Tag: amy ryan

Lost Girls


Lost Girls (2020)
★★★ / ★★★★

Here is a movie that by the end the police have found four corpses and at least ten to sixteen human remains in Long Island, but it is not about uncovering the identity of the infamous serial killer. Liz Garbus’ melancholic, angry, and focused “Lost Girls,” based on the book by journalist Robert Kolker, tells the story of sex workers whose deaths are treated cheaply by those whose job is to find truth and justice. It is a human story, interested in the flaws of its victims, their families, and the cops themselves. The work demands attention. It offers no easy or convenient solutions.

Amy Ryan portrays the mother of one of the missing girls. Her Mari is a force of nature, a fighter, the kind of person who speaks and demands others to listen to what she has to say. Ryan is not interested in vanity; she provides the audience raw anger—anger toward the authorities for their sheer incompetence (and disinterest) and also anger toward herself as a mother who knows deep down that she had not done all she could so that Shannan could fulfill her potential while growing up. It is fascinating that although Ryan is given strong dialogue by Michael Werwie’s screenplay, her strongest moments are entirely silent, when Mari must restrain herself from screaming, crying, or taking action that she might regret later.

We are provided details of the crime. There is a clear pattern in the victims’ profiles: women in their twenties, short stature, their line of work, their cause of death. And yet despite all the information that has come to light, the police, led by Commissioner Richard Dormer (Gabriel Byrne), has time and again fallen short of solid leads. The material shows us why. For instance, the investigators neglect to look (or simply choose not to look) at footages recorded by a residential camera the night of Shannan’s disappearance. And another: the hysterical Shannan called 911 and begged for help… but help arrived over an hour later. Why?

The movie does a good job in creating a sense of frustration. There is tension because the question of, “What if this crime happened to one of your loved ones?” is always in the back our minds. Wouldn’t you want justice? Wouldn’t you want to call out and root out incompetence? The first group of bodies found is discovered completely by accident. The police are not even trying to look for the missing Shannan. Again, why is that? Is there a cover-up? Throughout the film, we are inspired to ask questions about the players involved and also ourselves. How would we react if we saw the news and our sister, cousin, or friend is only referred to as a prostitute, a sex worker, an escort—as if she were to blame for being murdered?

“Lost Girls” could have been a syrupy melodrama that follows the usual beats and the same old boring dramatic parabola, but the filmmakers are too smart for that. The correct choice is made: To focus on showing the characters as messy, imperfect, and perhaps even unlikable. Because we are able to recognize real people on screen, we empathize even more with the crises they face. The film treats the story from which it is based upon with respect—which is more than what those in charge of the case at the time had given.

Win Win


Win Win (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mike (Paul Giamatti), a lawyer, does not want to shut down his practice, but money is quickly becoming an issue. Despite being a part-time wrestling coach at the local high school, it isn’t enough to cover what needs to be paid. When his assistant tells him that whoever ends up with their most recent client, Leo (Burt Young), who suffers early stages of dementia, will receive $1,500 of commission per month, Mike is more than willing to volunteer. Despite promising the court that he will take care of the gentleman, Mike sends him to an elderly home anyway. The very same day he does, Leo’s troubled grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), enters the picture.

Based on the screenplay and directed by Thomas McCarthy, “Win Win” is a light-hearted comedy with quirky characters who sometimes make not the best of decisions yet we still cannot help but care for them. It works because we understand why the characters feel the need to take up certain courses of action. For instance, Mike’s decision to take advantage of the old man is not only deceptive, it is also unethical. He knows that his actions are wrong and he sees that taking in Kyle, a young man without a sturdy parental figure, is some sort of a redemptive element to balance his karma. We can relate to him because a lot of us tend to think similarly: a good action can make up for a bad one.

Mike and Kyle’s father-son-like relationship has complexity. Notice that the first half of the film consists of scenes that barely last a minute. Once a comedic or dramatic punchline is delivered, it moves onto the next. The jokes are amusing but they also highlight the lack of real communication between the characters. It is almost like watching a comic strip. As Mike and Kyle’s bond grow stronger, scenes become longer because they learn to be more open in discussing certain aspects of their lives.

Kyle, as it turns out, is a pretty talented wrestler. Being a wrestler back in the day, Mike sees himself in Kyle so he provides the quiet teen some direction and hopefully Kyle can get a scholarship to college. Eventually, Mike’s redemption angle is coupled with the theme of making up for lost opportunities.

