Tag Archives: James Gandolfini

The Mexican (2001, Gore Verbinski)

No kidding The Mexican has a lot of the same score as The Abyss, Alan Silvestri composed both… oddly, I didn’t even think he was working anymore (or even back when The Mexican came out). Besides the Abyss rips, he turns in a good, funny score. But anyway….

The Mexican is kind of strange and kind of not. The Brad Pitt without Julia Roberts half, the doofus’s adventures in Mexico, plays a lot like a Paul Newman movie from the 1970s, only not as good. Pitt, unlike Newman, can play a doofus though and he does a great job here. The Julia Roberts on the road with gay hit man James Gandolfini is actually the stranger part of the film, because it’s Julia Roberts in a role beneath her movie star stature. Her role’s the girlfriend and while she and Pitt are good together, it’s really not a big enough part for her.

The film’s quirky in its handling of its mega-stars (though Pitt is a lot more comfortable) and it almost seems like a smaller movie, until the last act when the surprise guest star pops in and The Mexican becomes the standard Hollywood movie Dreamworks had so much trouble making. It’s an excellent standard Hollywood movie too.

Gore Verbinski’s direction, much like the big movie stars, seems almost more than the script deserves. The Mexican‘s script is frequently way too cute for itself and way too contrived and it’s a shock no one thought to get a quick rewrite. John Sayles probably would have done wonders in a few weeks. But Verbinski really knows how to shoot Panavision, whether it’s conversation or action….

The other reason the film works is the casting. Pitt, Roberts and Gandolfini (Pitt does the most work in terms of range, though the performance is kind of like Twelve Monkeys, down to the mannerisms) are all good in the three biggest roles, but J.K. Simmons, Bob Balaban, Richard Coca and David Krumholtz are essential in the primary supporting roles. It’s very well-cast.

The Mexican is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn’t make any more and needs to… it’s unspectacularly okay.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gore Verbinski; written by J.H. Wyman; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Craig Wood; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Lawrence Bender and John Baldecchi; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Brad Pitt (Jerry), Julia Roberts (Samantha), James Gandolfini (Leroy), J.K. Simmons (Ted), Bob Balaban (Nayman), Sherman Augustus (Well Dressed Black Man), Michael Cerveris (Frank), Richard Coca (Car Thief #1) and David Krumholtz (Beck).


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A Civil Action (1998, Steven Zaillian)

A Civil Action is somewhere in between a modestly budgeted Hollywood drama (you know, the kind they don’t make anymore unless it’s for Oscar season) and a wildly passionate–well, not art film, but it’s certainly something else. Steven Zaillian casts the film with a knowing grown-up indie eye (William H. Macy, Dan Hedaya playing a villain almost on par with Blood Simple, and James Gandolfini) but he tells the story in a truly (as truly as possible for the 1990s) filmic fashion. Sure, John Travolta’s reformed ambulance chaser is the film’s main character, but Zaillian concerns himself and the audience with the surrounding characters throughout. Even the film’s antagonist, Robert Duvall, is given some wonderfully engaging material. While Travolta’s lawyer learns, through the process of the film, to value the pursuit for the truth over the cynical dismissal of it, Zaillian never does–the film’s passionate about it’s content, totally sure of all its moves, but all of these moves are precisely calculated for an effect. They’re well-executed, well-conceived, but there’s nothing in A Civil Action I found magical. It’s a true story in that real sense. While Zaillian can do the great comedic bit of the bank manager thinking bankrupt Macy has got a gun, he can’t find a way to lie to the viewer. There’s no wool to A Civil Action–it’s an example of what Hollywood filmmaking has been doing well since 1924 or whatnot. Proof the recipe and casserole dish aren’t broken.

The problem with the film is the ingredients. It’s not a movie. Not a dramatizable film. Zaillian’s apparently not willing to sell out the truth to package it into something consumable. To some degree, he could have made A Civil Action a more satisfying tale about Travolta’s redemptive change, but it’s not about that change. It is a little, but it’s mostly not. He could have made the trial more thrilling, maybe made John Lithgow’s judge a little more treacherous, maybe made Duvall’s lawyer corrupt. Something. The experience of watching the film is incredibly satisfying and filling, but only because of how Zaillian tells his story. For example, he never gives the audience a shot of the redeemed Travolta. Instead, he leaves the audience off-balance, not stumbling, but certainly not on solid ground.

All of the acting in the film is excellent, with Gandolfini probably getting the best role. Macy’s got some good stuff to do, so does Duvall, but it’s really all Gandolfini in terms of depth. Travolta’s performance is a little perplexing–to some extent, he’s doing the Travolta thing (that Travolta used to be able to do), but he’s expanding on it, much in the self-refrential manner of Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, but more significant success.

The film’s probably not challenging to watch, but fully appreciating it requires a certain confidence in what Zaillian’s doing. Zaillian doesn’t start doing it right away–he obviously didn’t want moviegoers to get up and leave in droves–but, quite analogously, around the time Travolta accepts the case, the viewer has to accept the film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Zaillian; screenplay by Zaillian, based on the book by Jonathan Harr; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Wayne Wahrman; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, David Gropman; produced by Scott Rudin, Robert Redford and Rachel Pfeffer; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring John Travolta (Jan Schlichtmann), Robert Duvall (Jerome Facher), Tony Shalhoub (Kevin Conway), William H. Macy (James Gordon), Zeljko Ivanek (Bill Crowley), Bruce Norris (William Cheeseman), Kathleen Quinlan (Anne Anderson), Peter Jacobson (Neil Jacobs), Mary Mara (Kathy Boyer), James Gandolfini (Al Love), Stephen Fry (Pinder), John Lithgow (Judge Skinner), Dan Hedaya (John Riley) and Sydney Pollack (Al Eustis).


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