Archive for the Espionage Category

ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on a True Story, Compelling Cinema, Espionage, Intense Movies, John Harvey Reviews, War Movies with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2013 by knifefighter

ZERO DARK THIRTY Provides a Taut, Heavy Military/Spy Drama
Review by John Harvey

zero-dark-thirty-poster

ZERO DARK THIRTY is on many levels not your average military/spy drama. Let’s start with the fact that we rarely see movies examining such complex, controversial, and historic events in such a short span of time after the event itself—Osama bin Laden’s death occurred on May 2, 2011. Normally, it takes many years, even decades, before we view history through the lens of filmmaking (at least with anything resembling accuracy). At that point, the specifics (and the key players) have aged enough for us to look at how events unfolded with a kind of clinical detachment. If we see things we don’t like, then it’s easy to say, “Well, that was another time.”

ZERO DARK THIRTY, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, doesn’t provide that luxury. Just a hair over 1 ½ years have passed since the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), more commonly known as Seal Team Six, choppered into Abbottabad, Pakistan, to kill Osama bin Laden. It can be assumed that many of the key players in that top secret operation are still in their jobs and the morally-questionable practices used during the hunt for bin Laden remain … well … morally questionable.

But we’ve apparently entered a time when details of top secret operations get leaked to the major news networks and published in books (written by DEVGRU operators) almost moments after the events themselves have transpired. Like it or not, ZERO DARK THIRTY is likely the start of a trend and not a one-off event.

The movie itself details the journey of a CIA analyst named Maya (Jessica Chastain), a green recruit stationed in Afghanistan who dedicates herself to finding bin Laden with what eventually becomes monomaniacal fervor. The very first scene is Maya shadowing a CIA interrogator named Dan (Jason Clarke … an amazing performance) as he waterboards and humiliates an al Qaeda money handler named Ammar (Reda Kateb). Scenes like this, and others in the film, pull no punches. The torture is brutal, visceral, and hard to watch. Within the narrative of the film, it’s also made clear that while torture didn’t provide US intelligence agencies with the magic key to finding bin Laden, it did provide helpful information.

And here is where you locate the core of the controversy surrounding the film. It’s well known that Mark Boal based his script on first-hand interviews with military and intelligence officials who took part in the search for bin Laden. While the film is still intended to be entertainment and consumed as a work of fiction, it’s a brand of fiction that likely hews close to the truth in areas. Which areas? Well, that’s unknown and that’s why a lot of people are upset.

I have seen news commentaries stating that ZERO DARK THIRTY seeks to capture a “red state” audience by endorsing torture as a means to gather good intelligence. I have seen news commentaries stating ZERO DARK THIRTY seeks to capture a “blue state” audience by portraying torture so graphically that it’s a testimonial against the practice. I have even read a news story stating that Bigelow and Boal cynically steered straight down the middle in a crass effort to capture both liberal hand-wringing moviegoers and fist-pumping conservative moviegoers.

Personally, I think they’re all wrong.

For me, these scenes pose a moral dilemma / question to each audience member.  The question boils down to whether or not you, the person sitting in the movie seat, want to be a citizen in a country that tortures … even if it works … especially if it works. One of the smartest yet frustrating aspects of ZERO DARK THIRTY is that it doesn’t try to spoon feed you an answer to that question. You’re on your own to sort it out during your drive home.

Looking past the torture scenes, ZERO DARK THIRTY provides a taut (though longish … 157 minutes) CIA tradecraft procedural that manages to be suspenseful even though you know how the movie ends. Without being boring, the movie makes you feel the tedium and the drag of time as Maya and her peers sift through data, follow leads, bluff, struggle against bureaucracy and politics, lose friends (sometimes tragically), and do it all to the occasional historic exclamation point of a building, bus, or market being bombed and innocent lives being lost. That’s the first two hours of the film. Roughly, the final 30 minutes details the DEVGRU raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Again, we know for the most part what happened there (assuming you watched the news anywhere), but via Bigelow’s direction and Boal’s writing, the climax remains tense, suspenseful, and a little unsettling.

That the movie is solidly constructed is not surprising. Boal and Bigelow were the writing/directing team for THE HURT LOCKER (2008), an amazing Iraq war drama that won the Oscar for Best Director. Even if you don’t like ZERO DARK THIRTY for its controversial elements, you can’t deny that Bigelow and Boal have established themselves as a rock-solid presence in filmmaking and storytelling.

All around, the acting is terrific. Chastain’s Maya gives us an obsessive character with a single-minded focus that borders on a mania, but at the moment where you start to think of her as a robot, she reveals a human side that is convincing and genuine. It’s worth noting that Maya is based on a real person (referred to as “Miss 100%” in the book NO EASY DAY by DEVGRU operative Mark Own (pseudonym)).

