erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2009 posts

Thursday April 23, 2009

Review: “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” (2008)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I’m not a fan of heavy-metal music. The opposite. I spent my teenage years trapped in a household with a heavy-metal-banging older brother, who, when no one was around, or only I was around, would close all the windows in our house, turn up the volume on the record player, and, with the rake we used for our lime-green shag carpet as his microphone, sing along to Zeppelin or Sabbath:

Generals gathered in their masses!
Just like witches at black masses!

I always gave him shit about those lyrics. “Nice rhyme,” I’d say.

So I wouldn’t seem the ideal audience for “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” a documentary about the little heavy-metal band that couldn’t (break through).

And yet, as with Randy the Ram of “The Wrestler,” another dude with whom I have nothing in common, I wound up not only caring but identifying. The two original members of Anvil, Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner, are in their 50s now and still fighting the good fight. Actually that’s one of the unanswered questions in the doc: Is it still a good fight?

“Anvil” begins with footage from a 1984 heavy-metal tour of Japan, which featured bands such as Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and the Scorpions — all of whom would go on to sell millions of records — and Anvil, who would not. Various talking heads, from Lemmy of Motorhead to Slash of Guns N’ Roses, then talk quickly about Anvil’s antics on stage (Lips playing his guitar with a dildo), how influential they were, and what the hell happened. “Everyone sort of ripped them off,” Slash says, “then sort of left them for dead.”

Cut to: modern-day Toronto in winter. Lips, his thinning hair still long, his eyes wide with optimism, a half-smile on his face, is driving and matter-of-factly talking food — meatloaf and shepherd’s pie — and we’re wondering if he’s driving to where he eats or works. It’s the latter. He’s a delivery guy.

Reiner, with the irony-infused same name as the director of “This is Spinal Tap,” the irony-infused monster of all heavy-metal mockumentaries, works construction. He has a quality similar to U2’s Edge — like he’s the last guy in the world to get angry — and he and Lips are still friends, and still pal around Toronto. We see them play a gig at a sports bar for Lips' 50th birthday. A couple of longtime fans are there, headbanging and singing along.

They’ve had new bandmates since ’95 and ’96, and overall they’ve put out a total of 12 albums, but this is their life. It’s like most of our lives: Not bad, but full of What Ifs.

Then (even in documentaries there’s a “then”) Lips gets an e-mail from a female fan in Europe, Tiziani Arrigoni, who offers to manage the band for a European tour, and off they go. One hopes for success, one fears she’ll rip them off, but the reality is somewhere in between. She has a good heart but she’s not a professional. Things keep going wrong. They miss a train. They play dives for peanuts. Their fans are fervent but few. Late to one gig in the Czech Republic, they’re told the place is “jam fucking packed” but they get there and rock out before fewer than 10 fans; then the club owner refuses to pay them — because they were late — and we see the first of several eruptions from Lips, who quickly loses his half-smile and, spittle flying, nearly goes off on the dude. Their next gig should be a natural heavy-metal highlight — a rock show in Transylvania, with a 10,000-seat capacity — and as they make their way to the stage through narrow hallways, one bandmember, an obvious “Spinal Tap” fan, shouts “Hello, Cleveland!” Unlike Spinal Tap, Anvil finds its way to the stage. The crowd doesn’t. Only 174 show up. Cut to: Toronto in winter.

And so it goes. We learn more about the (Jewish) family history of each. Lips’ father was at odds with his career choice (everyone else in his family is a successful professional), while Robb’s father, who survived Auschwitz, was fine with whatever his son wanted to do. Robb also paints in the style of Edward Hopper, whom he likes for his sense of quiet. Apparently even heavy-metal drummers want quiet.

You get the feeling Robb could give it up, but Lips, eyes bugging with perpetual optimism, half-smile beginning to strain after all these years, keeps pushing. They’re going to put out a 13th album, this time with legendary producer Chris Tsangarides, but they need money. A scene where Lips tries telemarketing is painful to watch. Each hurdle jumped, or stumbled over, leads to another. Will they raise the money? Will they be able to stay together long enough to record the album? Will they be able to sell it to a record company? Will anyone listen?

All the while they wonder over what went wrong. Was it management? Was it production? Lips in particular embodies the schizophrenia of the semi- or un-successful artist. One moment he’s ready to swear off music-making completely; the next he’s telling himself that it’s the doing — the creative act — that matters, regardless of the response it engenders. Talk about hitting home. This internal dialogue is my own. Every day.

