Archive for the thriller Category

The Counselor

Posted in Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on March 10, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Cormac McCarthy
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Toby Kebbell, Ruben Blades, Natalie Dormer, Dean Norris, Edgar Ramirez, Goran Visnjic, Sam Spruell, Richard Cabral, John Leguizamo.

You are at a cross in the road and here you think to choose. But here there is no choosing. There is only accepting. The choosing was done long ago“.

Being a huge fan of Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy, Ridley Scott was originally planning to adapt his controversial 1985 novel “Blood Meridian” before the project eventually fell through. Scott, however, was given another chance when McCarthy wrote his first ever original screenplay in the mould of “The Counselor“. Circling it for a short time, Scott eventually took the reigns and drafted in a star studded cast which led it to be one of the most anticipated movies of 2013. When it finally reached the public-eye, though, it was met with such a vehement backlash that I actually steered clear of it… until now.

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Le Samouraï

Posted in Crime, Film-Noir, Foreign Language, thriller with tags on December 19, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Jean-Pierre Melville.
Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Melville.
Starring: Alain Delon, Nathalie Delon, François Périer, Cathy Rosier, Jacques Leroy, Jean-Pierre Posier, Catherine Jourdan.

There is no greater solitude than a samurai’s, unless it is that of a tiger in the jungle…perhaps…

When a film is revered as a classic of world cinema by viewers and critics alike, it’s only so long before you have to check it out for yourself. In the case of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï”, I did just that, and I didn’t regret it for a minute. It’s entirely understandable why this policier features on many people’s lists of favourites.

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Prisoners

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, thriller with tags on December 17, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Denis Villeneuve.
Screenplay: Aaron Guzikowski.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Dylan Minnette, Zoe Borde, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons, David Dastmalchian, Wayne Duvall.

Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst“.

In 2011, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies” received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. For that, he depicted a family that ventured on a journey of discovery. In “Prisoners“, Villeneuve turns his eye to another bleak family drama where ‘discovery’ is, once again, the driving force behind his characters’ motivations.

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The Departed

Posted in Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on November 18, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: William Monahan.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Mark Rolston, David Patrick O’Hara, Kevin Corrigan, James Badge Dale, J.C. MacKenzie, Robert Wahlberg.

When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?

Despite Martin Scorsese directing consistently good films since the 1970′s, the well deserved Academy Award always eluded him. He was snubbed for such classics as “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” but he finally got his hands on that long-awaited gong for this remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs“.

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World War Z * * * *

Posted in Action, Drama, Horror, thriller with tags on September 11, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Marc Forster.
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Peter Capaldi, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Ludi Boeken, Fana Mokoena, Elyes Gabel, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu, Abigail Hargrove, John Gordon Sinclair.

In making it to the screen, World War Z wasn’t without it’s problems; firstly, there were complaints of it’s very loose take on Max Brooks’ novel, then it’s violence was toned down to achieve a PG-13 certificate; a script rewrite happened half way through production; cinematographer Robert Richardson left to work on “Django Unchained” and the likes of Ed Harris and Bryan Cranston dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. As all these problems piled up, the expectation was that the film would be an absolute disaster. Well, quite simply, it’s not. Despite it’s problems, it’s actually quite a tense and impressively handled thriller.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former UN worker, happily spending some time at home with his family, until the sudden outbreak of a zombie plague takes over his home city. They are forced to flee and Gerry manages to get his family to safety but news breaks that the whole world is suffering the same outbreak, leaving Gerry to get back in the field and use his experience to search for a cure.

