Archive for the ‘Chris Cooper’ Category

MOVIE: The Town (2010)

September 30, 2010

I went into this film expecting it to blow me away.  After all, Gone Baby Gone completely knocked my socks off back in 2007.  It was, in fact, the movie that finally made me stop rolling my eyes at Ben Affleck after years and years (and yeeeears!) of rolling my eyes at Ben Affleck.  And now he’s back to direct another film set in Boston, a town I adore and one I know he knows inside and out?  Bring it on.  I am IN.  Between 2007 and 2010, I’m sure he’s learned a gazillion new things about filmmaking, and I was definitely eager to find out what they were.

Alas, it seems that what Affleck learned in his time away from the rear-end of a camera was that thoughtful, creative movies don’t make money; movies that blow a lot of shit up do.  Another one lost to the tired traditions of Hollywood blockbusters?  I won’t write him off just yet, but I will confess to being extremely disappointed.

The Town is set in Charlestown, a neighborhood of Boston.  It opens by telling us Charlestown is the “bank robbery capital” of America, with the trade being somewhat of a local tradition, passed down from generation to generation.

Cut to the film’s first robbery scene, where a group of men wearing Skeletor masks burst into a local bank, waving guns around and yelling about the time — you know, just like you’ve seen bank robbers do a million times in movies and TV shows.  They get one of the bank employees, a pretty young woman named Claire (Rebecca Hall, who reminds me of Molly Ringwald, for some reason) to open the safe and, at the last minute, one of the robbers grabs her and drags her out with them as a hostage.  They manage to escape, keeping Claire blindfolded the whole time, and once they get away, they let her go on a local beach, telling her to walk forward, keeping her blindfold on, until her toes hit the water.

Back to safety, we learn the robbers are best friends going way back, led by Doug McCrae (Affleck), the brains of the operation, and energized by the frenetic, almost ADD-like behavior of Doug’s like-a-brotha’ friend James Coughlin (a fantastic, almost unrecognizable Jeremy Renner).

James is a bit on the loose cannon side — he’s the one who took Claire hostage on a whim, something Doug wasn’t too pleased about.  He’s aggressive, impulsive, and hard to reason with.  Doug, on the other hand, plans carefully, ponders heartfully, and is about to get a taste of a life he never even knew he wanted.

Worried Claire might’ve seen something she could use to identify them, Doug decides to stage what the movie biz calls a “meet cute.”  He follows her around until she’s heads into a laundromat and then sort of “accidentally” introduces himself to her, asking if she has any quarters for the machines.  Thoroughly charmed by him, Claire ends up agreeing to go out with him for coffee.  Before he knows it, Doug’s in love, getting his first real bite of what “normal” life is like, and greatly wanting more.

And here’s where the movie goes from good to glarrrrbbbbghargh! (<– industry term).

This film had so many great things going for it:  an incredible cast, a setting with loads of personality all its own, a strong story backbone, and characters that were truly intriguing:  Doug, the conflicted smart guy with the troubled past; Doug’s father (Chris Cooper), who is in prison for robbery himself and clearly has a complicated relationship with his son; Doug’s friend James, trouble heading for disaster; and Claire, who’s about to find out her boyfriend is the same guy who put a bag over her head and stuffed her into a van.

At first, it looked like all these elements were going to come together absolutely brilliantly into a movie that looked closely at intricately built relationships, weighty family histories, and the pressures of background and tradition.  But all of a sudden, the movie inexplicably dropped most of these more interesting elements and devolved into standard bank robber stuff, turning away from the more “thoughty” parts of the story and instead diving head-first into a series of shoot-outs, car chases, the works.

We never even see Doug’s father again — that entire scene felt like a throwaway to me — and other things that seemed to be major plot elements didn’t make much sense either (like James’s tattoo — he’s so careful before a robbery he scrubs his skin down to remove any old cells that might leave behind DNA, but neither he nor Doug  think to cover up his extremely unique neck tattoo?  Baloney.).  Frankly, even the relationship drama between Claire and Doug ends up taking a pretty boringly all-too-familiar route.   Absolutely everything about the story ends up being completely predictable, with nary an original bone to be had.  Major disappointment.

That said, The Town is extremely well-crafted and it’s certainly beautifully shot.  The scenes of Boston are absolutely wonderful (especially the scenes set in Fenway Park — man, that must’ve been a dream come true for Affleck).

All in all, though, this movie felt more like a made-for-TV flick than a feature film made by a man we all know can do better.

Time to get some courage, Mr. Affleck, sir.  Balls to the wall on the next one, you got me, ya chowdahead?  You can do it.  And I can wait.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Thriller, Crime
Cast:  Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Slaine, Owen Burke, Titus Welliver, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper

MOVIE: The Kingdom (2007)

January 6, 2008

Though I remember this movie getting fairly decent reviews when it first came out, I confess I wasn’t really that interested in seeing it.  But a week or two ago, I was reading an article that noted that almost every war-themed film from 2007 completely bombed at the box office — except for this one.  That made me rethink my decision to skip it, and the other day, while at the video store picking up a few flicks for New Year’s Day, I stuck this one in my pile.

Unfortunately, I can pretty much sum up my opinion of this movie with these two words:  ho hum.

But if I just left it at that, my review would be as dull as the film was, so I’ll give you the longer version too.

Despite its impressive cast (Chris Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman), this movie is neither that original nor that intriguing. I never got into any of the characters, and, to me anyway, the plot felt like every other plot of every other war movie ever made. The whole thing felt more like an excuse for lots of explosive special effects than an attempt to make any sort of thoughtful commentary on current events.

