Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Despite the “Saw”-like twists and glimmering artistry of the vigilante’s (Gerard Butler) mission to teach a lesson about justice, “Law Abiding Citizen” was simply another one of those revenge flicks about a father out to get revenge for his slain family. Jamie Foxx played the assistant district attorney who made a deal with one of the murderers so that he could keep his 96% conviction rate. Ten years later, Butler returned to the scene. As a result of such decisions prior, one of the murderers was set free and the other suffered unimaginable pain during his death. If the movie wasn’t so entertaining and had good sense of pacing, I would have completely written this film off because the whole thing felt atrocious. I couldn’t believe for one second that one man could outsmart various levels of the government after only ten years of planning everything. At first I did root for Butler’s character because I could relate to the pain that he was going through. But when he started killing off innocent people, that was the turning point for me. With movies like “Kill Bill” starring Uma Thurman and “Taken” starring Liam Neeson, I was able to stay with the lead characters even though they killed people left and right. And the reason I was able to root for them until the end of their respective features was the fact that they only harmed those who were responsible. With Butler’s character, it was as if he enjoyed killing off people despite the scenes of where F. Gary Gray, the director, showed how much he was “suffering.” As far as morality tales go, I didn’t believe that it was as smart as it was trying to be. However–and this is a big one considering I’m giving the movie a recommendation–I did enjoy watching the movie because it was entertaining to watch the characters scurring around like rodents in hopes to be one step ahead of the vigilante and eventually dropping like flies when they unknowingly made bad decisions. It was not only thrilling because of the sense of dread that Butler’s character was able to deliver with each so-called deals but it was also very amusing because there were times when I found myself buying into everything that was happening. I’m one of those people that did not at all like the controversial ending because it made me think what the point was of it all. I felt as though the writer’s (Kurt Wimmer) decision to end it the way it did was a bit of a cheat after such strong build-ups. Thriller fans should be entertained by “Law Abiding Citizen” but those looking for something deeper might be a bit peeved. I also enjoyed the supporting performances from Leslie Bibb, Viola Davis and Bruce McGill. Overall, this is a pretty stylish cat-and-mouse film with brains on the outside but pretty emotionally and psychologically hollow on the inside. It’s just rare to find a film that embodies both.
Road Games (1981)
★★★ / ★★★★
Stacy Keach plays a truck driver who likes to play games on the road with his dingo companion in order to eliminate some of the boredom of long drives across Australia. After hearing about a serial killer on the loose who cuts up and disposes bodies all over the place, Keach begins to suspect a man who drives a green vehicle. Since the two stopped in the same area for the night, Keach sees the mysterious potential killer watching the garbage being collected very early in the morning. (As his dog sniffs the garbage bag of interest in an attempt to get food.) Jamie Lee Curtis plays the hitchhiker who Keach picks up and who is eventually taken by the killer. I’ve read from other reviews that Richard Franklin, the director, was a very big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. Being a fan myself, watching this movie was that much more fun for me because I actively looked for certain shots and twists in the story that could reference to Hitchcock’s works. But even if one is not familiar with Hitchcock’s movies, one could still enjoy this psychological thriller because of the suspenseful false alarms and eventual real dangers that the characters had to face. I thought “Roadgames” was very different from other movies about killers on the road (especially American movies of the same set-up). Franklin took the time to establish Keach and Curtis’ characters before really getting into the scares. They talked and formed a genuine connection, so when the two were finally on the killer’s tracks, we couldn’t help but care and wonder whether they really were on the right track and whether or not they would eventually get caught. My favorite scene was when Keach investigated the number of meat in the back of his truck. That scene was done so well because at first I had no idea what he was thinking. But when I finally caught up on why he was so worried, I was so disturbed and I could remember saying out loud that he should get out of the truck as soon as possible. My heart raced so fast because the camera just lingered there as if something was about to go seriously wrong. The scene after that was also very impressive–very Hitchcockian–the way the character got into his own head and trying to persuade himself that everything was alright (which, of course, was not the case). “Roadgames” is now considered a cult classic cat-and-mouse movie and I believe it still holds up today. I wish more people would see this because it did many things that were so unexpected. Instead of simplifying things for the audience, it actually tried to outsmart us which I found to be very refreshing even though it was released back in 1981.
Gangs of New York (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★
I admire Martin Scorsese as a director but I do not think this film is one of his best even though I did like it quite a bit. “Gangs of New York” tells the story of Amsterdam Vallon’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) thirst for vengeance after his father (Liam Neeson) was killed in the hands of Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) when he was a child. But since this is a Scorsese film, it simply cannot be that simple. It was also about the frustration and eventual uprising of the poor against the corrupt rich and those of power, rivalry between gangs, the rapid rate of immigration to New York, and the intolerance that comes hand-in-hand when people of very distinct cultures and mindsets are forced to live together. It is an epic picture in every sense of the word but yet there’s something about it that made me believe that it did not quite reach its full potential. When I think about it, I believe that one of its main weaknesses is its almost three-hour running time. While the first twenty minutes were necessary to establish the movie’s emotional core, the next hour was banal. Nothing much happened except for the fact that DiCaprio’s character returned to New York and wanted to gain The Butcher’s trust. So they attend social gatherings together, walk along the streets, go drinking… Pretty much what “tough guys” were supposed to do back in the day, I suppose. I found it really hard to care; perhaps if the whole charade did not last for an hour, I would have stuck with it. However, it did regain its footing half-way through after The Butcher finds Amsterdam and Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) sleeping together. (It’s not a spoiler. Everyone should know it was bound to happen.) Starting with that scene, I felt like DiCaprio and Day-Lewis were playing a cat-and-mouse game from who they really are to what their motivations are, especially Day-Lewis’ character. The second part of the film felt so much more alive and exciting; I also noticed how grand everything looked–the set, the clothes, the soundtrack… I was sucked into this world that Scorsese had envisioned like I was in his stronger motion pictures. Nevertheless, I cannot quite give this film a four-star rating and feel good about it because it did have that one hour that was pretty unnecessary. Regardless, DiCaprio and Day-Lewis gave very strong performaces and should be appreciated. I loved it when they had scenes when it was just the two of them in a room. I felt like I was right there with them and feeling like I shouldn’t be.