The doc, which zips along, will be compared to “Spinal Tap,” and, yes, there are funny moments in it, and, yes, even the title, with its conscious repetition, is funny. But filmmaker Sacha Gervasi, a fan and former Anvil roadie, who also wrote the screenplay for “The Terminal," does his subjects the courtesy of taking them seriously. He presents them in raw and real and complex fashion.

The blurbs in the poster above mention that the film is “inspirational” and “a hymn to the human spirit,” but for me its strength lies in its ambiguity. You walk away not knowing if these guys are inspirational, or delusional, or both. The answer to Lips’ internal dialogue, in other words, is as unanswerable as our own, and, finally, the answer may not be what matters. I keep going back to what Van Morrison sings in “Summertime in England”: It ain’t why why why why why why why. It just is. Same here. In both this doc and in this room where I’m writing about this doc.

I’m not a fan of heavy-metal music. The opposite. But “Anvil” floored me.

Posted at 08:41 AM on Apr 23, 2009 in category Movie Reviews - 2009, Movies - Documentaries
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Saturday April 18, 2009

Review: “State of Play” (2009)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Old old old. Everything about this movie feels old.

Its heroes are newspaper reporters, or at least a grizzled old newspaper reporter, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), and a svelte blogger, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), and of course these two, initially at odds, have to work together to break the story, which is still, for some reason, and despite the obvious online presence, “on deadline,” as if print were the only way to break the thing. Old tropes die hard.

The paper is the Washington Post-like Washington Globe, and it’s run by the Katherine Graham-like Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren), but I can’t remember if she’s supposed to be the publisher or the editor. If the latter, where are her editors? Worse, where are her values? At one point she says she’s going to run a story that’s not finished (so much for the old “two sources” rule) and the next day she’s refusing to run a piece that sheds light on the biggest, juiciest story of the year, because the higher-ups at MediaCorp, which apparently recently bought the Globe, and who have no on-site representative, told her so. This little side-plot is supposed to represent another example of corporate villainy — those awful conglomerates buying up our First Amendment sources! — but that, too, is an old trope. The new trope is that no one’s buying them. They’re just dying.

The film’s villains, meanwhile, are the Blackwater-like PointCorp, a private company making billions off our wars and being investigated by young Pennsylvania congressman, and Gulf War veteran, Rep. Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck). Again: feels old. Feels Bush era.

Of course if this were the only problem with “State of Play,” it might not be bad. But it’s bad.

The movie begins, in a manner reminiscent of the superior “Enemy of State,” with a scared but speedy black man racing through the streets of D.C. Eventually he’s shot and killed by someone who knows how to shoot and kill, who then shoots a passing, bike-riding, pizza-delivery guy who saw too much. The slovenly, junk-food-eating Cal pursues the story.

Meanwhile a young redhead waits for her train at the D.C. Metro. Is someone following her? Has he pushed her under the train? Yes and yes.

Turns out she’s Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer), the chief investigator on the committee run by Rep. Collins looking into PointCorp. When the congressman announces her death at a hearing, he breaks down, and the press, and the blogosphere, including the Globe’s Della, have a field day. Were the two having an affair? Did she commit suicide because of him? Della then tries to get a quote out of Cal, because he and the Rep. were, of course, college roommates.

That evening the congressman visits the reporter — “You’re the only friend I’ve got,” he says — and the reporter acts like a PR rep. He’s less interested in the facts of the story than in ways to revive the congressman’s career. Then he gives Della the story. Of course he can’t write it himself — conflict of interest — but why feed the facts to a blogger for whom he has contempt? Why not another grizzled reporter?

There’s more, of course. The congressman was having an affair with Sonia. But then Cal was having an affair with the congressman’s wife, Anne (Robin Penn Wright), who is able to meet Cal at a nice D.C. restaurant, unpursued by paparazzi, the night after Sonia’s death. Neat trick. This second affair adds almost nothing to the story but detracts from it a great deal. Poor Robin Penn Wright.

The black guy/pizza guy killings? Turns out they’re linked to the Sonia Baker killing.

Sonia? Turns out she was initially working undercover for PointCorp. Until the affair. Then she turned.

So did PointCorp kill her and make it look like a suicide to besmirch, and quiet, Rep. Collins? And how did Sonia wind up on his staff anyway? Could it have something to do with Collins’ friend, the more senior, and more religious, Rep. George Fergus (Jeff Daniels)?

Reveals keep coming. Then at the end there’s a final reveal.

