Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Monday, January 31, 2011


What About it?
(For a detailed summary, see"What Happens?" at the bottom of the page.)

Oldboy is the second film in Chan Wook Park's "Vengeance" trilogy. (The other two being, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance)  That being said, all three of the films stand alone and are only linked in that each is a meditation on Vengeance and the fact that none of the films give a color by numbers revenge story. The Oldboy story is based on Japanese manga. Typically a revenge film is one man addressing a great wrong, but Park shows us a complex world of equally complex characters, where many may have arguable rights to revenge, but seeking it seldom does anyone any good only escalating the atrocities and pain for all parties.

Oldboy is significant for it's misdirection, and the intricacy of it's plot and Woo Jin's revenge scheme. We sympathize with Dae Su, for enduring fifteen years of imprisonment, and hope that he gets the answers he wants. Realizing that imprisoning him for fifteen years was actually a minor part of his plan, only fulfilled to allow Mi-Do to become an adult, not recognizable to Dae Su, is not a conclusion one would easily jump to. For most of the film we follow Dae Su's quest, to get the who and why behind his imprisonment as this is what consumes him.

His offense to Woo Jin is interesting in that he did nothing but start a rumor, which countless high school kids do every day. In this case however, the rumor causes the worst possible damage, and the person it affects the most, (aside from Soo Ah) has vast resources and an obsessive nature. To Dae Su, starting the rumor had little significance at all. As Woo Jin points out, it was simply something he forgot because it didn't matter to him. He transferred schools and was not privy to the rumor spreading or it's effects. Dae Su fills many journals with names of people he has wronged, but the rumor never occurs to him at all, not seeing it as a wrong, perhaps, but part of his childhood. 

Dae Su refers to the person he becomes after being freed as "the monster."  but judging by his journals and what little we see of him before he's kidnapped, it's debatable which is the better man. The old Dae Su, wronged countless people, including his wife on a regular basis, thinking nothing of it. After the imprisonment, he doesn't commit "casual" wrongs the same way. This is partly because he's obsessed with his mission, but partly I think because his time had made him more aware of all of his "sins." "The Monster" is far from good. He thinks nothing of pulling a man's teeth out for information, but unlike his past self, "the Monster" has a reason for his actions and they are only directed at those who wronged him. The only instance of "The Monster" attacking the innocent is when he attempts to force Mi-Do to have sex. But that comes across as half hearted, with him causing no real harm before she easily gets him to back off. Even then, he apologizes immediately, which his old self would likely not bother to do.

Woo Jin, on the other hand is completely amoral on the surface. He thinks nothing of any action required to fulfill his plan. The only time he shows any emotion is the moment before he kills himself. We see that his sister's death shattered him, and while he imprisoned Dae Su for fifteen years, we get the very real sense that despite his means, he has been imprisoned ever since that day. The ethical and moral issues of his inappropriate relationship with his sister are forever unexamined, as he can't get past the fact that he loved his sister and she's dead. The issues are addressed in some fashion, by his method of true revenge, fooling Dae Su and Mi Do into falling in love, he removes Dae Su's ability to judge him, knowing that Dae Su, even unknowingly has begun a father/daughter relationship, makes his own brother/sister relationship seem smaller. The depths of his manipulation also make it difficult for Dae Su to find his own right moral choice. While he may be shocked by the revelation, it's unthinkable to him that Mi-Do could bear the knowledge, not only that he's her father, but by implication that her whole life was manipulated in order that this would happen.

For a movie with such tight plotting it's surprisingly energetic, with plenty of action to accompany the plot twists. Seeing Dae Su take on ridiculous amounts of people is always entertaining, and Min-sik Choi does a wonderful job showing the complexities of this character who is past the edge of lunacy and yet remarkably self aware in a way that only fifteen years of isolation could produce. The fighting is not graceful, but unconventional. This is a man who could likely avoid a hit but doesn't always want to bother stepping out of the way. Plowing through is his main tactic and he does quite well with it most of the time. It's also of interest that for such a bloody story, Dae Su doesn't kill people, happy to stop when he has what he wants or they stop attacking. His first fight is almost entirely based on curiosity, can his imaginary practice work? We get the sense that being hit, is nothing to him and almost welcomed as a reminder that he isn't imprisoned anymore. He's full of rage, but not arbitrary malice. He's into hitting but not creating suffering, except for a few exceptions.

Ji-tae Yu's Woo-Jin is the perfect contrast. He's everything that Dae Su is not. He has no interest in getting his hands dirty at all, perfectly content to hide in the background and let others do the work. Where Dae Su welcomes violence to vent his rage, Woo jin sees it as a very small gesture, putting much more value on the lasting damage he can do, by affecting someone's mind and actions. His malice doesn't care about any casualties, provided Dae Su has full knowledge of what he did and what revenge has been taken against him. To kill Dae Su would be to make his plan less effective, better to let him live in a situation that's completely abhorrent to him, knowing that his own actions were in some way responsible.

Dae Su's very idea of revenge is changed. While he imagines that killing the man who wronged him was all there was to it. He comes to realize that it isn't so simple. Given the chance to kill Woo Jin, he stops when he's reminded that if he does, he won't know "why." Obviously, knowing the why, gives him no satisfaction at all, only deepens his problems, but he discovers that the knowing is as much a part of his quest as the retribution. Neither man ends up satisfied with his revenge. Woo Jin's inability to let go of his sister is only increased, and we get the sense that he planned to kill himself anyway, his revenge on Dae Su just a checklist item he had to take care of before he checked out. Dae Su's revenge attempt at revenge only leaves him completely lost, with far more guilt than he imagined possible. He is left more powerless than he was when he was imprisoned, turning to hypnosis, one of the tools used against him, as his only means of coping.

All in all, Oldboy is an in depth look at vengeance from many angles we don't normally see fleshed out. While it's been denounced as a celebration of violence, I can only imagine that his label is used by those who haven't see it, or else saw it and didn't pay attention. Violence here is shown to be completely ineffective. We start with what appears to be an old fashioned "eye for an eye" story, but it doesn't last long. These are characters forced to admit that their revenge solves nothing, and that their pain and guilt will never be fixed, although they would do anything in the world to prove different. The lengths they will go to set things right are all that hey feel they have. Woo jin would devote his life to studying Dae Su, and Dae Su surprises himself perhaps when despite his palpable rage, he's able to put aside his revenge entirely for a moment and cut off his own tongue rather than traumatize Mi-do. The major damage done to the characters is what they do to themselves. The tough question is "What happens when it's gone?"  Wu-Jinn answers clearly, feeling he has nothing left. Dae Su's only wish is to stop thinking about it, and maybe he can accomplish that, his smile at the end doesn't tell us for sure.  In any event, his character has grown a lot, if too quickly and painfully, in that making his decision, he truly considers the feelings of another, an action beyond the original Dae Su.

What Happens?

At the beginning of  "Oldboy" we meet the threatening figure of Dae Su (Min-sik Choi) leaning a man over the roof of a building, using the man's tie to keep him from falling. Dae Su says "I said, I just wanted to talk to someone." The man is panicked but begs Dae Su to let go of him. We see Dae Su's face threateningly cloaked in shadow before flashing back in time to Dae Su, now clean cut at the police station being held for drunkenness. The officer's get quickly tired of him, reminding him repeatedly to sit down, although he can't stop being an extreme nuisance. He explains that his name, Dae Su means "getting along with everybody." and he also mentions that it's his daughter's birthday, explaining the costume angel wings he's wearing, as her present.

Eventually a friend, Joo Hwan, (Dae-han Ji) bails him out and he and Dae Su stop at a pay phone to call his daughter and tell her he has a gift for her birthday. Joo Hwan asks for the phone to wish the little girl a happy birthday as well. While Joo Hwan talks, Dae Su wanders off. Joo Hwan assumes he's playing games, but we see the angel wings in the street. We next find Dae Su confined at an undetermined location reaching his hand out of a small hatch in a door pleading with his captor to explain something to him, threatening, and asking to be let out. The inside of his cell looks like a hotel room. He wonders in voice over. "If they had told me I was going to be locked up for 15 years, would it have been any easier to endure, or would it have been harder?" We see Dae Su with his hair overgrown and unshaven looking like a completely different person. He explains that his captors play the same music every night before gassing his room to put him to sleep. "I found out later that it's the same  valium gas Russian soldiers used on the Checyen terrorists." While he sleeps they cut his hair and clean up the room. He remarks "They're gracious bastards."  Dae Su spends much of his time watching television. He learns that his wife has been killed while he's been confined and that he is the prime suspect. Police also claim that he took a photo album from the house before disappearing.

Dae Su advises "If you're standing aimlessly at a phone booth on a rainy day. and you meet a man whose face is covered by a violet umbrella, I'd suggest that you get close to the TV. The television is both a clock and a calendar. It's your school, your home, your church, friend and your lover."  Dae Su soon finds another activity, "I decided to write down all the people I fought, bothered and hurt. This was both my prison journal and the autobiography of my evil deeds. I thought I'd lived an average life, but I've sinned so much." His journal takes up many notebooks. He notices that he's given three chopsticks for his meals and imagines his "neighbor" must eat with one chopstick. He draws the outline of a body on his wall and starts practice fighting, punching the wall, in hopes of eventual revenge. Dae Su uses his extra  chopstick to attempt digging through the bricks in the wall and tattoos himself with a line for every year confined.

