Fall Movies: Part 5
What did I see last week, you ask? Well...
As much I liked American Gangster—and, really, I liked it quite a bit—Ridley Scott's powerful, hugely entertaining rise-and-fall epic of Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas also made me re-appreciate The Wire that much more, especially that show's ability to make the both the cops and the criminals equally compelling. Sure, Russell Crowe's portrait of honest-cop Richie Roberts is OK here, but the police procedural plotting—the thrill of the hunt—is almost non-existent, and the movie only really soars when Denzel Washington's superb Lucas, all dignified brutality and steely ambition, is on screen. Fortunately, he's up there for a good deal more than half the film (surprisingly, he and Crowe only share one scene, but it's a great one), and so the film is a good deal more than OK.
Not coincidentally, Mr. Untouchable also arrived in town last week, a small, often fascinating documentary on Frank Lucas's flamboyant (and, thus, far more famous) Harlem heroin rival in the late 1960s/1970s, Nicky Barnes. The movie is good on Barnes's style, as well as the structure of his organization (stolen from the Mafia), and it's even better on the core question of the Barnes legend: was he a cowardly snitch, or a true Godfather who buried his enemies the best way he could? It seems that, after being sentenced to life in 1978, Barnes ratted out nearly 100 of his former colleagues as part of an elaborate revenge scheme delivered upon a one-time top lieutenant for having an affair with his wife. The highlight here has to be the extensive interviews with Barnes himself, face shrouded in shadows to protect his new identity. To some degree, of course, these are nakedly self-serving, but there's no denying that the man has charisma, as well as a unique, insider's perspective on a certain time, and place, in New York City history.
While Co was at The Bee Movie with some friends last weekend (her review: "really good, and it wasn't cheesy"), Bo and I went to see and mostly enjoyed the cute romantic/family comedy Dan In Real Life. Though the whole thing is immediately forgettable and co-writer/director Peter Hedges doesn't really know what to do with everyone, the movie is not without its charms: Steve Carrell is maybe a little too mopey, but you can't help but laugh at his doofy antics; Juliette Binoche is lovely (if completely out of place); Dane Cook is shockingly tolerable; and the whole big-family-gathered-at-their-beach-house-engaged-in-their- adorable-big-family-traditions (crossword competitions, talent night, etc.) provided excellent fodder for my always eager to be fed nostalgia for a life I never had.
People are saying that Rendition is a admirable try, and I guess that's true... though a try at what I'm not quite sure. At being a taut political thriller? Mostly fails. At providing a vehicle for some excellent actors? Mostly fails... not that the acting isn't good—Streep, Witherspoon, Sarsgaard, Gylenhaal, et al, acquit themselves fine—it's just that no one's given much of anything to work with. At delivering the important message that torture is horrible? That US policy on and involvement in torture is horrible? That people of different nationalities, races, beliefs, cultures and religions all feel pain and loss when a loved one dies? Mostly succeeds! (You know... in case you didn't realize any of the above.) Though the narrative's structure proved to be a bit too tricky for some, it's about the only thing that delivers any sort of surprise here.