Tag Archives: David Morse

Drive Angry (2011, Patrick Lussier)

Drive Angry is T2 with a supernatural bent. It’s like Lussier wanted to make a 3D Terminator movie, couldn’t, and came found a way to make it possible to do most of the action scenes of one. Actually, Drive Angry isn’t just some supernatural movie. It’s all about Nicolas Cage breaking out of Hell (which is just a prison—Satan isn’t that bad of a guy and the lack of a cameo is one of the film’s big problems)—to stop a Satanist cult from sacrificing his granddaughter.

Along the way he runs into old friends and makes new ones. William Fichtner is the emissary from Hell sent to bring him back. So it’s a chase and be chased movie.

Cage is not very good, which is probably a combination of bad writing (his character’s boring) and bad direction from Lussier. Lussier can compose an inoffensive shot, but he’s terrible with actors.

And it seems like he knows it, so he casts great actors whenever he can. Fichtner alone is probably worth seeing the film for. He’s got this playful performance (his writing is pretty good) and it’s just amazing.

Then there’s David Morse, who only has one big scene and he nails it in that fantastic David Morse way. As the bad guy, Billy Burke is surprisingly good. He swaggers around like a demented Elvis.

Unfortunately, leading lady Amber Heard is unspeakably horrific. She’s nightmarish.

Drive Angry’s about twenty minutes too long, but Fichtner frequently makes up for it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Patrick Lussier; written by Todd Farmer and Lussier; director of photography, Brian Pearson; edited by Devin C. Lussier and Lussier; music by Michael Wandmacher; production designer, Nathan Amondson; produced by Michael De Luca; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Milton), Amber Heard (Piper), William Fichtner (The Accountant), Billy Burke (Jonah King), David Morse (Webster), Todd Farmer (Frank), Christa Campbell (Mona), Charlotte Ross (Candy), Tom Atkins (Cap), Jack McGee (Fat Lou), Katy Mixon (Norma Jean) and Pruitt Taylor Vince (Roy).


RELATED

Advertisements

The Hurt Locker (2008, Kathryn Bigelow)

When The Hurt Locker gets predictable, it gets into trouble. Of the super predictable events, there was only one thing I didn’t get right. The Hurt Locker, which uses its recognizable faces in bit parts better than any film in a while (I don’t know the last time Ralph Fiennes was so good–he ought to do a spin-off), eventually falls victim to its traditional, melodramatic narrative.

It’s too bad, because as it plays out in vignettes, The Hurt Locker is incredibly impressive. Maybe it hiccups too when Brian Geraghty’s character, who’s something of discreet protagonist (he gets his own scenes while Anthony Mackie does not), exits. While Jeremy Renner turns in a fantastic performance in the lead, it’s a flashy, movie star performance.

The film succeeds because of Renner, Mackie and Geraghty and their relationship with one another. Except when it draws attention to those relationships developing, then it runs into a lot of problems–Bigelow and writer Mark Boal don’t set up the film to allow for big melodramatic expositional reveals so when the film concludes on them… well, it feels icky.

There might not be a good way to end the film though, since it is such a haphazard collection of events–much of the film revolves around the bomb squad unit’s missions and once it doesn’t, well, it’s a signal flare of the end of the second act and the beginning of the third and it’s all downhill from there.

It’s still an impressive work.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; written by Mark Boal; director of photography, Barry Ackroyd; edited by Bob Murawski and Chris Innis; music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders; production designer, Karl Juliusson; produced by Bigelow, Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Jeremy Renner (Staff Sgt. William James), Anthony Mackie (Sgt. J.T. Sanborn), Brian Geraghty (Specialist Owen Eldridge), Ralph Fiennes (Contractor Team Leader), David Morse (Colonel Reed) and Guy Pearce (Sgt. Matt Thompson).