We see fifteen years pass via historic moments on the television. One morning a woman comes into his room holding a bell, she says "You're by yourself. Right now, you're lying on a plane. When you hear the sound of the bell, turn your head and look down. Do you understand what I'm saying?" She rings the bell and continues "You will see an endless field of green grass. The sun is shining brightly and there's a cool breeze." We then see a red trunk in the middle of a field. The trunk opens and Dae Su gets out of it. The grass is on the roof of a building and the man we saw in the beginning being suspended by his tie is there holding a dog. Dae Su touches the man and dog as if to prove they're real. The man is shaken by this and asks him "You see, even though I'm worse than a beast, don't I have the right to live?" Dae Su repeats the man's question. We see that the man throw himself backward over the ledge, attempting suicide. Dae Su catches him by his tie and asks the man to delay his death to hear his story. The man remarks "That's awful" after hearing Dae Su's tale. He then asks Dae Su to hear his own story but Oh Dae Su leaves. We see the man fall from the roof onto a car as Dae Su walks out at ground level.

Dae Su can't contact anyone being wanted for murder. Walking around the city he runs into a group of young thugs who assault him. He wonders "Can fifteen years of imaginary training be put to use?" After beating the whole group, he remarks "It can."  A homeless man approaches him on the street, handing Dae Su a wallet and cell phone, remarking "I don't even know where this stuff comes from, so don't even ask." Finding money in the wallet, he enters a sushi bar and tells the woman working there, "I want something that's still alive." The woman thinks that he looks familiar, and he thinks she does too. He realizes he's seen her on TV, as one of the youngest female chefs. He tells her "women's hands are usually warm so they can't make sushi." His phone rings and a man asks if he likes his clothes. Dae Su asks the man on the phone who he is making many guesses which the man tells him are all wrong. He offers "Me, I'm sort of a scholar, and my major is you. A scholar, studying Dae Su, an expert on Dae Su. Who I am isn't important. Why? is important. Think it over. Review your whole lifetime. Since school is over, it's time for your homework right? Keep this in mind, a grain of sand or a rock, in water, they both sink." Dae SU tells the man he knows that he was hypnotized while captive and asks what he was made to do. The man only answers "I miss you. Hurry and come back." The woman chef gives him a live octopus and offers to slice it for him. He doesn't wait and just puts the live octopus in his mouth to take a bite, the tentacles fight as he consumes it.

He passes out and wakes up in the woman's apartment. She asks him about his journals which she's been reading. She also asks why he fainted and he tells her lack of sunlight depleted him of vitamins C and E. She tells him that the bathroom door doesn't lock but warns him not to get any "bright ideas" before she visits the bathroom. He does however get a "bright idea." and rushes into the bathroom while she's on the toilet attempting to take her by force. He asks "Can fifteen years of imaginary training be put to use?" She hits him in the head with the handle of a knife she's holding, and he remarks "It can't." He starts getting ready to go and apologizes to her. She tells him she understands and she likes him. She tells him "You don't even know who I am, I'm Mi-do. You'll see. Later on, when I'm really ready, I swear that I will do it! I promise!" She tells him she knew there was something she liked about him from the moment she saw him and tells him the next time, even if she resists to go ahead and take her anyway.

 Mi-Do (Hye-jeong Kang) helps him look for information, finding his daughter's address from a storekeeper, who explains that his daughter has Swedish foster parents and she calls looking for Dae Su once in a while, not even knowing that he killed her mother. Mi-Do gives him the daughter's address.Her name is apparently Eva now and she's in Stockholm. Mi-Do offers to call for him, but he declines the offer. She offers to visit his wife's grave with him as well, but he's determined to kill the man who did it first. The two of them start visiting every restaurant that serves dumplings for a lead, as he was fed dumplings every night in captivity, and can't forget the taste.

Mi-do sets him up an email and chat account and Dae Su is curious about a chat friend she has who tells her his favorite movie is "Count of Monte Cristo." Dae Su is upset at Mi-Do's chat friend's response and takes a hammer from Mi-Do and leaves telling her "I don't know who you are." Oh Dae Su finds the dumplings at the "Magic Blue Dragon." and follows a delivery boy to the place he was held. Using his claw hammer, he gets to the building manager, Mr. Park (Dal-su Oh.) He displays his tattooed lines and tortures him, pulling his teeth out with the hammer until he talks. He discovers the manager's tapes and leaving the office, finds the hallway full of thugs. Before fighting them he asks if any of them have AB blood, sending the manager to the guy who raises his hand to go to the hospital with him. Dae Su then fights the whole group who attack him with knives, boards and pipes. Even after getting stabbed in the back he beats them all and leaves them lying on the floor. As soon as he's finished, the elevator arrives with a fresh batch of thugs. Dae Su smiles and we see him exiting the elevator moments later stepping over them to get out after he's beaten them.

On the street, he remarks "I can't get along any better now than I did before. I've become a monster now. When my vengeance is over, when I've had my revenge, can I ever return to being the old Dae Su?" He collapses in a crosswalk and a passer by puts him into a cab with instructions to get him taken care of. Dae Su, thanks the man, who smiles and shows his face, saying "Not at all! Farewell Dae Su!"  Dae Su realizes this is the man who had him imprisoned, but he's too weak to follow. Once treated and bandaged, he returns to Mi-do. We see that someone is taking pictures of Dae Su from across the street. He starts listening to the tapes he took from the manager at the captivity building. He hears them discuss him, but the only reason the man gives for imprisoning him is that "he talks too much." He decides to visit his friend Joo-Hwan at the internet cafe. He's thrilled to see him. Joo-Hwan listens to the tapes and when Dae Su asks if he knows the voice he answers "Now how the hell should I know, all the names of all the husbands whose wives you screwed." Dae Su logs into his chat account finding a suspicious chat friend with "evergreen" in it, which he questions Mi-do about after tying her up.

He finds an address for the evergreen email account, and rushes there, finding his captor Woo jin (Ji-tae Yu) there with bodyguards. Woo jin tells him "You want to know what's going on. You want to know who I am. Come on, it's a game! First the who, and then I'll tell you why. If you figure it out, come see me anytime, I'll raise your score. You have until July 5th. Oh no, only 5 days left! Too short? Hang in there, if you succeed, I'll kill myself and not Mi-do." He adds "I will kill every girl that you love until the day that you die." Enraged by the taunting, Dae Su chokes Woo Jin, who tells his bodyguard not to intervene. Dae Su prepares to torture Woo Jin, but he reveals that he has a pacemaker in his chest with an off switch enabling him to kill himself at any time, which would prevent torture and Dae Su from getting any answers. Woo Jin and his bodyguard leave reminding him that he left Mi-do tied up and the door is unlocked. He rushes back to her place and finds the building manager there with some thugs. Mr. Park shows off some new teeth and he has Dae Su held down making preparations to extract his teeth. Park is surprised that rather than cower, Dae Su laughs. Before he's able to do anything, he gets a call telling him to leave. Dae Su tells Mr. park that he's going to chop off his hand for touching Mi Do's breast, but he is not able to follow them. Dae Su tells Mi Do some of the details of what happened.

Woo Jin learns that Dae Su and Mi Do have left her apartment and that she quit her job. Mi Do reveals that she's in love with Dae Su and they finally make love. Woo Jin tells his bodyguard that he's getting depressed and that they'll leave when this is done. At Dae Su's new place we see gas coming in under the door. Men in gas masks enter while they're out and leave a gift wrapped box on the table containing Mr. Park's hand, which Dae Su had threatened to chop off. This tells Dae Su that Woo Jin is listening to them. Mi-Do investigates "evergreen" and discovers the phrase "evergreen old boys" a term for attendees of  Dae Su's high school. Mi Do and Dae Su visit the school and find Woo Jin's picture, as well as the fact that in the same class a girl, Soo Ah, has had her pictures cut out of the yearbook. Dae Su calls Joo Hwan to ask about this and he tells Dae Su that Soo Ah died after Dae Su transferred out of the school. Describing her, Joo hwan says that she apparently committed suicide, jumping off a bridge and that "She was a total slut. On the outside she acted just like a prude, a good girl, inside she was really wild. Rumors had it that slut fucked everyone at school! I should have gotten a piece of her." Joo-Hwan doesn't realize that Woo jin is in the internet cafe with him, eavesdropping. Enraged at what he's hearing, he kills Joo-hwan. He then gets on the call with Dae Su and tells him "My sister wasn't a slut!'

Dae Su and Mi-Do then locate Mr. Park who offers to help, claiming he hates Woo Jin for cutting off his hand. He leaves Mi-Do with Mr. Park for protection while he digs deeper. He visits a school friend of Soo Ah, who says that Soo Ah was definitely not a slut but she was seeing someone, that nobody knew about. The conversation jogs Dae Su's memory and he recalls his last day at the school, and talking to Soo Ah. She leaves the conversation abruptly and he discreetly follows her finding that she and her brother Woo Jin are in an empty class room together. Woo Jin takes pictures of her, which lead to Woo Jin making curious sexual advances. Soo Ah is horrified however, when she sees Dae Su watching them through a broken window. Later, Dae Su tells Joo-Hwan, warning him not to tell anyone, although he promptly tells everybody. He fill Mi-Do in on his memory and she's surprised that he would be imprisoned for fifteen years for such a relatively minor offense. Dae Su reminds her of what Woo Jin said, "Be it a grain of sand or a stone, in water they both sink." He also realizes that the deadline of July 5th was the day his sister died. Mi-Do proposes that now that he knows he can stop seeking revenge but Dae Su tells her that revenge has become a part of him now.

