Saturday, November 15, 2008

Two Movies

About a week ago, I saw the police-corruption drama Pride and Glory, starring Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, and Noah Emmerich. They play a family of New York police officers whose professional and family ties are shaken up when a bunch of cops get killed in an apparent drug-bust-gone-bad. Voight is the family patriarch; Emmerich the older son, a captain who had the dead cops under his command; Farrell the son-in-law whose team crossed to the wrong side of the law; and Norton the younger son who starts out investigating the incident and ends up being framed for a cold-blooded murder.

The story is supposed to be heartbreaking and brutal, but I only felt the brutal end of it. I sympathized with the brothers, somewhat, but I found it hard to be drawn to them as main characters. I'm sure they're all good actors, but their characters were so fraught with weaknesses that you couldn't call any of them a hero. I suppose that's the way we're all supposed to look at the world these days.

Emmerich plays an ambivalent character - an honest cop who tolerates the dishonesty of the cops under him, up to a point; only it's hard to tell where that point is. Voight plays a warm, endearingly tipsy father whose pep talks to Norton gradually veer from telling him to do the right thing to ditto the wrong thing. Farrell overacts as a sociopathic creep for whom it is impossible to feel any sympathy - wasn't he supposed to be a good actor? And Norton, though excellent at looking totally crushed so that your heart goes out to him, has such a flat voice and such a lack of charisma that his presence in a lead role could make any movie seem anemic.

The story follows a fairly compelling arc, right up to the one-on-one fight between Norton and Farrell. What happens after that is a colossal let-down. I'm tempted even to use the word cop-out.

Yesterday's matinee was the new Double-Oh-Seven flick, Quantum of Solace, starring Daniel Craig in his second outing as Bond, James Bond. I've always liked the Bond fantasies. Each film follows a familiar formula, but it serves up a delicious cocktail of chases, fights, hairsbreadth escapes, high-tech sneaking, high-fashion slumming, and all our very favorite sins. You know: gambling, smoking, drinking, fornicating. Bond still does them all - though perhaps less smoking now. He remains, or rather becomes more than ever, such an ambivalent hero that you're not sure whether he's serving his country or his own agenda, whether he's a good guy or a stone cold killer, whether he's going to save the girl or put her down like a lame horse.

He still has M (played by Judi Dench) looking after him, though as part of the general ambivalence she sometimes seems to be chasing after him. He still has Felix (played by Jeffrey Wright) passing him CIA tips under the table. No Q in this movie, though; though I thought the bluetooth earpiece he put in before eavesdropping on the bad guys during a performance of Tosca in Vienna might have looked a bit like the letter Q. It's a leaner, meaner, seriouser Bond series now: less lightened by comic relief and sexually suggestive patter, more darkened by new Bond's tendency to kill first and interrogate second. But it has what really matters to us 007 fans: footage of a beautiful hotel blowing up, fast cars and airplanes shooting at each other, some terrific crashes, lovely women (one of whom ends up wearing nothing but oil), a funny-looking villain (here played by Matthieu Amalric), a hotel room most of us will never see in real life, and a Martini recipe to try at home and see if you can survive drinking six of them in a row, as Bond does.

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