Monday, December 31, 2012

Movie of the Week – Glory

This week’s movie: Glory (1989).

Glory is a true story detailing the trials and accomplishments of the first all-black volunteer company serving the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. The company was commanded by Robert Gould Shaw. The film is based on two books on the topic and Shaw’s own letters (which are read throughout as voice-over narration).

Director Edward Zwick has had an up and down career in Hollywood. His first film About Last Night… served as his breakout into features (he had only made TV movies previously), finding popularity (while not being that great) as one of the Brat Pack movies. For his next film, Glory, Zwick made a strong drama built on fantastic characters and social relevance. He has since made eight films, the best of which seem to focus on the same dramatic area – exploring social issues in war time or a war torn area (films like: The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond  and Defiance, though Courage Under Fire is the exception).

Glory features a fantastic and memorable score from James Horner (here is a suite). Freddie Francis also provides wonderful cinematography (winning an Oscar), and Norman Garwood’s production design is top notch (the film falling right in Garwood’s prime, between films like: Brazil, The Princess Bride and Misery).

The cast is quite strong in the film as well, many of the actors giving brilliant performances. Matthew Broderick (maybe miscast, but still good) plays Shaw, while Denzel Washington (winning an Oscar for his work), Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman (who could have been nominated for an Oscar too), Jihmi Kennedy, and Andre Braugher make up the supporting cast.

Glory is among the great war films in cinema history (and certainly among the 1980’s best: The Big Red One, Das Boot, Gallipoli, Come and See, The Killing Fields, Platoon, Empire of the Sun, and Full Metal Jacket). It is a must-see for fans of war films.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Django Unchained (2012) – Review

Review: Django Unchained is a highly entertaining action drama with some western aspects, full of references and throwbacks. The film is about a slave Django who is freed by a bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz who needs his help identifying a bounty he is looking for. Django and Schultz become friends and partners. Schultz decides to help Django rescue his wife from a Mississippi plantation Candyland, whose owner Calvin Candie is notoriously wicked – a dangerous mission to say the least going into the belly of the beast.

Django Unchained is the second in writer-director’s Quentin Tarantino revenge fantasy trilogy, following Inglourious Basterds. And like Inglourious Basterds (as well as most of his films), it is packed with references to many of Tarantino’s favorite films in the genre. Homage is most prevalently paid to the films of the spaghetti western director Sergio Corbucci (who directed Django), a filmmaker in the genre that Tarantino loves (even more than Segio Leone who gets most of the praise in today’s cinema criticism). Corbucci’s films often tackle harder issues like racism, slavery, and class warfare (which are themes that Tarantino also addresses with Django Unchained).

Tarantino also seems interested in addressing the grandeur of the southern plantation – tearing it down as a myth and exposing the sheer inhumane cruelty and abuse slaves endured on these plantations (even with simple things like remarking that none of the whites have ever seen a black man riding a horse). This is not necessarily new ground, as media has focused on this topic many times (as historical revisionism aimed at exposing many of the horror before shaded over in history has been a popular academic pursuit since the late twentieth century), but maybe with not so much style and panache as Tarantino who does not pull his targeted punches.  One these such punches seems to be directly aimed at Gone with the Wind (when Django and Schultz travel to Mississippi they are met with a title in big bold letters tracking across the screen from right to left that is very reminiscent to Gone with the Wind’s opening title), a film that very much propagates the South and its way of life (forwarding the myth of the grandeur and elegance of the southern plantations for worldwide audiences, skipping over the brutality suffered by the slaves).

The violence in the film, for which there is a lot, is purposely overdone and almost cartoony. This was maybe done as an attempt by Tarantino to keep the film from being NC-17 or to keep the film fun, as the tone is mostly light. However, the violence suffered by the slaves in the film feels different. While the gunfights in which Django blows away whites are exaggerated, scenes in which violence is done to black characters are presented in a much more realistic and even horrific manner. This is a clear choice by Tarantino to create a deeper feeling of sympathy for the black characters by making their pain real, while white characters being blown up, shot and otherwise massacred is all in good fun.