Dae Su tracks down Woo Jin's penthouse apartment using a proverb that Woo Jin quoted. Woo Jin and his bodyguard escort him to the right floor when he can't figure out the access code. In the elevator, Dae Su says "You had sex with your sister." Once they reach his place, Woo Jin tells his guards to attack. Dae Su easily beats then all except for Woo Jin's main bodyguard, who doesn't fight, but tells him to be nice. Woo Jin explains to him that the rumor got around to everyone that Soo Ah was pregnant, causing her to develop a fake pregnancy. Dae Su accuses him of killing his sister to cover up the pregnancy. He notices Woo Jin has a picture of Soo Ah on the bridge she jumped from dated July 5th, although she supposedly died alone.

Woo Jin then interrupts to tell Dae Su about post hypnotic suggestion. He explains that he hypnotized both him and Mi-Do, as both were highly susceptible to hypnosis. His first hypnotic suggestion was to go to Mi-Do's restaurant. The second was a response to the cell phone ring, causing him to say "Who are you?" Mi-Do was conditioned to react to that phrase, grabbing his hand, which in turn caused him to pass out. All of these events were designed to make the two fall in love.

He tells Dae Su that rather than asking why he'd been imprisoned, he should have been asking why he was released after 15 years.

Woo Jin points out a purple gift wrapped box which Dae Su opens, finding it contains his own family photo album with many pictures of his daughter, who he realizes is Mi-Do. We see Mi-Do with Mr, Park wearing the angel wings from the beginning. Dae Su, enraged,  now attacks the bodyguard who easily throws him back every time.  The bodyguard doesn't realize that Dae Su had a pair of scissors in his hand which he had shoved into his ear, leaving him paralyzed and disoriented. Woo Jin shoots his bodyguard to put him down and he falls. Dae Su asks if Mi-Do knows, and Woo Jin tells him he was stupid to leave her with Mr, Park, who wasn't angry about the hand but gladly gave it up for a good amount of money. He also tells Dae Su that he has been secretly raising Mi-Do since she was 4. Woo Jin then arranges for a call so Dae Su can talk to Mi-Do who is with Mr. Park. She tells him that Park has a box there he wants her to open. He pleads with her not to open it. Dae Su then grovels on the ground begging Woo Jin not to tell Mi-Do as she's done nothing wrong. He abandons all dignity, crawling like a dog and barking, even licking Woo Jin's shoes. He ultimately cuts off the tip of his own tongue off, in order to get him to spare Mi-Do. Woo Jin laughs at the display but calls Park and tells him to leave the box closed. He holds a gun to Dae Su's head but takes it away. Dae Su realizes he's dropped the trigger device for his pacemaker and grabs it as Woo Jin walks to the elevator to leave him. Dae Su presses the trigger but rather than kill Woo Jin it plays audio of he and Mi-Do having sex. Before the elevator doors close, he tells Dae Su "Believe it or not, my sister and I really loved each other. Can you two do the same?" Dae Su is left there to listen. In the elevator, Woo Jin remembers the day Soo Ah died. In the memory he struggles to hold her arm, as she hangs from the bridge. She begs him to let go and he finally does, watching her fall. In present time, Woo-Jin shoots himself in the head.

We discover that the whole story was a letter written to a woman that haggard, gray haired Dae Su is meeting with in a snowy forest landscape. She tells him that she has no reason to help him, but she found something he wrote touching, "Even though, I'm worse than a beast, don't I have the right to live?" She warns him that hypnosis could distort his memories, but he isn't bothered by that. She asks Dae Su to stare at a tree and she retells part of the story. "You're inside Woo Jin's penthouse, it's a dreary night. The sound of your footsteps to the window permeates the room. When I ring my bell, you'll be split into two persons, the one who doesn't know the secret is Dae Su, the one who keeps the secret is the monster. When I ring my bell again the monster will turn around and walk away. With each step the monster will age one year. When the monster reaches 70, he will die."  Mi-Do finds him sleeping in the snow and asks if someone was with him. He notices the woman's footprints and sees two chairs set but but gives no indication. Mi-Do says "I love you, Oh Dae Su" and he smiles strangely.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Top Ten Heist Movies

The heist movie has a long tradition going all the way back to the silent movies.  "The Perfect Crime" is a fascinating idea. Sometimes the plan is presented as so brilliant it has to work. Other times the lure is that there's so much money to make it justifies the risk for "one big score." Of course, one key aspect of a standard heist movie is that in the third act it all goes to hell, leaving the "perfect crime" looking a bit suspect. Most of the time the problem is the group element of the heist. A heist typically requires a crew, which presents a host of problem such as greed, double crosses, a higher chance of getting caught by the cops if somebody talks, and of course, the chance that someone can't pull their own weight. Even if the crew is perfect, there are always other things that can go wrong, the cops show up too early, car trouble, a heroic security guard, amongst a thousand other possible reasons.

You can usually expect that the criminals in a heist film won't get a happy ending, but it's still an underdog story that's exciting to watch. Once in awhile, against all odds, they pull it off. and I like to think we're cheering for a victory of intelligence and work more than a victory of crime. I don't want to see criminals with a barely thought out plan get away with it, but I love to see a brilliant plan, perfectly executed, succeed. But most of the time, these are cautionary tales, which get us caught up in the planning and the process enough to cheer, until we remember that there are many people involved, and our hopes turn to wondering how long it will be until someone messes it up and the grand heist goes from car chase to car wreck in no time.

I've tried to pick my top ten, but there are many I would love to have included but I'm trying for some variety. Off the top of my head, I could have easily picked Le Cercle Rouge, which is a wonderful film but has some similarities to others on the list, or Heat, but I already picked Thief, another of Michael Mann's films which I thought was more centered on the heist aspect, while Heat was more about firepower. Reservoir Dogs could have made it, as a heist was central to the plot, but it mostly skipped the "heist itself" act of the heist film, and so on. There are also many con man movies which could be seen as heists of sorts. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

10)TheThomas Crown Affair

A bored super rich playboy, Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) takes to stealing art because it's hard for him to find a thrill otherwise. A super capable detective, Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) aims to catch him an we soon realize why theft can be so exciting. While many compare the remake to the original, I think they're very different movies, despite having so much similarity. The remake really plays up the playboy angle, art theft as opposed to a bunch of money piled into a car. I'm a huge fan of Steve Mcqueen, but I think his coolness is tough to translate to a super wealthy character. McQueen's best roles are guys that have to fight, whereas Thomas Crown really doesn't have to do anything.  And the other thing is I already have the Getaway on the list, so I'd rather mix it up. While not a huge Brosnan fan, this role is perfect for him and he does a great job with it. Rene Russo, is without question at her absolute best here and they work well with each other. John McTiernan's version is exciting, slick and enjoyable, proving a fun heist movie isn't a bad thing once in awhile.

9)The Lookout

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) justifiably had plans to be a big hockey star until a car accident changed everything for him physically and mentally. He now has little short term memory, a fact he compensates for with a notebook. He ends up working as a janitor at a bank. Once a town celebrity he now sticks to hanging out with his room mate Lewis (Jeff Daniels) who is blind. A seemingly random encounter with an ex school associate, Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) who seems to take a real interest in him, leads to a sense that things are turning around. Gary builds the idea that he can be "popular" again, even enlisting a girl named Luvlee (Isla Fisher) to help persuade him.  He enjoys the feeling, but soon realizes they're using him for a heist they have planned. They know that his job as a janitor will let them get in the bank without setting the alarm off. He attempts to stop the heist, and all but two of the crew are shot when a deputy shows up. The deputy is also killed and Gary is wounded, but Chris gets away with the money and buries it, near where his accident happened. Gary knows that Lewis is important to Chris, so he and the other robber, kidnap him to force a trade. They underestimate Chris due to his condition, however and the trade doesn't go how they would have liked.  Scott Frank, both wrote and directed the Lookout, and he should be proud. It serves as both an interesting character study and an exciting thriller. The Heist itself isn't complex, as most of the robber's prep work was taking advantage of Chris' disability and background which are presented by Gordon-Levitt well enough that the story and his actions makes perfect sense.

8) Point Break

Probably a surfing film as much as a heist film, but you can't deny the heists are there and action packed. Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is an ex football player, turned FBI out to catch the "Ex presidents" a gang who robs banks wearing masks of, of course, ex presidents. Following up a clue, some "sex wax" for surf boards at robbery scenes, Utah goes undercover to infiltrate the surfer community, meeting Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) the leader of the bank robbers and the rest of the gang. He's accepted into their group and soon realizes who they are. His partner Pappas (Gary Busey) keeps an eye on developments as Utah's bonds to the group become problematic causing him to miss a shot at Bodhi in a president mask, and blowing his cover. Bodhi soon forces Utah to accompany them on a heist, with his new surfer girlfriend Tyler (Lori Petty) held hostage as incentive. The heist gets ugly and they leave Utah to be picked up by his fellow FBI officers. Utah tracks down Bodhi, and he and Pappas have a shoot out with the gang. which results in Pappas getting shot and Johnny Utah jumping out of a plane after Bodhi without a parachute in a test of fearlessness, which ends in Bodhi escaping again. Later he finds Bodhi preparing to surf the "1,000 year storm" in Australia. He cuffs Bodhi to show he caught him but lets him go, knowing the waves will kill him. Kathryn Bigelow does a remarkable job with an over the top premise, mixing surfing with bank robbing. Swayze and Reeves both turn out solid performances and the movie contains enough action that it works perfectly, as long as you don't think too hard about it.

