Arbitrage

September 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling
Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki (“The Outsider”)
Written by: Nicholas Jarecki (“The Informers”)

For the everyman, it’s fairly easy to hit a nerve when trying to explain exactly what happened on Wall St. in 2008 that led to the U.S. economic downfall. Greedy men making questionable deals with each other for millions without really even lifting a finger would make any hardworking American wonder how these people at the top can sleep at night. It’s the reason it’s so effortless to vilify the lead character in “Arbitrage,” a dramatic thriller that takes a page from a really good episode of Law & Order.

In “Arbitrage,” Richard Gere (“Chicago”) plays Robert Miller, a corrupt hedge-fund investor who is so busy making deals he doesn’t have time to pick out his grandkids’ birthday gifts. He’s also cheating on his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon), which doesn’t help when trying to find at least one redeeming quality about him. At 60, Robert is selling his company although his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), who is also the CFO of the firm, questions the real motive behind such an unusual move for her father. The reason is simple: Robert is swindling the system and down $412 million. If he doesn’t sell, he will go belly up. Business and pleasure collide with each other when a tragic event with his mistress forces him to do the unthinkable.

Once “Arbitrage” gets into the thick of things, it’s never boring. Even with scene-chewing characters like Tim Roth’s sharp-minded Det. Michael Bryer, the film is interesting enough to hold one’s attention. But once out of the theater, it is evident there’s nothing truly memorable or even really noteworthy of the film that hasn’t been done before in any number of police procedurals. The production value might be 10 times as large as a TV show like USA’s White Collar, but both are operating on a small-scale state of mind.

Brooklyn’s Finest

March 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Richard Gere, Don Chedle, Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (“Shooter”)
Written by: Michael C. Martin (debut)

Someone really needs to start a Save the Squibs campaign in Hollywood. Those tiny little explosive devices used in the movies to pop packets of fake blood and create the effect of someone getting shot are being wasted. While squibs are fairly cheap in comparison to other special effects, the cost can add up if you use them as gratuitously as director Antoine Fuqua does in his latest dirty-cop film “Brooklyn’s Finest.” It’s a violent, mind-numbing, and generic cop flick that kicks down the door with guns blazing and has nothing new to say.

Despite the overemphasis on the brutality of life in the hood, the blood spurting is not the real problem. Fuqua filled Denzel Washington with bullet holes at the end of his Academy Award-winning performance in “Training Day” in 2001 and that violent scene was shot to perfection. What doesn’t work in “Finest,” however, is Fuqua inability to detach himself in any way from first-time screenwriter Michael C. Martin’s horribly clichéd script and his failure to differentiate intense performances with overacting.

In “Finest,” three New York City police officers play the pawns of this wannabe gritty drama. Richard Gere (“Nights in Rodanthe”) is Eddie, a veteran cop with an alcohol problem who is only a week away from retirement. You get a sense of who he is when he rolls out of bed and into a bottle of Jack. He’s also in love with a prostitute, but the script doesn’t really explain why. Don Cheadle (“Traitor”) is Tango, an undercover cop who is caught up in the criminal underworld and hope he can soon transfer to a cozy desk job. His last assignment: to put the sting on a criminal friend (Wesley Snipes) who just happened to save his life. Ethan Hawke (“Training Day”) is Sal, a crooked cop who starts stealing drug money so he can buy a new home for his growing family.

As Gere, Cheadle, and Hawke hobble through the motions, Martin’s haphazard story structure quickly falls apart before it even begins. If there is supposed to be some kind of statement about the injustices in black America or how faith can’t always heal a reckless soul, Fuqua and Martin miss the mark. “Finest” becomes a hopeless narrative sew together with weakly-written characters with nothing to live for and no reason to change.

Without any emotion invested in any of the officers, there is not much to be concerned over when bodies begin to hit the floor and Fuqua starts thinking he is Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. Even when his stock was at it’s highest nine years ago, he still didn’t come close.