This choice also firmly puts the audience behind Django, as they actively care about him and want to see him rescue his wife, and more so reap vengeance upon those that deserve it. The film also profoundly creates a sense of revelation in the audience at the true stakes for Django’s mission. While lots of films have created an emotion and revelation in their audience regarding the true plight of the slaves, Django Unchained does it while still playing as a mostly light action western. Thus, the revelation in the audience might be more profound, as they were not expecting to feel something about the film and the characters. However, the light nature of the film might also allow the audience to excuse the deeper emotional impact and forget it as the credits roll focusing on the comedy and exciting action.

Tarantino brings his style of brash dialog to the film as well. However, here with this topic, the juxtaposition of the way characters talk also plays into the emotional feeling the audience experiences. The physical violence in the film is extreme, but the verbal violence the slaves are subjected to is maybe even more damaging, as it is a coat of insults that just seems to lay upon them wearing them down and dehumanize them. The language of the characters is striking as it really exposes the clear disregard, even above hate, that many of the white characters have for the black characters. They are nothing to them, at least nothing human.

Overall, Tarantino gets across his message of exposing what slavery really was – not so much in the hardships suffered by slaves, as that is only briefly addressed, but in the relationship between blacks and whites in the South.

Narratively, Django Unchained is much more a straightforward story than Tarantino usually employs in his films with a clear three-act structure. Though, it still has sort of an episodic feel differentiating between Django and Schultz’s work in Texas and Tennessee as opposed to their venture into Mississippi to rescue Django’s wife. The film can almost be viewed has having two parts – the prologue in which Django and Schultz become friends and partners pre-Mississippi (act one) and the main narrative in which they go to Mississippi (acts two and three). However, the prologue is really more as a lot of character work is done in that section, which later allows Tarantino to focus on other narrative areas (like creating a fantastic villain with Calvin Candie); and it also allows Django to play a different character in disguise for a large portion of the Mississippi episode because he is already established with the audience. Even though the three-act structure is apparent, pre-Mississippi and Mississippi do have a different feel, which Tarantino clearly intended. Pre-Mississippi feels like a western, while Mississippi is much more an action drama with the hero deep in enemy territory. Django cannot merely ride off and hide if he gets in trouble, like characters often do in westerns; he is either going to rescue his wife or die; he is completely committed, which is what makes the drama so compelling.

Tarantino also does a masterful job with the tone. This is a very fun and entertaining film, even given the intense nature of its subject material. It is often very funny, as well. Tarantino is able to get across the drama and have the audience experience something real, but leaves them feeling light, as they have chiefly been entertained. He does this by having most of the violence play bigger (like a cartoon) and having the film packed with intended comedy (which all works).

For the most part the film is free from major issues, but the narrative does not quite have the dramatic impact it could. This is the choice Tarantino made. The film could not be both light and fun while still also fully engaging the audience dramatically, because this would have left the tone and ultimately the film feeling very disjoined and nothing would have worked quite as well as it does. Tarantino chose to primarily entertain. Though, even with the film’s fun tone, with multiple viewings the intended impact resonating from the narrative choices (such as the juxtaposition between the violence on whiter characters versus black or the way these characters speak) will ingrain itself in the viewer, thus having the same lasting impact that a strong dramatic take on the material.

The narrative is also a little loose in the first act (and maybe overly long). It does not really get going until Django and Schultz get to Mississippi and the stakes are raised, which is again why the film feels episodic.

Another possible issue is that the graphic nature of the violence and langue will not appeal to all viewers, as in both cases it is extreme (but also in both cases completely serves the narrative).

Django Unchained is not a great western in the classic sense of the genre, as it is not really a western for most of the film. However, it is a great action drama with the purpose of again exposing the villainy of slavery and the people that subjugated others to be their slaves.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Auteur Quentin Tarantino started off making great crime dramas and is now making great genre films. While he brings a great nostalgic style to his films (as a massive cinephile – especially for ‘B’ films), his own ability as a filmmaker has matured. His writing is brilliant, but with Inglourious Basterds (my favorite of his films) and now Django Unchained he directing seems equal to his words. The level of performances he is garnering is phenomenal as well. I cannot wait to see the final piece of his revenge trilogy.

Robert Richardson’s cinematography accomplishes the look and feel of a western while also complimenting the style of Tarantino’s direction (as this is there fourth collaboration). J. Michael Riva’s production design is great as well, as it both fits the tone of the genre and has fun with it (especially the Cleopatra Club set).