Another interesting strand of the story is Kyle’s relationship with Jackie (Amy Ryan), Mike’s protective, no-nonsense wife. I wished they had more scenes together. Since Kyle is detached from his biological mother (Melanie Lynskey), although he does not say it, his actions suggest he craves for a mother figure in his life. Even when Kyle and Jackie do simple things like shopping for groceries, the material manages to say lot without using words. The way their relationship is portrayed is delicately resonant.

When we are with someone we care deeply about (and vice-versa), words do not carry as much weight. We feel happy between the silences because we are on the same wavelength as that other person. “Win Win” is very in touch with humanity, especially in terms of the flaws embedded within each character, and it leaves us with hope. Even though not all of us might be convinced of it, it reminds us that we have a lot of love to give. But only if we choose to.

Green Zone


Green Zone (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

U.S. Army officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) decided to go rogue when his team constantly stumbled upon inaccurate intelligence provided a U.S. Intelligence Agent (Greg Kinnear). Miller eventually found an ally (Brendan Gleeson) within the U.S. government and both aimed to expose the false reasons why the United States went to war with Iraq. I’ve read a lot of reviews comparing this movie, inspired by the book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, to the actual war in Iraq. I chose not to see it from that perspective because at the end of the day the material was fictional. Instead, I saw it as an action picture with an emphasis on Miller’s struggle on three fronts: his loyalty to his country and the American people, his struggle to trust the powers that lead (or controlled) the U.S. government, and the role of the media (specifically Amy Ryan as a New York Times foreign correspondent) in and out of Iraq. As an action movie, I thought it worked. It was suspenseful because I cared about Miller’s dangerous mission to expose the big lie that led the United States to go to war. Paul Greengrass’ signature shaky camera that defined the second and third “Bourne” films worked especially in increasingly enclosed spaces as Miller’s character chased after targets in residential areas. I felt the danger and uncertainty that he and his men felt so my eyes were glued to the screen. I was also impressed with the way Greengrass’ shots shifted between indoors and outdoors. With each shift, the tone changed but it wasn’t jarring or distracting because the intensity regarding what was happening was consistent. But there were some scenes that fell completely flat. The ones that stood out to me in a negative way were the “Don’t be naive” admonitions accompanied by intense eye contact between Damon and Gleeson. I couldn’t help but laugh because it was so heavy-handed and obvious about the messages it wanted to convey to its audiences. I wanted the movie to let the images and the characters’ decisions to speak for themselves and tone down the obvious propaganda as much as possible. Lastly, I would have liked to see Ryan’s character to have done more instead of just standing around begging for a story. Nevertheless, “Green Zone” ultimately worked as a political (but fictional) action picture because of well-shot and involving action sequences. Others may have the usual complaints of, “The camera was so shaky and I got dizzy” but I suppose it’s an acquired taste. I think Greengrass chose that style because he wanted to us to feel like we were right there with the characters.

Changeling


Changeling (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Angelina Jolie should at least be nominated for an Oscar because she held this film together. I couldn’t take my eyes off her to the point where I noticed every spasm on her face every time there’s a revelation or when she feels cornered by pretty much every authority figure she encounters. Clint Eastwood did another great job with taking his audience to a specific moment in time and make us believe that that universe is both beautiful and tragic. However, I don’t think this is his best film due to the problems in its pacing. Toward the last twenty minutes, there were scenes that could’ve been endings but ultimately weren’t. Even though the additional scenes added some sort of closure with the characters and its audiences, a masterful work would’ve felt natural instead of forced. Aside from Jolie, other great performances include John Malkovich as the reverend who fights against the corrupt ways of the LAPD and Jeffrey Donovan who refuses to listen to Jolie’s claims that the child who the LAPD returned to her was not her son. Amy Ryan also did a great job as Jolie’s friend in the psychiatric unit. Even though she did not have many scenes, she’s memorable because she did the best she could with everything she was given. As for the story, it’s very engaging especially when Jolie gathers evidence that the child who was returned to her was not her real son. I have to admit that I did get teary-eyed during various moments in the picture because I really did feel Jolie’s plight; it felt like the odds are against her but somehow she still summons the strength to fight back. I also admired the film’s theme of attempting to find the evasive truth–how the truth cannot be fully achieved because “truth” sometimes relies on the perspective of other people. The question of when the right time fight and the right time to let go is also explored in an insightful manner which could’ve been a disaster in less experienced hands. With a little bit more focus on the story and a better pacing, this could’ve turned out to be a masterpiece. That said, I’m giving this an enthusiastic recommendation because of the strong performances and touching story based on what really happened to Christine Collins and her son back in 1928.