Another notable performer is Jennifer Ehle as Jessica, a fellow CIA analyst and Maya’s closest friend during the hunt for bin laden. It is in scenes with Ehle’s Jessica and Clark’s Dan that Maya shows her more human and sympathetic side. Without these two characters, Maya’s character would come off as entirely unlikable and inhuman.

And in a movie that is quite nearly bereft of humor, the scant few scenes that provide a welcome chuckle feature James Gandolfini as Leon Panetta (he’s credited as “CIA Director” … but yeah, it’s Leon Panetta). It’s not goofy fun and the movie’s tone remains intact, but Gandolfini’s subtly-played scenes come at a time when the audience needs someone to open the pressure-release valve on all the heavy serious stuff.

ZERO DARK THIRTY is not your typical military/spy drama. There’s no sentimentality and nobody tries to pound a socio-political message into your head. The final mission is not portrayed with a sense of jingoist triumph so much as stark, detached ambivalence. Bigelow and Boal don’t tell us whether or not torture, American policy, or the war on terror is right or wrong. They leave it to us to walk out of the theater and think critically about bin Laden’s assassination and decide if it was worth it in terms of means and ends.

It’s a very good movie, but you know how when you leave a crowded movie theater everyone is laughing and chatting lightly. Yeah, I didn’t see a lot of that as I exited ZERO DARK THIRTY.

I give it four out of five knives.

Rated: R
Runtime: 2 hours & 37 minutes
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, and Kyle Chandler
(Editor’s Note: while ZERO DARK THIRTY was released in a few cities in late 2012 to be eligible for Oscar Nominations, it was not released to the majority of the country’s theaters until 2013.)

— END —

© Copyright 2013 by John D. Harvey

John Harvey gives ZERO DARK THIRTY~four knives.

SKYFALL (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Bond Girls, Cinema Knife Fights, Espionage, Fast Cars, Femme Fatales, Gimmicks, James Bond, Michael Arruda Reviews, Nick Cato Reviews, Secrets, Spy Films with tags , , , , , , , on November 12, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SKYFALL (2012)
By Michael Arruda & Nick Cato

(The Scene: On top of a moving train, MICHAEL ARRUDA is fighting with a thug.  On a hill in the distance, NICK CATO aims a high powered rifle at them.)

NICK CATO (speaking into a headset):  I don’t have a clear shot.

L.L. SOARES’ voice on other end of the headset:  Take the shot.

NC:  But I might hit Michael!

LS:  So???

MICHAEL ARRUDA (hearing conversation on his headset):  So??? Gee, thanks a lot!  You want a clear shot?  Here, you’ve got one!  (MA stops fighting, pastes a large bull’s-eye on the thug’s chest and steps away from him.)  There you go.  He’s all yours.

(Thug drops to his stomach.)

MA:  What the—?

(Train enters tunnel, and a standing MA hits the top of the tunnel, which knocks him off train into the water below.)

NC:  Oops!  That’s not good.

LS:  What happened?  Did you shoot anyone?

NC:  Nope.

LS:  Any blood and gore involved?

NC:  Nope.

LS:  Then it’s all too tame for me.  I’m leaving.  Catch you guys later.

(NC takes off his headset, just as MA appears in dry clothing.)

NC:  Weren’t you just in the water?

MA:  It’s amazing how quickly one dries off in Cinema Knife Fight land.  It’s like being in a movie with bad continuity.  Ready to review today’s movie?

NC:  Sure. And I apologize for shooting you, but I was just following L.L.’s orders.

MA: No problem.  Today we’re reviewing SKYFALL (2012) the latest James Bond movie and the third one featuring Daniel Craig as Agent 007.

SKYFALL opens with James Bond (Daniel Craig) chasing a bad guy who has in his possession a computer drive of extreme value.  They end up fighting on top of a train, while another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), tries to shoot the villain, but hesitates because she doesn’t have a clear shot and worries she might hit Bond.  M (Judi Dench) orders her to take the shot, and she does, hitting Bond in the process, and he plunges into the water below, presumed dead.

NC: At first I thought a train-top fight was a bit cliché to open a Bond film with, but director Mendes really made this one work.

MA: Yeah, it’s a pretty intense scene.

Anyway, since this is a James Bond movie, he’s not dead, and after lying low for a while, he returns to MI6 to help his boss deal with the latest threat to national security.  The stolen computer drive contained the names of agents working in some very dangerous places, and so now their identities have been compromised.  It’s Bond’s job to locate the computer drive and also find out who’s responsible for stealing it.

