The Drop

September 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace
Directed by: Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”)
Written by: Dennis Lehane (debut)

Adapted from his short story “Animal Rescue,” screenwriter/novelist Dennis Lehane is known for setting his crime dramas in the city of Boston. Two of his novels, “Gone Baby Gone” and “Mystic River,” were given the cinematic treatment a few years ago and made Boston brim with the kind of atmosphere you couldn’t generate in any other U.S. city. It’s doesn’t seem to be as important to Lehane in “The Drop.” Although his original story is set in Boston, filmmakers have transplanted the narrative in Brooklyn and have done so without upsetting their characters’ way of life. Maybe the studio changed locations because crime dramas in Boston have become overused in recent years (along with “Gone” and “River,” films like “The Town” and “The Departed” have taken full advantage of the city’s unique ambiance), but whatever the case, “The Drop” is still a smart, seething production led by a striking performance by actor Tom Hardy.

In “The Drop,” Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, a quiet, goodhearted bartender who does what he’s told and never lets the fact that his bar operates as a place where Brooklyn’s seediest criminals conduct money drops affect him. Along with his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini in his final film role and playing against type although it’s a mob movie), who owns the bar but still has to answer to the Chechen gangsters in charge, the two men seem content having a low-key profile and sticking to what they know best: serving beer to their neighborhood customers. When their bar, however, is robbed one evening by two masked thugs, Bob and Marv are thrown into a life-threatening situation they’d rather not be in.

Carried by a performance that shows what an incredible range Hardy has as an actor, the character of Bob Saginowski is a confident albeit understated one reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar nominated role in the original 1977 “Rocky.” You can tell Bob isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but there’s something about him that lets you know he’s in control of the situation. Aside from being on bad terms with the Russian mob for losing their money, Bob is also caught up in another incident that has him looking over his shoulder. After saving an abused and abandoned pit bull puppy from the street, with the help from a woman in the neighborhood (Noomie Rapace), Bob is confronted by the dog’s ruthless and irrational owner (an incredible Matthias Schoenaerts) who is a known murderer amongst the locals in the area.

In his English-language directorial debut, Oscar-nominated director Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”) is able to slowly build up the intensity of each scene effortlessly despite some of the storylines stretching themselves thin at times. While Rapace is a reasonable factor to include in the scenario, not much builds out of the relationship between her and Hardy to consider it significant. It’s the connection between Bob and Marv and the criminal underworld and how they’ve adapted to it over the years that feels the most authentic to what Lehane and Roskam want to say. It’s this part of the  narrative that keeps the Brooklyn-based plot involving all the way up to its twisty climax.

Dead Man Down

March 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”)
Written by: J.H. Wyman (“The Mexican”)

Revenge is a dish served cold and in most cases pretty immediate. If you’re watching a master at the genre like filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, there’s no beating around the bush when it comes to it. Death comes quickly when The Bride slices her way through ninja assassins in “Kill Bill” or the Bear Jew plays homerun derby with a Nazi’s head in “Inglourious Basterds.” But when revenge is carried out in a more meticulous manner, it only works if the narrative doesn’t follow suit and come to a screeching halt. “Dead Man Down” does just that. It’s a crackling fire that dies out fast.

Danish director Niels Adren Oplev has experimented with this slow-burn revenge concept before in the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Without giving too much of the plot away, his attempt at doing the same in his first American film is far less intriguing, especially when the revenge story is cobbled together in scenes riddled with messy dialogue and unbelievable plot devices used by screenwriter J.H. Wyman (“The Mexican,” TV’s “Fringe”).

In “Dead Man Down,” Colin Farrell stars as Victor, a low-grade criminal who has somehow infiltrated a gang led by a man (Terrence Howard) responsible for the death of his wife and daughter. As interesting – albeit familiar – a film as that might’ve been alone, Wyman decides to pile on more useless storylines by introducing us to Beatrice (Noomi Rapace, the original lead actress of “Dragon Tattoo” before Rooney Mara made it her own), a former beautician who wants her own revenge on the man who left her face scarred after a drunk driving crash. There’s not much inspiration behind Beatrice’s anger. She just wants the guy dead and exhibits this obsession in a weirdly psychotic way during a driving scene with Farrell that would make Cameron Diaz’s crazy car rant in “Vanilla Sky” feel like a gentle argument.

Whatever her character is supposed to be experiencing emotionally, Wyman doesn’t capture her tortured soul in the slightest way. Neither does he with Farrell’s Victor whose vengeful nature just seems like too much trouble when all is said and done. A bullet straight to the head would probably make more sense in this scenario. The nonexistent chemistry between Farrell and Rapace is also a problem. It’s vague in its delivery, but even when it becomes obvious, there’s not much time to do anything with the relationship. Nor is it logical for Victor to feel anything but disdain for Beatrice to begin with.

