Tag Archives: David Strathairn

The Firm (1993)

The Firm (1993)Just now I googled “Tom Cruise best roles”, “Tom Cruise worst roles”, “Tom Cruise best movies” and “Tom Cruise worst movies”, partially because I’m interested to see where his role as Mitch McDeere in The Firm lands and partially because my boredom has reached carrying capacity. I found, unsurprisingly, that the internet does that thing where it reaches consensus about certain things being “good” and certain things being “bad”, which in this case is sometimes inarguable (A Few Good Men = “good”, Far and Away = “bad”) but sometimes weirdly unearned, as with the endless praise heaped upon Edge of Tomorrow or Cruise’s role in Tropic Thunder. The former is a fairly fun movie and the latter is a fairly funny movie, but to say that these number among Cruise’s best seems a stretch. Again, the common consensus surrounding mediocrity doesn’t exactly come as a shock.

What was surprising, though, is that not a single article or top ten list included Mitch McDeere or mentioned The Firm at all. “Good” and “bad” are complicated, sure, and you might even suggest that the overarching opinions of the internet’s burgeoning culture commentary is at fault for this, too, as if to say “those other guys didn’t claim The Firm to be a great Cruise movie, so we won’t either.” But not a single one mentioned The Firm. No outliers buried in a list to satiate the unconfessed desire of a film blogger, no mention of Mitch McDeere even in reference to another role. It’s like The Firm never registered as a Cruise flick. Putting aside common consensus and inescapable truth (Far and Away = “bad”), that just seemed strange.

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The Human Stain (2003)

The Human Stain tackles a great many things, with racism and African-American struggles being only the largest of the many themes at play. The dehumanizing power of racism is an undeniable part of America’s past, but it was every bit as important a discussion in the early years of the new millennium when the film came out. It’s every bit as important now at the time of writing and will be every bit as important there, where you are, in the future, at time of reading. As with anything so powerful, so socially destructive, the cultural perception ebbs and flows with time and with provocation. Do we remember that dark past? Do we really? Do we hold a part of it in secret? These questions pry at Coleman Silk, our “hero”. Before we delve into Coleman it must be noted that The Human Stain (the novel) should be a mainstay of every contemporary African-American literature curriculum, and it was written by an Old White Jewish Guy.

That guy is Philip Roth, an author so prolific that it’s surprising so few of his works have been adapted to the screen. The long-gestating adaption of American Pastoral, arguably Roth’s most famous work, is now looking set for the year ahead with Ewan McGregor taking on directing and starring duties. And the adaptation of Indignation just played at Sundance a few days ago to positive reviews, too, so maybe we’re in for a bit of a Roth resurgence in the same way No Country for Old Men prompted a scramble to adapt the best stuff by Cormac McCarthy. Here in The Land of Hypothetical Roth Adaptations we’d cast Johnny Depp as the possibly-demented Mickey Sabbath in Sabbath’s Theater, so when that happens in real life just know that you heard it here first.

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Evidence of Blood (1998)

A late-’90s made-for-TV flick by no-name director Andrew Mondshein starring hardbody sex idols David Strathairn and Mary McDonnell? Sign me up!

While there’s literally not one thing to get excited about when looking over Evidence of Blood on paper, it passes with a push from a realistic script and fairly believable twist ending. Strathairn stars as crime novelist Jack Kinley, who returns to his smalltown home (as all such protagonists seem to do) and gets embroiled in a decades-old murder mystery (as all such protagonists seem to do). McDonnell and the rest of the supporting cast sport drawling Southern accents and go around wondering why city boy Kinley can’t just let the past be the past, for Chrissake.

Also notable here is the overused protagonist-has-suppressed-the-one-thing-that-cracks-the-case trope, wherein Kinley’s childhood nightmares end up informing the whodunit in a highly convenient way. Was that trope overused in 1998, though? Does it matter?

The script, again, is realistic to a fault and quite solid as far as made-for-TV flicks go – and sad, then, that the aforementioned “quirk” of the protagonist is not only unrealistic but also jarring in such an otherwise true-to-life landscape. These “quirks” are super prevalent today, apparent in Dr. House and every “gifted” crime investigator on CSI and NCIS and LAPD Whatever. Hell, even Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle from True Detective had spells of hallucinations amidst his obsessive and manic mannerisms.

Is no main character interesting enough without these kinds of fabricated “connections” ingrained somewhere in their psyche? That screenwriter Dalene Young and/or book author Thomas H. Cook (maybe it worked better in the novel?) succumbed to this trope is ultimately what sets this writer-solving-a-mystery story below stronger efforts of similar sensibility, like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

The framing and cinematography may also be what set Evidence of Blood aside as TV fodder rather than something fit for theatrical release, and Kinley’s dreams and premonitions fade in and out of the reality of the story with barely a trace of care or subtlety. They just happen. In better hands, the weak points in the story could still have been fashioned into compelling viewing, which is to say that in better hands Evidence of Blood could have been a heck of a lot more affecting.