7) Thief
(click here for full review)

Frank (James Caan) is an expert jewel thief, who approaches life with a system including concrete goals. He establishes legitimate businesses to cover his criminal activities and decides that his next step is to start a family, which includes his girlfriend Jessie (Tuesday Weld) and a baby at some point. His routine is disrupted when he finds his fence murdered. His reasoning approach leads him to find the man responsible, Mr. Attaglia (Tom Signorelli) who he demands pay him the money that his fence would have paid him, as the money was "his." Attaglia refers him to Leo (Robert Prosky) his boss, who wants Frank to work for him. Although skeptical, he agrees as this will move up his plans, his new association even allows Frank to buy a baby on the black market to help fill out his family idea. After a big score, Leo doesn't pay. Frank won't tolerate this and gives Leo twenty four hours.  Rather than pay the money, Leo kills Franks partner, Barry (James Belushi,) and threatens the lives of Jessie and the baby. Rather than give in to this, Frank kicks Jessie out of the house, then blows up his own house and businesses. He then tracks down Leo and shoots him to death, ending up in a gunfight with his Attaglia and his other men which ends with Frank shot, walking away with nothing. Michael Mann is an expert at the heist film and this one of his best, featuring James Caan in what I consider his best role. Thief is smart, exciting and hard edged all the way to the end. Frank's business model approach to crime is one you don't see every day.

6) The Usual Suspects
(click here for full review)

A different kind of heist film in that it uses every element that we love from heist films and uses them to misdirect us. We have the top notch crew and the perfect job as well as the "last job." Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) spends the film directing his own heist story to his eager audience, Agent Kuljan (Chazz Palminteri) This story is only believable due to the characters he includes, Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne,) Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin,) Freddy Fenster(Benicio Del Toro,) Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak,) criminals all suddenly in debt to the mythical "Keyser Soze" With such entertaining characters working against such high stakes it's easy to forget that the real question is "Who is Keyser Soze?" An exciting and unusual twist on the genre fron Bryan Singer.

5) Inside Man

Dalton Russell (Clive Owen)is a brilliant bank robber. Dressing his crew as painters, he enters and takes control of a bank. With 50 hostages held inside the police begin negotiations. Police negotiator Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) attempts to handle the situation although police efforts are ineffective, as the robbers seem to anticipate their every action. One of the bank's executives, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) hears of the situation and hires Madeline White (Jodie Foster) to head to the scene and make sure that the contents of a certain safe deposit box stay secret. White is allowed into the bank and discovers via Russell that the Case received money from the Nazis to fund his bank. White offers to make Russell rich if he'll destroy the evidence. She also offers Detective Frazier a promotion. and to take care of some money he allegedly stole if he plays along with her. Eventually, the cops storm the bank but are unable to tell who the robbers are as they have all intentionally played hostages themselves, mingling in shifts as hostages were moved to different rooms. No money is missing from the bank, but Frazier finds that one safe deposit box has never shown up in bank records and resolves to investigate despite White's attempts to dissuade him. A week after the robbery. Russell emerges from a hiding spot in the bank with the contents of the mysterious safe deposit box (incriminating documents and diamonds.) He bumps into Frazier on the way out, who can't recognize him. Frazier gets the missing box opened and finds a clue from Russell. which ensures that Case is investigated. "Inside Man" is a smart thriller from Spike Lee, and a true heist movie except that the job isn't what anyone thinks it is, and the "bad guys" aren't who we think they are either.

4)The Getaway

While an elaborately planned bank job is central to the movie, the heist itself isn't nearly as interesting as the progression of shifting loyalties before and after. Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) can handle just about anything except knowing his wife Carol (Ali McGraw) slept with slimy Jack Beynon (Ben Johnson) to get him released, but still on the hook to plan a heist under Beynon's own conditions (using his men.) Beynon himself doesn't end up being too difficult to handle, except that he has friends, including Rudy (Al Lettieri) who "helped" with the heist but isn't as dead as McCoy thinks when he shoots him,  and wants the money for himself. Rudy's depravity makes Doc (and most people) look classy. The Getaway, is the kind of mean degenerate world that Sam Peckinpah excels at, loud, bright and dirty. Doc and Carol are a great team when they can manage to trust each other.

3)The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is looking at a prison sentence from the very start of the film. A heist he pulled for his friend Dillon (Peter Boyle) has earned him a heavy sentence. With no way out except making a deal with ATF agent, Dave Foley (Richard Jordan)Eddie tries to make it all work out. Eddie's messed up plenty in the past and doesn't want to cross the wrong person this time. Eddie is supplying guns to his associates Jimmy Scalise (Alex Rocco) and Artie Van (Joe Santos) who are planning their latest robbery, and is hesitant to give them up. Eddie offers to turn in Jackie Brown, the guy getting the guns for him, but it isn't enough for Dillon. Dillon gets Jackie Brown,thanks to Eddie, as well as Scalise and Van, without Eddie's information. Dillon is also an informant for Foley and had already offered up Scalise and Van. Eddie's "friends" aren't happy, figuring him as the informant, and they ask Dillon to give his old friend a proper goodbye. "The Friends of Eddie Coyle"  is a bleakly brilliant mood and character piece from the great director, Peter Yates. Mitchum sells the aging Eddie who's finally trapped and out of luck, flawlessly. His desperation is almost it's own character.

2) Rififi

Tony is an experienced thief fresh out of prison and not in a rush to go back. He initially turns down his friend Jo's offer to assist he and another old friend Mario, breaking into and robbing a jewelry store. He changes his mind when he discovers his old girlfriend Mado has taken up with local gangster, Grutter. Enraged, he beats Mado and proposes a perfect plan to rob the store. Rather than just cutting the window and grabbing jewelry, Tony wants to go for the safe downstairs. They enlist Cesar a master safe cracker, to help and they lay out an intricate plan to deal with the store's state of the art security. The perfect crime goes off without a hitch, except that Cesar pocketed a diamond ring, which he gives to his girlfriend who works for Grutter. Already upset that Tony's beating inspired Mado to leave him, Grutter makes the connection and goes after the crew mercilessly. Tony's hatred for Grutter is just as strong however, leading the two to a showdown, once everyone on the periphery is out of the way.  "Rififi" is a miraculous film in that Jules Dassin directed it while blacklisted by Hollywood, for a budget of under $200,000.00 and it still looks brilliant today. The heist scene itself is a marvel, being a quarter of the movie and feeling very much in "real time." I didn't realize, until it was pointed out, that there was no speech or music during the entire sequence. It's just that riveting.

1)The Asphalt Jungle

This film is as close as it gets to the textbook example of "heist movie" as well as a film noir classic. And, aside from that it's just a truly great film. The "brain" Doc Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) has just finished serving some time in prison. He used the time served to come up with the perfect crime. He needs money to finance a team to perform the crime, and for this turns to Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern) who agrees, as long as he himself can fece the take. As a crew, Doc picks out Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) as his "muscle," Gus Minissi (James Whitmore,) as the "driver," and  Louie Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso,) the safe cracker. Dix tells his girlfriend "Doll" (Jean Hagen) that he's always dreamed of buying back a horse farm his family lost years ago. The plan of course, goes off with a few hitches. Emmerich decides he needs all the money for himself and hires some muscle to ensure it. Dix and Doc face off with Emmerich. Dix kills Emmerich's muscle but ends up badly wounded. Everyone is caught by the cops including Emmerich, who kills himself rather than go to prison. Doc is caught off guard by the police, his attention caught by his need to leer at a young girl. Dix makes a run for it with Doll in the car, leading to one of the greatest and most tragic endings ever done.  This is a masterpiece from the legendary John Huston, with a great ensemble cast, Sterling Hayden shines as the heart of the film until the brutal end.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Romeo is Bleeding

What Happens

We see an empty bar out in the middle of the desert. The bartender, Jim Doherty (Gary Oldman) starts narrating in voice over as he cleans up and looks through a photo album:
Bartender: You ever seen a ghost? There's this guy. Comes in here. Every May 1st. Every May 1st, every December 1st. Like clock work. What's he want? Well, frankly, I ain't exactly sure. He had the strangest story to tell. He left this here and I keep it for him. How do I know he'll be back? What's that? A woman was involved? [trying on a ring] Hm, just fits. I was married once myself. Beautiful girl. By the way my name is Jim Doherty. I run this place. His name? Sure. His name is Jack Grimaldi. Hey, there he is now!

We see Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman) driving down the road in a neat looking suit. Jim Doherty tells us that "Jack was a romantic guy, big dreams.The problem was, there was always a little daylight between his dreams and his wallet. See, he was a working stiff, 56 grand a year and never made it past Sergeant. And, every day he looked at a little of this, (We see Jack responding to a grisly murder scene) and then he looked at too much of that (We see Jack on a stakeout watching a guy having sex with two girls.) And all the time he was thinking, huh, I bet you know what he was thinking, dontcha? you'd a done just what he wound up doin' I'll bet. He walked around just like everybody, but inside, he wasn't like anybody."