It turns out the villain is a man named Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent of M’s who wants nothing more than to get back at her, because he feels her ruthlessness left him for dead, similar to what we saw happen with Bond in the movie’s opening segment.  So, Silva releases the names of several of the agents to the public, and promises to continue to do this on a regular basis, putting them in harm’s way, all in an effort to humiliate M.

Silva also plans an elaborate scheme to kill M, and of course, it’s up to James Bond to stop him.

NC: I thought Bardem did a fine job as Silva, and his homoerotic taunting of 007 gave him a dimension we haven’t seen in a Bond film before.

MA:  Yep, that was an excellent scene!  Some people squirmed, others laughed out loud.  Very effective.

NC:  But, at the same time, I think early reviews painting him as one of the best Bond villains ever is a bit of a stretch.

MA:  That’s definitely a stretch.

NC:  Silva’s on a personal vendetta against, M, not so much on a mission to destroy the globe like a classic Bond enemy. (That said, the sequence of MI6 headquarters being blown up was quite intense). He’s off his rocker, that’s for sure, but to me he wasn’t half as threatening as most of the goons Bond has gone up against over the years.

MA:  Agreed.

SKYFALL is being touted in some circles as “the best Bond movie ever,” and while I liked this movie, it’s certainly not the best Bond ever.  I wouldn’t even call it my favorite Daniel Craig Bond film.  While I liked it, I also had some problems with it.

NC: I can’t stand early reviews that label things the “best ever.” Regardless, I still went in with an open mind and was surprised at just how much of the film I found myself…bored with.

MA: One thing I’ve always liked about the Daniel Craig Bond movies is the way they’ve reinvented the franchise. Since Daniel Craig has come on board, the films have showcased a darker, more realistic Bond, and the results have been similar to what Christopher Nolan did for Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy.

Speaking of which, I was reminded a few times of THE DARK KNIGHT while watching SKYFALL.  We learn more about Bond’s past, how he’s an orphan and how he lost his parents at a young age, a la Bruce Wayne, and when he returns home he even finds a faithful servant Kincade (Albert Finney) still living there.  Can anyone say “Alfred”?

NC: I have a love/hate relationship with what little we’ve learned about Bond this time, from his parents’ early death to his alcoholism. They’ve made Bond a more “real” character since Craig has taken the lead, and while it has been refreshing at times, I still find myself yearning for that suave, in-control, “man-up” Bond of yesteryear.

MA: Also, at times, the villain Silva reminded me of the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT as it seemed to be his plan to cause utter chaos, and in fact, one of his ploys, to get captured on purpose, comes right out of the Joker’s playbook.  But Silva’s nowhere near as interesting as the Joker, and I have to say, SKYFALL, as good as it is, is no DARK KNIGHT.

The cast is solid, and on paper, it’s an excellent cast.  Daniel Craig is a natural as James Bond, and I liked him immediately in the role in CASINO ROYALE (2006).  That being said, he seems to have aged here, which is part of the plot, I guess.   CASINO ROYALE opens with him making his first professional kills, hence beginning his 00 status, meaning he now has a license to kill.  Here, in SKYFALL, he’s close to retirement, and his abilities constantly come into question.  Again, there were shadows of THE DARK KNIGHT series here, which went on to feature an older, beat up Batman.  With that in mind, I found Craig’s performance less satisfying here.  It seemed to be lacking that efficient edge he held the first two times around, when he came off like a killing machine.  Here, he’s like a killing machine in need of an oil change.  He seems to be missing a step.

NC: Agreed. And while I’m a big fan of M as played by Judi Dench (who, by the way, is absolutely fantastic here), Bond seems to be a bit too close to her this time, following her around like a lost puppy. Of course, her life is in danger and Bond gives his all to protect her (especially during the way too long finale), but that little bit of rebellion 007 always had going on is lost in the shuffle here. He comes off as just another agent within MI6’s arsenal, but if the ending is any indication, things look like he may be getting back to business in the next film.

MA: Yes, once again, Judi Dench is great as M, and she seems to have more screen time in each successive Bond movie.  She first played M back in GOLDENEYE (1995), Pierce Brosnan’s first foray into the series.  Her M is certainly more integral to the plots of these movies than the original M, Bernard Lee, who simply showed up to give Sean Connery and Roger Moore their assignments.  That being said, if you go back to those original Connery Bonds, you’ll see some very memorable scenes between Connery’s Bond and Lee’s M where M was continually frustrated with how much Bond seemed to know about every subject on the planet.  It was a running gag in that series.

NC: And part of my problem with the Craig series is M doesn’t seem to see that in Bond. Perhaps they want us to understand that 007 is only human (hence the “realism” of the latest films)? Either way it’s little nuances like this that seem to be making Bond less of a super spy and more of a typical agent. Some are enjoying it. I’m still on the fence and hoping we’ll again see the fine balance that was displayed in CASINO ROYALE (2006).

