Tag Archives: Amy Ryan

Devil’s Knot (2013, Atom Egoyan)

There are plenty of things one simply cannot do in two hours; if Devil's Knot is any indication, one cannot try to tell the story of the trial of the West Memphis Three in two hours. Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson's script seems to do quite a bit well–for the first third of the film, the horrific nature of the crimes has the film sympathizing with the police officers (Robert Baker in particular), only to later reveal incompetence and corruption on these characters' parts.

Then, once the script's obviously manipulative nature becomes clear, it's hard to take Knot seriously. The deception makes little sense, since the film's written for people familiar with the case (as there's no explanation why Damien Echols isn't executed at the end).

As for second-billed Reese Witherspoon, who plays a grieving mother looking for the truth, her arc's incompetently handled. At least Colin Firth doesn't have an arc or character development. It may very well be historically accurate, but it's far from dramatic.

There are some excellent performances. Kevin Durand and Alessandro Nivola are both good as suspicious fathers. Amy Ryan has a nice scene. Firth isn't bad. Witherspoon eventually gets a little better–but it's too little too late. Much of the supporting cast and some of the principals are weak. Especially James Hamrick as Echols.

Mychael Danna's score is manipulative and derivative. Director Egoyan does an insincere job. It's tepid, vaguely incompetent and Oscar-desperate.

Its compelling nature has nothing to do with the filmmaking.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Atom Egoyan; screenplay by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, based on the book by Mara Leveritt; director of photography, Paul Sarossy; edited by Susan Shipton; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Phillip Barker; produced by Elizabeth Fowler, Richard Saperstein, Clark Peterson, Christopher Woodrow and Boardman; released by Image Entertainment.

Starring Colin Firth (Ron Lax), Reese Witherspoon (Pam Hobbs), Dane DeHaan (Chris Morgan), Mireille Enos (Vicki Hutcheson), Bruce Greenwood (Judge David Burnett), Elias Koteas (Jerry Driver), Stephen Moyer (John Fogleman), Alessandro Nivola (Terry Hobbs), Amy Ryan (Margaret Lax), Robert Baker (Det. Bryn Ridge), Kevin Durand (John Mark Byers), Michael Gladis (Dan Stidham), James Hamrick (Damien Echols), Martin Henderson (Brent Davis), Kristopher Higgins (Jessie Misskelley Jr.), Brian Howe (Detective McDonough), Matt Letscher (Paul Ford), Seth Meriwether (Jason Baldwin), Rex Linn (Inspector Gary Gitchell), Kristoffer Polaha (Val Price) and Collette Wolfe (Glori Shettles).


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Green Zone (2010, Paul Greengrass)

Most of Green Zone is the best film I’ve seen about the Iraq war, simply because Greengrass is often satisfied with letting the film just be concrete situations (he opens with Matt Damon and his crew having to deal with a sniper and it establishes a great tone). However, Green Zone isn’t just a war movie… it’s an action conspiracy thriller and one set in reality, so eventually the film has to turn Damon into a superhero.

The film bombed, which isn’t much a surprise given how Americans are happiest when avoiding critical thinking and intellectualism. And calling Green Zone intellectual is a stretch—it’s a slick Hollywood picture. It’s like Syriana distilled into simple syrup and added into an Orange Julius smoothie. But screenwriter Brian Helgeland does slick better than almost anyone and he turns in a fantastic script, just one with some problems….

Like how the film isn’t willing to condemn anyone except a singular corrupt Bush administration official… and U.S. soldiers who torture civilians are eventually given a pass too. For all the hubbub, it’s very diplomatic to xenophobes. It does team Bourne collaborators Damon and Greengrass again. It’s not like those movies were made for intellectuals.

The acting’s universally solid. Damon’s excellent (though even he can’t sell the end), as is Brendan Gleeson (playing George Clooney from Syriana). Jason Isaacs is great as one of the villains. Khalid Abdalla is good as Damon’s Iraqi sidekick.