We see Jack come home to his wife and dancing with her in the yard until late in the night, as Doherty tells us she was his true love and he could've told her anything. We then flash forward to see Grimaldi trying to keep control of a car with blood all over his face, struggling with a woman who is trying to strangle him with her legs from the backseat. Donherty says "Hey wait a minute. I'm getting a little ahead of myself here." and stops the scene, asking the audience "Pretend you didn't see that. Now where was I?" We flash back to where we left off and we're told that Grimaldi's plan is working great, until the day "things started to go wrong." We see Grimaldi watching federal agents who are guarding a mobster, Nick Gazzara (Dennis Farina) set to testify against the mob the next day. Nick jokes with the agents telling stories about old jobs while eating dinner. Grimaldi watches from the rooftop across the street until he's sure of the room. He then calls the mob and gives them the information, for which he's paid $65,000.00 in a drop box.

We then see Grimaldi blindfolded playing a guessing game with a girl named Sheri (Juliette Lewis) Sheri tells him she dreamed he had a wife, and it was her. She tells him how happy she is to be with him. And Doherty tells us that "a man don't always do what's best for him, sometimes he does the worst." We see Grimaldi on the couch making out with Sheri. Later, at a restaurant, Grimaldi tells his fellow cops about Sheri and they love the details. They talk about a recent case involving a mobster informant named Frank Malacci, who they're not getting any useful information from, when another cop comes in telling them that Nick Gazzara "got popped" and they suspect the assassin Mona Demarkov. The cop with the news speculates that without Gazzara, they'll have to get information from DeMarkov. Grimaldi visualizes the scene, when he hears that DeMarkov also killed the agents.

Grimaldi meets with his mob connection and complains about the agents dying and how this makes him a cop killer, which wasn't part of the deal. He tells Grimaldi that Mona Demarkov has to be taken out offering Grimaldi the job. He concentrates on the money rather than worry anymore about cops possibly getting killed again. He arranges to pick up Mona (Lena Olin) from the police department, ostensibly to drive her to a safe house where the Feds are waiting for her. Grimaldi checks them into a hotel and uncuffs her in the room. He lights her a cigarette and Mona asks him how he'd like to become a rich man. "Well, I've already got my health." he tells her, but listens anyway. She picks up her chair and moves it so she sits down touching his leg with hers. He quickly drops his gun for the sexual opportunity, which she encourages. She reaches for his gun before long, thinking him distracted, but finds he's moved it. The two of them are interrupted by Federal agents who have the room key and walk right in finding Mona and Grimaldi on the floor. Mona starts laughing hysterically. He leaves her to the agents and then tips off the mob to her whereabouts, reminding Sal that the agents don't get hit.

Grimaldi goes home to see his wife, Natalie (Annabella Sciorra) She fixes him food and complains that it's too fancy. She pulls a gun on him and says "I don't know Jack, You tell me." before laughing, revealing she's joking. He asks her about the photos she takes, and she tells him she hopes to photograph weddings. He sneaks outside and we see that he keeps all of his "extra" money in a hole in the yard beneath a metal cover. Doherty's voice over tells us that Grimaldi hears "a sucking sound" from the hole and all he can think about is feeding the hole, blocking out thoughts of the casualties it took to make the money. He has a dream that night about Natalie and Mona both holding guns on him.

Grimaldi visits with Sheri, who dances in lingerie for him. He calls the station to check on homicides, hoping to hear that Mona was killed. Sheri asks "Is it hard yet baby?" and he replies "It ain't easy!" We see Grimaldi at the police station next, in the middle of a poker game. Sal calls him at the station and tells him to come outside. They talk to each other from separate benches and Sal tells him that Mona wasn't there, and his boss, Falcone, wants to see Grimaldi tomorrow and Sal advise him that he "better have something for him."  He tells him that Falcone thinks he's holding out, and he'll need an address or something. Grimaldi heads to the restroom where his fellow officer, Martie (Will Patton) finds him. Martie is in a panic and he tells Grimaldi that he had picked up Mona Demarkov to transport her for the feds, who suspected someone was working both sides, and Mona took his gun and ran. Martie is afraid that he'll lose his job.

Grimaldi pulls up Mona's file and finds a picture of her with Falcone (Roy Scheider) He steals a tape from the file, which tells him that Mona had had an arrangement with an FBI agent, which left the agent mentally unstable culminating in his suicide. Grimaldi goes home and checks on his money hole, not realizing that Natalie is watching him from the window.

Grimaldi is escorted to Falcone's place. Grimaldi acts outraged accusing Falcone of breaking their deal, reminding him that he said no cops would be killed. Falcone reminds him that he was paid, and says "a life's a life." Grimaldi offers Falcone the money for Mona back, but Falcone won't take it telling him "I don't want the money back. I want Mona Demarkov dead." He tells Grimaldi he's to find her and kill her. Grimaldi says he won't kill her. Falcone tells him a story about Robert Lowell meeting Louis Lepke, Lowell, a conscientious objector, being in prison for not killing anyone, and Lepke being in prison for the opposite. When the moral of the story doesn't catch with Grimaldi, he reminds him that he can do all sorts of things to him and his family and will if  he doesn't deliver. He reminds Grimaldi "You see, you don't make the deals Jack. I make the deals, and you're in until I say otherwise."

Jack gets back to his life and starts telling himself, "Stay alive, 65 grand, feed the hole." His fellow cops in their regular restaurant, notice he's flustered. He gets a phone call from Mona, who knows he's supposed to kill her by Wednesday. She tells him she's at the hotel, "our room." He meets her there and she asks what Falcone offered him. Mona offers him $325,000.00 to tell Falcone she's dead. She tells him they'll find a body and the autopsy will confirm it's her. She shows him a case holding half the amount and promises the other half when he has a death certificate.

He visits Sheri and she tells him she's leaving, because she doesn't fool around with married men. He tries to convince her to stay. He talks to Natalie next who wants to know why things have gotten worse for them instead of better. Natalie tells him that money is the only thing that lasts, but he acts like he doesn't know what she's talking about. She then asks if he's screwing her sister "or just my niece." She tells him "I don't know what you're doing Jack, but don't bring it back here."

The mobsters and cops all show up for Nick Gazzara's funeral, and Falcone takes the opportunity to talk to Grimaldi. He has some of his thugs take Jack and rough him up, taking one of his toes off, promising to take the rest tomorrow. Jack protests that it isn't Wednesday, but Falcone doesn't care. Grimaldi runs home afterwards and gives Natalie the money from the yard, telling her what he'd been doing, and to go to the Holiday Diner in Phoenix and check for him there every six months, May 1st and December 1st. He asks her "Will you be there?" and she says "We're married, aren't we?" He says "That's no answer." and apologizes telling her that he loves her and can't live without her, begging her not to leave him. She tells him she did something at home, to let him know, and it's in the top drawer of the bureau.  Grimaldi says "I'll do anything." and Doherty narrates "Do what exactly? Can I tell you what makes love so frightening? It's that you don't own it, it owns you." He then drops Sheri off at the subway station, and she begs him to "Say  it." He tells her "It's over." and Sheri adds "and you're sorry right, you're so fucking sorry."

He sits in his car starts writing an apology letter to Natalie, sobbing as he writes. Afterwards we see he's having trouble walking, due to his missing toe. He falls asleep at the waterfront and Mona shows up to meet him in a car. She shows him the last half of the money, and gives her a death certificate and fake id, telling her she died of a shot to the chest. He asks Mona if she's ever been in love, she doesn't answer but instead wraps a cord around his neck and tries to strangle him. He struggles and gets out of the car and shoots Mona in the leg. When she still struggles he knocks her out and puts her in the backseat of the car and drives off. We see that she wakes quickly, and reaches her calves up around his neck while he's driving, locking her feet together to choke him. He loses control of the car and hits a post, getting knocked out against the steering wheel. Mona squirms her way out of the car taking her papers in her teeth and running. Grimaldi checks his house and finds the mobsters have gone through it. He finds a photo album in the top drawer of the bureau and takes it determined not to return there or anywhere familiar.

He starts watching Sal and finds that he's been meeting with Mona. He hears shots from the apartment where they're meeting and runs to check it out. Thinking he sees Mona moving at the window he shoots her several times, and approaches her to find that he just shot Sheri, who was dressed up in clothes and a wig to look like Mona from behind, as well as tied and gagged to the spot where she was standing.Grimaldi runs off to find Mona, but she returns to the apartment when he leaves. She unties Sheri's corpse and pulls her own severed arm from her handbag, then cuts off Sheri's and replaces it with her own before lighting the place on fire. The next morning Grimaldi reads that Mona was found dead in the fire, just before some thugs find him. They catch him and knock him out while we see Mona outfitting herself with a prosthetic arm.We then see that Grimaldi is cuffed to a bed in the same room and Mona points a gun at him,the scene matching the bad dream he'd had earlier.

