5 posts categorized "Political Thriller"

February 26, 2019

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

World_is_not_enoughPierce Brosnan (Golden Eye and Tomorrow Never Dies) can do no wrong. While leading actors like Harrison Ford and Nicholas Cage recede into mere shadows of their former selves, Pierce Brosnan gleams with all the requisite savoir-faire and charisma that the longest-running film franchise in cinema history demands. 

Brosnan's third installment as Her Majesty's top secret agent 007 lives up to the lofty expectations set down by Sean Connery's initial James Bond presence with an indispensable steely nerve and Bond's signature unquenchable libido. British director Michael Apted, best known for his fantastic 7 Up documentary film series and Coal Miner's Daughter (1980), makes a surprisingly impressive debut in the super-action genre of the Broccoli family dynasty.

By definition a James Bond film must provide various exotic locations (in this case Bilbao, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Instanbul), include mind-bending chase scenes through exceptional places, utilize slick gadgetry, have seduction scenes with audaciously beautiful women, and include an explosive ending that catapults Bond and his fille du jour into sequestered romantic bliss. The cinematic experience goes beyond guilty audience pleasure, because there's something in it for everyone. The feeling is akin to visiting characters who have become old friends in situations that continually add up to a life-affirming thrill ride. There is a deeply felt satisfaction in hearing that priceless James Bond theme music and digging into the latest spectacular pre-credit action sequence.

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In The World Is Not Enough, James Bond is trying to track down an international terrorist, Renard (Robert Carlyle), who threatens to kill off lovely oil heiress Elektra King (Sophie Marceau). Elektra has already suffered as a former hostage of Renard but managed to escape before his hostage demands were met. Elektra is planning to open her own oil pipeline into Turkey after the explosive assassination of her wealthy father.

It's a theme right out of today's news as President Clinton has just approved a similar pipeline to deliver oil from Azerbaijan and Georgia into Turkey without going through Russia or Iran. The screenwriters could not have landed on a more topical idea, and although content is never the crux of a James Bond movie, it is an added bonus that the countries visited in The World Is Not Enough are currently very active in the news.

Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) returns to nourish the series as Bond's strident boss "M," while Desmond Llewelyn returns for the 19th time as Bond's meticulous gadget guru "Q." Robert Carlyle (TrainspottingThe Full Monty) does a brilliant turn as the ruthless terrorist Renard. He's the nastiest villain to challenge Bond since Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) in A View to a Kill. Renard's character is first introduced in a meeting between Bond and M as a giant three-dimensional translucent head revealing the bullet lodged in his brain that makes it impossible for him to feel pain. It's an ingenious scene, because it makes us question whether or not this man is still alive and what kind of monster could survive such a state of being. Carlyle looks physically wrecked in his scenes while exuding an air of spontaneous combustion beneath his misshapen and sullen eyes.

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The World Is Not Enough keeps the stakes high for the James Bond franchise by paying closer attention to character development and interaction than recent films in the series. M proves herself to not be a perfect judge of character, and the beautiful Princess Elektra has a little "Stockholm Syndrome" stuck in the front of her mind to give the plot some artful double-crossing. Denise Richards may not be the most believable nuclear weapons expert as Dr. Christmas Jones, but she is the most comely.

Michael Apted more than hits his directorial marks, and at two hours eight minutes, The World Is Not Enough is, pound for explosion pound, a great return on your entertainment dollar.

Rated PG-13. 128 mins. (A-)Four Stars
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September 17, 2015

SICARIO — CANNES 2015

Sicario2A disappointment from start to finish, Denis Villeneuve’s attempting-to-be-edifying international drug thriller fails miserably by the social realist parameters it portends to fulfill with macho quasi-military bombast and blood-splattered spectacle. That most of the violence occurs in and around the notoriously deadly drug cartel-run city of Juarez, Mexico, serves as a surprisingly dull Third World window dressing.

The action picture, written by first-time screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, works better if you go into it looking for plenty of exploitation with your political propaganda du jour. The inherent racism comes gratis.

This is not Casta-Gavras’s 1969 leftist agitprop masterpiece “Z.” Nor is it Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers.” “Sicario” comes nowhere near the shrewd directness of those political thriller milestones.

Villeneuve has spoken on how “America believes it can solve problems outside of its borders with violence.” It’s a valid point, but Villeneuve celebrates the violence he abhors during explosive scenes of mass murder that arrive with a stupid post-9/11 message of “Don’t Fuck With Us” that echoes around the movie. That life is cheap to both sides of the drug wars is clear. What isn’t is why we should care. Our collective subconscious understands that every “War” the US Government wages against anything it can get its bloody hands on is merely a money grab for the contractors who get the jobs and an ego boost for military officers out for promotions and who believe they are untouchable. America’s War on Drugs operates as a wholesale black market on an epic scale. Killing is written into the budget.

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Considering that America is currently suffering more than one mass murder every single day of the year, I question what effect a film like “Sicario” will have on an American society that already fetishizes violence and guns on an obsessive level. Do we need more movies where an audience is made to watch dozens of human beings brutally shot or bombed to death for money or just a love of killing? Not so much.