After a brief introduction to our protagonist, Forster doesn’t waste time in getting down to business. Within minutes we are thrust into an absolutely exhilarating opening sequence of the rampaging undead overtaking Philadelphia (actually shot in Glasgow, where I witnessed them filming) and it’s from here that you realise that there’s plenty of potential in this summer blockbuster. It doesn’t matter that there’s a lack of blood or gore because the suspense is handled so competently and effectively that you’re still on the edge of your seat. In fact, it’s the perfect example that less can be more sometimes. What’s most impressive, though, is the epic scale in which it’s delivered. There are several intense action set-pieces where hordes of zombies leap from rooftops, clamber over walls and rampage through an aircraft mid-flight. As an action movie, it certainly delivers the goods and also finds the time to incorporate geopolitics as the epidemic goes world wide. Anchoring all this mayhem is a solidly understated, central performance from Pitt. Having produced this movie – throughout it’s spiralling budget – his commitment to make it work comes across in his performance. He’s entirely believable and identifiable as a family man desperate to survive his chaotic surroundings. Nobody else really gets a look in, including a severely downsized role for Matthew Fox and a brief cameo from, the always reliable, David Morse. Ultimately, the film rests on Pitt’s shoulders, though, and he handles it with aplomb. So much so, that the lack of blood splattering and zombie flesh eating takes a back seat to the character driven drama.
Due to it’s production difficulties, plans for a sequel were shelved. However, having now become a box-office summer smash, the sequel has been given the go-ahead. I, for one, wholeheartedly welcome it.

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Against the odds, this manages to be a satisfyingly tense addition to the zombie sub-genre. It doesn’t go for the jugular in a gratuitous manner, instead it works on your nerves and focuses on telling a relatable story. Die hard horror fans may want more from it, but it delivered just the right amount of thrills for me.

Mark Walker

Blood Simple * * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Film-Noir, thriller with tags on September 11, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Joel & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan & Joel Coen.
Starring: Frances McDormand, John Getz, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh, Samm Art-Williams, Deborah Neumann.

(The following post is not so much a review, as it is a commentary on the creative work(s) of the Coen brothers. It’s my contribution to the Blogathon called “Debuts” created by Mark Fletcher of Three Rows Back and Chris Thomson of Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coup, whereby a number of bloggers have chosen a particular director to highlight and the significance that their first feature has had. You can access the rest of the Blogathon posts here).

Having cut his teeth as Assistant Editor on director Sam Raimi’s cult classic, “The Evil Dead” in 1981, Joel Coen went on to become a fully fledged director himself with his debut “Blood Simple” in 1984. On the advice of Raimi, Joel and his brother Ethan (whom, it has always been said, actually shared directorial duties) went door-to-door showing potential investors a two minute ‘trailer’ of the film they planned to make, which resulted in them raising $750,000 and just enough to begin production of their movie. It was at this point that two of cinema’s most consistent and original talents had arrived.

In West Texas, saloon owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him with Ray (John Getz), one of his bartenders. Marty then hires Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), a private detective, to investigate. Once Marty gains proof of the adulterous affair, he pays Visser to kill them. However, Visser is a very unscrupulous type and has plans of his own.

When you comb through the filmography of the Coen’s, three renowned and highly respected crime writers will inevitably surface. They are: James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. However, it’s their debut “Blood Simple” that fully harks back to the hard boiled noir’s of the 1940′s, namely, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity” – both of which are written by Cain and the latter, in fact, co-scripted by Chandler when it made it the screen. Hammett was also a contemporary of these writers and wrote the novel “Red Harvest“, which actually coined the term “blood simple”. It is described as “the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations”. This very description sums the movie up perfectly. It’s a homage to these great writer’s and the genre they excelled in. Also, like their stories, once the character’s and their motivations are established, there is no going back. Although this was their debut, labyrinthine plots and double-crosses would become a staple of the Coens’ work that followed. Give or take the odd zany comedy, their filmography largely consists of these writers; “Miller’s Crossing” was heavily influenced by Hammett’s “The Glass Key” while “The Big Lebowski” loosely took it’s structure from the work of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain would resurface in the “The Man Who Wasn’t There“. Even the Oscar winning “Fargo and “No Country For Old Men” could be seen as riffs on “Blood Simple“, itself. The thing that’s most apparent about this debut from the Coen’s, though, is that their stylistic approach is plain to see. It cast the mould from which we have witnessed their serpentine abilities in storytelling and hugely inventive directorial flourishes.