Mona talks him out for a ride and reveals she has someone in the trunk. She opens it and he sees she has Falcone gagged and tied there. She tells him to dig a grave for Falcone. When he protests, Mona tells him "dig one grave or two." She pushes Falcone into the hole and has Grimaldi fill it in at gunpoint. When he's buried she fires into the ground and tells Grimaldi he's a free man. We see shortly afterwards, Mona and Grimaldi at a dance, having a great time. Doherty narrates: "You ever wonder what Hell is like? Maybe it ain't the place you think. fire and brimstone? the Devil with horns poking you in the butt with a pitchfork? What's hell? The time you should have walked, but you didn't. That's hell. Huh, you're looking at it."

Mona and Grimaldi are next in a hotel room. Grimaldi counts some money in a suitcase and says "good bye." Mona asks him for "one last dance." before dropping her pants to the floor. "Why not." Grimaldi says. In moments the door opens and the cops show up to arrest Grimaldi. In the back of the squad car, he's given a letter from his fellow officers which reads " Jack, What a pisser. Here we are, fighting the bullshit for fifteen years and now we find out that you're part of the bullshit. What can we tell you? You broke our hearts, you dumbest of fucks. And, we mean that sincerely." They bring Jack to the same place he first brought Mona and try to convince him to cut a deal before Mona does, offering him witness relocation protection. He runs into Mona at the courthouse, and sees that they're letting her go for cooperating. She brags to him that even when they had sex, he never got to her. He tells her that during sex, he thought of his wife. Mona then tels him that's too bad because his wife is a dead woman and he's a dead man and laughs at him before walking away. Jack pulls a gun from one of the officer's leg holsters and shoots Mona dead. He then puts the gun in his own mouth but finds it's empty. The empty chamber sounds along with the bell ringing at the Diner in Phoenix. He tells us he was given a medal for "defending his fellow officers" along with a new residence and identity.

We see him as Doherty at the diner, looking through the album of wedding photos on "May 1st, that was five years ago to the day. I guess this is where I came in, to tell you the story of an unlucky guy who fell in love with a hole in the ground; a ghost, haunting his own grave, celebrating every six months with the same party, waiting for the same guest of honor to show. Demarkov? Dead and buried. Everything I had, finito, except that old voice in my head. Some things you never let go of. Of course, Natalie, she wasn't the only guest invited [we see that the photo album has pages for other women] Can't be a party without a crowd. I don't remember much of it really. Don't remember what I said to 'em, or what they said to me back. Don't remember how I felt, but once in a while, I do remember how they looked at me." We see that there are no pictures of him and Mona, although Natalie had made pages for them. He continues "Well, I guess she's not gonna make it, always next time though, right?" He hears the door and jumps when he imagines Mona coming in. He then sees Natalie, but the image fades away. He walks out of the dinner and sits down at the gas pumps outside, narrating; "Maybe you think I'm ready to give up, but that ain't how it is. She could came walking through that door any day, cause even after all of this, I bet she still loves me."

What About it?

"Romeo is Bleeding" is a film about a human being's endless capacity for justification. Jack Grimaldi is not an extraordinary guy in any way, the only thing unusual about him is that he's willing to go to any lengths to get what he wants. Of course, what he wants, is only more than he has. For Grimaldi it isn't so much about the "having" as the "getting." The fact that Grimaldi narrates his own story is interesting in that it allows a character with no redeeming qualities to come across more sympathetic than would otherwise be possible.  He calls himself "an unlucky guy who fell in love with a hole in the ground." but watching his actions we see that Jack's misfortune's have very little to do with luck. He continually makes choices which put him in danger and acts as if there never was a choice. He decides to work against his fellow officers, and more importantly against the nature of his own job, yet Jack doesn't see that. He has no real loyalties whatsoever beyond imitating the appearance of them.

Jack is unfaithful to everything he can be unfaithful to, his wife, his coworkers, and any employer or cause he has. He's only ever faithful to the money. He gives his illegal stash of money to his wife only because he knows he can't possibly keep it safe while on the run from the mob. Jack relates "Can I tell you what makes love so frightening? It's that you don't own it, it owns you." summing up his main justification and the means with which he paints himself as an unfortunate victim of circumstance. He says those words as his wife is leaving, but they really have little to do with her. We see in his first encounter with Mona, that it takes very little to make Jack, "fall in love." We can gather from the photo album his wife left him that he "falls in love" on a regular basis and this is his defense against every moral quandary in which he places himself. Jack doesn't seem to have a larger plan for the money he makes on the side, it seems that Jack himself doesn't know how much money is enough. Jack views his own life poetically, giving himself impossible problems as if to ensure a tragedy happens. We can sense that Jack sees his suffering as "romantic." His approach is also self centered to its furthest extreme. Jack is a Romeo that isn't really driven by sex. We see from his relationship with Sheri, that although she's a mistress, their relations are actually quite mundane. It isn't the sex that drives him, but the idea of having more.

In keeping with his self image as a victim, Jack imagines that he's blameless of murder as long as he doesn't pull the trigger himself. He reminds Sal and Falcone several times that no cops were supposed to get hurt due to the information he sells them. When he hears that cops were killed, he doesn't seem to feel badly about it, and uses the information as an attempted protection from Falcone's demands. He accuses Falcone of breaking their agreement, as if this will get him off the hook with him. As a cop, it's unlikely that Jack could imagine a way that the Mob would kill someone heavily guarded by cops at all times without killing any cops. When Falcone tells him, "You know right from wrong. You just don't care." he has Grimaldi down cold. Nonetheless, although Jack's efforts get many people killed, he doesn't see himself as a killer. His whole sad self told story relies on things happening to him, making him "unlucky." If he starts killing, he has no choice but to see himself in a more active role, which isn't nearly as poetic as being a martyr. When he agrees to help Mona fake her death for more money than Falcone offered, we can't be sure if it's really the money or just a convenient chance to sabotage his own plan. When he finally kills Mona, it's apparently to protect his wife, giving him "no choice."

After burying Falcone, Mona tells him he's a free man, yet he chooses to stay with her awhile, despite his supposed plans to meet up with Natalie. He says "You ever wonder what Hell is like? Maybe it ain't the place you think. fire and brimstone? the Devil with horns poking you in the butt with a pitchfork? What's hell? The time you should have walked, but you didn't. That's hell. Huh, you're looking at it." Again, he isn't just describing the current situation, but his regular pattern of behavior. He habitually creates his own hell, and then tells himself that it happened to him. He acknowledges that his wife, Natalie is his true love, but it's difficult to believe him. It's more likely that he uses her as a poetic ideal to ensure himself a great lost love which makes his "exile" in Arizona exquisitely tragic.

This is a part that's perfect for Gary Oldman. It's the nuances of his character that really make this a film. The fact that he can watch the same behavior we watch and speak of it with a fond nostalgia, while not alienating his character at all is remarkable. While watching Oldman the corrupt cop, we don't forget Oldman, the owner of a deserted bar looking through a photo album. His gift for justifying anything he sees with complete sincerity is astounding. He could commit any act imaginable and sell himself  on how unfortunate it was that he had no choice and does. Oldman gives the character a kind of blankness, as if it's all the same to him that his wife or Mona pulls a gun on him.

Lena Olin is also fantastic, playing the femme fatale a lot more dangerous than the usual. She's a good contrast to Grimadi's passivity. Mona is the other extreme, she disregards what happens to her unless she can use it to make something happen. This is a woman who would calmly cut off her own arm to carry ou her plan. She gives the sense of being unstobbable as evidenced by her frantic escape from Grimaldi's car, choking him with her calves and then wiggling out of the wreckage without missing a beat. Mona makes Grimaldi look like a passenger.

Annabella Sciorra is also great and essential to the story. Her character is complex although we only see her when Grimaldi does limiting her screen time. Her performance is interesting in that it has to work on two levels, at first as the unknowing wife, and then later the same performance works as the wife who knew every last detail but for whatever reason kept it to herself. This particularly adds to the scene in the kitchen with Natalie pointing a gun at Jack. She plays it off as a joke, but it seems more likely afterwards that Jack, despite his protests, was quite lucky at that moment.

With "Romeo is Bleeding" Peter Medak gives us a fascinating movie, well worth watching just for the actors involved and for the interesting take on Grimaldi. We are given an intimate character study colored by his Jack's delusions. While most of us aren't as twisted as Jack, it's a good reminder of the slant we put on our lives. If you imagine yourself a victim or an initiator, chances are your circumstances will end up fitting your assessment, which isn't to say that the same events won't happen to anyone. Whether they like it or not, both Mona and Grimaldi play both victim and initiator at times, although each sees the events through their own filter of determined justification.

While most crooked cop movies focus on the cop "crossing a line," that doesn't happen here. Grimaldi knew better than to look at the line, instead looking at what he wanted. He tells us at the beginning "Jack was a romantic guy, big dreams. The problem was, there was always a little daylight between his dreams and his wallet." It's telling that he focuses on the wrong part of his problem. Jack has no idea what his own dreams are. He's romantic alright, but the money is just a justification to sell himself on living a beautifully exciting and tragic story. In a perverse way he gets his happy ending, the perpetual hope that in six months she'll show up.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Last Seduction

What Happens

The film opens on busy traffic in New York City, quickly moving to a lead generation room where Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino) oversees the callers. She clearly expects results, offering bonuses and insulting the callers reminding one of them "ask for the sale four times, every time. Got it?" When one of the salesmen makes a sale she offers him either $100.00 or $1000.00 worth of rare commemorative coins. When he chooses the $100.00 she says "Wise man."