Bond gets his Aston Martin back in SKYFALL.

MA: Javier Bardem as Silva makes for a very colorful villain, but he’s nowhere near as memorable as he was in his Oscar winning performance as the hit man in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007).  And while I liked Silva as a villain, he seems a little out of place here.  Again, these Daniel Craig Bond films are a gritty, realistic lot, and the villains in the first two movies were also dark and realistic.  Silva is two steps shy of the Joker, missing only some facial make-up.  Not exactly the most realistic fellow for Bond to lock horns with.

NC: Silva’s mission to destroy MI6 and M herself is surely a different thing for Bond to deal with. But when Bond villains aim their sights low, the films lose their epic feel. Look at 1989’s LICENSE TO KILL, where Bond (played for the second and last time by Timothy Dalton) goes after drug kingpin Sanchez (Robert Davi) after he kills two of his personal friends. While the film wasn’t as bad as many claim, Davi wasn’t after anything other than making money with a new way to transport cocaine, hence making him one of the more forgettable Bond villains. I feel Silva’s personal mission to wipe out MI6 (in years to come) won’t be as memorable as many are giving it credit for. As goofy as Hugo Drax (from 1979’s MOONRAKER) appeared, his hell-bent goal to attack the world’s cities with chemical bombs from space isn’t something one easily forgets. Silva has a creepy laugh (and a nifty, hidden facial disfiguration), but he left me quite underwhelmed.

MA (cringing):  Not Hugo Drax!  But you’re right, at least he had an ambitious goal, worthy of a supervillain.

NC: Muhahahahahahahaha!

MA: Naomie Harris is okay as the latest Bond girl Eve, and I really enjoyed Ben Whishaw (most recently in CLOUD ATLAS) as a new young Q.  Rory Kinnear also reprises his role as Tanner, M’s assistant from the last movie, and does a nice job.  Kinnear is the son of late actor Roy Kinnear, who appeared in so many British movies over the years before his untimely death on the set of THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989) in 1988.

Ralph Fiennes is also on hand as Gareth Mallory, the man who’s put in the position of telling M her days on job are numbered and she should retire, and he makes the most of his scenes.  Rounding out the cast is veteran Albert Finney who does a nice job as Alfred—er, Kincade.

NC: I enjoyed Bérénice Lim Marlohe as Severine, who gives the film that classic touch of Bond-girl mystique and sophistication. She’s a real treat for the eyes, although her screen time here is a bit limited.  I thought Ben Whishaw was good as the new Q, too, but I’m hoping future films will contain more classic “gadget” segments. Q tells Bond (after handing him a gun and a small radio), “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t do that anymore.” I hope the kid was just joking.

(Q appears and approaches them.)

Q:  I never joke about my work.

NC:  Bring back the cool gadgets!

Q:  You’ll have to talk to the screenwriters about that one.  (Exits).

NC:  As a tease, when Bond manages to get M away from danger, he takes her to a hidden MI6 garage and pulls out in the classic Aston Martin DB5, first seen in GOLDFINGER (1964), which caused 007 geeks like myself to squeal aloud in super-nerd glee.

MA: SKYFALL was directed by Sam Mendes.  This one looks great with some very impressive foreign locales, but I thought it was short on action.  I liked the film’s opening pre-credit chase scene, which culminates on the top of the moving train, as I thought it was amazing and intense, but other than this, the actions scenes were few and far between.

NC: Most Bond films are sprinkled with sections of non-action, but usually they’re interesting. After SKYFALL’s spectacular opening train fight, the film goes to sleep for far too long, and the ending shoot-out (that reminded me of a typical Western, only with better firepower) became way too tedious.

MA: I did like the chase in the subway, and the attack on M in London was very suspenseful, but like you, I thought the finale, the armed assault on Bond’s family home, was anticlimactic.

The screenplay was written by Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.  This is the fifth Bond film they’ve written, the first being the Pierce Brosnan film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999).  They’ve written every one since.  The third writer in the credits is John Logan, who has written a wide variety of movies, including HUGO (2011).

I was hot and cold on the script.  The story itself—a crazed former agent out to kill M— I thought was just OK.  At times it works, but more often than not it wasn’t all that exciting.  I wanted more of a threat to the world, not just M.

NC: Exactly.

MA: One scene I did like was M’s speech, where she talks about the changing threats the world faces today, how today’s threats aren’t on a map.  They’re in the shadows, and you don’t always know who your enemies are.  Too bad in this one they knew exactly who their enemy was.

NC: M’s speech reminded me a bit of President Bush’s speech shortly after 9/11, which I guess the screenwriters figured would give the series modern relevance.

