiled billionaire Arthur Bach (Brand) leads a life of blissful ignorance. Content to drink himself into ridiculous (and expensive) situations, Arthur knows nothing of the real world. Other than his chauffeur Bitterman (Guzman) and his trusty nanny Hobson (Mirren), Arthur has no friends. That is, until he meets Naomi (Gerwig). But when his mother (Geraldine James) threatens to cut him off unless he marries business partner Susan (Garner), Arthur must choose between love and money.

The Monkey: While Brand can often come off campy, abrasive and one-dimensional, his turn as Arthur was surprisingly genuine and endearing. His childlike outlook was wonderfully juxtaposed with his copious drinking and adult sensibilities.

The writing was well done and the jokes were above par, often witty and surprising. One can’t argue Brand’s natural talent for comic timing and delivery. But it was Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner that nearly stole the show. Mirren has been no stranger to comedy of late (RED, a recent Funny Or Die short film) and she proves she has comic chops in Arthur. Her understated, heavy-lidded performance was wonderful and remarkably funny; but more than that, there was a third-dimension not often seen in secondary comic characters. Her emotional scenes were just as compelling as her comedic ones, which contributed to the movie’s unexpected depth and layering.

Garner also delivered a noteworthy performance, stepping out of the traditional leading lady role and filling the shoes of the movie’s villainous Susan. Conniving, power-hungry and unstoppable, Garner’s Susan was delightful and the chemistry between Brand and Garner was, shall we say, magnetic (there’s a floating magnetic bed involved at one point). In fact, they worked so well together onscreen, it was a shame their two characters didn’t end up together – it would have been much more believable (more on that below).

Aside from the wonderful performances, Arthur managed to incorporate a fair amount of heart into an otherwise comedy of one-liners. Brand had even more chemistry with Mirren than with Garner and the two of them lit up the screen, both in their comic scenes and their more serious moments.

The Weasel: I’ve been surprised to see that many reviewers see Arthur as Greta Gerwig’s shining moment, claiming she nearly stole the show. I’m dumbfounded. She was awful. Her blank-eyed stare and mumbled lines were distracting at best, inane at worst. There was absolutely zero chemistry between herself and Brand; in fact, there were times when  it seemed Brand was physically in pain just by being near her. Not in a million years would Arthur have given up his billions for Naomi. And when you have a pivotal relationship that is so utterly unbelievable, the whole movie starts to collapse. You were supposed to cheer for her and Arthur, but I wanted Garner’s Susan to crush her and ride off into the sunset with Arthur instead.

Luis Guzman was horribly underutilized, to the point of nonexistence and Nick Nolte (as Susan’s father) was awkward beyond belief, his scenes being some of the most ridiculous and unnecessary of the entire movie – and when you have a drunk Brit flying through Manhattan in the Batmobile, that’s saying something.

And while there were nice moments of heart, they were unconnected and ad hoc, unable to contribute to an overall sense of coherent plot or character development.

A seemingly unnecessary remake, Arthur manages to pack in some clever wit and some endearing emotional moments. But despite the valiant efforts of Brand, Garner and Mirren, Gerwig sank this movie in an irredeemable way.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? How does the remake compare to the original? Do you like Mirren in comedic roles? What’s your opinion of Greta Gerwig in this movie? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Sucker Punch: Lives Up To Its Name In Every Way

26 03 2011

While Zack Snyder is known for his masterful adaptations (Watchmen, 300) Sucker Punch is his first attempt at directing a film based on his own original script. Here’s the breakdown:

After being institutionalized by her evil stepfather, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) must delve into a layered realm of alternate realities in order to collect the necessary items needed to escape. Fellow patients Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) join Baby Doll in her fight for survival.

The Monkey: This movie is a study in stylized filmmaking. From its brain-buzzing soundtrack to its gratuitous slow motion, Sucker Punch has no qualms about being a sensory feast. It owns it and drives it home so hard, you can hardly argue with the execution. The term “eye-candy” seems far too subdued – Sucker Punch is more like an eye-gasm. For every single one of its 109 minutes, Sucker Punch gives the audience something to look at. Whether it’s absurdly perfect eyelashes or a full-on mechanized-Nazi-zombie brawl, every frame is gorgeous. And yes, I just said mechanized-Nazi-zombie brawl. More on that later.

The movie’s structure was far more complex than the trailers implied, and anytime a movie offers more than a trailer promises, it’s a win. The story takes place on three planes of existence: reality, a subconscious realm and an even deeper level – a psychological battlefield. This Inception-esque layering was well done and easy to follow; plus, it gave Snyder free reign to, quite literally, do whatever the hell he wanted.

The subconscious level sees Baby Doll and her compatriots as prostitutes in a lavish bordello, run by the evil Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac). Isaac’s villainous portrayal was one of the best in the film, maybe even of recent movie memory. His pencil mustache and flamboyant panache belied his black heart, making his slow descent and loss of control even more enjoyable. The madame of the bordello, Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), was the perfect mix of seasoned mother-figure and hard-bitten taskmaster – heavy Polish accent and all. While these scenes house the major plot of the movie, it’s Baby Doll’s trance-like state that launches Sucker Punch into the fantastic.