Meanwhile, Bridget's husband, Clay Gregory (Bill Pullman), is meeting some drug dealers under a bridge with a case full of "pharmaceutical cocaine." He hands them is case, and tries to take the case of money from one of the money only to have a gun pulled on him. He lets go and starts sobbing "one stupid mistake." assuming he's either getting busted or robbed. It turns out it's neither, they just don't want to give up the case, and they dump the money out, leaving it on the ground for him.

Bridget gets to her and Clay's apartment, finding a message from Clay that his meeting was moved back. She's excited when he comes home, asking if he got the money. Clay starts pulling the bills out of his shirt and Bridget remarks on his appearance, "Do you walk the streets like that? You're an idiot!" Clay responds by slapping her and then quickly apologizes, telling her he's on edge from dealing with "scary people." and offering to let her hit him anywhere, hard. He remarks "this is what we worked for" and reminds her that she's a "criminal mastermind" He also mentions that he'll pay off the loan shark tomorrow, to which Bridget says "maybe he'll forget." Clay goes off to the shower, yelling into the living room for Bridget's opinion on dinner plans. "Whatever you want" she says, as she writes a note, (backwards) takes the money and leaves. Clay realizes she's gone and finds the not which he reads in the mirror, says "How are we supposed to celebrate?"
He calls out to her in the street "You better run!"

Bridget takes a cab to her own car, takes off her ring and drives out of the city, for Chicago, stopping in Beston when she gets low on gas. Before leaving she stops into a Beston bar, where Mike Swale (Peter Berg) is chatting with his friends about a recent trip he made to Buffalo, which didn't work out, landing him back in Beston. When a girl hits on Mike, he hushes his friends from ooohing about it saying "These women are anchors. You get too close to one, Beston's got you for life." This is clearly a regular thing for Mike as his friends react saying "Here we go again." One of Mike's friends says "Tell me about the wife." pointing out Mike's wedding band. Mike complains that he can't get it off. Mike starts complaining about being stuck in Beston again, and his friend asks when he'll leave. Mike answers "How long's it take to grow a new set of balls?" Mike then notices Bridget enter the bar. The bartender intentionally snubs her, asking if anyone in the bar needs a drink while she's asking for one. Mike tells his friend, "This might be my new set of balls." Mike orders her a drink which the bartender is happy to get now. Trying to make small talk, Mike says "You're not from around here?" and Bridget answers "Fuck off." before grabbing a table for herself. Mike approaches her table and is told to go away.
Mike: Well, I haven't finished charming you yet.
Bridget: You haven't started.
Mike: Give me a chance.
Bridget: Go find yourself a nice little cow girl, make nice little cow babies and leave me alone.
Mike: [leaning in] I'm hung like a horse. Think about it.
Bridget: Let's see
Mike: Excuse me?
Bridget: Mr Ed. Let's see.
Mike: Look, I tried to be nice. I can see that's something you're not...
Bridget: Now I'm trying. I can be very nice when I try. Sit down.
Mike is shocked when she check's out his horse claim as soon as he sits down. saying "I never buy anything sight unseen" She then quizzes him about his past. Mike claims he's had twelve lovers, no prostitutes, and emphasizes that he's never slept with a man. She then asks about his place. Mike says he also has a name prompting Bridget to say "No names. Meet me outside."

Mike wakes up looking for her, and finds Bridget talking on his phone and checking out his fridge. She calls her lawyer, Frank (J.T. Walsh) and explains her situation. Frank tells her her husband is entitled to half of anything bought with the cash, so to keep it in cash until a divorce can be finalized which he estimates could take two years. he also advises her to stay put as Clay will know to look for her in Chicago. She runs out without saying good bye to Mike, and he runs outside yelling after her. Bridget picks up a newspaper and finds a job opening in the classifieds for a Lead Generation Manager at Interstate Insurance Company. The employer is impressed with her resume, and she tells him a story about her husband beating her, which is forcing her to hide and use an assumed name. She choose the name Wendy Kroy. She runs into Mike in the hallway, who works at the same company. She tells him to act as if the sex never happened.

Bridget rents a place and calls Frank again from her office. Frank tells her that Clay called talking about "a loan shark and his thumb." He adds "Anyone check you for a heartbeat lately?" He tells her that if she won't send Clay some cash to tell him to quit calling. She says she'll call Clay and Frank tells her to be careful as he might trace it. She responds "He's not that clever." She gives Clay a call and we see that Clay's thumb is bandaged. The operator asks if he'll take the call and Clay asks "Is this Bridget in Chicago or Bridget in Dallas?" Bridget tells the operator to disconnect. After work she goes to the bar again, where Mike immediately sees her. She takes him outside to have sex in a not very hidden spot behind the bar. Mike takes the opportunity to ask "Where do I fit in?" and isn't pleased when she says "You're my designated fuck."

They meet for sex regularly and Mike keeps pushing for information which she doesn't give. He continues to complain about being "kept at arm's length." She continually makes light of his need for more than sex. Bridget calls Clay from the office again and asks him to get the number from a pay phone down the block and she'll call back. We see that Clay has a guy, Harlan (Bill Nunn) there to trace the call. Clay runs around the apartment to sound winded and when she calls back he gives her a number he already has. Clay runs in place again holding a cordless phone given to him by Harlan, while jumping rope in the apartment. When Bridget remarks it sounds quiet, he opens a window. He asks for the money back and Bridget says "It's mine, you hit me." Clay tells her the $100,000.00 he borrowed from the loan shark is now $150,000.00. She offers to pay off the loan shark and his private detective and leave him ten grand. The phone rings in the apartment tipping her off and she hangs up. The trace turns up the area code, giving them the city she's in.   Frank advises her to stay put since she has an alias and it's not likely they'll find her.

Bridget and Mike show up to work at the same time and Bridget explains that "a woman loses 50% of her authority when people find out who she's sleeping with." Mike protests, but when they get in the building she slaps Mike and acts as if he's groping her.

Harlan and Clay discuss finding Bridget and Harlan explains he doesn't have enough information to do anything. Their talking is interrupted by a "customer" buying prescription drugs from Clay. Harlan tells Clay that she likely has an alias. Clay sees a "New York" poster in the mirror, and recalling Bridget's backard writing skill, tells Harlan that she's using "Wendy Kroy" because all she's thinking about is getting back to New York.

Bridget approaches Mike at the bar five days after the office incident. Mike is still complaining about wanting more. Mike tells Bridget about his job as a claims adjuster, which she finds boring until he mentioned he talked with a woman whose husband died, and the woman remarked that she should have killed him years ago. Mike also explains that he knew the husband was cheating from his credit report, as he had credit cards for women other than his wife. Bridget convinces Mike that they should make a list of women with cheating husbands, who have big insurance policies. She then calls one of the numbers and sells the woman her husband's murder, before telling the woman it was a joke. She then tells Mike that she's using the activity to be more than sex partners when he doesn't want to play along. Mike does a call of his own and she lets him come back to her place for the first time. In bed, Bridget asks Mike to tell her about his wife. He asks "How'd you know?" and she says "I didn't." She prompts him to talk about her wife but he isn't forthcoming saying "It was a mistake." Mike implies that Bridget coming to town was significant and when pressed about it he says "You've been out there. You came here, and you chose me.  So I was right, I'm bigger than this town."
Bridget: So what's wrong?
Mike: You can't stop reminding me that you're bigger than me.

Bridget gets to work the next day and hears in a hush hush tone from the receptionist that "There was a black man here to see you." She asks what he wanted and the receptionist says "Wouldn't say. He was black though." Bridget can't get ahold of Frank and later that night at Mike's place, she reveals that she's on the run. She tells him she "made a sale." referring to murdering cheating husbands. Mike isn't at all interested and turns her down going off to play hockey without her. She gets into her car to leave and Harlan gets into the car with her holding a gun on her. Bridget offers to share with him instead of Clay and banters with him about leaving her money. She teases him asking "Is it true what they say about size?" when she doesn't let up he unzips his pants. She speeds up while he does this and slams the car into a telephone pole counting on the drivers side airbag to protect her, although Harlan gets thrown through the windshield and killed. At the hospital she tells the police that Harlan had planned to rape her. Mike shows up at the hospital and asks how hockey was, playing up his guilt. She pushes him about the murder for hire again. He won't agree and she tells him she'll do it herself rather than stay there forever.

Bridget calls Clay and he remarks that he heard about Clay. He tells her that he's hired a local PI to watch her, parked outside her house. He tells her that now that he knows where she is he's willing to hire a sociopath to take her out. Bridget offers to buy a week, paying the loan shark while she settles things. Clay asks "What made you do this?"
Bridget: I don't know. You slapped me.
Clay: That's just an excuse
Bridget:  You're probably right, but I get to slap you back.
Clay agrees to her proposition as long as the local PI keeps tailing her.

Back at the office, she tries to make travel arrangements without giving her name. Mike listens outside the door and seems concerned that she's going away. She tells him she's just going to New York for the weekend. At her place, Bridget bakes cookies for the PI, dropping one and putting a board with nails under his tire when she picks it up. A cab pulls up and she asks to go to Buffalo. She visits city hall and gets the name of Mike's wife, Trish Swale. She then visits Mike's wife and heads home.

