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State Of Play May 1, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Based on a six-part British television miniseries, this is a complex tale of corporate and political conspiracy. Set in Washington D.C., State of Play tells the story of a journalist, Cal McAffrey, investigating the death of a woman working for a Congressman, Stephen Collins, who also happens to be his friend and roommate from college. While it is made to seem like an accident at first, he and his associate, Della Frye, soon discover that it is a murder and that powerful people are involved. Now, he must uncover the story to save his friend and get over his guilt.

This film seems to be based on some really solid material. The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan (who wrote The Kingdom), Tony Gilroy (the writer-director of Michael Clayton, Duplicity) and Billy Ray (who co-wrote and directed Breach) is quite an asset. Though it is presented quite competently as a thriller, there is quite an interesting drama bustling underneath that layer. The film hints at some complex relationships without really delving into them. Sad, because they seemed quite potent. The journalistic setting of the film, quite reminiscent of films like All The President’s Men, is what allows it to be a thriller and it certainly makes the film all the more effective. For this part, director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) sets the stage from the very first scene for an engaging thriller and doesn’t let go till the end.

The film has a cast of brilliant actors. Apart from topliners Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, the film also features the likes of Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn and Jason Bateman. With such a cast, this is a film that was difficult to really avoid. Crowe gets a meaty part and he sinks his teeth into it (and he is a better match for the part than Brad Pitt). Affleck is impressive too. McAdams has a really lovable persona and I’d love to see more of her in roles like these but Robin Wright Penn (soon to be seen without the Penn) is the one that springs a surprise in a role that has limited screen time. Mirren is always a pleasure to watch and she gets a little bit of scope to do her thing unlike, say, a National Treasure: Book of Secrets. I was also quite happy to see Bateman in a role that, for once, doesn’t seem to be an extension of his part in Arrested Development.

This is one of the more watchable thrillers in recent months, Watch it for the actors. Watch it if you enjoy thrillers. Watch it if you like tales of political intrigue.

American Gangster December 4, 2007

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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This Ridley Scott film featuring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe is based on the real story of Harlem drug lord, Frank Lucas, who rose from the position of a driver to that of a powerful gangster. The film focusses on Lucas’ growth as well as his eventual downfall brought about by detective Richie Roberts, who is featured in a parallel track (both Lucas and Roberts were apparently consultants for this film and according to the former, only a fifth of this film is actually true).

Thought most critics liked this film and it had a good time at the box office, thanks to the star power of Washington and Crowe, this film falls a tad short in terms of matching my expectations. There are a lot of good things about this film but it has its flaws too. The primary flaw in my opinion is the lack of impact in the first hour of the film. It could be the narration or the familiarity of the terrain but the set up isn’t exciting. The early part of the film feels like two different stories with the parallel tracks between Richie Roberts and Frank Lucas (that merge together much later). Scott tries to provide a contrast here between the characters but I don’t think some of the scenes added much to the film. A lot of Richie’s early scenes like the ones involving his wife or his sex drive are expendable even though they add an interesting shade to his honest cop character. Scott and his screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York) should have identified an alternate way to achieve this. Also, this is a long film by Hollywood standards at over two and a half hours and is lacking in conventional entertainment (humor is almost absent, there is no action to speak of, there are no confrontations between the stars except at the end and more). Though I prefer to look at these as choices made by the director rather than flaws, part of the audience may dislike the film for these reasons.

This film is clearly the story of Frank Lucas and there is no question about that. This means that the audience needs to empathize with the Lucas character. Scott and Washington manage to achieve this to a large extent. However, what bothers me is that I didn’t really buy the scenes depicting Lucas’ viciousness. They convey what they intend to but it doesn’t seem in tune with what my mind imagined Lucas to be based on everything else that was depicted. To me, he still was more the suave, sophisticated, smart and calculated businessman than a vicious criminal who doesn’t think twice before pulling a trigger. While Scott misses a trick in his execution of these sequences, Washington also doesn’t do enough to sell the bad guy aspect of it. Except for this minor hiccup, Washington delivers a compelling performance. Russell Crowe, on the other hand, gets a role that isn’t half as interesting as Washington’s. However, he manages to hit the right notes on all the aspects of his character and deliver an equally, if not more, commendable performance. The acting in this film is of high standard and the supporting cast is effective too.

The first time I saw the trailer of American Gangster (set to Jay-Z’s Heart of the City, which really gelled with it), I was hoping it would be this year’s equivalent of The Departed. Though the comparison maybe unwarranted, this isn’t half the kick-ass movie that one was. Despite various flaws, which would not be considered major, the film scores (especially in the latter half). The story of Frank Lucas, his rise and his fall is quite engrossing. Apart from the two main protagonists, the way Lucas’ drug business works and how it affects the consumers, competitors and middle men is very interesting. Zaillian does a nice job of putting the material together and Scott does a competent job helming this film. Though the film never reaches the vicinity of greatness, it is one that is worth watching for those interested in the genre.