Django Unchained is visually impressive and has a fantastic directorial flair, but the strongest aspect is its impressive performances. Kerry Washington and Walton Goggins are good in small supporting roles. Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious, biting, and dramatically interesting (a compelling combination) as Stephen. It is his best role and performance from him in a long time. Leonardo DiCaprio is an absolute riot. He is wildly insane and having a blast as Calvin Candie. Looking at him, the viewer really gets the sense that they are starring at the devil. Villains often get to be played big and they often are the juiciest character roles – this is a great one and DiCaprio takes full advantage commanding every scene he is in. Christoph Waltz is great as Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter with a moral conscience and abhorrence towards slavery. Waltz plays Schultz to be quite playful with his words and delivery, often bringing the most effective comedy to the film. Jamie Foxx is very good as Django. He brings a quiet strength and willful disobedience to the role, while still giving off a clear soulful humanity (which allows the audience to fully connect with his character). The performance is among his best work.

Summary & score: Django Unchained unapologetically and boldly attacks the malice and repugnance of the people that propagated slavery by owning slaves raining vengeance with merciless graphic violence and complete distain. And as a revenge fantasy should be, it is very satisfying and enjoyable. 8/10

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Les Miserables (2012) – Review

Review: Les Miserables is highly ambitious and surely to be loved by diehard fans, but as a film its utterly tedious, agonizingly so, and overlong. The film is about the convict Jean Valjean who breaks his patrol and spends his life in hiding from a determined police inspector Javert. A kind Bishop saves Valjean and he devotes his life (while still in hiding) to making amends. After Fantine, a former employee of Valjean’s, is unknowingly fired and left in destitution, he makes her a promise on her deathbed to care for her young daughter Cosette. In the meantime years after the French Revolution, the poor of France still find themselves in harsh conditions. A few revolutions plan to insight another revolution. One of these revolutionaries, Marius, falls in love with a now grownup Cosette. All the characters’ paths converge in Paris on the brink of revolution.

Director Tom Hooper seems to have firstly set out to make a very literal adaptation of the stage musical. The results are both wonderfully grand and disastrous. The film is an epic, as Hooper takes on the visuals on a massive scale (which he sets the tone for with the film’s first images). The sets, costumes, performances, musical numbers and their choreography, everything is big. Hooper also recorded all the singing live on set, which pays off. The overall production is very impressive.

Hooper plays the musical as if it were on the stage, with all the musical numbers included as well as the dialog sung (for the most part), yet stages the film within the real world. On stage this works because everything is very theatrical and the audience can suspend their disbelief given the atmosphere of the medium in which they are viewing the play. However, in cinema, this results in many moments feeling incredibly strange (particularly when conversational dialog is sung) and even silly, taking the audience out of the film and the drama, making the whole artifice more apparent (which is not what Hooper was going for).

Hooper also has the actors engage the camera often breaking the fourth wall, which is strange as the film seems to be mostly firmly rooted in reality (as much as it can be with characters perpetually singing). It is as if Hooper wants his characters’ dramatic moments to be even more impactful for the audience (as if the great performance on top of the singing about said emotions was not enough – the audience must be jarred out of their apathy).

Cinema as a medium is built on close-ups on star actors – their performances mostly coming from their ability to emote with their faces and eyes. The problem with doing a literal rendition of a stage musical (in which most audience members cannot see the faces of the actors and thusly must be told their emotions) is that having musical numbers on top of sung dialog about emotions (and even mundane less important details) becomes overly redundant and in the case of this film tedious to a fault because the audience is already getting all the emotion from the actors’ faces and performances. The best films are told visually and economically through character moments. With this film, the actors tell the audience what they are feeling with their faces (as Hooper uses a ton of close-ups to great effect) but then decay the emotion into meaningless tedium by also singing about it at length. It just burns out the audience, because they understand what the characters are feeling through the performances and visuals, the continuous singing ever expanding on those feelings becomes too much and boring taking the audience out of the film (but again, diehard fans will probably love how true the film is to the source material because they love the music and every word of every song and piece of sung dialog).

The film probably would have worked better and been just as, if not more, powerful if it was adapted to a more film-friendly narrative form. Really, just be having the conversational dialog spoken as opposed to sung would have helped tremendously (as this is the biggest culprit in diminishing the dramatic returns). Also, using the best musical numbers to reinforce the characters and dramatic moments of the narrative would have given particular character moments and key narrative moments much more power and resonance. This could have (and should have) been told in much more economical way.