Know what would make a great reveal? No reveal. Just saying.

The movie is based upon a BBC miniseries and feels exactly like a soapy miniseries crammed into two-plus hours. New technologies are mentioned but they don’t alter the investigation the way that, say, cellphones altered (read: jumpstarted) the chase in “Casino Royale.” Here, they’re simply grafted onto old technologies. We get a montage, for example, of Della getting doors slammed in her face. It’s supposed to represent Della’s progress from blogger to reporter — she’s getting the Woodward and Bernstein treatment! — but the door-slamming doesn’t feel tied to anything important. Hell, every meeting between reporter and source in this thing is face-to-face. Because it’s more “dramatic” that way? Look, if you’re going to steal from “All the President’s Men,” why not have Stella work the phones the way that Woodward (Redford) worked the phones? That was plenty dramatic. Then ask yourself this. Can you update it? Can you quicken it? Can you tie it to something important?

Parts of the movie work. I like the location shooting. I like Cal’s visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. landmark, and the handmade sign listing the people who can eat there for free: Bill Cosby...and nobody else. Crowe, as always, is good, but nobody else is given anything. All the female roles are thankless, while Affleck, so perfectly sad as George Reeves in “Hollywoodland,” feels stiff and unresponsive again, while his Philadelphia accent should give some slight redemption to Kevin Costner’s British accent in “Robin Hood.”

Near the end, in one of the film’s many lurches toward relevance, Globe publisher Lynne suddenly shouts to her reporters, “The real story is the sinking of this bloody newspaper!”

She’s right. Too bad the filmmakers didn’t listen to her.

Posted at 10:37 AM on Apr 18, 2009 in category Movie Reviews - 2009
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Thursday April 16, 2009

Review: “Seraphine” (2008)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Seraphine” begins with a series of short, quiet scenes in 1914 Senlis, France. In the moonlight, as crickets chirp, we see a hand gliding through the water. In the daytime, a stout cleaning woman at a boarding house is told by the owner to open the rooms downstairs. “I have a new tenant,” she says. This cleaning woman is both devout (singing hymns in church slightly off from the masses) and a sensualist. She sits in trees and basks in the breeze, and it’s her hand, we realize, that glides through the water. She’s obsessive — humorously so. She’s doing laundry for five sous here, cleaning rooms for ten sous there, but she doesn’t respond much to human interactions. “Bon jour” and “Merci” bring out nothing in her. In the back of a butcher’s shop we see her steal cow’s blood in a small glass jar and bring it to church. For what bizarre ritual? Then we realize she’s not pouring blood out; she’s pouring melted wax from the candles in. Which is when the other shoe drops. She’s making paint.

Let’s face it, by the time most of us sit down to watch “Seraphine,” we know a few basic facts about her story: She’s a painter who lived in France at the turn of the last century. But this fact may trump all: She’s important enough that 100 years later we’re watching a film about her. The mere fact of the film acts as a kind of redemption for her and a kind of guide for us. We see her scraping by to paint at night but we know, by virtue of the film, that she succeeds. We know, when the boarding-house owner demands to see her work and then dismisses it because the apples don’t look like apples (“They could be plums,” she says), that the woman is a philistine. We know, when dinner-party guests chuckle knowingly about how Seraphine left the convent because she felt God “called her” to paint, that they’re bourgeoisie with lousy bourgeois taste.

The thrill we get, then, is as old as the thrill we get from the Gospels: These people don’t know who’s in their midst. They don’t know how special she is. It’s not a stretch to say we wait for her recognition as surely as we wait for our own.

Thankfully, for Seraphine, the new tenant turns out to be Wilhelm Uhde, a German art critic and collector, one of the first purchasers of Picasso and a champion of Rousseau. Their early encounters are awkward — he doesn’t know why Seraphine’s in his kitchen, she doesn’t know why he likes tea — but she softens when she sees drawings on his bed (a Picasso sketch, it turns out), and his handwriting, which she thinks is beautiful, and which makes her, charmingly, almost coquettish with him. Perhaps most importantly, she finds him in his room crying. “When I feel sad,” she tells him, later, with childlike intensity, “I go for a walk in the country and I touch the trees. I talk to the birds, the flowers, the insects, and I feel better.” That she's devoted to both God and Nature is a stark reminder just how idiotically divisive the U.S. — where you’re devoted to one or the other — has become.

