Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So now, to shut all of them up, I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps.
This week, we check out 2005’s “Lord of War” and 2006’s “Children of Men”. I anticipate both of them making me sad, so this should be a fun week!
LORD OF WAR
Fair warning: this film was pitched to me as something I would totally 100 percent without a doubt love with all of my cold dead little heart, so I had a high set of expectations for it. Now, this can either really help a film or really hurt a film. And in the case of this film, it… well, you’ll see.
The film, based loosely upon multiple true stories, was written and directed by Andrew Niccol, who I’ve already talked about since he also wrote “The Truman Show”, which, if you’ll remember, I liked quite a bit. Nicolas Cage stars as an up and coming arms dealer who makes his living as a war profiteer in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. It has garnered mixed critical approval since its release, but is nowhere near as well-remembered or as praised as “Truman Show” is. So what do I think…? Well… I like it. A lot.
One thing to get out of the way up front, this movie is stylized as hell. The camera angles, the way the story is told, the music choice, everything is exactly what Niccol wants it to be and the film makes no apologies for it. The storyline is classic “I always wanted to be a gangster” crime fiction, but it works here. The connection between arms dealers and organized crime is apparent and subtle. Also, take note, because that might be the ONE time in this review I use the word “subtle”. It is a decently long film, clocking in at two hours, but it needs every minute of that running time. This film is classic “rise and fall” storytelling, applied to the wartime political climate. Cage’s narration throughout the film makes it feel more like a novel, and a quality one at that. The dialogue is absolutely fantastic, with each supporting characters being given their moments to shine.
And on the subject of those characters, this film has some damn good character writing. Jared Leto turns in a heartbreaking performance as Cage’s younger brother Vitaly, a man corrupted by the system Cage’s character thrives in. Leto’s scenes do a great job of showing the damage that war and its surrounding culture can do to a person. Ethan Hawke may have a small part as the Interpol agent chasing Cage, but he nails his scenes, portraying a character who is simultaneously likable and pitiable.
Cage, however, is the centerpiece of this film. It should be impossible to make an audience root for a war profiteer, but this movie somehow does it. Seating the viewers deeply in Cage’s perspective helps make him likable, but the tone of the film is what really sells it. The first half of the movie revels in violence without ever condoning it, and the second half turns around and outright condemns the actions of its protagonist. Cage is cool and collected for the first hour, before everything comes crashing down around him in the second. He’s the kind of guy you root for, even if you don’t support his actions.
The biggest negative about this film is also its biggest positive. The opening sequence is one of the greatest openings to a film I think I’ve ever seen. The sequence depicts the life of a bullet, from creation to exit wound, and it is motherf*cking spectacular. The visuals are perfect, the music is perfect (which is also true of the rest of the film) everything is so so so amazing. BUT, that’s the problem. This film peaks in its first five minutes. It’s a really good movie, but it can’t possibly hope to live up to the bar it has already set itself. And I know that sounds like a cop out, but for me it legitimately hurt my experience with the rest of the film. Also, I found the closing title crawl a little preachy, but that might just be me. Again, great movie, but its perfect opening makes the rest of the movie seem worse by comparison.
Four out of five stars.
CHILDREN OF MEN
Welcome to another edition of “I knew literally nothing about this movie going in, but I had a pretty big hunch I would like it” theatre. This movie came highly recommended by someone whose taste I trust immensely, and if that isn’t a good sign, I don’t know what is. I was also told that the cinematography was phenomenal. Which, as it turns out, is true.
The film, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, was based on the book “The Children of Men” by P. D. James. The film stars Clive Owen, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine in an incredibly grounded science fiction story about perseverance. The plot follows Theo (Owen), a former activist who winds up charged with protecting Kee (Ashitey), a woman pregnant with the last child in human existence. Pretty standard “Omega Man” meets “Y: The Last Man” plot, there, but this film knows exactly what to do with it.
I haven’t read the book, but from what I understand, the film differs quite a bit, plot-wise. What the movie keeps, however, is the fan-f*cking-tastic world building. The movie takes place in 2027, but it’s a realistic 2027. Because we are witnessing a world that fell into disrepair years ago, “Children of Men” doesn’t have the “Back to the Future 2” problem of depicting a future that won’t possibly be technologically accurate. The background details in this movie really make the film’s world feel lived in. It really gives the sense of omnipresent tragedy, especially given the way these characters respond to piles of bodies and near-daily bombings. The film also tackles crisis and refugee management in a way that feels subtle and well done.
Let’s talk cinematography!! This movie loves the hell out of its one-ers. For those who don’t know, a “one-er” is a nickname for a long, continuous shot, usually one that follows a character. Good examples of one-ers are the restaurant scene in “Goodfellas”, or pretty much all of “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (And yes, we do full titles here on all occasions). The centerpiece of the film is a rotating one-er taking place in a car as the main characters are under attack by an unruly mob. It. Is. Spectacular. It’s brutal, and heart-racing, and just altogether kickass. Even if you don’t take the time to watch this movie, at least watch this scene.
Clive Owen’s performance is great, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t a huge fan of his. Ashitey does a wonderful job as well and its a shame she’s billed as low as she is. I like Julianne Moore a bunch, And I wish she was in more of this movie. Michael Caine plays completely against type and it more than pays off. Caine has the most heartbreaking scene in the film, and thinking about it now absolutely destroys me. This movie is just brutal, but in a way that will affect you for days afterwards.
Four out of five stars.
That’s it for this week, next week, I hopefully get to watch some cheerier films. Please?