Here’s the starting lineup: William Goldman, red-hot off his Oscar win for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is your screenwriter. He’s adapting a novel by Donald E. Westlake, whose protagonist John Dortmunder will soon become one of his most popular creations. Robert Redford plays Dortmunder, with George Segal cast as his right-hand man. And you’ve got Peter Yates (Bullitt, The Friends of Eddie Coyle) in the director’s chair, seeking to marry his sensibilities for comedy and crime in the same film. Top it off with Quincy Jones for the score, and The Hot Rock should be shaping up to be a hell of a film.
One can understand and appreciate the drive to make a lighthearted caper in early ’70s New York, when the crime genre was growing in popularity but also in self-seriousness. Dirty Harry did much to cement a gritty remorselessness in the genre in 1971, asserting an edgy protagonist with no reservations about killing his enemies. In March 1972, The Godfather would in turn spawn a million imitators looking to recapture the Very Serious Drama of American crime. So the conceit of The Hot Rock, at the time, was explicit: bring back the fun.
Continue reading The Hot Rock (1972)
At some indiscriminate point in the ’90s movie producers everywhere decided to simply stop caring about trying to get actors to do passable Irish accents. Can’t we try, begged writers and moviegoers and people from Ireland, at least try to make this sound accurate? We know it’s more appealing to have a major American beefcake rather than, say, an actual Irish guy playing the role of “actual Irish guy”, but can’t we spend the extra time/money to ensure this film won’t become a laughingstock in ten years, or five, or instantaneously? Please? Please?
We’ve charted a course backwards through movie time and discovered Far and Away to be one of the earliest and most egregious offenders. If not patient zero per se, Far and Away is effectively worse than the index case for presenting itself on the largest possible stage and thus spreading the Awful Irish Accent disease much more quickly. Prior to Far and Away a shitty accent was a shitty accent. After Far and Away, a shitty accent became a perfectly acceptable feature of a major blockbuster because Ron Howard and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman couldn’t be bothered to do better. Why should anyone else?
Continue reading Far and Away (1992)
It’s fairly easy to spot a Guy Ritchie flick, and in his most recent movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. a few of his trademark flourishes find their best use yet. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer fill the suits first worn by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the ’60s television show and globetrot around the Mediterranean attempting to out-spy one another. There are three or four plots going on at once — one’s a crusade to stop a maniacal heiress from obtaining a nuclear weapon, one’s a love story, one’s a hopeful reunification of father and daughter —and so Ritchie’s penchant for hand-holding and retreading ground we’ve already covered is actually quite useful at times.
Mostly, though, the moderately bogged-down plot is just kind of there; the style, the mood, the unending suaveness of the two leads — that’s really what counts in Ritchie’s Man from U.N.C.L.E. There are some slick sequences that don’t make you forget the plot but make you simply not care about it, sequences that lose you, purposefully and gleefully, in the zippy catchiness of it all. There are some slow bits and, again, the retreading of information gets tedious as it does in other habitual instances throughout Ritchie’s filmography. But mostly this movie is all about the flow, and even if the scene-by-scene progression isn’t flawless the pacing within the scenes themselves is fantastic.
Continue reading The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)