After several weeks of incredibly bad movies coming out, Oscar potential movies are starting to emerge. I thought I’d do a few reviews of movies (available in Jordan now) that are definitely worth watching.
American Gangster | Ridley Scott does a great job of directing this movie based on a true story. Danzel Washington plays a black American gangster who begins to consolidate power in the early 1970’s by selling pure heroin in Harlem by using American presence in Vietnam to ship it. Meanwhile, Russell Crowe is a Serpico cop who heads up an investigation unit into whose been selling all the drugs. Crowe and Washington are kind of like Al Pacino and Deniro in Heat, never really meeting except for one climactic scene, and when you’re talking about two powerful actors such as these, they pretty much weave their own stories and do it brilliantly on their own. Washington is cool to the point of coldness, with his every move appearing calculated and without regret or second thought. Simply put, he gives an electrifying performance that’s worthy of a nomination. Meanwhile, Crowe has the mannerisms of his character down pat, with the story focusing a great deal on his personal life to show just how flawed he is, rather than being some super-cop.
If there’s one movie you have to see this season, this is it. I had to watch it twice. And by the way, this movie (as well as all the others listed below) is already available in Jordanian DVD shops a week before its theatrical release. Apparently there was a screener leak so the quality of the one you can buy in the balad is DVD quality.
Bottom Line: 5/5
Things We Lost In The Fire | After a woman (Halle Berry) loses her husband (David Duchovny), she convinces his best-friend (Benicio Del Tero), a struggling recovering heroin addict to move into her garage. The directing is superb, with the story cutting back and forth between past and present as if it were the same scene. With a grieving widow and her two you children, and a heroin addict, the movie is meant to be a tearjerker. I’m not her biggest fan but I think Berry did a pretty decent job in portraying her character, and what it means to lose someone like that. Though Benicio Del Tero steals the movie. This is one of his best films and best characters. The fact that he continues to relapse and try to recover, show the best and worst of him simultaneously. After you finish watching him perform you can’t imagine anyone else playing this role. And that’s how you know he’s great. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea as it is a pretty heavy drama, but it surprisingly manages to deal with two serious life issues: the loss of a loved one as well as drug addiction, in a very realistic and balanced manner.
Bottom Line: 4/5
Rendition | Think Traffic, Babel, 21 Grams and other serious drama real-life films that depend on several separate stories of various characters, all being connected somehow to one event. In this case the event is a suicide bombing in North Africa. Reese Witherspoon is married to an Egyptian-American who upon landing in the US on a trip back home from a conference, he is kidnapped by the CIA and shipped off to North Africa at the command of Meryl Streep, to be tortured for information on the bombing. Meanwhile, CIA analyst Jake Gyllenhaal watches, for the first time, as the suspect is tortured in front of him, and begins to have a crisis of conscious. Back in the States, Witherspoon’s character, who is pregnant, leaps off to Washington to try and get an old friend (Peter Sarsgaard) to pull some strings with the Senator he works for (Alan Arkin). In yet another storyline that is done completely in terrible broken Arabic, the Arab torturer is having family problems with his young daughter having run off with her boyfriend. The stories all come together in the end in an exciting way that offers a twist its predecessor, Babel, could not offer. The movie’s central theme is naturally the question of whether torture is an acceptable practice when it comes to information gathering, or if it’s even moral. A sub-theme is that of what makes a person become a terrorist; what pushes them to that extreme.
While the acting was well done and the story was great, its these types of movies that have me cringing in my seat. Why, of why, can’t Hollywood hire real Arab actors with real Arab accents for Arab roles? There’s an abundance of them over here. Some of the actors in this movie were speaking in a language unknown to me, but I was told that it was Arabic. The filmmaker seemed to want to mix the use of classical Arabic (which no one uses for things like talking) and slang dialects that included Egyptian, Moroccan and I think Saudi at one point, even though all the characters are in one country.
But if you can forgive the filmmaker for that, then you’re a better person than I am.
Bottom Line: 3.5/5