Much has been said about the cinematography on the Coens’ output. This has largely been due to the work of their regular collaborator Roger Deakins. However, it was Barry Sonnenfeld who worked on the first three Coen’s movies and you’d be hard pushed to notice much of a difference between them. This simply comes down to them translating exactly the vision that the brothers had. That’s not to take away from the work of Deakins or, in this case, Sonnenfeld as their cinematography has always been sublime but ultimately it comes down to the Coens’ inventively keen eye for a shot. They are known for being sticklers for detail, knowing exactly what they want and exactly how it should look and working from a shoestring budget doesn’t prevent them from realising their Hitchcockian melee of passion, bloodshed and suspense. If anything, their limited budget shows how artistic and creative they really are and they’re not without (or what would become) their trademark moments of irony.

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The Coen brothers have went on to become two of the most respected filmmakers in the business, and rightfully so. With many classics – cult and mainstream – under their belts already, there’s really no end to what they’re capable of. That being said, it’s always a pleasure to return to their roots and see where it all began.

Mark Walker

Only God Forgives * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on July 31, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Nicolas Winding Refn.
Screenplay: Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Tom Burke, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Byron Gibson.

After the success of “Drive” in 2011, another collaboration with director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling was highly anticipated. Now that we are delivered the results with “Only God Forgives“, many have been left disappointed and, from many corners, it has received very harsh criticism. It doesn’t possess the postmodern cool of their previous effort but what it does have, is art house and depth written all over it.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is a US ex-pat living in Bangkok, where he runs a Mauy Thai boxing club and a family drug business behind the scenes. Things begin to go wrong, though, when his brother Billy (Tom Burke) is killed with the involvement of local police Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). This, in turn, brings the arrival of Julian’s sadistic mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) to avenge her first born’s death. Julian soon realises that they are up against someone who will not be stopped.

For some, this will be a sumptuous five star experience while others will (understandably) criticise it for it’s perceived pretension and ambiguity. It’s a very difficult film to rate and I can’t give it any less than I have, simply because I do believe that there’s substance contained within. The plot summary above, makes it all sound very straight forward but it’s far from that. If truth be told, I didn’t entirely understand it but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. That’s a fault that rests with me rather than the filmmaker and I think this is the problem that many people are criticising it for – not to mention, Gosling fans’ annoyance at his distinct lack of dialogue.
Anyone familiar with Winding Refn movies, will quickly realise that this type of filmmaking is actually the norm for him and much closer to his idiosyncratic style than “Drive” ever was. It’s filled with symbolism, metaphors and spirituality and categorically, it simply isn’t the action movie that most viewers were expecting. Credit has to be given to Winding Refn and Gosling for their bravery here. They refuse to try and recreate their previous magic and deliver a whole new experience. There are others deserving of mention here too, Larry Smith’s spellbinding cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and entirely authentic in capturing both the beauty and the beast of the city of Bangkok, while Cliff Martinez evokes a foreboding score. The biggest revelation, though, is a bleach-blonde, foul mouthed, Kristin Scott Thomas as the dangerous matriarch Crystal, where every time she’s onscreen she absolutely chews it up. It’s an outstanding, against-type, performance from the once (“Four Weddings and a Funeral“) English rose. Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm’s Chang is also worthy of note with his cold, supernatural, god-like, approach and wielding his own form of justice with the aid a samurai sword that he keeps on his person. He can be seen as the phallus to Scott Thomas’ yonis, leaving the lost and soulful Gosling with an Oedipal complex and dreamlike imaginings of castration – symbolically represented by the loss of his hands. Events don’t exactly make sense on a first time viewing but this is a film that demands repeated efforts to fully capture it’s themes. It has the similar surrealist approaches of directors David Lynch and more importantly Alejandro Jodorowsky (to whom the film is dedicated) and there’s no questioning Refn’s stylistic abilities.

