Friday, October 5, 2012

Bang, Bang! Past, Present & Future

Not much seems to change with America's love of gunfire, as evidenced in three recent films that take place in the 1930's, the present, and the next century. The first is LAWLESS, a prohibition drama that tells the "true" story of three brothers who run a moonshine buisness in Southern Virginia. Suddenly big time crime bosses from Chicago try to take over, and the Bondurant Brothers refuse to back down. That's it. That's the movie. As the oldest and fiercest of the brothers, Forrest, Tom Hardy is taciturn and menacing but also appealing. He is the head of the family, and family comes first. Shia LaBoeuf plays the youngest brother, who is itching for action and a chance to prove himself. Herein lies the film's major flaw. LaBoeuf is totally miscast as country boy. His speech and demeanor signal a greaseball in a Chicago speakeasy, not a struggling kid in the sticks. The most interesting performance comes from Guy Pearce who plays corrupt special deputy Charley Rakes, a near psychopath, who is both a dandy and a sadist. Pearce, with greased back hair and city zoot suits, plunges into his role and steals the movie. Needless to say, the gunfights are plentiful and extremely graphic. LAWLESS has several effective dramatic moments, but the guns rule, as they probably did back in 1930's rural Virginia.

The best of these three films is set in present day Los Angeles. END OF WATCH is yet another police drama that dives into the worst areas of city life, in this case, South Central LA, where poverty, drug running, and crime are the norm. The director, David Ayer, wrote the screenplay for the powerful drama TRAINING DAY, which exposed corruption in the LAPD and won Denzel Washington an Oscar for playing an immoral cop. Ayer's take on the department is much more humane here as he explores the strong friendship between two young partners, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. While patrolling they kid each other with ethnic jokes, but it is obvious that these guys have a true friendship. But every day is a chance for disaster. The title "end of watch" refers to a traditional response to the death of a police officer on duty, so the premise of the friendship under pressure leads us to wonder who will die or if no one will. The men are filming an informal documentary, so there is much jolting camera work, perhaps too much. But the expose of the conditions that many suffer in South Central LA is gritty and rings true, and Pena and Gyllenhaal are superb.

As for the future, the highly praised LOOPER plays with time travel, always a tricky subject.
The talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays looper Joe Simmons. Simmons works for a Mafialike crime syndicate that runs Kansas in 2044. His job is to kill people from 2074 who are sent back for extermination. In 2074 time travel was invented but quickly outlawed, even though the mob secretly uses it. Joe is stunned to realize that his latest target is his older self, a grizzly, take-no-prisoners looper. Naturally the two begin a hide and discover game that leads to a bloody shootout at the film's end. Old Joe, played by Bruce Willis, is out to kill the baby who will grow up to be the man who orders his killing. Got that? It is involved, but not complex or philosophically interesting on the level of the much superior INCEPTION a few years ago. The physical violence in LOOPER is as nasty as that of the films above, but there is more dread implied since children are involved.

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