It’s predictable, but extraordinary well-done thanks to Greengrass and Helgeland.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Greengrass; screenplay by Brian Helgeland, inspired by a book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran; director of photography, Barry Ackroyd; edited by Christopher Rouse; music by John Powell; production designer, Dominic Watkins; produced by Greengrass, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Lloyd Levin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Matt Damon (Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller), Greg Kinnear (Clark Poundstone), Brendan Gleeson (Martin Brown), Amy Ryan (Lawrie Dayne), Khalid Abdalla (Freddy), Yigal Naor (Al Rawi) and Jason Isaacs (Lieutenant Briggs).


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Changeling (2008, Clint Eastwood)

During the lousiest parts of Changeling–easily identifiable by Jeffrey Donovan’s increased presence–there should be a disclaimer running across the bottom of the screen: “It doesn’t stay this bad… promise.”

Changeling is the worst film Clint Eastwood’s made in years. It’s easily the worst of his serious films–afterwards, I realized his last film before this one was Letters from Iwo Jima, which is stunning. One film’s an artistic expression, the other is the most over-produced Oscar bait I’ve sat through in a long time.

Eastwood’s never been a director-for-hire, but maybe Changeling signals some kind of a change. There’s absolutely no personality to this film. Eastwood’s direction, his composition, is impeccable. His musical score, fantastic. It looks great. But it’s empty. True stories aren’t good because they’re true–and true stories meant to win Angelina Jolie her coveted Best Actress statuette–vehicles for highly paid actresses who don’t necessarily bring in the box office dollars… they’re the worst kind of true stories.

Eastwood does find material in Changeling he’s interested in, but none of it features Jolie. Once he gets done with the fetishistic approach to daily life in 1928, he’s done with her. There are occasional moments of interest, like when John Malkovich shows up, but there are also terrible stretches. The film’s interesting moments are the discovery of a crime, when Michael Kelly’s the protagonist. Kelly’s great in the film, one of the best performances, and he gets the entirely un-Academy part of enabling the discovery of truth. The Oscar desperate moments feature–really–Amy Ryan as a hooker with a heart of gold who gets ECT just to show off her twenty-four karats.

I don’t fault Ryan for taking the role–I’m sure it came with assurances of a Best Supporting campaign and all–but Clint Eastwood making a film so desperate to win Oscars it brings in a ringer? It’s painful to watch.

Jolie’s fine in the lead. She’s never great and never terrible. Her despair is believable (because it’s Angelina Jolie and we know she’s a mother), which is about all the role calls for. The most interesting parts of her character–going back to work while her son is missing, digging a little on her bald boss–are never explored. They wouldn’t look good in that Best Actress reel.

Malkovich is utterly solid in a role with nothing for him to do. It’s technically the second biggest role and I guess they needed another name for the poster. Jason Butler Harner and Eddie Alderson are both great, so is Geoffrey Pierson.

When I heard about Changeling, I thought the biggest problem would be J. Michael Straczynski’s script and I was right. The dialogue’s fine–never particularly good–and the plotting is okay. It’s boring, but okay. But Straczynski’s approach to characters might actually be Changeling‘s place in cinematic history (in addition to being a blot on Eastwood’s filmography). Straczynski’s characters are entirely one-note–every last one of them–and it exemplifies the difference between one-dimensional bad guys and one-dimensional good guys. The bad guys are unbelievable. The good guys… it’s sort of assumed they’re not always being white knights. But the bad guys? Donovan’s performance is atrocious–it’s one of the worst I can remember seeing in a film from such a good director–but his character is idiotic too. The guy’s always bad. Compared to Donovan’s cop, Milton treated the serpent like Mickey Mouse. It makes the film excruciating for long stretches.