One gets the sense that Uhde is bored and anxious in Senlis, and never moreso than at that bourgeois dinner party where the guests compliment each other’s talents while dismissing out-of-hand the kind of art that enthralls him. Then he becomes enthralled. He sees, in a corner, the painting of apples that could be plums, and is shocked to discover it’s by his cleaning woman. The next day he asks Seraphine to see more. He’s overwhelmed with discovery. She’s overwhelmed to be discovered. This is 40 minutes in and we wonder — with the “reveal” revealed — where the story will go from here. She keeps scrubbing his floors, for example, and when he insists that she not, she quotes St. Teresa of Avila: “Be ardent in your work and you will find God in your cooking pots.” One wonders if she needs manual labor in order to do the artistic kind. Will this be the source of the film’s future conflict and tension?

Non. It’s 1914. As summer continues the war heats up until Uhde, a “Boche” to Senlis’ residents, is forced to flee — less from the French, so this French film tells us, than from the invading Germans, who would shoot him as a deserter. He leaves behind many of his paintings, including Seraphine’s, and Seraphine, on the verge of being discovered, returns to her cramped existence as cleaning woman by day and painter by night.

Thirteen years go by. It’s 1927 and Uhde, his sister, and his latest discovery, take a house in a different French village, while he goes about the messy business of retrieving his collection, tossed to the winds during the war. He talks the primitif moderne to visiting Parisian journalists and worries over his discovery, and lover, a young man suffering from tuberculosis. Seraphine seems forgotten. It’s not until the sister reads of an art exhibition in nearby Senlis that we hear her name again. Uhde, who assumed Seraphine was dead, visits and walks through the exhibition with trepidation until he turns a corner and sees two of her works hanging there, big and beautiful, and finds her in the same dark flat. The story, tossed to the winds by the war, picks up again.

Uhde’s art-exhibition walk is important — at least for me. As viewers, for reasons already mentioned, we have a sense of superiority over the philistines of Senlis who don’t recognize Seraphine’s talent. But watching Uhde search for Seraphine’s work at the exhibition, rejecting with barely a glance the other works there, I realized I had no clue either. Why is this painting art and that one simply a pretty thing for a relative to hang on the wall? I truly have no idea. I only have the received wisdom of the ages telling me what is or is not art, and from there I choose what I like, but it’s not the same thing as doing what Uhde does.

Then I did further internal inventory. The artistic medium in which I feel most comfortable doing what Uhde does, is this one, writing, probably because it’s the only medium in which form is as important to me as content. I’m OK with film, but I don’t look at film with a director’s eye. Yes, I feel the artistic weight of some directors — Kubrick, Malick — but generally the story’s more important to me than what shots were chosen. With writing, what words were chosen is more important to me than what the story is. Generally.

That said, certain shots in “Seraphine” are as beautiful as paintings, and the final shot, silent and two minutes long, gives us a soft landing to what is a hard tale. The film delineates the creative process — or at least a creative process, her creative process — better than almost any film I’ve seen, and drives home the point that artistic talent is fluid, that it must be worked like anything else. It’s always in a state of becoming. I like the scene where Uhde stares intently, and with wonder, at one of her paintings, asking this and that, and she, behind him, says she only sees the mistakes. I like the montage where she shows off her work to friends, standing behind her paintings and often only visible from the nose up, like Kilroy. Some of these paintings are gorgeous. Even a philistine like me recognizes that.

This past February “Seraphine” won 10 Cesars (French Oscars), including best actress and best picture, and will get a limited release in this country in June. A shame it’s not wider. The film, while remaining distinctly French, reminds me of the best pictures we used to make, and see, in this country — historic, beautiful, accessible — before we stopped making and seeing best pictures.

Posted at 09:08 AM on Apr 16, 2009 in category Movie Reviews - 2009
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Sunday April 12, 2009

Review: “Observe and Report” (2009)

WARNING: SPOILERS

More than halfway through “Observe and Report,” the new dark comedy written and directed by Jody Hill, Det. Harrison (Ray Liotta) is delivering the bad news to mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) that, because he failed the psychological portion of the police exam — because he’s basically loons — he’s not going to become the cop he always wanted to be. Ronnie breaks down. At this point another detective, whom we’d seen entering Harrison’s closet laughing and ready to listen in on the bad news, emerges straight-faced. “I thought this was going to be funny,” he says, “but it’s actually kind of sad.”

The line is almost a toe-hold for reviewers. You go in thinking “Observe and Report” is going to be funny, but it’s actually kind of sad.

