The Verdict (1982)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Paul Newman plays Frank Galvin, a depressed lawyer who decided to take a malpractice case to trial, against his friend’s advice (Jack Warden), instead of settling for $210,000 out of court with a cut-throat lawyer (James Mason). I think this is a powerful film; it reminded me of the classic “12 Angry Men” because it was essentially about how one man decided to stand up for what was right. While the main character had his flaws such as alcoholism and he didn’t let the plaintiffs know about a chance of settlement, I could easily connect with him because he desperately wanted to redeem himself as a lawyer and as a man coming out of grief. I thought the script was electric both in and out of the courtroom. It wasn’t afraid to show the subtleties of the characters for the sake of plot conveniences so the movie felt multidimensional instead of just another one of those courtroom dramas where the climax could be predictably found in the last thirty minutes. I liked the fact that Sidney Lumet, the director, shaped a challenging movie where the ante kept increasing until the final verdict. When the case was over, there were no grand overtures for the losing or the winning team. What’s even better was that the main character was always challenged by those around him and the chance of him winning the case was always dim (sometimes too dim). I must applaud Newman because he had such a talent for balancing strength and sensitivity. He knew exactly what he wanted but at the same time he wasn’t afraid to stop to look at someone and allow himself to feel for them. Given that he lost someone important to him, I really felt like he wanted to fight for the helpless. His silent moments and pauses were so compelling because I could just feel his self-loathing and disappointments with himself and with the law. Another neat element was the tone of the movie reflected the inner struggle of the character–dark, brooding, self-reflective. Charlotte Rampling was also good, although somewhat underused, as Newman’s love interest. However, I think her character could have been developed some more. While she was an important tool to the story arc, she wasn’t utilized in such a way that she could have made a much bigger impact. Still, the scenes between her and Newman were sometimes heartbreaking because they were two lonely people wanting to speak with someone willing to be honest in an environment where lies were pretty much the default and most advantageous quality. Based on the novel by Barry Reed, “The Verdict” was an intense and compelling experience that one shouldn’t miss.
★★★ / ★★★★
I’ve seen Pedro Almodóvar’s work from the late 1990s to the present and have been nothing but impressed so naturally I became interested in seeing his older projects.”Matador” stars Antonio Banderas as a 22-year-old aspiring matador who was working under Nacho Martinez’ wing. When Martinez’ character asked Banderas if he was a homosexual due to his lack of experience with women, Banderas tried to prove his masculinity by trying to rape his mentor’s girlfriend (Eva Cobo). Eventually ending up in jail due to some strange coincidences and choices, a femme fatale lawyer (Assumpta Serna) came running to defend Banderas’ innocence. I love Almodóvar’s films because no matter how much I try to guess what would happen in the story, I always guess incorrectly. He has such a knack for telling unconventional stories that are funny, witty, tragic and ironic often all at the same time. The way he uses color to highlight a character’s fate or what he or she might be feeling and thinking always takes me by surprise even though I’m familiar with his techniques. I also was fascinated with the way Almodóvar used his characters’ occupations as a reflection of what they were really capable of when they think nobody was watching them. Admittedly, the writing can get a bit melodramatic at times but I think that’s half the fun of Almodóvar’s movies. He’s not afraid to reference to the supernatural, such as a certain character experiencing “visions,” to possibly make sense of the natural world. It’s the twists and turns that keep us wanting to watch. Like in most of his later projects, “Matador” was very passionate (or obsessive?) about sexuality–not necessarily sex–how his actors moved and delivered certain lines. Another element that I thought was interesting was the fact that Almodóvar used sex and violence as a backdrop to explore the darker side of human nature. The characters in this film were not necessarily good; in fact, they were far from innocent. But we root for some of them because the protagonists were capable of less evil than their counterparts. I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to enjoy Almodóvar’s earlier works but after watching “Matador,” I’m more than excited to see them. I just hope that they have the same level of vivaciousness, drama and sensuality as this picture.
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
★★ / ★★★★
Joel Coen directs this story about a gold-digger (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a divorce lawyer’s (George Clooney) mind games. The two seemingly like each other despite their bickering but it is really difficult to define their relationship because they always have something up their sleeves (sometimes with the aid of lucky coincidences). I did enjoy the first half of this picture because it was silly and it embraced its screwball nature. However, somewhere in the second half, I grew tired of it mainly because the once astute two lead characters became simple caricatures not worth liking. I kept trying to convince myself there was something more about them other than their scamming ways but I was disappointed that there wasn’t. I know that the Coen brothers have a proclivity for irony but there is such a thing as too much irony. This film is a fine example of the latter so it became convoluted instead of focused, smug instead of welcoming, unfunny instead of dryly funny. I did, however, enjoy the supporting actors such as Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Richard Jenkins, Billy Bob Thornton and Geoffrey Rush. But their presence alone did not save this heavy-handed movie about two bickering infantile adults who have nothing better to do than to make each other’s lives miserable. I liked Zeta-Jones and Clooney’s acting during the first half because it was easy to tell that they were having fun with their characters. However, in the second half, I believe they crossed the line between being funny and trying too hard to be funny but actually failing at it. In the end, I wondered what happened to the power the Coen brothers usually had in their films. But I suppose great directors have their failures as well. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad movie. It’s simply a mediocre product given the expectations that usually come in a Coen brothers picture. It was too quirky for its own good when it really should have been working on its substance.
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.