Forced to dance for customers, Baby Doll is able to mesmerize her audience, giving her friends ample opportunity to collect a number of items needed for escape: a map, fire, a knife, and a key. As her eyes flutter shut and the dance takes over, Baby Doll is transported to fantastical worlds wrought with danger. What follows? A series of mind-warping, eye-gasmic, awesomeness: five beautiful girls fighting mechanized-Nazi-zombies in a biplane and zeppelin riddled WWII landscape; hordes of orcs and fire-breathing dragons in a besieged castle; massive, gatling gun wielding samurai warriors in a snow-swept monastery; and legions of gleaming robots aboard a high-speed hover train. Sound like a trip? You bet your ass.

Critics are complaining about Snyder’s gratuitous use of slow motion. Screw that. There could have been more. The action is so well choreographed, so visually entertaining, you want it to last for as long as possible. Go back and read the above paragraph again and tell me you don’t want to see that in glorious slow motion. Thought so.

Jena Malone and Abbie Cornish were the standout performers. As sisters Rocket and Sweet Pea, their relationship was the most solid and believable of the film, which, by the end, made perfect sense. And Scott Glenn as “The Wise Man” was perfect, his weathered frame taking on the roles of general, monk and yes, even bus driver. His pre-mission bits of wisdom (always prefaced with, “Oh, and one more thing…”) were quirky and sincere, helping craft one of the most memorable characters of the whole movie.

Three words: buy the soundtrack. From haunting covers (Sweet Dreams) to bone-jarring remixes (Army of Me) the music was the ultimate companion to the over-stimulation onscreen. It’s also worth noting that Baby Doll actress Emily Browning lends her vocal talents to three of the tracks as well – and she’s pretty good too.

Quick side note: those who are suddenly voicing concerns about the upcoming Superman reboot (reportedly titled Man of Steel) based on their opinion that Sucker Punch was sub-par…they need to calm down. Superman is hardly a Snyder original idea, and he’s shown in the past that he can knock an adaptation out of the ball park. And with Christopher Nolan involved, there should be no concerns…so take a deep breath naysayers…geez.

The Weasel: Emily Browning was rather drab and unaffecting as the lead character, Baby Doll. Her eyes, while wreathed with perfect eyelashes and bleached-blonde hair, were vacant, and her performance lacked the energy needed to match the film’s tone. And can someone please stop hiring Vanessa Hudgens? Hopefully after her ridiculous overacting as Blondie and her disaster of a film that was Beastly, this recently Zac-Efron-less “actress” will cease to invade screens, both small and large. Jamie Chung and John Hamm were criminally underutilized.

The critique that Sucker Punch moved along like a video game is warranted: collect item #1, collect item #2, etc. In the end, it lent the movie a familiar skeleton to drape its CGI trappings over, but was really neither here nor there.

The shift in focus away from Baby Doll at the end of the movie was the most unsettling, especially because the whole opening scene (one of the few scenes that take place in the real world) was centered around her. If it was meant to be a twist, it failed, although I think it was due to a lack of script editing more than anything else.

Was the plot groundbreaking? No. Did Emily Browning deliver an Oscar-worthy performance? No. Is there any rhyme or reason as to why Baby Doll sinks into a dance-trance and fights insane battles? Absolutely not. Should you care? Hell no.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Sucker Punch live up to your expectations? Should Zack Snyder stick to adaptations, or did you enjoy his original story? What was your favorite fight scene? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Limitless: A Movie Limited Only By Its Lack Of Consequences

19 03 2011

Based on the “techno-thriller” novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn, Limitless explores the concepts of power and responsibility…or the lack thereof. Here’s the breakdown:

Eddie (Bradley Cooper) is a writer with a book deal – and not a single typed word. His apartment is a mess, his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) dumps him and he’s increasingly turning to alcohol. That is, until an old acquaintance gives him a little pill called NZT. With one clear pill, 100% of Eddie’s mind is unlocked, providing him with the brain power to finish his book, clean up his apartment, get in shape, win back the girl…and make gobs of money in no time flat. But there’s a reason people say, “when it seems too good to be true…it is….”

The Monkey: Limitless is, what I like to call, a literary movie. Its use of voice-over, its well crafted monologues and dialogue, its structure and pacing, all feel like they were pulled directly from the pages of a novel. Sure, the movie is based on a book, but often, for better or for worse, this literary quality is lost in book-to-screen translation. Not so with Limitless. It works infinitely better since Eddie is a writer himself, and the voice-over is his own.

Another feature of the film that lends itself to a literary quality is the stunning and unique visual representations. From the opening credits scene (a single, sped up straight shot through the streets of New York – one of the best opening sequences ever), to falling letters as Eddie types out his novel furiously, to scrolling and numbered ceiling tiles as Eddie works the stock market, Limitless has countless examples of cleverly portraying the effects of the NZT drug. Not the mention the heightened color palette and the panoramic “bubble vision” that heralds the drug’s effects, giving the viewer a sense of what it might be like to unlock their own brain’s true potential.