When the bullets do start flying in the last 15 minutes, “Dead Man Down” is already a lost cause. It retreats into a cliché shoot em’ up flick that has Hollywood written all over it. It’s unfortunate Oplev’s foray into the American film industry had to start with such a whimper, especially since he’s already proven with “Dragon Tattoo” that he has a very fascinating take on the darker side of drama.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

December 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris
Directed by: Guy Ritchie (“Sherlock Holmes”)
Written by: Michele Mulroney (“Paper Man”) and Kieran Mulroney (“Paper Man”)

The past couple of years have been kind to Sherlock Holmes fans, provided said fans don’t consider Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s text to be holy writ. Between the outstanding modern re-imagining TV series “Sherlock” from the BBC and director Guy Ritchie’s 2009 big-screen action/comedy take “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, the characters of Holmes and Dr. Watson are coming across as dynamic and exciting. No longer are they just the tweedy bores of the books, baffling the readers of today by repeatedly tossing out the word “ejaculated,” which in the 19th century was apparently a socially-acceptable way of saying “exclaimed.”

Ritchie returns to direct Downey as Holmes and Law who reprise their roles in the sequel “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” an entertainingly self-assured adventure that follows the lead of “The Dark Knight” by pitting our hero against his classic arch-nemesis. In this case, it’s the evil Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) who is the thorn in Holmes’ side. As the movie begins, Holmes is on Moriarty’s trail, attempting to solve a puzzle that began with the murder of the Crown Prince of Austria — and Moriarty knows this. The Professor is every bit the intellectual Holmes is, only completely without conscience. Moriarty doesn’t hesitate in targeting the people Holmes cares for, from old flame Irene Adler (Rachael McAdams) to Watson and his new wife Mary (Kelly Reilly), in an effort to send Holmes a message.

While it still remains odd to think of a story about Sherlock Holmes being an action movie, there’s no denying the thrilling kinetic energy Ritchie brings to the action scenes. The slow-mo fight sequences, thought out in advance and then carried out by Holmes, return with an immensely satisfying bonus, joined by a thrilling gun fight/train escape sequence and a disorienting race through the woods as mortars blast through the trees.

But the reason to see the movie remains the chemistry between Downey Jr. and Law. As Holmes, Downey puts an affably oddball spin on a character typically portrayed as unknowable and aloof, while Law’s Watson is a not-so-reluctant foil to Holmes, wryly self-aware of the danger his adventures with Holmes will bring. As Moriarty, Harris brings an disquieting normalcy to the part, the popular professor who know one, outside of Holmes, would expect is also an evil criminal mastermind. And while the always-delightful Stephen Fry enriches the film’s world with his comically offbeat take on Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, Noomi Rapace’s gypsy fortune teller Simza is left with little to do. The middle of the film, focusing on her and her gypsy clan, drags along slowly. The fact that it takes place in the countryside and is peppered with an over-long gag about Holmes’ fear of horses makes it feel like a deleted scene from a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel. Rapace even appears to be wearing Penelope Cruz’s hat from “On Stranger Tides.”

While there are no signs of magnifying glasses or deerstalker hats, and no one utters, “Elementary, my dear Watson!” the team of Downey Jr., Law, and Ritchie have once again managed to crack the case, discovering the secret to updating classic characters to entertain modern audiences.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

July 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre
Directed by: Daniel Alfredson (“Tic Tac”)
Written by: Jonas Frykberg (“Details”)

Based on the crime novel by late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is the second installment of his popular Millennium trilogy. The series, which centers on a young, gothic computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), started with the disturbing and highly-compelling “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and will end with “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” With a different director and screenwriter than “Tattoo,” “Fire,” unfortunately, falters.

In “Fire,” Lisbeth goes on the run when she is suspected of a triple murder. One of the victims is a journalist who works with Lisbeth’s friend Mikael (Michael Nyqvist). He is executed when he is on the verge of releasing a magazine article on sex trafficking that implicates a number of criminals involved in the ring.

Unable to stand on its own, it really is mandatory to see “Tattoo” before aimlessly walking into the second movie. Without the fascinating background, it’s impossible to get a sense of the characters and their motivations. While “Fire” does reveal some history about where Lisbeth’s anger and vengeful nature stems from, the depth of these once unshakeable personalities is less intriguing in round two.

A character like Lisbeth deserves so much more from a script built around her edginess and independence. Whether we’ll see that from Rapace and screenwriters in the final installment or in the future American remake of “Tattoo” by director David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) is still unclear, but what we do know is “Tattoo” set the bar high and it’s going to take a whole lot more than the cliché plot and twists in “Fire” to find its footing once again.