MA: Thomas Newman’s music score was very effective.  I thought I would miss the music of David Arnold, who’s been doing a phenomenal job scoring these films since TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997), but I didn’t.

NC: It was great to hear the classic Bond theme when the Aston Martin came into play, though. And while I’m not a fan of the title song, I have to admit Adele nails that classic 60s-style Bond feel with her opening track.

MA:  Yes, that opening track, which I also heard from folks as the best James Bond theme song ever!  What is up with all this “best of” stuff?  I think fans were really in need of their James Bond fix this time around!  For the record, I wasn’t that impressed with the song.

There were also some good uses of humor, such as one scene involving Bond, M, and the ejector seat.

In general, I like how the Daniel Craig films are more modern, fit in better with current times, and are nowhere near as unbelievable as the Pierce Brosnan films ultimately became.

NC: Hey! The Brosnan films did get a bit silly, but man was GOLDENEYE (1995) great!

MA: But somehow, SKYFALL has less of an edge than the previous two Daniel Craig Bond movies. The plot’s not as good or as tight, and the majority of the scenes simply aren’t as intense.  I definitely wanted the villain Silva to do more.  I mean, all this planning—years of planning, they say in the movie— just to get back at M?  Why not just shoot her and be done with it?  If you’re going to concoct this elaborate scheme, why not come up with something more ambitious?

NC: And this is exactly what Mike Myers made fun of in his AUSTIN POWERS films: if you’re going to make the series more “modern,” knock it off with the bad guys’ intricate planning and just get down to business.

(AUSTIN POWERS zips by in a motor boat.)

AUSTIN POWERS:  Oh, be-have, baby!  Be-have!

MA: And this ultimately is what SKYFALL is missing:  something grand and ambitious.  Silva should have been planning the ultimate terrorist attack, and it should have been up to 007 to thwart him.

NC: Silva reminded me a bit of Jonathan Price’s far more threatening cyber terrorist Elliot Carver, from 1997’s TOMORROW NEVER DIES, only working on a much smaller scale.

MA: I liked SKYFALL, but it’s not the best Bond ever, not by a long shot.  I give it three knives.

NC: SKYFALL has its moments, but overall I was disappointed. The scenery (especially during a silhouetted fight on the top floor of a Shanghai tower) is often excellent, and much of the cinematography is very well done (such as the aforementioned train-attack scene). Regardless, I found this to be the slowest moving Bond caper since 1985’s A VIEW TO A KILL and far from the best film in the series. CASINO ROYALE (2006) is still easily Craig’s best turn as 007.

I give it two knives.

MA:  Well, I guess you were more disappointed with it than I was.  In spite of its shortcomings, I still enjoyed seeing Daniel Craig as James Bond on the big screen.  It’s just that after all the hype, I expected it to be even better.

Well, that about wraps things up here.  Want a ride back to town?

NC:  Sure.

(MA & NC approach a parked Aston Martin.  MA tosses NC the keys.)

MA:  Why don’t you drive?

NC:  Cool.

(They drive away in the Aston Martin as James Bond theme plays.)

NC:  Hey, what’s this button?

MA:  That’s the— (screams)  Ejector seat!!!  (flies into the sky.)

NC:  Sorry.

(MA lands back in the water.)

NC:  There’s something symmetrical about all this.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and Nick Cato

Michael Arruda gives SKYFALL ~ three knives!

Nick Cato gives SKYFALL ~two knives.

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Espionage, Exotic Locales, Michael Arruda Reviews, Spy Films with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012)
By Michael Arruda

(The Scene: A beautiful beach off the coast of Madrid, Spain.  An abandoned boat floats on the water offshore.  MICHAEL ARRUDA searches the boat frantically.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  L.L.?  Where are you?  Guys!  Where are you all hiding?

(STRANGE MAN appears out of nowhere.)

MAN:  They’re not hiding.  They’re with us.

MA: Who the hell are you?

MAN:  Come with me.  There’s someone you need to speak with.

MA:  No, I need to speak with L.L. Soares and the rest of the Cinema Knife Fight staff who are on this trip.

MAN:  They’re with us.  The person who wants to speak with you will explain.

MA: It sounds like I don’t have a choice.  Lead the way, then.

(CUT to a busy street in Madrid.  MAN leads MA to a parked car with tinted windows.  The back window slides down to reveal SIGOURNEY WEAVER in the back seat.)

WEAVER:  Hello, Michael.  I need to talk to you.  Don’t worry.  It’s safe.

(MA peers into the back seat and sees the monster from ALIEN sitting next to WEAVER.  The ALIEN hisses at him.)

MA:  Something tells me this is a bad idea.  (Pushes MAN away from him and flees through the busy streets.)  Gee, things are playing out here a lot like today’s movie, THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012).  (A beautiful Spanish babe on a motorcycle whistles to MA.)