RELATED

The Crossing Guard (1995, Sean Penn)

I can’t decide what moment of The Crossing Guard is my favorite. I have it narrowed down to two. It’s either the (louder) one at the end, where Jack Nicholson realizes where he is and how he got there, or it’s when I realized Anjelica Huston–who starts the film in a support group–has never spoken in her support group. She just goes and sits and wants to speak and never does. The Crossing Guard opens, after that scene with Huston and the juxtaposed Nicholson scene (Huston goes to support groups, Nicholson hangs out at a strip club), with this beautiful, victorious Jack Nitzsche music. It sounds like it’s a sports movie about a guy who never thought he’d play again, but then did. Nitzsche repeats this piece of music throughout the film and, each time it plays, it gets a little less victorious, a little less triumphant, until the end, when it’s about defeat.

The Crossing Guard is about compassion and submission. Penn doesn’t exactly hide these themes, but there isn’t a single scene where he lets the film get aware of itself enough to think about its themes. The Crossing Guard features a scene where Nicholson wakes up from a nightmare and calls ex-wife Huston on the phone to tell her the dream and it’s one of the best scenes in the film. This scene shouldn’t work, because relating a dream… it shouldn’t work. Penn breaks a couple major narrative rules in The Crossing Guard to great success. There isn’t a false moment in the film and only one where he holds a shot too long (but it’s featuring Robin Wright Penn and he basically casts her as an angel in the film, so he gets some leeway).

The most difficult task for the film’s viewer is connecting with the characters. It isn’t hard to connect with David Morse, whose puppy-dog eyes (which Wright Penn even comments on) and sweet, quiet demeanor visually collide with his hulking figure. His remorse and guilt are palpable. The scene where he tries to explain himself to parents Richard Bradford and Piper Laurie (who are both wonderful and share a fantastic small scene near the beginning) is devastating. It’s a hard moment in the film, where it becomes easier to objectify the film itself–Penn keeps the trailer where Nicholson threatened Morse’s life visible through the window behind Morse–than to listen to what Morse is saying. There isn’t a single explanation in The Crossing Guard. Penn demands his viewer interpret each moment and, if he or she doesn’t get it right, there’s no make-up exam… the film just moves forward.

Nicholson, for instance, is playing a tragic golem. He moves through his life fueled by alcohol, cigarettes and hatred. There are occasional peeks into the person he was before, but it’s all implied. The scenes with ex-wife Huston don’t even offer the most insight, instead it’s how the strippers flock to Nicholson. In this beautiful performance, which gives Nicholson two amazing–once in a career for most people–scenes, the most impressive thing he does is show an exceptional capacity for love. He never shows love for the strippers–Kari Wuhrer and Priscilla Barnes–but they sense it. Barnes has a great scene where she’s yelling at him, but it’s clear even when she’s angry with him. The scene where it’s clear Nicholson’s loved by the junkies, the masochists, the hookers and those who have squandered everything is another candidate for best moment in the film.

And when Nicholson’s humanity returns to him, when the automated processes start to slow, when the clay starts to crack–when it becomes clear just what Nicholson and Morse are both looking for… The Crossing Guard overwhelms.

And Penn isn’t even finished yet.

Penn’s direction–it’s very quiet at times, lots of discreet camera movement–Vilmos Zsigmond does a beautiful job–is sublime. It’s assured and measured. Just like the script’s implications, Penn’s visual moves are perfect. He even plays with the viewer’s perception of movie star Jack Nicholson as such as lackluster person. I kept wondering, as I watched it, if it was going to get better (which, given how great it is from the start, seems impossible). It does.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Sean Penn; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Jay Cassidy; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designer, Michael D. Haller; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Freddy Gale), David Morse (John Booth), Anjelica Huston (Mary), Robin Wright (Jojo), Piper Laurie (Helen Booth), Richard Bradford (Stuart Booth), Priscilla Barnes (Verna), David Baerwald (Peter), Robbie Robertson (Roger), John Savage (Bobby) and Kari Wuhrer (Mia).


