This is the movie review arena of Dave Mitchell and Trevor Taylor. We are fed up with stupid critics who pick the movies that nobody goes to watch. (BEWARE: PLOT-DETAILS/SPOILERS INCLUDED!!!)

Friday, February 28, 2003

Video Reviews: Road To Perdition, Insomnia, The Cider House Rules

I'm putting these three together, because interestingly enough, they are joined by a common theme, which i will discuss shortly. First, the business of reviewing:

Road to Perdition (R): contains mad violence, language

This movie is one of Tom Hanks' most powerful performances, in my opinion. In Road to Perdition, he plays Mike Sullivan, a hitman for a powerful boss who raised him as his own son. When Mike's son witnesses his father committing an ordered hit, the boss (played by Paul Newman) allows his actual son to kill Sullivan's wife and younger child. This sends Mike on a rampage of vengeance that requires Newman to enlist a professional hitman of his own, played by spooky Jude Law. The rest of the film works itself out as you would imagine it to, with the cat and mouse game between Law and Hanks, until the inevitable, but still powerful conclusion.
Yes indeed, I really enjoyed this film. While it was extremely violent, it wasn't gratuitously so. (Although some would argue that any on-screen violence is gratuitous, this is just not the case. When telling the story of organized crime in the 1930's, one cannot whitewash the time and be intellectually honest.) Although the main plot involved revenge for the death of a loved one, the themes that rose out of this framework were very well-developed. We see in the movie an exploration of father and son relationships, which play a vital role in the dynamic among the leads. While the idea of the good adopted son vs. the spoiled biological son has been played out in movies like Gladiator, it never seems as poignant as it does here. Another major theme examined in this movie is the cycle of violence, and its passing from generation to generation. Mike's commitment to keep his occupation secret from his sons, and to keep them from becoming involved in any way, illustrates his realization that there is no happy ending to a life of violence.
If you can stand the blood and the language, definitely watch this film. Director Sam Mendes, who directed the amazing American Beauty, continues to create powerful visuals and elicit strong character work from his actors.
RATING: "Rock on, you filthy animal."

Insomnia (R): contains violence, language, brief (dead body) nudity

How can you keep a murder mystery suspenseful when you reveal in the previews who the killer is? Make the real suspense surround the protagonist. Christopher Nolan, the writer/director of Memento, brings us to the brink with Insomnia, a kind of backwards suspense movie. I'll do my best not to give too much away. This movie surrounds the investigation of a deadly beating in small town Alaska. Sent to investigate is two Los Angeles cops, one of whom is the ever-impressive Al Pacino.
That's really all I can tell you about the plot. Anything else would ruin it. Let me just say this: We know from the previews that the killer is in fact Robin Williams, the creepiest average joe you can think of. He's almost benign in his mannerisms and vocalization. And as circumstances see-saw between favoring Pacino and Williams, there seems to be almost a bond forming between the hunter and the hunted, especially when they switch places in that dynamic.
Al Pacino is the reason this film is so interesting. In the hands of any lesser actor, the film would become too boring, too melodramatic, or too abundantly cheesy. Pacino delivers balance by emoting both pathos and edgy dark energy. You begin to wonder which of the two leads seems more likely to commit murder.
"In a town where the sun never sets, guilt never sleeps." That's my cheesy tag line for this movie. Although the ending wasn't as whiz-bang shocking as Memento, it was just as satisfying. Nolan gives us a bleary-eyed psycho-drama that is worth every minute we stay up watching it.
RATING: "Rock on, and then get some rest, eh?"

The Cider House Rules (PG-13): Contains language, nudity/sexuality, some difficult subject matter

I watched this movie with some reservations, due to the amount of controversy surrounding it when it came out. Not that I am opposed to controversial films (Dogma, anyone?), but this particular controversy put me on alert. So boldly I went, and picked up a copy of "the abortion movie."
First off, no the movie's not about abortion. Not totally, anyway.
The Cider House Rules is a story about Homer Wells, an orphan raised in an orphanage in rural Maine, under the care and tutelage of Dr. Larch, played by Michael Caine, who won an Oscar for this performance. Larch stresses throughout Homer's life, that he must learn to be of use, to contribute something to the world. Larch trains Homer to be a doctor, specifically an OB/GYN so he can assist him in delivering unwanted babies at the orphanage. One thing Larch teaches Homer is how to perform abortions, but Homer insists that he doesn't believe in them, that he's glad he wasn't aborted and wouldn't take away the opportunity to live from any child. This frustrates Larch, who insists that sometimes there is no other way.
Finally, Homer decides to leave the orphanage, and find his place in the world, as something other than a doctor. He hitches a ride with Paul Rudd and Charlize Theron, who recently employed Dr. Larch's services to eliminate her pregnancy. Homer travels to Rudd's mother's apple farm, where he learns the trade of making cider. Homer develops friendships with the African-American applepickers and cider-men. He also begins a love affair with Theron, which we see more of than we really need to.
The "rules" mentioned in the title are a set of written rules posted in the cider house, where the workers sleep. These arbitrary laws are a joke to the workers, who say that "the rules were written by people out there, not in here." Thus, the theme of the movie is fleshed out: the conflict between ideals and ideology versus real life and difficult situations. Homer must choose between living in the clear-cut world of his beliefs, or the ugly, ambiguous world of his surroundings. In the end, as one character puts it, "you sometimes gotta break the rules, to set things right." It's this difficult idea that leads Homer to his major choice in the film.
This is a hard film to view objectively. Written by the author of the basis-novel, John Irving, The Cider House Rules has some truly moving and heart-warming elements. It also has some difficult ideas, that can't just be taken at face value. This is a mixed bag, worthy of examination and deep discussion, but I'm not sure it should be embraced fully.
RATING: "Rock on carefully, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England."

The reason I put these three together in one big review, is because they contain similar thematic elements. In "Road to Perdition", Hank's character must perform some ugly and brutal tasks in the name of service to his father figure, Newman. While he understands that this life would destroy his sons, he justifies it because it takes care of his family's needs. In "Insomnia", Pacino's character goes as far as breaking the law in some cases, in order to pursue the investigation of a killer. He justifies his actions by saying that the greater good--catching Williams--outweighs the current evil. And in "The Cider House Rules", Irving clearly presents what amounts to situational ethics--you do what is right in the moment, and your good intentions cover over all wrongs.
In all three films, we see the presentation of the lead character performing actions that are morally ambiguous or clearly wrong. And in all three films, the story presents these things as acceptable or at least bearable.
As a Christian, this raises some red flags. While I understand and accept that most choices are not as clear cut as we'd like, there are still some standards that are unbroken. God's Law doesn't change. Ever. And in a world where values and mores shift like waves, there are still some solid rocks to cling to. As you watch these films, and I think you should, keep this in mind. Things aren't as grey as the world believes them to be.

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