Amelia

October 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Mira Nair (“The Namesake”)
Written by: Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Girl, Interrupted”)

With as much fascinating insight that director Mira Nair offers into the life of legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart in the biopic “Amelia,” it would be impossible to fill in a few footnotes much less an entire film on the pilot’s contributions to female aviation. Nair simply fails to make the picture soar. In fact, it hardly gets off the ground.

Based on the biographies “East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and “Amelia Earhart: the Mystery Solved” by Elgin Long, “Amelia,” adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Girl, Interrupted”) takes the all-too-familiar safe route and, in turn, does a disservice to the story’s precarious nature.

It is 1937 when we meet Amelia, a headstrong pilot who is attempting to become the first pilot to circumnavigate the globe. It’s a journey that would inevitably lead to her mysterious disappearance somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

Taking a straight-forward angle to Earhart’s story and tangling it up with flashbacks and ineffective narration, Nair and company mix stock footage, newsreel-type transitions, and murky aerial shots that will elicit a lukewarm response for those who want more heart and adventure from the narrative.

Instead, Nair focuses on Earhart as a celebrity and a wife more than she does a pioneer of her field. The attention paid to her character’s depth might have been useful if “Amelia” was aspiring to become something as epic as Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” but in Nair’s hands the film feels smaller in scale and significance.

We watch Earhart’s involvement with book publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere), a relationship that starts off more like a business venture than it does a courting session. From their marriage to Earhart’s love affair with aviation professor Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), Nair hits all the plot points reasonably well but never enthralls us with drama or, more importantly, wonderment behind Earhart’s flights through the farthest reaches of the world.

Even when Nair does get Amelia up in the air, Bass and Phelan’s script reduces her adventurer’s spirit in heavy-handed metaphors about the freeing sensation of flying. Swank does Earhart justice – although she more than likely won’t be getting another Oscar nod this year for her portrayal – but her contribution to the picture is an afterthought.

“I fly for the fun of it,” Amelia reminds us during the movie. It’s too bad Nair didn’t follow suit with her filmmaking.

Nights in Rodanthe

September 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Viola Davis
Directed by: George C. Wolfe (debut)
Written by: Ann Peacock (“Kit Kittredge: An American Girl”) and John Romano (“The Third Miracle”)

No need to call FEMA when a hurricane hits Richard Gere and Diane Lane in “Nights in Rodanthe.” There’s so much damage done even before the storm comes in, the undeniable chemistry between the two can’t pull it out of its shallow pool of triteness.

Adapted from the book by Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook”), “Nights” brings two complete strangers, Dr. Paul Flanner (Gere) and Adrienne Willis (Lane), together for a passionate weekend lodged in an oceanfront inn.

Helping her friend rent out rooms at her North Carolina beach house while she is away, Adrienne’s only guest during her hurricane-filled vacation in is Paul, who has made the trip from the big city to sulk over the death of a patient he lost during a standard plastic surgery procedure. He is also there to visit the woman’s family to explain to them what went wrong.

Despite being the only shoulder to cry on, Adrienne might not be the right person to lend out emotional support (she’s making some life-changing decisions and thinking about whether or not to take back her cheating ex-husband). Leave it to bottles of wine and the harsh winds of the hurricane, however, to produce manufactured romance as flimsily written as daytime soaps.

Put most of the blame on the dialogue, which will ultimately lead our leading man and woman into the bedroom. In “Nights,” it flows out in all its cliché glory. When Paul asks Adrienne formulaic questions like “Who keeps you safe?” “What are you so afraid of” and “Do you even remember who you are anymore?” it becomes harder and harder to understand why people fall for these overly schmaltzy and dull cinematic relationships.

Maybe two people could really fall in love with each other over the span of a few days like Paul and Adrienne, but why pour on the sentimentality so blatantly? Why resort to sappy exchanges and forced moments of bliss? I like a good cry as much as the next person, but why not pull my heartstrings through a natural progression of romanticism?

Movies like “Nights in Rodanthe” are to the romance genre what torture porn is to horror. It might fill a need, but why dumb down the story for a cheap reaction from the audience? While one gets screams and the other gets tears, it’s all the same artificial moments that make films like this so unwatchable.