That is not to say that the film did not have any great moments, it does. Fantine’s dismal reflection of her current place after she gives in and takes money for sex is incredibly moving and dynamic. It is a showstopper (hear it here). There are also many other great visual and musical moments, but again as the film goes on the tedium only grows which renders many of these moments only brief bright spots in an ultimately tiring endeavor.

Getting back to film as an economically told narrative medium. This film is overly long (at 157 minutes it’s runtime is not ridiculously long, especially since it is an epic) due again to the laborious nature of this adaptation and the pacing is also slow. The narrative probably could have benefited from lesser musical numbers and characters being trimmed. But, the main issue really resides with Hooper’s adaptation not translating to the medium well as it is.

Les Miserables will likely please its fans (those that adore the musical), but ultimately is an arduous cinema experience despite all its fantastic elements.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Tom Hooper is a great director (as can be seen with his very good film The King’s Speech), but Les Miserables is almost a complete failure as a film. Well, maybe failure is not the right word as Hooper’s visuals are wonderful and iconic in many ways. He is able to get great performances from his cast. His blocking and use of a kinetic camera are also fantastic. However, the film and all this good work are completely destroyed by Hooper’s decision to literally adapt the musical. It simply just does not work in this medium. Being a slave source material is most often not a good thing, as the source is created and perfected for a different medium and thus when translated to a new medium changes need to be made for it to best play in that new medium. For example Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina from earlier this year – (Whether or not it worked) Wright has taken the classic novel and turned it into something completely different – a visceral visual experience. He took the story and made something new for the different medium. It is ambitious and refreshing. The same can be said for Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music (which was also a very successful stage musical first). Wise made possibly the greatest film musical of all time by taking the stage play and making it something different, a wonderfully visual experience taking full advantage of what film offers as a medium. In both these cases, the directors took the source material and made changes to take advantage of what cinema offers as a storytelling medium. Hooper tries to make a film that is the stage musical first and also a grand visual experience second, and I think it failed. I do look forward to what Hooper does next, but I found Les Miserables very disappointing.

Danny Cohen’s cinematography is for the most part wonderful, as he showcases the bleak reality of both the film’s narrative and the literal world in which the character reside. There is also a beauty to his lighting; particularly in the way he is able to capture the face of the actors. Their faces are lite allowing the audience to fully capture their emotions even when (as they often are) shrouded in darkness. However, Cohen and Hooper also have some awkward framing in a few shots that is noticeable (again taking the audience out of the experience). It is minor and only happens a few times, but still feels strange (most notably is the framing of Valjean taking with Marius after Marius has recovered – right as the scene begins the frame is tilted to the right for seemingly no reason). Eve Stewart’s production design is maybe the best aspect of the film (though, Fantine singing I Dreamed a Dream is right there too). Her sets are grand in scale, but also seem to feel very intimate. Her work fits the overall tone of the film very well.

The performances are strong throughout the film, however that said some of the singing leaves a little to be desired. None of the singing is bad, but some of the actors are noticeable stronger leading one to question why all the main parts were not cast with strong singers. In smaller roles, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Daniel Huttlestone, Colm Wilkinson, and Isabelle Allen (who is adorable) are brilliant and mostly outshine the leads. Anne Hathaway steals the entire film as Fantine. Her singing, as stated a couple times above is magnificent. However, as good as her singing is, it is her heartbreaking performance that resonates the most. She just goes to a different level. Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried and Russell Crowe are good dramatically, but their singing is greatly overshadowed by others. Hugh Jackman is powerful and entirely dramatically engaging as Valjean (despite the fact that he practically looks like Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride near the end of the film). However, his performance is destroyed completely by the tedious nature of the film, so much so that it almost becomes laughable, which is really too bad as it is among his best work.

Summary & score: In many ways Les Miserables is a great film, but in more ways it does not work. 6/10

Monday, December 24, 2012

Movie of the Week – Magnolia

Movie of the week: Magnolia (1999).

The ensemble drama focuses on a group of people living in the San Fernando Valley.

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson went to a different level with his filmmaking with his third film Magnolia (expanding on the ensemble idea crafted and grown in Hard Eight and Boogie Nights). The style of Anderson’s directing and his fantastic writing give the film so much emotional depth and resonance. It is an experience all cinema fans should have. Anderson has made six films to date, and while There Will Be Blood and The Master (his two latest) might be is best, Magnolia is his first great film.