The Kingdom starts out like an episode of CSI: Saudi Arabia. A compound in Riyadh where a large group of American civilians live is bombed by terrorists one sunny afternoon during the company picnic, killing dozens of women and children. The Saudi government reluctantly agrees to let a small team of FBI agents in to investigate the scene, pairing them up with a group of Saudi police, led by a guy, Faris, who clearly loves his country and wants desperately to put an end to its senseless violence.

The group investigates, figures out who’s responsible, and then, as you’d expect from a movie like this, finally wraps things up with a massive shootout in the middle of a densely populated civilian area. As all Middle East-set war movies typically do.

The only thing that really stood out to me about this film was that it initially plays into the usual assumptions — that the Saudis/Muslims are all bloodthirsty bad guys — and then turns this assumption on its head by revealing that the American FBI agents are just as addicted to violent vengeance as their enemies.

The biggest problem with this movie, though, was that the dialogue was awful, and that really prevented me from ever feeling like the characters were real people to be taken seriously. Everything Jennifer Garner said (which wasn’t much, I might add) sounded totally wrong coming out of her mouth, and this wasn’t an issue of miscasting, as anybody who’s seen Alias knows Garner does “tough” really damn well. Jason Bateman, on the other hand, WAS completely miscast. We’re clearly supposed to think of him as “the kid,” yet he looks no younger than Garner does, and her character’s the one who makes the crack about his age to begin with.  He was clearly thrown into the movie to serve as a sort of rookie comic relief, but his character just didn’t work for me at all.

Cooper is great in his role, and Foxx does okay too. But again, their characters seemed more like caricatures than actual people.  Everybody in this movie felt wrong to me — fake and 100% substance-free.  And the story — terrorists kill Westerners, Westerners kick ass — is one I think most of us are getting sort of tired of these days.

All in all, I found this movie pretty disappointing. Why it was the one “success” of the genre in 2007, I truly have no idea.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: War, Drama
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Jeremy Piven, Kyle Chandler, Ashraf Barhom

MOVIE: Breach (2007)

September 5, 2007

Before I get into the movie review, I wanted to announce that while I put in over 70 hours of physical labor last week while on “vacation” trying to paint the exterior of my house, WE ARE STILL NOT DONE WITH PAINTING THE EXTERIOR OF OUR HOUSE. The words “shoot me now” leap immediately to mind.

I tell you this for one reason and one reason alone, and that is to urge you always, ALWAYS to choose debt over labor. Learn from me! Do not make this mistake yourself! Had we known then what we know now (which is that this is the kind of job done by 22 year olds for a very good reason), we would’ve loaded up the credit card and hired this puppy out to some young’uns. Because, lo, does painting a house ever suck ass. Pardon my French.

In any case, I also wanted to mention this so you’d know why I’m only posting this movie review today, when in reality I watched this movie last Wednesday.

The better news is that this is the one truly GOOD movie I watched last week, hallelujah! It’s based on the true story of Robert Hanssen (played by chameleon Chris Cooper, whose children I would still love to give birth to, incidentally), an FBI agent who was arrested in 2001 for espionage. And when I say “espionage,” I’m not referring to a little minor spying here and there — instead, Hanssen is widely recognized to be one of the worst, most destructive spies of all time. He was indirectly responsible for the murders of at least three Russian double-agents after he ratted them out (actually, maybe that makes him directly responsible, not indirectly so), and he sold an absolutely astonishing number of secrets to the Soviets over a period of two and a half decades as well.

The movie begins two months before his arrest, and tells the story of Robert’s last eight weeks of freedom from the perspective of a young Feebie named Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), a computer specialist assigned to work as Hanssen’s clerk in order to get close to him and help the muckity-mucks obtain evidence of his wrong-doings. O’Neill’s goal is to become a full-fledged agent, and so he jumps at the chance to impress his superiors by accepting the role. But the more time he spends with Hanssen, the more disillusioned with the whole system he becomes, and ultimately, after Hanssen’s arrest and conviction, O’Neill leaves the FBI to become a lawyer instead.

What I liked about this movie was that it moved very steadily and almost quietly, not playing any of this story out for cheap thrills. There are several nail-biting scenes of suspense, but for the most part, this is a character study, and the characters are brilliantly brought to life by both Cooper and Phillippe. Hanssen is portrayed as a very “normal” family man who attends mass every day and, rather ironically, very openly frowns upon any moral failings in his colleagues. As the movie progresses, however, we come to realize that all this is merely a facade. In reality, Hanssen is incredibly bitter about the lack of advancement in his career, and he has taken out his bitterness on the entire nation by selling as many secrets as he can for as much money as he can get (though money didn’t really seem to be his goal). Phillippe, as the rookie O’Neill, does his greatest acting work ever, in my opinion. I’ve never been much of a fan of Ryan’s, but this movie finally demonstrated he’s got a bit of talent tucked away in there somewhere. He ought to bring it out more often.

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn this film was directed by the same guy who directed Shattered Glass, the movie about reporter (or, “fauxporter” as I like to call newsmen of his ilk), Stephen Glass. The two movies are very similar — procedural-but-very-suspenseful films about liars. Both movies are excellent, and they’d make a great double-feature! You know, if you really really want to bum yourself out about how low some people will go to feel important.

Genre: Thriller/Espionage

Cast: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Gary Cole, Dennis Haysbert, Bruce Davidson