I can’t figure out why Clint Eastwood would have made this movie. Sure, he got a bigger budget than usual and an interesting setting, but it’s crap. It’s well-made crap, but I felt embarrassed watching it. Worse, I felt bad for Eastwood… Changeling is the kind of malarky Ron Howard makes now, not Clint Eastwood.

And look who produced it.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by J. Michael Straczynski; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; music by Eastwood; production designer, James J. Murakami; produced by Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Robert Lorenz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Angelina Jolie (Christine Collins), John Malkovich (Reverand Briegleb), Jeffrey Donovan (Captain J.J. Jones), Michael Kelly (Detective Ybarra), Colm Feore (Chief Davis), Jason Butler Harner (Gordon Stewart Northcott), Amy Ryan (Carol Dexter), Geoff Pierson (Hahn), Denis O’Hare (Dr. Steele), Frank Wood (Ben Harris), Peter Gerety (Dr. Tarr), Gattlin Griffith (Walter Collins) and Devon Conti (Arthur Hutchins).


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Dan in Real Life (2007, Peter Hedges)

Is there a dearth of WASP family dramas right now? I guess there must be. Dan in Real Life certainly fills the void–and is probably the only time I’ve ever thought about a movie in terms of it being a WASP affair (that accusation against Wes Anderson is, for example, one I find unfounded).

It’s a bunch of shiny happy people–shiny happy family–who get together once a year to play charades, do crossword compositions, do a talent show, on and on. No television in sight. John Mahoney’s the wise and all knowing father, Dianne Wiest is the wise and all knowing mother. There’s the good son, the good daughter, the wild but good other son and then there’s the titular Dan. I think that character’s position in the film is the most interesting thing about Dan in Real Life–he’s suffering and no one’s helping him. There’s the silly suffering of the present action, but it’s a long-term thing and it’s never implied he gets any support. Dan in Real Life only makes sense in its present action, anything before and anything after… it’s too complex.

Watching the movie, it occurred to me the French could do the story well (people off in a relative isolation–Rules of the Game for a multiplex) but Hedges just can’t handle it. Everything’s too perfect, but Hedges doesn’t seem aware he’s not giving the film any texture. It’s like one of the Meyers/Shyer Disney movies without the tacit agreement of a Utopian setting.

As a director, however, Hedges is fantastic. Technically, down to the music by the Norwegian pop star, it’s perfect. Sarah Flack’s editing is incredible. It’s just fantastic.

Lots of the acting is good. Dane Cook (who everyone hates for some reason) is decent as the wild but good brother, Juliette Binoche is fine. Wiest and Mahoney, though neither of them are doing much different from what they’ve both done countless times before. Amy Ryan is criminally underused. Matthew Morrison is memorable in a small role.

I was going to save a whole paragraph for Steve Carell, but it’s probably impossible to describe how good a performance he gives here. Even when he’s spouting the ludicrous dialogue (he’s going to consign himself to misery for his kids–it’s like Superman II!), he’s great.

Unfortunately, Hedges hired the three actors playing his daughters on their cuteness and precociousness instead of their acting. Brittany Robertson gives the worst performance, though Alison Pill is the most annoying.

The movie never has a high potential–the mediocre plotting kicks in before the opening titles I think–and it’s impossible to think of it working on a higher level, so it’s not really a disappointment. It’s a watchable WASP comedy-drama with some outstanding particulars.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Hedges; written by Pierce Gardner and Hedges; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Sarah Flack; music by Sondre Lerche; production designer, Sarah Knowles; produced by Jon Shestack and Brad Epstein; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Steve Carell (Dan Burns), Juliette Binoche (Marie), Dane Cook (Mitch Burns), Alison Pill (Jane Burns), Brittany Robertson (Cara Burns), Marlene Lawston (Lilly Burns), Dianne Wiest (Nana), John Mahoney (Poppy), Norbert Leo Butz (Clay), Amy Ryan (Eileen), Jessica Hecht (Amy) and Frank Wood (Howard).


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