Anderson worked with many of his frequent collaborators on the film, including composer Jon Brion (three Anderson films), cinematographer Robert Elswit (five Anderson films) and production designers William Arnold (two Anderson films) and Mark Bridges (all six Anderson films).

The great and diverse cast features Anderson frequents Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Alfred Molina, Melora Walters, Luis Guzman, Ricky Jay, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, as well as stars like Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, and Felicity Huffman. Also, look out for cameos from Patton Oswalt, Thomas Jane, Clark Gregg, and Jim Beaver.

The 1990s featured a few brilliant ensemble films that changed filmmaking (The Player, The Thin Red Line, Boogie Nights, Glengarry Glen Ross, Heat, and Reservoir Dogs), but two stand out above the rest: Pulp Fiction and Magnolia. The film was nominated for three Oscars including Best Supporting Actor (for Tom Cruise) and Best Writing. It is among the films that are mandatory viewing for those looking to have a strong working knowledge of film history/aesthetics, auteur filmmakers and the great films of the 1990s.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jack Reacher (2012) – Review

Review: Jack Reacher is an entertaining action mystery, hitting all of the genre conventions/clich̩s, but with style and fresh take on the classic action hero. The film is about a retired military investigator, Jack Reacher, who shows up in Pittsburg after a former army sniper shoots five random people. As he digs deeper into the case, he discovers that there is a conspiracy, putting his life in danger Рbut nothing he cannot handle.

Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie is firstly making a potentially franchise-birthing action film, which also plays as a decent mystery/detective film. Thus, there are certain genre cues that his narrative must touch on – car chases, a gunfight standoff in the third act, a menacing villain in the shadows, character twists, damsels in distress, our hero showing off his talent for violence and ego so that the audience finds him believable. All this happens in Jack Reacher, which seemingly would relegate it to being just another fun, sure, but ultimately forgettable throwaway action film (the overabundance of these such films is what made 2011’s Drive such a revelation). However, McQuarrie is able to infuse the film with enough style and fresh energy that it plays above the genre conventions and expectations it prescribes to and is un-bashfully rife with.

The character of Reacher is almost laughable clich̩ on the surface Рhe is a former expert military investigator, who also happens to be a war hero, crack shot, an adeptly proficient fighter, and all-around badass who knows he is the best and has only complete confidence in himself. He also seems to speak only in quips. Plus, anytime a woman sees him, they seem to find him attractive (as McQuarrie constantly has women wrenching their necks to get a look at him). Yet, given all this bravado, he is completely honor bound and driven. Essentially, Reacher is the perfect man Рor at least the perfect action hero, which should make him utterly uninteresting.

McQuarrie makes Reacher a good character (drawing from Lee Child’s novels, from which the character is based) however by digging deeper into him and making him somewhat flawed and even kind of sad. McQuarrie presents Reacher as a man who is completely disillusioned coming back from war to an ideal that never existed. He has no place in this world, so he moves around off the grid because he does not want to be a part of it. While there is sexual tension and attraction between Reacher and Helen (the female lead, a lawyer who is defending the sniper when no one else would volunteer to), McQuarrie does not let Reacher have a ‘happy ending’ as he does not get the girl nor does he even try, he simply just moves on. He has no interest in rejoining society, as he is maybe forever lost – only getting involved in this case because of his underlying sense of justice and honor. Superficially Reacher is the perfect action hero, but the audience does not want to be him (at least they should not if they let themselves look deeper and are not just there for the car chases, brawls and gunfights). He is broken, which makes him interesting and allows the audience to maybe even invest in him as a character – though, the mystery aspect of the film really drives the plot much more than the characters. Reacher as a character is probably worthy of another couple films to be fleshed out more.

McQuarrie also does not shy away from explicitly showcasing the sheer brutality of violence (I am actually surprised the film is only rated PG-13). This film does not glorify violence at all (which is strange for an ‘action film’), yet as a genre film it still needs to have compelling and entertaining action scenes. It does, but McQuarrie specifically lays out the toll the action takes on the film’s characters. It is presented in a very frank, almost unnerving fashion (unlike an action film like The Expendables 2 in which the character reveal and enjoy the human carnage they inflict). Reacher and McQuarrie fully engage in violence and killing, but the tone is different and there is a feeling that it all means something and that there is a cost for the characters, seemingly further detaching them from humanity. Reacher knows what needs to be done and does it, but there is also regret in his eyes.