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Is it for everyone? Most certainly not, but it will appeal to those who enjoy uncompromising, art-house minimalism and don’t rely on a storyline where everything is linear and readily explained. It’s ambitious and experimental and you probably won’t see a more polarising film all year.

Mark Walker

The American * * *

Posted in Drama, thriller with tags on July 3, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Anton Corbijn.
Screenplay: Rowan Joffe.
Starring: George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Thekla Rueten, Johan Leysen, Irina Bjorkland, Filippo Timi.

He made his directorial debut with the life story of the band Joy Division’s frontman, Ian Curtis in “Control”. Now, renowned photographer Anton Corbijn shows some more control – and restraint – in his second feature, with a beautifully shot and unexpected meditative thriller.

Jack (George Clooney) is a hired assassin who goes into hiding in a small Italian village to let things settle after someone tries to assassinate him. Here he befriends a priest who he very nearly confides in and also falls in love with a local prostitute. His employer, meanwhile, sets up another job for him but all is not what it seems, and his identity is more exposed than is comfortable.

When a film opens with the Cloon-meister shooting an innocent woman in the back, you know things are going to be different. Although, not quite as different as what transpires. Done with a very slow, deliberate and meditative pace – reflective in the mood and existential angst of Clooney’s hitman – and as the title suggests, the only thing ‘American’ about this film, is this very character. Everything else is purely European; the supporting actors, the setting, the look and feel. Its almost an art-house thriller. Emphasis on the art-house (and arduous) as there are very few thrilling moments. When they do appear though, they are impressively handled by Corbijn but ultimately the very slow pace kills the action and on a couple of occasions we are treated to scenes of almost unbearable tension and then left unfulfilled as the tension dissipates, without the expected delivery. I enjoyed the simplicity of the whole thing but also found myself wondering if it was worth the time I was investing. I admire Corbijn’s attempt at going against the formula but it wasn’t entirely successful and I couldn’t help but wonder what could have been had he concentrated a little more on his obvious ability in handling suspense and jangling nerves. However, a brilliantly understated and subtly emotive performance from George Clooney, yet again, proves his versatility and holds the film together.

It doesn’t entirely excite enough for a thriller and isn’t quite as astute as a character study, but falls somewhere, awkwardly, in-between.

Mark Walker

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The Secret In Their Eyes * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Foreign Language, Mystery, thriller with tags on May 4, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Juan José Campanella.
Screenplay: Eduardo Sacheri, Juan José Campanella.
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, José Luis Gioia, Carla Quevedo.

The 2010 Academy Awards category for Best Foreign Language film contained some strong contenders with the likes of Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” and Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon“; two films that could easily have laid claim to the award. However, it was this film that crept up from under their noses and took the Oscar. Whether or nor you pay any credence to the Oscars is neither here nor there as there’s no doubt that this is solid and absorbing filmmaking.

In 1999, retired criminal justice officer Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darìn) decides to write a novel about a murder case that he investigated in 1974. He decides to visit his old colleague Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil) to talk it over. The case had repercussions for everyone involved but Benjamin didn’t realise the direct effect it had on him or his deep, suppressed feelings for Irene.