RELATED

The Indian Runner (1991, Sean Penn)

Halfway through The Indian Runner–I’m guessing at the location, but halfway sounds about right–there’s a stunning montage. It might be the best way to talk about the film, or at least to start talking about the film, because The Indian Runner resists any standard–or glib–entry angles. It’s a five character montage, taking place in the late evening and then the late night. David Morse lies in bed, smoking cigarette after cigarette–as close to the filter as he can accomplish–wife Valeria Golino asleep beside him, watching the Democratic Convention riots on the news. Four states away, his brother, played by Viggo Mortensen, steals a car from a man going to a birthday party (his birthday party, in fact). Mortensen’s girlfriend, Patricia Arquette, spends an evening watching Gilligan’s Island with her parents, hoping Mortensen will call. Across town from Morse, he and Mortensen’s father–Charles Bronson–watches home movies of the two as children. Penn includes the birthday party in this montage of his main characters and there’s where The Indian Runner is something. It’s frequently indescribable. This montage, where Penn is able to plummet into the depths of his characters, doesn’t have any dialogue. It takes the length of the song playing on the soundtrack. It’s like nothing else.

What Penn brings to The Indian Runner–as an auteurist–is a thorough understanding of how to apply (and I hate to use the term) pre-Miramax independent filmmaking techniques to a mainstream American story. The montage is an easy example. Not so simple is, for instance, Arquette’s constant shrieking–or the graphic child birth sequence–or Morse (a deputy sheriff) harangued by a lonely woman. Or Golino smoking pot and Morse giving her time to put it out before he sees her. Or Bronson telling Morse he’s glad he married Golino, even though she’s a Mexican. The Indian Runner is based on a Bruce Springsteen song and Penn captures that complicated pride Springsteen feels about people and being American. It’s like nothing else.

Penn has some amazing directorial moments–the end is a visual delight, though it’s hard to use the word delight while discussing The Indian Runner, since–even though it’s a positive affirmation of the human condition–it’s a constant downer. But the scenes where he lets the people talk… those are something else. The Indian Runner isn’t dialogue heavy. It’s conversation heavy–but that description isn’t right either. People talk and people listen. Charles Bronson spent the last half of his career in schlock, but fifteen seconds of his performance in The Indian Runner leaves a fine epitaph, revealing an immensely capable actor if only he had the opportunity. Penn’s script is extraordinary, but his direction of it–the way he can introduce a character, the time he gives the actors–makes it. The script is so fine it allows David Morse to emote while wearing sunglasses.

The character development is another high point. Mortensen’s the screw-up son (even before Vietnam, which makes The Indian Runner somewhat unique), but it slowly becomes clear he’s the one more like Bronson. Mortensen’s regret at failing to make Bronson proud is palpable and devastating. It comes at a moment long before Penn even plunges deeper into the characters’ depths–the climatic scene near the end gives the impression of reaching bottom, but the denouement reveals otherwise. It’s almost limitless.

I suppose, since I’ve talked about Bronson and Mortensen (a little), I could spend some time talking about the other actors. Glibly, because it’s one of the few subjects related to the film where I can get glib. Penn gets a great performance out of Valeria Golino, something I previously would have said was impossible. Arquette’s excellent. Morse–in this quiet (especially when compared to Mortensen) role–is amazing. So many of Morse’s scenes are spent without verbosity, just with him looking at something, watching something… Penn’s ability to get a performance out of his actors is incredible, especially for a first time director.

The Indian Runner doesn’t have a single misstep. Everything Penn does is perfect. It’s one of the most impressive debuts.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Sean Penn; director of photography, Anthony B. Richmond; edited by Jay Cassidy; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designer, Michael D. Haller; produced by Don Phillips; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring David Morse (Joe Roberts), Viggo Mortensen (Frank Roberts), Valeria Golino (Maria), Patricia Arquette (Dorothy), Charles Bronson (Mr. Roberts), Sandy Dennis (Mrs. Roberts), Dennis Hopper (Caesar), Jordan Rhodes (Randall), Enzo Rossi (Raffael), Harry Crews (Mr. Baker) and Eileen Ryan (Mrs. Baker).


RELATED