The villains in the film are mostly typical genre hooligans, henchman and big bads. They might as well be nameless and faceless, as all the audience needs to know is that they are bad men and Reacher will try to stop them. The main villain, The Zec, is interesting however (and I am probably looking too much into this) as he is both the typical ‘Bond-villain’, an exaggerated bad man who is almost cartoony in his persona, and also a comment on the perception of evil in the world. The Zec is a European (of course) former Siberian prisoner who bit off his own fingers to survive and seems to just be completely evil with total disregard for humanity. However, he never plays up his motivations or tries to be charismatic or outlandish. He is merely just an evil man who does bad things because that is all he knows, a product of a hard world who knows only violence. The Zec derives no meaning from life and thus does not care about it. Power has consumed him in the vacuum of all other human pursuits (like love) being void. This character seems to speak to how we often perceive people who do evil in the world – we only see the evil and only think about the evil. They are just evil. And, the Zec is an old warped amalgamation of our feelings towards those that do evil.

Despite being a typical yet fresh take on the action genre, the film has a few issues that hold it back as well. Chiefly, the film lacks true suspense. Reacher is so confident and McQuarrie treats the audience to multiple examples of his unwavering talent that the audience never doubts his ability and never questions whether or not he will be able to save the day. As an action genre film, the audience implicitly knows that he will save the day, as that is just how this genre’s narrative structure works, and that he will most likely come through somewhat unscathed. The audience expects this. However, there needs to also be some doubt that lingers in their minds. That way, the finale will actually be organically suspenseful and meaningful for the audience. Here, that does not happen. There is never even an inkling of doubt that Reacher will be the hero and defeat the villain. Sure, the finale is still entertaining, but it lacks the emotional investment from the viewer to make it great.

Another issue with the film is that its supporting characters are essentially all throwaways (though, some still work due to strong performances). Helen has a few character moments, but is ultimately just used as a damsel in distress to raise the stakes for Reacher – but because the audience knows with certainty that he will save her, there are never really any stakes. Plus, the villains essentially tell the audience that they are not going to kill her thus further diminishing any actual suspense that remained.

Jack Reacher probably should have been just another ‘action film’ to be enjoyed and forgotten, but the strong lead character and McQuarrie’s direction and writing elevate it to something somewhat more substantial in the genre (of the action films I have seen this year, it is among my favorites, trailing only Skyfall and Chronicle).

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Christopher McQuarrie is probably best known for his writing (having won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects). However, his direction on this film is one of its strongest aspects. His blunt treatment of the action is refreshing and grounded the film in reality, making things almost emotionally disarming (especially the opening sequence in light of recent events). He is rumored to be taking on Mission: Impossible 5 next, and I am looking forward to see what he does with that franchise following up the last two in the series (which were both good).

Joe Kraemer’s score is unremarkable, as the absence of music in many parts of the film has more of an impact than when the score is used. However, it still tonally fit the film when used. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is very good, but straightforward. The film looks great, but McQuarrie does not try to use the lighting to give it more of an atmospheric feel or look (like say Roger Deakin’s work in Skyfall). The same can be said for Jim Bissell’s production design, which is firmly rooted in reality (mostly taking advantage of locations in and around Pittsburg).

The cast for the most part did not really have hearty roles to play with, as most of the characters worked as genre mainstays. That said, Robert Duvall is good playing his typical squirrely old man who is someone you would want in a fix. Werner Herzog (who still surprises me is in this film) is fantastic as the Zec. His line delivery is brilliant – devilishly evil without any sense of remorse, while also seemingly playing a bit of surprise that humans are not purely base animals like he is. It is a great and fun performance. Rosamund Pike has the thankless role as Helen, being both the damsel in distress and allowing the audience to get all the exposition and backstory by asking questions. And yet, she brings vitality to the role that elevates it. She has determination and strength; Helen is just in over her head. Tom Cruise plays Tom Cruise, and fans of his will enjoy his work. Plus, he does a good job conveying the sadness of Reacher that sits hidden behind his machismo.

Summary & score: Jack Reacher is a good, not great action film that genre fans and Tom Cruise fans will enjoy. 7/10