SicarioAlthough handsomely filmed by renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins, “Sicario” is too thematically ambiguous for its own good or to be taken seriously as a meaningful piece of editorial commentary on America’s 40-plus-year corporate-branded War on Drugs. The film is content to posit that everyone on both sides of the American/Mexican Drug War is corrupt, save for one innocent but sturdy woman of ethics whose values change over the course of the story.

The movie tilts a sloppy glimpse of the rampant venality that permeates elite (FBI) anti-drug squads, like the one overseen by Defense Department contractor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a dirty autonomous agent with a mean streak on a hair trigger.

Graver’s partner-in-crime is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), the hitman (sicario) of the film’s title. Greed and revenge are the factors driving these cartoon creations of testosterone-and-steroid-laden characters.

Regardless of which government office is writing checks to these mercenaries, they act as free agents looking to line their pockets and kill men they stupidly believe are worse than they are. You have two well-armed gangs, but one is just a pinch more ferocious than the other. You can guess which side gets that honor.

The super-action dream team adopts newbie agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), although it’s never clear why such a group would recruit a new member in such a trial-by-fire fashion. Kate gets a crash course in the FBI’s secret methods of continuing their endless battle against Mexico’s brutal drug cartels. Nerve-wracking missions back and forth between Texas and Juarez allow for bullet-riddled scenes of ultra-violence and emotional and ethical crises for Kate.

When Kate asks Matt about their objective, he responds, “to dramatically overreact.” The line serves as an explicit theme line for the movie. Which doesn’t leave much room for a meaningful story.

Sicario

Rated R. 121 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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October 06, 2014

KILL THE MESSENGER


An Incomplete Investigation
Gary Webb’s Story Gets Short Shrift

Kill the MessengerInvestigative journalism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It never was. “Big scandal” stories like the one broken by real-life San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, about the CIA’s funding of the right-wing Nicaraguan Contras to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. on a massive scale, fell mostly on deaf ears when Webb’s powerful series of “Dark Alliance” of exposé articles appeared in 1996. Only outraged local communities in Los Angeles took direct action. Black community groups demanded answers for the CIA-enabled drug conspiracy that decimated their neighborhoods. Of course, by then most or all guilty members of the Reagan administration — including old Ronnie himself — were happily retired and living off the fat of the land, beyond the law. Authoritarian lip service was paid, nothing more.

Webb’s explosive reporting on the government’s hypocritical actions related to “smuggling tons of cocaine into the United States” came under attack from all sides. Petty jealousy and calculated indolence on the part of big newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post hung Webb and his findings out to dry. Rather than assigning their own journalists to follow up on Webb’s incendiary reporting, American media attacked the man who put his own ass on the line. No big-paper editor wanted to concede that a reporter from a relatively insignificant paper like the San Jose Mercury could scoop them on a story containing earth-shattering revelations.

As is shown in the movie, the Washington Post adopted a government-puppet stance dedicated to discrediting Webb’s reporting rather than seeking to verify his findings. That the film doesn’t bother with the finer points of Webb’s journalism is a problem.

Director Michael Cuesta sets the table with archive television footage of U.S. Presidents, from Nixon through Reagan, condemning drugs. Even former First Lady Nancy Reagan gets screentime for her notoriously insipid “Just Say No” drug campaign. We are hooked.

Kill the Messenger2The ever-redoubtable Jeremy Renner plays the newspaper reporter and family man Gary Webb with detailed attention to the athletic physicality and fearless attitude that street journalists typically possess. Renner’s portrayal is the best thing the movie has going for it, aside from its civilian espionage aspect. 
The flirtatious girlfriend of an indicted drug lord supplies Webb with a confidential file that points to the inveterate seizure of suspected drug traffickers’ property by the DEA. The partially redacted grand jury transcript relates to Nicaraguan drug lord Danilo Blandon and his links to the Contras and to the CIA. Webb takes the bait and travels to Nicaragua for some on-the-ground research.

Although competently directed, “Kill the Messenger” hopscotches through aspects of Webb’s professional and private life without sufficiently fleshing out either. It’s impossible to know by screening the film whether the screenwriting or editing is to blame, but many crucial elements go missing.

Questions lurk about the fact-checking support of Webb’s two-faced Mercury News editor Anna Simons (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead). More to the point are the alleged holes in Webb’s reporting that the CIA and media outlets seize upon to discredit him and his articles.

“Kill the Messenger” is a frustrating movie. It fails both as a brief biopic and as a political thriller. It works somewhat as a sketch character study, but that’s not enough to satisfy a movie audience.

At a time in history when investigative journalism has been marginalized so much that hardly anyone notices or cares, tragic stories like Gary Webb’s only support the sad reality that America’s police state spooks have won, and will continue to win with a fog of propaganda and some well-placed bullets. The movie does however remind us how amazing it is that heroic whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are still fighting the good fight. Some messengers live longer than others.

Rated R. 112 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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