One of those great Hollywood thrillers that you can throw on any time and get lost in. Harrison Ford stars as respected doctor Richard Kimble, wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, who escapes en route to jail, and sets off to track down the real killer. Tommy Lee Jones won an Oscar and launched his late career as US Marshall Sam Gerard, the man tasked with tracking this fugitive down, and under Andrew Davis’ assured direction, it is not only the director’s best film to-date by quite some margin, but also perhaps the last great performance from Ford.
Originally marketed under the name Malavita, The Family sees Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as the parents of the Manzoni family, hiding in France under assumed names (Blake being the latest), under the watchful eye of Tommy Lee Jones and the FBI witness protection programme.
One assumes The Family is meant to be a comedy, or at least a farce. But, very few of the setups really deliver. This is especially the case with the subplots involving the Manzoni/Blake’s two teenage children, played by Dianna Agron (best known for her role on Glee) and John D’Leo (also known for TV roles on Law & Order: SVU and How to Make It in America). And, while calling the family dog “Malavita” (pidgin Latin for bad life), it’s yet another joke that doesn’t land to name the film the same.
Luc Bresson’s direction perhaps best explains why The Family looks better than it feels and only really finds its rhythm in the build up to each action sequence. Put simply, this film lacks the verve and menace to work as a thriller and lacks the imagination and timing to work as a comedy.
The storytelling itself lurches too often between the implausible and the incoherent as The Family tries to shoehorn a conventional “crims on the run” plot into shell of a French Pastoral farce. In the end, this disappointing film is not all bad. It has its moments, mostly between De Niro and Agron, but they are too few to warrant a wholehearted recommendation.
What better way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon than with a matinee style screening of the most matinee-ish of the recent Marvel films; Captain America: The First Avenger. After all, this is one of the most obviously entertainment oriented films in the franchise, with everything from dancing girls to giant tanks thrown into a story whose tone lurches between The Guns of Navarone and Hogan’s Heroes.
The film-making is solid, the score, from Alan Silvestri is wonderful, the CGI is seamless and the cast really shines. Chris Evans does well to take his character on the journey from the troubled wimp Steve Rogers to the superhero with his heart (mostly) in the right place. Stanley Tucci, despite bearing the worst German accent in cinema history, is his winsome best as the scientist in exile. Hayley Atwell (who was the best thing in Woody Allen’s otherwise risible caper film Cassandra’s Dream) shone as Captain America’s handler (literally and figuratively) Peggy Carter. While Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving anchored the film with great, albeit slightly stereotypical performances as Colonel Chester Phillips and the evil Johann Schmidt.
And, while it was nice to see Natalie Dormer appear as a blond temptress towards the end of the film, it’s a moment that feels forced, as several such moments do in the film. It’s as if the writers felt compelled to tick certain plot line boxes in order to fill out what is, essentially a simple story.
Which is kind of a shame, because what makes those great war films (from the matinee fodder through to serious blockbusters) so compelling is that a simple story arc is used to reveal true character and determination. And, in the same way, Captain America: The First Avenger is at it’s best when the characters are true to their motivations and singular in their actions.
While Captain America: The First Avenger is not the best of the current Avenger series of films, it is perhaps the most endearing to date and one that stands up remarkably well to repeat viewing.
Steven Spielberg assembles an incredible cast of noted character performers for this dense, stately yet thoroughly rewarding history lesson. As a Brit, my knowledge of the American Civil War is sketchy at best, but Spielberg’s film is a far cry from something like Glory. Lincoln is a film about politics, negotiation and compromise, as the President battles against everyone, from the Democrats to his own wife, to push through the 13th Amendment and abolish slavery before the war comes to an end. His tactics along the way were often considerably more underhand than his ultimate intention, but he will always be remembered for his unwavering dedication to getting the job done.
Daniel Day Lewis gives a phenomenal performance as Lincoln, in just the latest role in a career filled with incredible performances. He should easily walk away with his third Best Actor Oscar next month (an unprecedented achievement) and solidify his position as the World’s Greatest Living Screen Actor. While the film is every bit DDL’s show, there is excellent support from Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, David Strathairn and Sally Field, while Spielberg shows notable restraint in what could so easily have become a melodramatic, schmaltz-fest. High praise must also be awarded to Tony Kushner for his incredibly verbose yet riveting screenplay. Featuring almost no action, Lincoln is a film of words, conversations, parables and debates, and Kushner’s dialogue is the rich blood that gives life to this complex account of a pivotal moment in US History.