Tag Archives: Peter Berg

Lions for Lambs (2007, Robert Redford)

Hopefully, Lions for Lambs will be the most topical film ever made. Hopefully. In fifteen years, hopefully it won’t make any sense. It probably will.

As a dramatic narrative, it’s pretty limp. Most of the scenes with the big three are dialogue scenes, written by someone not incompetent but without much gift for it. It’s a play from a non-playwright. As a singularly directed play, the film would make sense. As a film, it really doesn’t. It might be Redford’s direction, which suffers from bad editing (Joe Hutshing does a terrible job with the back and forth, each edit more jarring than the last), but it might also be the lack of distinction. Had Redford done something crazy–something von Trier crazy–it might have worked. Because there’s nothing to Lions for Lambs if one tells it straight. It’s three stories–professor Redford talking to a student (basically about not sitting idly by while Britney Spears passes for news), GOP senator Tom Cruise trying to sell a new Afghanistan strategy to a cable news exec–sorry, reporter–Meryl Streep, and that strategy failing two of Redford’s former students, Michael Peña and Derek Luke on the ground.

The film opens with a broad, forceful propagandist hammer. It’s the kind of thing they should have gotten Noam Chomsky to consult on… if Noam Chomsky consulted on movies and if the producers had an iota of forethought. It slowly and carefully reveals layers and inconsistencies… Army Lieutenant Colonel Peter Berg might believe calculated lies about Iran but he does care about his troops. Berg’s acting in the film, watching Peña and Luke under fire is fantastic–a performance I never thought he’d be capable of performing.

There is a lot of good acting in the film. Streep’s solid, of course. Cruise’s performance will probably go forever unnoticed, but it’s phenomenal. It should have gotten more notice–and would have if only the film had some better direction. Both Peña and Luke are good as well, with Peña turning in yet another of his character performance as lead auditions.

Redford’s pretty lame, but most of the problem is with his “acting” collaborator. Whoever casted Andrew Garfield committed almost as great a film crime as whoever kept Mark Isham’s lousy score. Garfield’s real, real, real bad. His dialogue’s bad too, but his delivery is incompetent. He couldn’t sell teen hair products.

The cast is small, there are only a handful of settings… it should have been a play. A play can be topical and still be a phenomenon. A film has to account for some of the time spent–the time spent making it, the time spent watching it. Lions for Lambs feels like screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan got pissed while watching some bullshit CNN newscast, wrote an easy ninety-minute movie (turning Peña and Luke’s story into an entire feature would have been work) and just happened to be in the right place at the right time (Cruise taking over United Artists) to get it made.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Redford; written by Matthew Michael Carnahan; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by Joe Hutshing; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Jan Roelfs; produced by Redford, Carnahan, Andrew Hauptman and Tracy Falco; released by United Artists.

Starring Robert Redford (Professor Stephen Malley), Meryl Streep (Janine Roth), Tom Cruise (Senator Jasper Irving), Michael Peña (Ernest Rodriguez), Andrew Garfield (Todd Hayes), Peter Berg (Lieutenant Colonel Falco), Kevin Dunn (ANX Editor) and Derek Luke (Arian Finch).


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Collateral (2004, Michael Mann)

I actually had to go do some IMDb research (that bastion of scholarly data) before I started this post, because I had to know if Michael Mann intentionally made a movie starring Tom Cruise, with a reasonable Hollywood budget, and intentionally shot it to look like an episode of “Cops.” And he did. He wanted to make DV look like crap instead of like film. It’s interesting, all the things DV doesn’t work with–acting, for example. It’s particularly noticeable with Jamie Foxx, who doesn’t exactly give a crack performance, but he’s not terrible and there are these things he does with his expression the DV picks up, things film wouldn’t have picked up. Acting tells. Cruise probably has them too, but the DV makes his makeup look like he’s about to turn from Larry Talbot into the Wolf Man (a nickel to whoever gets that particular Pynchon reference). I kept expecting his eyebrows to fall off.

Mann’s handling of DV was far superior in Miami Vice–maybe it was technological, maybe it was understanding what kinds of scenes work in DV. A lot of Collateral is well-written. Probably the first hour and ten minutes, before Jamie Foxx starts to turn into an action hero. There’s some great dialogue at the beginning and a nice romantic scene, which Mann is always good with. But after a while, it ceases to be interesting. The story wraps up in a predictable manner and it’s rather limp.

It’s probably the wrong project for Mann… the characters are enigmatic, which he doesn’t do. His characters may be insane or something, but they’re always the protagonists. The closest thing Collateral has as a protagonist is the viewer–Cruise is the villain, Foxx is the pawn. Mark Ruffalo’s got some good scenes as a cop, but his pursuit of Cruise is ludicrous and hard to take serious (and who thought Ruffalo looked good with slicked back hair and a pierced ear?).

I could list the other ways Collateral fails–the music, specifically the soundtrack choices–but it’s all in the execution. It’s a sixty-five million dollar Hollywood movie… if it weren’t in DV and it had a less experimental director, it might have been a fun, empty suspense picture. But Mann’s use of that crappy DV and the presence of Cruise (in his most ineffectual performance in a while–he’s not bad, he just doesn’t have a character to play) suggests it’s supposed to be something more and it isn’t.

Thank goodness for the Panavision Genesis camera, which is gaining popularity. I never thought I’d see Michael Mann pretending he was making the Blair Witch Project. Worse… at least Blair Witch matched its story and its presentation. Collateral is kind of like… I can’t even think of a belittling simile. It’s embarrassing (not my figurative failure, but Mann’s actual one–especially given how strong the first hour is, when the DV was just a severe irritation).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; written by Stuart Beattie; directors of photography, Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron; edited by Jim Miller and Paul Rubell; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Mann and Julie Richardson; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Vincent), Jamie Foxx (Max), Jada Pinkett Smith (Annie), Mark Ruffalo (Fanning), Peter Berg (Richard Weidner) and Bruce McGill (Pedrosa).


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