BABE:  Quick!  Get on!

(MA runs to motorcycle.  BABE laughs and drives away just before he gets there.)

MA (to camera):  Well, almost like today’s movie.  (Quickly ducks into a dance club.)  I’ll hide out here for a while, which will give me a chance to review today’s film, THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012),the new thriller starring Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver, and Henry Cavill.

(Sits at table in corner.)

There were three main reasons I was interested in seeing THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, a movie whose trailer didn’t do much for me.  Sigourney Weaver was playing the villain, I like Bruce Willis and enjoy most movies he’s in, and I wanted to check out the performance by Henry Cavill, who’s slated to be the next big screen Superman in MAN OF STEEL (2013).

As I said, the film’s trailer did little for me, and that’s because it revealed a rather straightforward story about a young man whose family is kidnapped while on vacation because his dad is secretly working for the CIA and is obviously involved with some pretty bad people.  It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and it also gave away a lot of the movie’s plot, so a big question I had going in was, would this movie have enough surprises left to make it worth my while?  And the answer is, “not really.”

The movie opens with a young man, Will (Henry Cavill), arriving in Madrid, Spain to spend a week long vacation with his parents and his younger brother and his younger brother’s girlfriend.  Will is not having a good week.  The company he runs is going bankrupt, and it seems he has a rocky relationship with his dad Martin (Bruce Willis), and so it’s not exactly a relaxing vacation for him.

Distracted by his problems, he allows their boat to be rocked by the wind, resulting in a head injury to his brother’s girlfriend.  Will is immediately chewed out by his dad, who promptly tosses his son’s cell phone overboard, since it’s been ringing nonstop with news of Will’s troubled company.  Enraged, Will decides to leave the boat and go into town.

When he returns later in the day, he finds the boat abandoned and his family nowhere to be found.   He reports the situation to the police, and they lead him to a man who tries to abduct him.  Will is rescued by his dad, who explains to him that he’s really not a business consultant but an agent for the CIA, and that a group of terrorists have kidnapped their family and is holding them ransom unless he gives them back a briefcase he stole from them.

Martin tells Will they need to see a friend of his, and Will witnesses a meeting between his dad and a woman Carrack (Sigourney Weaver.)  Martin accuses Carrack of setting him up, a notion that Carrack obviously denies.  The meeting ends badly as Martin is shot dead, leaving Will alone to solve the mystery of the missing briefcase and save his family.

And he has to do this while being pursued by two different parties: the group that is holding his family hostage and who want the briefcase back, and Carrack and her cronies, who would like to “silence” everyone involved in order to tie up any loose ends and save their agency embarrassment.  Along the way, Will befriends a young woman, Lucia (Veronica Echegui), who also has a personal interest in getting back at Carrack, as she reveals a telling secret about her relationship with Will’s father.

The rest of the movie plays out like one of the BOURNE movies, only not as good, mostly because Will is no Jason Bourne.

MATT DAMON (leaning over from next table):  That’s right.  He’s not Jason Bourne.  I am, and there’s only one Jason Bourne.

JEREMY RENNER (leans in from opposite table):   I don’t know about that.  My new movie THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) is doing pretty well at the box office.

DAMON:  True, but you don’t play Jason Bourne in the movie.

RENNER:  True, but you’re not in the movie, and it’s still doing well.  Hey, maybe you and I could both be the next one.

DAMON:  Talk to my agent.

MA:  It’s getting too crowded in here.  (MA gets up and moves to the bar.)

Where was I?

BARTENDER:  You were comparing Will to Jason Bourne.

MA:  Thanks.  Hey, how did you know that?

BARTENDER:  I’m a bartender.  We know everything.

MA: I’ll have to remember that.

So, Will’s an amateur, not a super assassin, and so his scenes simply don’t generate a whole lot of interest.   The movie would have been better off had it played up the angle of the ordinary guy against the professionals, a la an Alfred Hitchcock movie, but Will uses his wits less than he uses a gun, and so it’s simply not as compelling as it could have been.

Sigourney Weaver makes for an okay villain here, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.  I thought her character was rather subdued, and Weaver turned in a far more villainous portrayal in her brief scenes in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) earlier this year.  Cate Blanchett was more impressive as the main baddie in last year’s HANNA (2011).  Actually, the entire movie HANNA was more impressive than THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY.  It had a style about it that was riveting and made an impact.  THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY lacks this style.

Bruce Willis is very good as Martin, the dad living the double life as a CIA agent, but the trouble is, he’s not in the movie all that much, as his character is killed off early on.

