Eyewitness (1981, Peter Yates)

Eyewitness gets a lot of abuse.

Peter Yates has become a punch-line to many a film joke, usually by people who love Breaking Away and don’t remember he did it. Eyewitness is an incredibly odd film–and not entirely successful, the protagonist (William Hurt) tends to talk to Sigourney Weaver straight from the id, no filtering. Her character is the film’s most complex (since the whole situation deals in a gray area of morality) and Weaver doesn’t always get it. There are a few scenes where she does, and it’s beautiful.

This film is incredibly gentle. It’s all about the character relationships. Writer Steve Tesich (also Breaking Away) even gives the cops personal conflicts, which is a little too much. But there’s a lot to appreciate in Eyewitness‘s indulgences. It makes for an odd experience–though Hurt’s character is so unbelievably straight-forward, it’s one of his best performances. Hurt tends not to play the identifiable character and, seeing him do it, is a special experience.

As for the mystery/thriller aspect of the film… it’s not really there, which may be why there’s such a hostility to the film. There’s a contract between artist and reader (or viewer) and Eyewitness does not deliver what the title (or the poster) promise. The score, or lack thereof, lets the viewer know the contract’s broken in the opening titles. I’m not much a stickler about the title contract when it comes to film (Pearl Harbor, for example, broke the shit out of it too, and so did Star Wars for that matter).

I’ve recommended Eyewitness in the past and had people look at me funny after watching it. Not every film needs to break your heart (like The Missouri Breaks). Hell, films don’t even have to engage your intelligence (Animal Crackers). But films do need to make your invested time worthwhile–and Eyewitness does. Just not if you’re looking for a mystery/thriller, rather a story about people.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Peter Yates; written by Steve Tesich; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Cynthia Scheider; music by Stanley Silverman; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring William Hurt (Daryll Deever), Sigourney Weaver (Tony Sokolow), Christopher Plummer (Joseph), James Woods (Aldo), Irene Worth (Mrs. Sokolow), Kenneth McMillan (Mr. Deever), Pamela Reed (Linda), Albert Paulsen (Mr. Sokolow), Steven Hill (Lieutenant Jacobs), Morgan Freeman (Lieutenant Black) and Alice Drummond (Mrs. Deever).


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The Missouri Breaks (1976, Arthur Penn)

Okay, so I’m a little confused.

How the hell is this film unknown? It’s just now coming out on DVD, but I’d never heard of it until I read something for a film class (six years ago) about Arthur Penn. Penn didn’t survive the 1970s (and it’s not all Target‘s fault). Somehow, his films remained known to people of that era and to decent film watchers, but not to film snobs. (I’m defining these particular film snobs as the folks who don’t know they made movies before Mean Streets, you know, the Tarantino school). What the hell?

The Missouri Breaks features one of Jack Nicholson’s best performances. It’s a ‘holy shit’ good performance. Brando’s good too, though in a playful way. He never lets us in to the character, but there’s the moment, watching both of them in this film, where you stop and say, “That’s acting right there.”

As for Penn’s direction… It’s amazing, I mean, come on. The guy’s a superstar. Also of particular note is the John Williams score, which is from when John Williams was still something special.

The Missouri Breaks is so good, I could go on and on. Instead, see it and find out for yourself.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Penn; written by Thomas McGuane; director of photography, Michael C. Butler; edited by Dede Allen, Gerald B. Greenberg and Stephen A. Rotter; music by John Williams; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Elliot Kastner and Robert M. Sherman; released by United Artists.

Starring Marlon Brando (Robert E. Lee Clayton), Jack Nicholson (Tom Logan), Randy Quaid (Little Tod), Kathleen Lloyd (Jane Braxton), Frederic Forrest (Cary), Harry Dean Stanton (Calvin), John McLiam (David Braxton), John P. Ryan (Si), Sam Gilman (Hank Rate), Steve Franken (Lonesome Kid) and Richard Bradford (Pete Marker).


