Presumed Innocent (1990)
★★ / ★★★★
Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford) is a prosecuting attorney whose job, in its very nature, is to punish criminal behavior. The morning he comes into work, he learns that a colleague, a fellow lawyer named Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi), has been found murdered. She is believed to have been strangled, raped, and beaten. The crime scene suggests there is no sign of her forced entry in her apartment. Sabich is assigned to handle her case by the big boss, Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy). However, soon the lawyer himself becomes a prime suspect. And since he has had sexual relations with the victim, is the case a classic crime of passion?
“Presumed Innocent,” directed by Alan J. Pakula, is beautifully shot and strongly acted but I never found it compelling. It is partly because of the pacing, so sluggish and at times desultory—the flashback involving Sabich and Polhemus’ affair does not help. Another reason is its eagerness to be regarded as a very serious, tight-lipped drama, from its solemn score to the decor of homes, offices, and courtroom. The material is not boring but the approach is certainly one-note.
Stories told from the defendant’s point of view should be thrilling, suspenseful, exciting. The picture, based on the novel by Scott Turow, appears to want to deliver the antithesis which might have been interesting if there had been intrigue in its skeleton. Instead, we are given expected recurring themes such as corruption behind city officials and lawyers readily changing masks.
What I found refreshing is Sabich’s wife played by Bonnie Bedelia. I enjoyed that there is no subplot involving her finding out about the affair once her husband is accused of murder. Instead, the focus is on her lingering feelings of insecurity and anger that perhaps her husband, even though he comes home to her, may still have feelings for another woman—even though the other woman is now dead. I wished the character, Barbara, had been given more scenes, especially in her interactions with Rusty, because she is arguably the person who is easiest to relate with.
The courtroom scenes are tedious and overdone. There is little tension because just about every piece of “evidence” presented by the prosecutors is speculation at best. Because the opposing team is weak, when the defense presents its case, it is not as interesting or engaging. Why not make the prosecutors real formidable so that we feel threatened that a potentially innocent man could end up in jail?
The film’s most critical misstep is the final five to ten minutes, when a character is shown having to explain everything to justify the driving force of the conflict. It should have given us doubt, not certainty. The former would have given the audience something to talk about while the latter closed the case. This decision is not parallel to the picture’s important themes.
★★ / ★★★★
Ben (Wilford Brimley), Art (Don Ameche), and Joe (Hume Cronyn) live in a seaside retirement community. Once in a while they break into a pool house next door for some fun and relaxation. During one of their visits, they see four rock-looking figures settled at the bottom. Although curious as to what they are, the zestful gentlemen are not entirely bothered by them so they decide to swim anyway.
Meanwhile, Jack (Steve Guttenberg) is hired by Walter (Brian Dennehy) so that he and his crew can use Jack’s boat for twenty-seven days. Out in the middle of the ocean, they obtain cocoons that house extra-terrestrials and place them in the swimming pool that the older folks so enjoy spending time in.
“Cocoon,” based on the screenplay by Tom Benedek and David Saperstein, is highly enjoyable at times because, having volunteered in a retirement home during my years as an undergraduate, I found it honest in its portrayal of the aging. While there is a sadness in watching the geriatric characters struggle in doing the simplest things like getting from one point of the room to another or picking up a spoon to feed themselves, these images are contrasted with sequences where the men and women are energetic enough to partake in social activities like dancing and playing mahjong. This is before we learn that the cocoons in the pool have the magical ability to make the old feel very young again.
Comedic scenes come in various forms like the men freely talking about their erections and seducing their wives or lady friends to bed. I appreciated that the movie shows that even old people can still talk about sexual things without reservation.
The most awkward aspect of the picture, however, is the romance between Jack and Kitty (Tahnee Welch), one of Walter’s crew members. After being a Peeping Tom and discovering that Kitty is an alien, he is still so very willing to get into her pants. And he is far from subtle about it. It is probably funny on paper because Jack comes off as a silly kid stuck in a man’s body, but I found it weird and the possibility of a human and an alien sharing a love scene made me feel uncomfortable.
Whenever the romantic angle is front and center, I wondered if the yearning between the human and the alien could have been more convincing and actually romantic if the script had been more subtle about their feelings for one another. Because their interactions consistently border on triteness, I did not believe the sentiments. I was bored. It is similar to watching a puppet show with no jokes.
Eventually, the old folks are given a choice between living the rest of their lives until their bodies are ready to die and a chance to live forever. Bernie (Jack Gilford) supports the former idea despite his ailing wife while the rest are, understandably, so quickly willing to embrace such a magical possibility. Instead of going for the easy chase scene, I wished the picture had taken more time in exploring which really is the right thing to do for each major character. In the end, we get the impression that some of them will not be happy with their decisions somewhere down the line.
Directed by Ron Howard, “Cocoon” is a mixed bag. When the camera turns its attention to the residents of the retirement community, the material coruscates a certain contagious energy. If only the subplots were constructed and executed as freshly and as youthful as the spirits of the senior citizens.
Every Day (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Ned (Liev Schreiber) no longer found his job as a writer for a television show rewarding. His boss (Eddie Izzard) wanted creative, mostly sexually-driven, ideas from him but he couldn’t seem to deliver because his mind was, to say the last, preoccupied. His wife (Helen Hunt) who invited her short-tempered father (Brian Dennehy) to live with them became increasingly unhappy, he worried about his older son (Ezra Miller), who recently admitted that he was gay, and felt guilty for not being there for his youngest son’s (Skyler Fortgang) violin recital. A fellow script writer named Robin (Carla Gugino), mysterious and seductive, being attracted to Ned certainly didn’t help his situation. Written and directed by Richard Levine, “Every Day” had a few scenes that worked on an emotional level. However, it ultimately lacked the bravado to look deeply at the family’s growing unhappiness. Too much of its running time was dedicated on the flirtation between Ned and Robin as they supposedly worked together on a script at her fancy New York loft. I understood that Ned wanted an escape from his worries and grab the fantasy he felt like he deserved. It would have worked if the execution wasn’t so cheap where it felt like watching a bad soap opera. It was painfully obvious that Robin was the bad influence because she wore typical dark clothing and intense gazes. The way she was presented was one dimensional, insulting and uninteresting. The real drama was between Hunt and Dennehy’s characters. A daughter who didn’t feel loved by her father cared for him regardless. She felt like she owed him something but the reason, it seemed to her, failed to go deeper than the fact that they were biologically connected. When Hunt was on screen, my attention magnetized toward her because there was a sadness in her inability to define her motivations. There was complexity between the daughter and her father unlike what was between Ned and Robin. In a way, their relationship explained why she gave certain freedoms to her gay son who wanted to attend a gay prom with people much older than him. If I was a parent and my underage gay son (or daughter) wanted to go somewhere he or she could be taken advantaged of, I wouldn’t think twice about not giving him permission. But I understood why she felt the need to do it. She wanted approval from her children because she never got it from her father. Lastly, there was something curious about the younger son’s struggle to understand the idea of dying. It scared him but he tried not to let it show. Perhaps he didn’t have the words to express his fears. “Every Day” successfully established that the characters were distant from one another. Unfortunately, it lost focus and power in its saccharine attempt to bring them together.