Henry Cavill runs hot and cold as Will.  I definitely liked him at the beginning of the movie in his scenes with Bruce Willis.  There was a natural father/son tension between them that worked well and was interesting.  Later, when Will becomes Jason Bourne-like—-.

MATT DAMON (calling from table):  Hey!  I’m Jason Bourne!  (Points to Renner)  Not him!  And not the guy in your movie!

MA (smiles and waves):  Whatever you say, buddy.  I’d better not say that name again.

Will’s not as interesting because he’s not Jason—you know who—but just an ordinary guy thrown into some extraordinary circumstances, yet he’s running around shooting people and acting like he’s been doing it for years.

The rest of the cast is simply serviceable, although I did really enjoy Veronica Echegui as Lucia.  I almost would have preferred the story better had it been told from her perspective.

Simply put, I just wasn’t that impressed with the story in this one.  Scott Wiper and John Petro wrote the screenplay for THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, and it’s all rather mediocre.

One of the reasons it’s not that powerful a movie is there’s not much of a threat.  We know very little about the people holding Will’s family hostage for the most of the movie.  At first, they’re described as terrorists, but later we learn they’re not terrorists, but Israeli agents who have been wronged by Carrack.

Sigourney Weaver’s Carrack and her cronies are the ones who knocked off Will’s father, but we don’t see them doing much during the rest of the movie, other than remain two steps behind Will, which is hard to believe since Will’s not a spy.  Overall, the threats in this movie are too obscure, and there isn’t one main master villain who’s driving this thing along.

I had hoped that Sigourney Weaver would be this villain, but she’s not.  Plus, her character Carrack is supposed to be this top CIA agent, and yet she’s out on the streets in plain sight shooting at Will and other people in broad daylight.  So much for being covert!

And the plot point involving Lucia’s relationship with Martin is right out of a bad soap opera!

WOMAN next to MA:  And so, Lloyd, I can’t marry you because I slept with your father which makes me— your mother!

LLOYD:  And I can’t marry you, Linda, because I slept with your mother which makes me— your father!

LINDA:  How is that possible?

LLOYD:  Well, your mother’s a good looking woman, we had a few drinks, and one thing led to another—.

LINDA:  No, that’s not what I meant.

MA:  It’s too crowded at the bar, too.  I think I’ll try the dance floor.

(Dances while he continues the review)

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY is simply not as intense as it needs to be.  Director Mabrouk El Mechri includes plenty of shoot-outs and chase scenes, but at the end of the day, this one is lacking something.

One of the more intense scenes involves Lucia’s efforts, with the help of some of her friends, to remove a bullet from Will’s gut, but it’s discovered in the middle of the crude procedure, that he doesn’t have a bullet in him, so they’re spared the rest of the operation.  So, even the most intense scene in the film isn’t as intense as it could have been!

There is a neat chase scene where Will and Lucia have to escape from a roof while being shot at, and it’s one of the more riveting scenes in the movie.  The rest of the action scenes are pretty standard.

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY isn’t bad, but it’s not very good either.  As I said, it just seems to be lacking something.  Most of the time that “something” is a plausible story.  Perhaps more Bruce Willis would have helped.

I give it two knives.

(Someone taps him on the shoulder.  It’s SIGOURNEY WEAVER and the ALIEN.)

WEAVER:  Do you mind if I cut in?

MA:  Why don’t you two dance, and I’ll cut out!  Okay, folks, until next time, have fun at the movies!  (EXITS)
WEAVER:  Wait!  (turns to ALIEN)  Oh well.  I guess we’ll never take that group photo now.

(ALIEN shakes his head)

WEAVER:  Shall we dance after all?

(ALIEN and WEAVER slow dance, as camera fades to black.)

VOICE:  Hey, it’s Jeremy Renner, the new Bourne!

DAMON:  Damn it!  I’m Jason Bourne!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY ~ two knives!

THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Espionage, Heightened Abilities, Hit Men, John Harvey Reviews, Sequels, Spy Films, Suspense with tags , , , , , , on August 13, 2012 by knifefighter

THE BOURNE LEGACY Weaves Complexity with Great Action
Review by John Harvey

It takes a great deal of chutzpah to create and release a ‘Jason Bourne‘ franchise movie minus Jason Bourne.  The opportunities for failure greatly outnumber those for success, especially when essentially all of the key players (both talent and behind the scenes) who made the previous installments popular are now absent. This is the gamble undertaken by Universal’s THE BOURNE LEGACY a taut, high-octane, but often confusing spy thriller that seeks to (sort of) reboot the franchise in an alternate timeline to the previous ‘Jason Bourne‘ films.

Gone is Matt Damon’s stoic, intense Jason Bourne who drove THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002), THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004), and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007). Also gone is Paul Greengrass, who directed the second two films (THE BOURNE IDENTITY was directed by Doug Liman).

