Tag Archives: Rachel McAdams

Spotlight (2015)

One appreciates how difficult it is to make a successful film like Spotlight. Yes, you have an A-list cast at your disposal, and yes, it’s Oscar season. They’re going for it. You have a true story that is quite literally already recorded for the public eye, plain as day, and besides the revelatory Spotlight newspaper clippings you have a vast backlog of coverage on the coverage, stories about the story. Yes, most of the real people who took part in that story are still alive and willing to participate in making a film about their achievements. And yes, the crucial win is already firmly in place: this is a highly relevant story, stranger than fiction but all the more urgent for being the truth.

Granted, there’s one massive pressure point in the expectations set by the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Director Tom McCarthy (“you” from the first paragraph) must have felt what Adam McKay felt in directing The Big Short, what David O. Russell felt in directing Joy, what Danny Boyle felt with Steve Jobs, what Don Cheadle felt with Miles Ahead. Any director dealing with the poster tagline Based On a True Story must ask “am I getting this right?”

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True Detective 2.2 – “Night Finds You”

As we ventured in our review of last week’s pilot episode “The Western Book of the Dead“, the structure of the second season does indeed come into slightly sharper focus in the second hour “Night Finds You”. This installment echoed some of the weaker points of the previous one, including a whole lot of exposition and a whole lot of angsty brooding. And what’s up with the melancholy bar singer? How about a hosting a karaoke night instead? Or bring in Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, liven the place up a bit. Velcoro and Semyon could be use some groove. Spoilers follow for the second episode “Night Finds You”.

Aside from all of that, there were a handful of exciting things that occurred in the second hour. Some of these things were pure True Detective. I suppose I never quite realized how much of the first season took place in a moving vehicle, but it felt fitting to see Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro and Rachel McAdams’s Ani Bezzerides exchange trailer-worthy capsule philosophies as they traversed the post-industrial Vinci (His: “My strong suspicion is we get the world we deserve”; Hers: “I don’t distinguish between good and bad habits”). The starting point of their relationship is characterized by mistrust and conscious deception, as both are informed about the other during individual briefings at the start of the episode. Ani learns that Ray is rumored to be a bent cop, while Ray is more or less tasked with seeing that the investigation goes nowhere. The pair use the car ride to “get to know each other”, which in True Detective means testing the other for weak spots, for betrayals, and eventually for a point on which an alliance might be formed.

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True Detective 2.1 – “The Western Book of the Dead”

Most everyone is comparing last night’s premiere of True Detective‘s second season with all of the highs of the first, which is both an inevitability (it’s True Detective, after all) and an exercise in futility. For the purposes of our Season 2 reviews we’ll be largely ignoring Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart (trying, anyway) although some comparisons do hold favorably with the current cast of characters. Our recent piece “A Man Without a Family” touched on the various family circles throughout the first season, and it’s clear in characters like Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro and Rachel McAdams’s Ani Bezzerides that some themes are inherent to the show regardless of which season we’re in.

“The Western Book of the Dead” was jam-packed with stuff, juggling a handful of protagonists and delving into flashbacks and allusions to mysterious pasts. Ray, a California cop in the Vinci Police Department, is introduced to us as the father of a young boy. The kid’s afraid of his classmates picking on him, but Ray seems tender and loving in his encouragements. “Be proud,” he says. When we discover that Velcoro’s kid is likely  product of the years-ago violent rape of his wife, our picture of Ray the Loving Father starts to disintegrate. By the end of the episode he’s ripped into his son, driven to the home of the kid that’s been bullying him, and beaten the father of that kid to hell while making the kid watch. The beauty in the fact of watching this scene on Father’s Day is not lost on me.

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A Most Wanted Man (2014)

There’s no doubt that the late Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the most gifted American actors of our generation. The Oscar winner for Capote was equally at home playing lovable rogues and despicable villains, taking increasingly challenging roles as his career went on. One of his final complete roles was that of Günther Bachmann in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, and Hoffman is his usual dedicated self as the Hamburg-based anti-terrorism agent.

Unfortunately A Most Wanted Man is a colossally slow and unexciting film, for the most part. Hoffman is superbly sluggish as the unhappy and overworked Bachmann; Grigori Dobrygin is likewise effective, if a bit underwritten, in the part of the illegal migrant Issa Karpov; Willem Dafoe seems present simply to be a famous face; and Rachel McAdams, beautiful though she is, remains utterly unconvincing as a foreigner. The plot of the film revolves around Bachmann’s maneuvering of the players involved in the appearance of the young Karpov in Hamburg, as Bachmann’s colleagues suspect him to be a credible threat to national security.

The film starts on a promising note. The first shot is nearly brilliant, telling a simple story without giving away any details at all. Again, Hoffman is thoroughly great – one reviewer noted a resemblance between Bachmann and a hungover panda, a sentiment which could not be more on the mark. There is a long shot midway through the film of Bachmann walking from a helicopter pad into a building, and the effort the guy takes just to keep his pants from falling down tells so much about his character. He can’t manage to keep himself dressed, and yet he’s pretty damn good at protecting his city from terrorists.

So the fault I find with A Most Wanted Man isn’t at all with Hoffman. He’s expected to do what Daniel Day-Lewis did for Lincoln, another long politically-driven film devoid of anything remotely resembling an action sequence. The problem is that Anton Corbijn is a far cry from Steven Spielberg, and A Most Wanted Man really drags for long stretches at a time. The opening scenes are set to quick string riffs you’d find in a Bourne movie, and the stage is set for that spy action chase scene…which never happens. I’m all for a movie that can carry itself without a fight scene, but the pace has to support such a thing by finding “action” elsewhere.

The film also falls to multiple spy-movie cliches, including the obligatory “Do you ever ask yourself why it is we do what we do?” question posed by the main character. Do you ever ask yourself why every spy movie feels the need to delve into this life-from-the-shadows routine? The reply, which could have turned the cliche on its head, ends up being even more of a cliche: “To make the world a safer place. Isn’t that enough?” The characters then repeat this near the climax of the film, because, you know, someone thought that was poignant.

Ultimately, in spite of a fantastic turn from the indomitable Hoffman, the sense of urgency just isn’t present in A Most Wanted Man. Perhaps if the film had been titled A Somewhat Wanted Man or You Should Really Only See This for Philip Seymour Hoffman, at least there’d be some truth in advertising to fall back on.