Dream House (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) resigned from his job as a book editor to live in New Ashford with his wife (Rachel Weisz) and children (Taylor Geare, Claire Geare). Libby is confident that they will be happy in their new home because Will can begin writing his novel and spend more time with his daughters. Unbeknownst to Will and Libby, the house has a history. Just five years ago, the previous occupants were murdered and the community still fears that the killer will return. Not one of them dares to tell or warn either the husband or wife about what they know.
The most frustrating decision that “Dream House,” directed by Jim Sheridan, commits is pulling the rug from under our feet halfway through. But since the peripheral details are brainless, slow, and nonsensical, one gets the feeling that the twist is applied not to progress the plot but to trick us into believing that the screenplay is smart all along.
The revelation is thrown onto our laps too late. The sheer exhaustion of having to endure the characters consistently behaving as if they were stuck in an badly written and directed horror movie, despite what could have been an effective twist, has permeated through our minds and bodies. It is beyond redemption. For example, when Libby sees a person hiding behind a tree from their well-lit kitchen, Will has to run outside to confront the man without any weapon. Libby, meanwhile, runs after her husband after she struggles to put her boots on. The only payoff involves Will stepping on loose ice next to a stream. He yells out in frustration. It is supposed to be suspenseful but I found myself laughing at the ridiculousness of the scene.
Over time, I began to feel like the picture was simply allowing the minutes to trickle away. Will investigates the small town’s secret by talking to Ann (Naomi Watts), the divorced woman across the street with a very angry—not to mention very broke—ex-husband (Marton Csokas) and visiting psychiatric safe houses while sporting a nice coat. I wondered why Will does not choose to save time and energy by logging on the internet and researching what happened in their new residence. The lack of common sense is astounding.
Perhaps it might have been more forgivable if the screenplay had been clear about when the story is taking place. There is one scene where Libby notices a height tally with dates next to them but it could’ve been from people who owned the house prior to the murdered family. As we supposed to assume that the previous family were the only occupants that ever lived in that house? Is this movie made for people who cannot think outside the box?
As the film becomes more vague and repetitive, Will coming and going to and from the house with each of his visit looking more confused than before, I just stopped caring. If the filmmakers actually cared or wanted us to care, they would have put more energy in the way big and small revelations played out. Based on the screenplay David Loucka, “Dream House” is like watching a dream you can’t wake up from. The first thing I thought about the second it ended was how great Craig looked in sweat pants.
★★★ / ★★★★
Adapted from Susanne Bier’s “Brødre,” “Brothers,” directed by Jim Sheridan, was about two brothers: a Marine (Tobey Maguire) who loves his family and kids (Natalie Portman, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare) and an ex-con (Jake Gyllenhaal) who recently got out of jail. The (very intense) final forty-five minutes shook me to the core when Maguire’s character finally returned to his family after being captured and tortured by the enemy for months. But as great as the last third was, I was also impressed with the way the film tackled subjects such as redemption in Gyllenhaal’s character wanting to do good for his brother’s family by playing with the kids, fixing up the kitchen, and helping them move on from a death in the family. During the first few minutes, it also established the fact that even though the brothers were so different from one another (highlighted in scenes where the father expressed pride in one and disappointment in another), there was a strong bond between them and nothing could change their love for one another. I was moved especially when their relationship was challenged in the last forty-five minutes; I felt like the two actors were really brothers when they conversed because there was a sort of intimacy between them. I also liked the way it showed the ugliness of returning from war and being traumatized by the events that happened there. Although it tackled the issue with sensitivity, it wasn’t afraid to be honest regarding what could potentially happen to someone who had a severe form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the symptoms that came with it such as paranoia, rage and disorientation. It was heartbreaking to watch the children become afraid of their own father, the wife not knowing how to respond to her husband’s physical return (but not mentally and emotionally), and the way Gyllenhaal’s character dealt with his brother’s suspicions and anger. The only problem I had with the film were the scenes which involved Maguire being kidnapped by the enemy. I think if all those scenes were left out and the audiences were left to wonder what really happened to Maguire’s character, it would have been that much more haunting (such as using a title card stating “a few months later” and the like). A sudden shift from a warm, loving person to a cold person who was on a verge of a psychotic breakdown would have had a far more impact on me. Nevertheless, “Brothers” is a strong movie that relies on the characters and subtle (sometimes explosive) acting instead of soldiers trying to survive in war zones. It felt personal so I couldn’t help but think about it after a while.
In the Name of the Father (1993)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on a true story, Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Gerry Colnon, an Irishman who was forced to confess and sentenced to jail for life for the bombing that killed five people in England. If that wasn’t enough, three of his friends, father, and his father’s friends were sentenced to jail as well. Emma Thompson plays the lawyer who struggled to expose the truth regarding the injustice that the British police and detectives have inflicted on the Irishmen. Day-Lewis absolutely blew me away. Despite his actions that involved petty crimes shown in the beginning of the film, I could immediately tell that there was something more interesting underneath his persona. Whenever I looked into his eyes, I felt as thought there was a story, which involved a lot of hurt, that he desperately wanted to cover up. A lot of it came out when he and his father (Pete Postlethwaite) shared a prison cell for the first time; Day-Lewis brought up a lot of things that he thought made him the way he was (mainly experiences from his childhood). That particular scene was so revealing and hurtful at the same time so I couldn’t help but connect with it. Yet despite the anger and outburst, I felt a genuine love between the characters. Jim Sheridan, the director, told the story in such a concise manner so I felt like I wasn’t watching a two-hour-plus film at all. In fact, I wanted to know more about certain details of their ordeal, especially the detective work that Thompson’s character had gone through. With such a complex and compellingly human story like this, it could have easily fallen apart with all the Hollywood banalities. “In the Name of the Father” expertly balanced and eventually fused the political battles and personal demons so it offered a very powerful character study. I also think that this is still a very important film today because the issue of torture for information regarding the war in the Middle East is still not settled. While watching this film, I kept remembering (with utter disbelief) the time when I was still young and had complete trust in the government. The movie makes a thesis that sometimes people of power use the law as a mask in order to fulfill their jobs so they can look good in the eyes of the citizens. However, somewhere along the way, they completely lose track of who they are and how to do their jobs with honor so they start digging their own graves and try to take everyone else with them. This is a beautiful but haunting picture that deserves to be seen by anyone interested in human drama.