While this loss of legacy talent is worrying, the replacements are far from being slouches.  Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplays for all three previous ‘Jason Bourne’ films, is now both screenwriter and director for THE BOURNE LEGACY. Gilroy has solid suspense/thriller credentials in directing or writing on such projects as STATE OF PLAY (2009), DUPLICITY (2009) and MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007). Meanwhile, stepping into the superspy slot is Jeremy Renner. Renner has been consistently good in films such as THE HURT LOCKER (2008), THE TOWN (2010) and THE AVENGERS (2012).

THE BOURNE LEGACY‘s storyline essentially runs parallel to that of THE BOURNE ULIMATUM, showing the ripple effect of Jason Bourne’s bad behavior in Manhattan. Powerful people in the United States intelligence community (including Stacy Keach and Ed Norton) have been thrown into a frenzied state of damage control as Bourne threatens to blow the lid on their clandestine superspy program. They coldly decide that the only way they can keep secrets and save themselves is to implement a ruthless, scorched-earth protocol. Translation … everyone dies. Well, everyone but them.

Which brings us to Aaron Cross, a member of Operation Outcome, one of the CIA’s other black ops superspy programs. Different from Jason Bourne’s Treadstone program, Outcome provides its agents with green pills that enhance physical abilities and blue pills that enhance mental abilities. The pills are the leash that keeps the agents under control. In LEGACY, they’re also the MacGuffin that drives most of the suspense and action.

Cross is stationed at a deeply remote training facility in Alaska when the powers-that-be send an airborne drone to blow him up with a hellfire missile, having already killed off the other Outcome agents. Cross (obviously) outwits them, but then finds himself running dangerously low on the power pills that keep him going. His desperation to escape death and get a new supply of drugs brings him in contact with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a virologist/geneticist who works in a top secret medical lab that monitors Outcome agents. Shearing, having barely survived an assassination attempt at the hands of the previously-mentioned powers-that-be, has no other option but to throw in with Cross and help him score a fix.

Ultimately, the established storylines of the previous ‘Jason Bourne‘ films weigh heavily on THE BOURNE LEGACY, sometimes to its benefit and sometimes not so much. While the filmmakers would have you believe that you don’t need to see the previous films for this one to make sense, don’t buy it. So much of the terminology, code names, characters, and other devices get carried over (or at least referenced) from previous films to this one that, if you’re not up to speed with (at least) THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, then you’ll have several “Huh? What? Hey, who’s that guy?” moments in LEGACY. Also, while it’s pretty easy to tell the bad guys from the good, it’s not always easy to keep track of who comes from what agency or their ultimate motives. With THE BOURNE LEGACY, Gilroy shoots for a dense, complex plot, but in reality the movie is often just plain confusing and a bit frustrating.

On the plus side, the action sequences in THE BOURNE LEGACY are a real treat, with the final set piece being breathless and completely captivating. Unlike goofier, pulp action films (ahem … THE EXPENDABLES), the ‘Jason Bourne‘ aesthetic hews closer to a version of reality where the gun battles, fights, and chase scenes could perhaps be real (…if you squint and smear a lot of Vaseline on the lens). In these films, the action tends to be more suspenseful and have more consequences. Also, with Gilroy at the helm, we get a smoother, polished shooting style (via cinematographer Robert Elswit), rather than Greengrass’ shaky camera style.

In terms of acting, I found Renner’s Aaron Cross to be more engaging than Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. Where Bourne was almost constantly laconic and mechanical, Aaron Cross is more expressive, affable, and vulnerable. But, when the action starts, his training and chemical-induced enhancements kick in to produce a complete killing machine. As an action hero, Renner provides more texture and nuance than Matt Damon. In addition, while Weisz could have been given the role of obligatory “female in need of saving,” she provides a much more dynamic and dramatic performance.

The bad guy side of the equation is more disappointing. Stacy Keach, Ed Norton, and Dennis Boutsikaris literally fill suits and provide serviceable, if entirely predictable, performances as heartless spymasters from shady government agencies. Renner’s Aaron Cross deserves a strong nemesis. Perhaps he’ll get one in the inevitable sequel.

Ultimately, THE BOURNE LEGACY is a good, but not great, fork from the core ‘Jason Bourne‘ franchise. With a less convoluted structure and better villains, it would have been far more enjoyable. Still, the action is worth seeing on the big screen and I look forward to Jeremy Renner continuing to perform as Aaron Cross.

Official Website: http://www.thebournelegacy.net

Directed by Tony Gilroy
Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, and Stacy Keach
Running time: 135 minutes

– END –

© Copyright 2012 by John D. Harvey

John Harvey gives THE BOURNE LEGACY~three and a half knives.