I don’t even know whether I like it. It’s hard to like. Ronnie is partly sympathetic. He suffers from bipolar disorder, lives with his alcoholic mother, moons after a dim, jewelry-counter girl, Brandi (Anna Faris).

More often, though, he’s just unpleasant. He’s the kind of guy who, when others are laughing, he tries to slip, laughing, into the conversation. He — whoops! — let’s slip big-deal news in order to seem a big deal. He obviously feels small but it’s hard to care since, within his fiefdom, he’s a petty dictator. He chews out subordinates with one foot up on a chair. One of the proprietors at the mall, whom Ronnie calls Saddam, actually has a restraining order against him. When a flasher begins to stalk women at the mall, Ronnie sees it as his chance to matter, but after a night-time theft, an actual detective, Harrison, is brought in to investigate. A bigger dog has entered his yard and Ronnie spends most of his time yapping at him, screwing up his investigation, until, with one big “woof!,” Harrison lets him know just how small a dog he is.

That’s when Ronnie decides to become a cop himself and demands an impromptu ride-along with Harrison as part of his training. Fed-up, Harrison abandons him, in the most dangerous part in town, his big white tennis shoes gleaming like a beacon. Soon he’s surrounded by crack dealers and gangbangers.

In a certain sense the movie is about the distance between the lives we lead and the lives we lead in our heads, and here we think this distance is going to come crashing down on Ronnie. A gun is pulled. He goes down on his knees. He’s begging for his life. But no. It’s all a ruse to get a weapon, and, with martial-arts skill, dispatch five gangbangers. He can be as heroic as he imagines himself to be.

Which makes us wonder: So what’s the point? That an annoying, petty bully can be a hero?

And that’s exactly the point. The filmmakers have put a very unpleasant guy in the traditional action-hero role. As much as anything, the film’s a send-up of Hollywood conventions — and how these conventions screw us, the audience, up.

The tropes are all there — loner, protects the weak, goes too far and loses his badge but, with a “go after your dreams” speech from mom, still manages to bring the bad guys to justice — they’re just made small and pathetic. After Ronnie loses both the possibility of the cop’s job and his mall-cop job, the flasher, dick flapping, returns and Ronnie chases him through the mall. Just as the flasher is about to pounce on Brandi, Ronnie shoots him, wounding him. Then he hauls him through a phalanx of cops, including Det. Harrison, standing in front of the police station, where he deposits him, turns on his heels, thrusts a fist in the air, and announces, “I win!”

It’s a great moment because you know, in his head, Ronnie sees himself as Dirty Harry. A few cops even applaud him, as they would Dirty Harry in a Dirty Harry movie. But we don’t thrill in Ronnie’s victory. The filmmakers manage to keep him small and pathetic. That’s impressive. It’s rare in a film when the audience is able to see so clearly this disconnect between the life led and the life in the head.

So what’s my problem? Why aren’t I giving this movie a ringing endorsement?

I could argue the missteps — those scenes when Ronnie stops being the petty dictator and, following a subordinate, lets loose his petty anarchist — but it’s bigger than that. Ronnie may be small and pathetic but so is everyone else. You get the feeling that Jody Hill and company just don’t like people much.

Everyone’s awful: the mall customers and the mall employees. Nell, the traditional “other girl” — the sensible one who likes the protagonist, and with whom he winds up in the end — wears a purity ring. But when Ronnie asks her if she’s a virgin, she responds, “Well, technically I’m a born-again virgin.” Ick.

Everyone has this disconnect between the lives they lead and the lives they think they’re leading, and our culture widens this gap. The rap song blaring in Brandi’s car, right before she’s flashed, includes the lyrics, “I’ll show him mine if he shows me his.” Feminists are up-in-arms over the date-rape scene but they miss the point. This is part of Ronnie’s disconnect. When the flasher first shows up, Ronnie warns Brandi, who wants nothing to do with him, “Everyone thinks they’re going to be fine — until someone puts something they didn’t want in some place they didn’t want it.” Turns out he’s that guy...and he doesn’t even know it. He thinks he’s the hero when he’s really the villain.

Which, I suppose makes “Observe and Report,” for all its misanthropy, a worthy film for our time. We think we’re the hero when we’re often the villain. We think we’re ridding the world of terrorism when we’re making pyramids out of naked Iraqis.

It’s actually kind of sad.