The plot was well paced and the inevitable consequences of the drug on Eddie’s life, and the intrigue behind the drug itself, contributed to a satisfying tension; however…

The Weasel: SPOILERS AHEAD! …Eddie was able to pick himself back up and get right back on the horse…or, in this case, the drug. Instead of learning his lesson, instead of heeding the warnings of past NZT addicts, Eddie not only continues taking the drug after a near fatal withdrawal, he coaxes his girlfriend to take it as well (albeit in a life or death situation). He doesn’t rise to the occasion, he doesn’t pool his own resources and put his life back together on his own merits, as a true story of human struggle would have him do. No, instead he continues to take the easy way out, ultimately leading to an ending where you almost don’t want to see Eddie succeed. He learned nothing, aside from “NZT makes me powerful.” He gets the girl, the career, the money and gets to make a fool of his former boss (Robert De Niro), but none of it is satisfying, none of it is earned. Sure, he claims he’s off NZT by the end – but with a permanently altered mind, the results are still the same.

If I can wax nerd here for a bit: Batman is so liked because he’s human, he has human struggles – what if he were suddenly given Superman’s powers and was able to obliterate all the crime in Gotham City in one night? Too easy. It’s the story of struggle that resonates with an audience and Limitless pulls this struggle right out from under itself. Add to this a steady decrease of the film’s earlier visual wizardry and clever writing, and you have a movie that falls into the tropes of a typical action thriller.

A wonderfully intriguing story that will definitely have audiences talking after the credits role. But having a main character that is able to avoid consequences and avoid the universally relatable story of human struggle over insurmountable odds – it left the ending too tidy and unsatisfactory. I would have gladly given this movie 5 Death Stars, but this was a flaw I just couldn’t overlook.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did you find the ending too easy? Have you read The Dark Fields? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The Lincoln Lawyer: A Legal Thriller Guilty Of Success

19 03 2011

Based on Michael Connelly’s novel of the same name, The Lincoln Lawyer sees Matthew McConaughey back in the courtroom for the first time since 1996’s A Time to Kill. Here’s the breakdown:

Mick Haller (McConaughey) is a freelance lawyer, conducting deals from the back of his Lincoln town car. But when he takes on a high profile case for a wealthy resident of Beverly Hills (Phillippe), Haller finds himself in a complex web of lies that reaches back into even his own dark past.

The Monkey: From the beginning, McConaughey is Mick Haller. And while it’s not a far stretch from the actor’s usual drawl and swagger, it works perfectly here. He’s confident, assured and jaded, which makes it all the more compelling when his facade begins to crumble over the course of the movie.

McConaughey is joined onscreen by an impressive cast. Marisa Tomei plays Maggie, Haller’s ex-wife and mother of his son, also an attorney. Their repartee is great and their chemistry is believable. The two actors capture the nuances of a relationship that just won’t die, with subtle nods to past grievances and further glimpses into Haller’s dark past, a past that drove Maggie away in the first place.

William H. Macy is always a pleasure, and his shaggy-haired turn as Frank the private investigator/best friend is no exception. But the real star is Ryan Phillippe as the spoiled defendant, Louis Roulet. His boyish looks are juxtaposed wonderfully with his twisted story, one that quickly sends the movie into a tailspin of lies and mystery. Is he guilty? Is  he not? Does it matter? Phillippe ventures out of his cookie-cutter naïveté (as seen in such films as Crash) to play an intriguing character that, at the very least, elicits an emotional reaction from viewers.

Courtroom dramas and legal thrillers are myriad, especially if you include the small screen; however, The Lincoln Lawyer was able to keep things fresh and belied many of the genres clichés. The courtroom scenes themselves were fascinating and intense, just as the action pieces throughout the film gave the impression that much more was at stake here. Watching McConaughey’s Haller twist words and work the jury in the courtroom scenes was nothing short of jaw-dropping, especially as the many pieces of the puzzle began falling into place. The fact that the plot was able to tie Haller’s past and personal hangups about his job into the mystery made for a solid and satisfying conclusion.

The Weasel: The camera work and overall tone of the film felt all wrong. Jerky shots and washed out palettes gave the impression that this was supposed to be some gritty, urban thriller; however, The Lincoln Lawyer was a legal thriller through and through, and trying to give it a “gritty” feel did nothing but distract. Even the movie’s poster is a failed attempt at misdirection, with it’s weathered appearance and sepia tones. While it seems like a small point, a solid movie that is presented in an inconsistent format makes for a slightly nagging and unsettling viewing experience.

One of the best legal thrillers of late (although that’s not saying much), The Lincoln Lawyer manages to keep viewers guessing while delivering solid performances and a tight plot.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Do you enjoy Matthew McConaughey’s legal prowess onscreen? Did you find the mystery compelling? Have you read Connelly’s book? Share your thoughts in the comments!