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The Twilight Samurai (2002, Yamada Yôji)

I always say the Western is a uniquely American film creation and I stand by that one, but it doesn’t mean other countries can’t do good Westerns. For quite a bit of The Twilight Samurai, it’s a fine haunted gunman Western, Unforgiven and Open Range being other examples of this form. It never quite makes it, however….

The biggest problem is pacing. Twilight is slow and there are narrative problems throughout. It’s got narration from one of the protagonist’s daughters, past tense, which isn’t bad… if the film were a father/daughter picture. But it’s not (apparently the Japanese, who’ve embraced the family drama as Hollywood has discarded it, aren’t touching that one either). The film closes with a Oscar-nomination ready scene with the daughter in her present day, probably the mid-1900s. Such a lovely end-piece invalidates everything the film fought for (just like Yoda says in Empire).

The film also fails on some basic technical levels of cheating the viewer out of necessary scenes. It’s not really shortcutting (my prime example of shortcutting is It Happened One Night, with neither of the leads appearing in the denouement), because these are peripheral characters. But they deserve closure. According to IMDb, the film is based on three novels, which explains… nothing, actually. Yes, Twilight feels like it was a novel, but it doesn’t feel like an amalgam. Wait, wait. I forgot. It does make some promises regarding the father/daughter relationship, then fails to deliver. Damn good scene too.

The acting is all good, the lead in particular. I love how Hollywood can no longer make period pieces but everyone else in the world can. It’s kind of depressing.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Yamada Yôji; written by Asama Yoshitaka and Yamada, based on the novel by Fujiwara Shuhei; director of photography, Naganuma Mutsuo; edited by Ishii Iwao; music by Tomita Isao and Inoue Yousui; produced by Fukazawa Hiroshi, Nakagawa Shigehiro and Yamamoto Ichiro; released by Shochiku Company Limited.

Starring Sanada Hiroyuki (Iguchi Seibei), Miyazawa Rie (Tomoe), Tanaka Min (Zenemon Yoho), Tamba Tetsuro (Iguchi Tozaemon), Hashiguchi Erina (Iguchi Ito), Ito Miki (Iguchi Kayano) and Kusamura Reiko (Seibei’s mother).


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Cop Land (1997, James Mangold), the director’s cut

Here’s an interesting director’s cut… it doesn’t change the film overall.

Most director’s cuts, extended versions, whatever, change the effect of the film. Blade Runner is the usual example, but so is something like The Big Red One (though not as much). In many ways, Cop Land is like Touch of Evil. The experience doesn’t change significantly.

Throughout, I suppose Cop Land is stronger. But Cop Land was always exceptionally strong throughout. It’s the ending, that stupid ending, putting everything on Robert De Niro’s narration… and the narration undoes the film. With DVD’s proliferation of director’s cuts and extended versions (for example, I have Gone in 60 Seconds–which features another sixty seconds or so–and A Knight’s Tale extended to watch in the near future and Ali even), these versions are more and more becoming less important. (Wow, what a bad sentence). Thinking further, I think Pearl Harbor is probably the worst director’s cut, since Bay used it to excise the film’s goodness….

Cop Land: The Director’s Cut is a better film. It’s just not a more rewarding experience.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Mangold; director of photography, Eric Edwards; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Lester Cohen; produced by Cary Woods, Cathy Konrad and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Freddy Heflin), Harvey Keitel (Ray Donlan), Ray Liotta (Gary Figgis), Robert De Niro (Moe Tilden), Peter Berg (Joey Randone), Janeane Garofalo (Deputy Cindy Betts), Robert Patrick (Jack Rucker), Michael Rapaport (Murray Babitch), Annabella Sciorra (Liz Randone), Noah Emmerich (Deputy Bill Geisler), Cathy Moriarty (Rose Donlan), John Spencer (Leo Crasky), Frank Vincent (PDA President Lassaro), Malik Yoba (Detective Carson), Arthur J. Nascarella (Frank Lagonda) and Edie Falco (Berta).


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