Back at the bar, one of Mike's friends tells him that Bridget asked what Mike's secret was, and propositioned him. Mike hits his friend who then says that he came onto her and she shot him down. Mike is distraught and drunk, calls Bridget from a payphone while drinking from a paper bag, leaving her a confessional message about loving her and having a hard time trusting himself after Buffalo. Bridget listens to the message and scribbles a note with Mike's name in a heart. Mike drives over later to erase the message and finds the scribbling while Bridget watches from under the bed. She leaves a ticket for Mike to find coming in, that makes it appear that she went to Miami. Mike assumes she killed the guy she'd talked about. Mike pulls out the note, to prove that she loves him, but Bridget kicks him out. She can't help but laugh afterwards.

Mike approaches her at the office, asking for details about the guy she killed, telling her that he's trying to accept what she's done. She tells him she's leaving without him and he asks what he can do to convince her to take him. She tells him that he needs to do what she did and that would make them equals. She presents him with information on a guy named Cahill. Mike refuses again. and as he leaves Bridget smiles and writes a letter claiming to be from his wife Trish, telling him she got a job at Interstate Insurance. We see Mike opening and reading the letter.

Mike shows up at Bridget's place, exclaiming that he'll do it as long as they never come back to Beston. Bridget calls the police and claims the PI watching her exposed himself to local kids. While the police hassle the PI, Bridget and Mike take off. On the ride to New York, Bridget grills him about the details of the murder, which involve restraining and gagging Cahill and acting as if he's robbing the place and stabbing him to death. He asks why he has to shut the lights off afterwards and she tells him it's psychology, to tell himself he's finished an unpleasant chore.

We see Mike find Cahill on the mailbox tag. He enters the apartment and we see that he's in Clay's apartment. Clay doesn't seem intimidated, and offers some wisecracks. He critiques Mike's methods telling him if he's gagged he can't tell him where everything is. Mike can't bring himself to stab Clay and he exclaims to himself "I can't do it Wendy! I just cant!" This prompts an outburst from the gagged Clay, which catches his interest. He lets Clay explain. He gives Mike the details and he tells Mike to find something else in the apartment that says Cahill. Clay explains that she is planning to finger him for the murder, and figures that the cops are already on the way. assuming he's to signal her somehow, which they realize is the reason that Mike is to shut the lights off. Bridget watches the window from the street and when the lights go off she heads up. Mike kicks a wedding picture across the floor to her and confronts her about her plan. Clay is still bound as Bridget has the handcuff keys. She sprays mace down his throat, killing him and tells Mike that now they have a future. She then suggests they "roleplay" although Mike is stunned at what just happened. She tells him "You killed my husband and raped me!" Mike pushes her away and holds the gun on her, telling her she's going to jail. He picks up the phone and Bridget tells him that Trish wasn't coming to Beston. We see in flashback that Trish is actually a man. Bridget taunts him about it, and he slaps her and dares him to rape her. Mike is over the edge now and gives in, not realizing that Bridget has dialed 911 while laying over the desk. Bridget makes sure to yell, "You killed my husband!" while he says "You want to be raped! I'll rape you!" the 911 operator of course hears everything.

Mike is in prison talking to his lawyer, who tells him that the man Bridget claimed to kill is still alive and that the case against him is airtight and there's nothing he can do without one piece of evidence. He mentions that he's likely facing the death penalty. He tells the lawyer, "There might be one thing." We then see Bridget in a limo handling the tag that reads "Cahill" She burns it with her lighter as the limo drives her away.

What About it?

The Last Seduction is firmly set in the tradition of film noir characterization, offering a twist by using the classic femme fatale as the main character. Fiorentino's Bridget is completely amoral, willing to do any deed, to secure her goal of keeping the stolen money. She's not quite a mastermind, but is a gifted schemer and manipulator who pays attention to the details. Her husband's accusation that she's using the fact that he slapped her as an excuse, appears possible and it seems likely that she never planned to share the money she convinced him to make.

In many ways, Bridget behaves like a stereotypical man. When Mike insists on a relationship that's more than sex, she artfully keeps him at a distance, despite his clinging. She is used to being in control of the situation and those around her. Even in her legitimate employment, she gets to order men around and offer them incentives and insults at her own whim. While we can assume that she and her husband have some history, it's also very clear that she was responsible for the Clay stealing drugs and selling them. We see during the deal that Clay is not very comfortable doing it. Even after the drug deal is done, Clay talks about using it until "the doctor bucks" start coming in. Bridget is perhaps already bored with that plan.

She's a good judge of people and no one in the film is nearly a match for her. She's always aware of others perceptions and not afraid to pull any card for the desired effect. Clay is at least aware of her talents and ruthlessness, leaving her with no option but to hide out. While she could have eased some of the tension by leaving enough money for him to pay off the loan shark, she doesn't bother. He slapped her after all, as she says herself, she's only slapping him back. This shows she's willing to make things difficult for herself rather than relinquish control. It's likely that if she had paid off his debt, his interest in finding her would be much less as he wouldn't be worried about having bones broken. Clay accepts, when she offers to "buy a week." as his fear is very much driving him. We also see the extreme need for control in her staged reaction to Mike when they walk into work together. She tells Mike, "a woman loses 50% of her authority when people find out who she's sleeping with."  This matters to her, although this is a job she's planning to leave at the soonest opportunity. Even in her fictional life, she needs to maintain that image.

Clay knows her too well, and is too desperate to be easily manipulated. Mike, on the other hand couldn't be a better prospect. She picks up on his desire to be "bigger than Beston" and plays it to full effect. Clay knows that he's in over his head, but he assumes that with persistence she'll soften a bit. Mike has no idea that their entire relationship is manipulation. Bridget manipulates in an interesting way. It doesn't seem that she starts with any plan but works more through a kind of "inspiration." She doesn't get the idea to kill Clay until Mike gives her the idea discussing an insurance claim. Up until that point she manipulates him in a general sense, keeping him susceptible to her needs as a too perhaps, but unsettled on it's use. Once she has a plan, she wastes no time in putting it to work, but tries to use the minimum effort necessary, while preparing the next step. If leaving a note with Mike's name in a heart had been sufficient, she wouldn't have needed to forge a letter from Trish, but she had the information ready in any case. We can imagine that if she didn't use it to coerce him, she would've used it later on.

Clay is not dumb, but can't possibly imagine what she's capable of. He imagines that her icy nature is a defense mechanism that he can get through.  It's quite clear that Clay has a fairly strong moral sense and repeatedly rejects her "murder for hire" idea, at least concerning his own involvement. He does not however, ever disengage from her influence. He sees murder as wrong, but is able to discuss it with her and continue sleeping with her. When he assumes that she has murdered someone, he makes a show of attempting to understand. The thought never enters his head that he is in danger. He's very naive, but wants very much not to be. Bridget's very presence, excites him with the promise of possibilities outside of Beston. There are unanswered questions about Clay. We know he married a man in Buffalo, which is a secret he's willing to commit murder to keep from facing. He explains the marriage (without the man part) as bad judgment, but we don't know what really occurred. We can assume that if he was married for days that he was aware his wife was a man. Possibly the situation overloaded his small town morals, as he clearly feels deep shame about it. Bad judgment seems to be a theme for him, as Bridget is a much worse choice for him than "Trish." Mike never has a chance.

Clay needs to be told what to do, before he'll make any big moves. Big choices and changes terrify him. This suits him perfectly for Bridget, but not perfectly, as his qualms prevent him from killing Clay. Even after Bridget kills Clay, Mike is hesitant to act, as if he wants to believe there's still a chance of a future with her. Mike could physically overpower Bridget, and also has a gun, yet she manipulates him into "raping her" for the 911 call, after she had already told him what she was planning to do.

Linda Fiorentino makes the most of a fantastic part, putting on whatever emotion suits her purpose at the time, while maintaining the sense of authority that is the core of her character. We don't always know what's real or not with her other than the fact that she really plans to keep the money. Bill Pullman plays against her perfectly, as the only character other than her lawyer who really knows her, and a low life in his own fashion. He's also willing to think outside the box, but  has a need for justification that Bridget doesn't share. Clay sells prescription drugs out of his apartment, but makes his characters go through mock medical questions. He has no trouble stealing drugs, but does it in order to get by until he's a doctor making legitimate money. Despite what he knows, including Bridget's location, he's willing to give her a week to "settle thing" even after she kills the private eye he sent to find her. He assumes like Mike that she has a limit to what she'll do.  Ultimately, Bridget just proves more ruthless and better at improvising than he is.

John Dahl has created a smart film with enjoyably twisted characters. The dialogue is sharp and original moving as quickly as the plot. Using a genre that typically puts women in peril, he allows he audience to enjoy watching the tables get turned. Bridget shares many qualities with the tough as nails, unshakable, PI's, once portrayed by actors such as Bogart and Mitchum. in classic noir films, and it's surely no accident that she uses as her ploy, an insurance scam which recalls the classic film "Double Indemnity" Her character also has similarities to Barbara Stanwyck's character, the femme fatale in that film, only Bridget is a thousand times more competent. She's also less morally ambiguous, falling squarely on the villain side.  In this film like many classic noirs, we don't cheer for the lead because she's a good person, although we may celebrate her wit or ingenuity. And, there is a certain charm to seeing the character put herself up against everyone with an impossible scheme and come out the best man, or in this case the best woman in the game.