Posted at 11:03 AM on Apr 12, 2009 in category Movie Reviews - 2009
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Monday March 30, 2009

Review: “Duplicity” (2009)

Please accept the usual SPOILERS alert

“Duplicity” is a film with two gorgeous stars (Clive Owen, Julia Roberts) who have great chemistry. Their dialogue is smart, the film itself is sexy and lighthearted, and there’s a slow-mo scene between two feuding CEOs (Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson) that’s among the funnier things I’ve seen on a movie screen in a while. Critics like the film (66 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), A.O. Scott loved it (here), as did Patricia when we saw it Friday evening. So what the hell’s my problem?

Is it the name? The theme? The fact that the world’s a wreck now thanks to the duplicitous dealings of people like Bernard Madoff, and so distributing a sexy, light-hearted thriller using such people as heroes seems, at best, inopportune, and, at worst, a con game within a con game?

The writer/director is Tony Gilroy, the man who wrote the “Bourne” movies and wrote/directed “Michael Clayton,” which is also about people gaming each other, but which feels consequential. It seems like it matters. This doesn’t.

There’s a good article on Gilroy in the March 16th issue of The New Yorker, by D.T. Max, which references a conversation that Gilroy’s characters, Ray and Claire (Clive and Julia), have at a Lord & Taylor in midtown Manhattan. Five years earlier, when Ray was with MI-6 and Claire was with the C.I.A., she seduced him, drugged him and stole from him, and so when they meet at Lord & Taylor, both of them now in private industry, she the mole for one company whose contact in the other company is him, he’s got some shit to get off his chest. Moreso when she says she doesn’t know who he is. “I’m not great on names,” he tells her. “Where I’m solid? People I’ve slept with. That’s been a traditional area of strength for me.” It’s a great conversation and a great scene.

Then we hear it again, two years earlier in Rome, and again, and again. “The success of ‘Duplicity’ hinges,” Max writes, “on whether the audience will experience this sensation as pleasurable. Gilroy told me that he knew of no other movie where the same dialogue gets used five times for five reversals.”

Maybe that’s my problem. I enjoyed the dialogue so much the first time, it was a downer to hear it again this way. I felt cheated.

Also, let’s face it, once we hear it a second time, we know: 1) the Lord & Taylor scene is bogus, which means 2) the two are play-acting for someone, which means 3) they’re probably being bugged and are aware they’re being bugged. Thus the next time we hear the dialogue (played on a mini tape-recorder by Ray’s compatriots), it’s hardly a reversal. We already know the conversation was taped. The final time we hear it, as Ray and Claire practice the dialogue in her apartment before the first Lord & Taylor meeting — sounding less like secret agents than writers and directors arguing over word choices and line readings — yes, it’s another reversal, the biggest reversal of all. Because we discover, even if they don’t, that her place is bugged by Howard Tully (Wilkinson). Their scheme is really his scheme. Or, rather, his scheme trumps theirs.

Problem? Her apartment’s bugged? Kind of pedestrian, isn’t it? Isn’t she too smart, or tech-savvy, or paranoid for that?

You could argue that that’s the point. She thinks she’s too smart for that. He thinks he’s too smart for that. Thus their comeuppance. The New Yorker article makes it apparent that Gilroy believes in comeuppance. He thought he let Jason Bourne off too easily in the first film (he’s a professional assassin, after all) and so in the second film he’s forced to meet a girl he orphaned and deal. Same here. And that final scene, a slow pullback while they deal, is quite good.

Problem? You have four main players: Claire, Ray, Tully, and Richard Garsik (Giamatti). All are duplicitous. All deserve comeuppance. Yet Tully wins. Where’s his comeuppance?

You could extrapolate beyond the ending. You could argue that once Garsik is forced out as CEO for announcing a miracle product that doesn’t exist, he could, with nothing to lose, tell the truth. Say the whole thing was Tully’s scheme. Say Tully spent millions of his company’s money, and who knows how many man-hours, on a personal vendetta. Not to gain market advantage but out of petty revenge. And thus Tully could be forced out as well. Then nobody wins. You could extrapolate that. Maybe it’ll even be in the DVD extras. But it’s not here.

Besides, the main problem the film tries to resolve is whether Ray and Claire, two people who have made careers out of duplicity, can learn to trust one another enough to love one another. And despite the characters being well-written and well-acted within this framework... I guess I didn’t care. Maybe because I knew that even with non-agents, even with folks living the day to day, the answer to that problem is more fraught with reversals than anything Tony Gilroy could possibly imagine.

Posted at 08:51 AM on Mar 30, 2009 in category Movie Reviews - 2009
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