My Sister’s Keeper (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on the novel by Jodi Picoult, Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin) eventually gets tired of all the forced medical procedures done to her in order to save her sister (Sofia Vassilieva) with leukemia. She enlists the help of a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) and this immediately causes tension within the family, especially between Anna and her mother (Cameron Diaz). Right off the bat, the audiences come to know that Anna is a test tube baby for the sole purpose of extracting healthy cells (and eventually organs) so that she can help her sister survive. I thought this was a smart film because of all the ethical questions it raised and the way it avoided to define for the audiences what is right and what is wrong. It was definitely easy to immediately side with Anna because I strongly believe that everyone has a right to do whatever he or she wants with his or her body. However, after a series of flashback scenes told in a non-linear way, I was able to sympathize with Diaz because I was convinced that she genuinely loves her family. It’s just that she’s required to make the tough decisions since no one else will even if it means butting heads with her husband (Jason Patric) and increasingly conflicted son (Evan Ellingson). I must say that Diaz absolutely blew me away. I keep forgetting that she can be a good actress because I’ve seen her way too much in a lot of (sometimes lame) comedies. In here, she was able to carry her character with such complexity and dramatic weight. I’d like to see her in more dramas because she can balance toughness, intelligence, sensitivity so well. Another actor I really enjoyed was Joan Cusack as the judge who was supposed to decide whether Anna can ultimately get medical emancipation from her parents. Cusack’s character was still grieving for the untimely death of her daughter (due to a car accident) and it was easy to tell that she was still unstable; it made me think that perhaps she was not quite fit to get back to work and whether she should be the right person to decide the case’s outcome, especially since it involved a child. Cusack’s silent moments, while interacting with Breslin in her chamber, were so powerful, I couldn’t help but tear up a bit. After only a week since my parents almost died in a car accident (which I haven’t really talked about with anyone because whenever I think about it, I just lose it; while a friend of theirs died, my parents luckily got away with a few fractures and bruising), her situation made me think how easy it is for someone to be alive and healthy one day and not here the next. Lastly, Thomas Dekker as Vassilieva’s boyfriend-to-be provided a lot of sensitivity it needed so the audiences could get a better picture that people should not be defined by their diseases. A lot of the fans from the book didn’t like the fact that the ending was altered. From the perspective of someone who hasn’t read the book, I thought pretty much everything about this film unfolded in a way that made sense but still had a powerful impact. It’s extremely difficult not to be moved by this picture.
★ / ★★★★
To say that this movie was really bad would be an understatement. I love Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams because they are very talented actors (and are easy on the eyes) but I don’t know what they were thinking when they decided to star this in trainwreck of a film. This is one of those cases where both the writer and director are to blame, Mark Bomback and Marcel Langenegger, respectively. I felt like the picture tried to have way too many twists. It didn’t work because it failed to get the audiences to care for its leads. The impression I got during the first few minutes of the movie was that McGregor was a creepy little accountant in need of sex, Jackman was one jerk of a lawyer, and Williams was that girl who tried to be all innocent but she really wasn’t. Unlikeable chartacters aside, I also felt like the tone of the story was a little too gloomy and slow for its own good. I’m not talking about as-slow-as-molasses kind of pacing (which, admittedly, I sometimes like); I’m talking about as-static-as-a-rock-stuck-in-ice-in-the-middle-of-winter kind of pacing. I mean, half-way through the picture I realized that the story hasn’t been going anywhere. The characters are simply running around, trying to outsmart each other and the audiences are left in the dust without any kind of solid background regarding the characters’ motivations. That aspect of one-dimensionality is really a problem and a good writer should’ve been able to detect that. Yes, there were also obligatory scenes with slow motion but another thing that bothered me was its use of score. It tried to signal too much what the audiences should be feeling and it got really annoying because I wanted to realize for myself how I’m feeling with what’s going on on screen. “Deception” is weak all across the board and a one-star review (my lowest rating) doesn’t even begin to describe how egregious it is. If you love McGregor, Jackman and/or Williams, do yourself a favor and skip this one. You’ll prevent yourself from wasting an hour and fifty minutes of your life.
Tell No One (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★
I was really impressed with this French thriller because of how well-constructed the story was. In the first scene, the wife (Marie-Josée Croze) of Dr. Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) was murdered. Eight years later, he received a mysterious e-mail that suggested that she was alive. Questions then start popping up like hives and the film only gets better from there. Did the wife really die? Who was sending those strange e-mails? Who was really behind all the murder and deceit? There was no straight answer up until the very end so the audiences get a chance to play detective and get really involved with the plot. I liked the fact that when answers were being presented, they weren’t just done in a series of brief flashbacks like in mainstream American films. This movie really takes its time to explain what happened, why certain events happened, and how conclusions by different characters may get tangled up. There’s this constant theme of trying to stay one step ahead of another. This happens to the characters (especially Croze’s) and to the audiences (as we try to catch up and reevaluate the “truths” when each twist is revelead). Even though this is, without a doubt, a thriller motion picture, I found it interesting that there’s this gloom that pervaded the film. Moreover, even though the lead characters’ questions–one way or another–gets answered, the ultimatel message is what’s lost is lost; you can never go back to the way things were. The acting must be commended: François Berléand (as the detective), Kristin Scott Thomas (as Dr. Beck’s friend) and Nathalie Baye (as the thick-skinned lawyer). Each of them brought a certain edge and intelligence to their characters and it was fun to see how their dynamics with Croze change as the film progressed. Based on Harlan Coben’s novel, Guillaume Canet directed “Tell No One” with such focus and enthusiasm. That scene involving Croze running away from the police which involved a freeway is still so vivid in my mind. If one is looking for suspense that is astute and memorable (yet strangely touching), this is the one to see.