With a title like “The Secret In Their Eyes“, this film states it’s intentions and stands by them. Director Juan José Campanella lingers long on shots and wisely focuses on the eyes of his performers. For a film that’s predominately dialogue driven, the abundance of close-up’s add another dimension where the eyes speak a thousand words. It’s a great technique that conveys a myriad of hidden meanings in the relationship between the two main characters, Benjamin and Irene. However, this relationship is not entirely apparent from the off-set. It’s only when the film’s layers are revealed that this comes to the surface, as in the meantime you’re too preoccupied with it’s murder-mystery plot developments. This mystery progresses into a manhunt, while taking time to explore the judicial system and political corruption that was rife in Argentina in 1970′s. It’s during this, that Campanella takes advantage of the thriller element in the story, delivery an absolutely astounding and very skilfully handled tracking shot through a football stadium, leading to an impressively assembled chase sequence. Just how they managed to do it is beyond me and needs to be seen to be believed. There are many moments of intensity when it matters (including a nerve-racking elevator moment that’s hard to forget) but it also knows how to ground itself and that’s were the performances come in; Ricardo Darin is a charismatic presence who more than holds your interest with unshakable ideals and a strong moral compass, while Soledad Villamil delivers a strong and reserved show. It’s the chemistry between these two wonderful actors that play a big part in the film’s, effortless, tonal shifts. It’s also not without humour or tragedy which is provided by Guillermo Francella as Benjamin’s alcoholic, but loyal and reliable colleague, Pablo.
Quite simply, it’s easy to see why this film took the Oscar, it’s has a bit of everything; a sharp and involving script that pays great attention to detail; skilful direction; rich cinematography and natural, committed performances.

A complex tapestry about life, love and chances rued, that’s built around the constructs of a thriller. It excels in everything it challenges and that’s exactly where it’s strengths lie.

Mark Walker

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Gangster Squad * * *

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on May 1, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ruben Fleischer.
Screenplay: Will Beall.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Jack McGee, Jon Polito, Josh Pence, Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton, John Aylward, James Carpinello, Don Harvey, Ambyr Childers, Frank Grillo, James Landry Hébert.

Although I’ve yet to see director Ruben Fleischer’s previous comedy film “30 Minutes Or Less“, I did manage to catch his debut “Zombieland” which injected a lot of humour and style in the zombie sub-genre. For his third film, he assembles one of the year’s most impressive casts and decides to drop the comedy and focus on a real-life crime story. His stylish approach is, once again, on show but unfortunately, his film suffers from a dreadfully threadbare script that fails to utilise his very talented ensemble or elaborate on a story with massive potential.

Los Angeles, 1949. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is determined to take hold of the city and muscle out any competition. Police Chief William Parker (Nick Nolte) has other ideas, though. He forms a squad of no-nonsense cops to fight back and puts World War II veteran John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) in charge of the operation. O’Mara assembles his crew and tackles Cohen’s organisation with the same brute force that the criminal acquired it with.

From the off-set, Fleischer doesn’t waste time in getting down to business. The brutality of Mickey Cohen is captured within the first few minutes by a scenery-chewing Sean Penn, on menacing form. Following suit, we are then introduced to Brolin’s strong arm of the law, charged with bringing this notorious gangster to justice. Straight away, Dion Beebe’s gorgeous cinematography and production designer Mather Ahmad manage to capture the glitz and grime of late 1940′s L.A. and it looks like we could be treated to something akin to Curtis Hanson’s sublime “L.A. Confidential“. Unfortunately, the look and feel is where the comparison ends. This isn’t anywhere near as tightly constructed as James Ellroy’s labyrinthine thriller and that’s the most frustrating part; it could have been. The elements are in place but the all-important script seems to have it’s concrete shoes on. The writing is repetitious and lazily strung together and for a film that’s seemingly focused on it’s characters, it ultimately fails to deliver anything that resembles a three-dimensional role for any of the impressive cast on show. Brolin, Gosling and Penn get most of the screen time but this is a role that’s completely beneath the abilities of Gosling as he takes a back seat to the other two and the talented likes of Ribisi, Mackie and especially Peña needn’t have turned up at all. It all but completely abandons the good work it sets out to do and resorts to stylistic action scenes that are drawn out and devour the latter half of the movie – eventually leading to nothing more than a shoot-em-up and an obligatory toe-to-toe thrown in for good bad measure. Quite simply, the whole thing comes across as a poor case of cut-and-paste and squanders what little powerful scenes and performances it does possess.

It’s a real shame that this ended up so superficial when it had so much potential. Instead of being a passable piece of pulp with too much reliance on it’s star wattage, it could have been a solid addition to the gangster genre. I’m sure Fleischer believed in the material at one point but my Tommy-Gun’s not convinced.

Mark Walker

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