The summer harvest, mid-August — we reap what we can:
Rachel Weisz was excellent in Agora, one of the few movies to deal smartly with the cultural collapse of classical antiquity. Not many Americans paid attention. She was the best thing in The Lovely Bones, but the film was foolish. Now Weisz is the moral force and focus of The Whistleblower — what are the chances that many viewers will care to absorb its grim message?
Canadian director Larysa Kondracki’s first feature provides a vividly rough, upsetting sense of what it means to be a betrayed girl in Bosnia, huddled with other exploited victims in wretched rooms, enduring punitive torture and sex slavery. The capper is that most of the swaggering, criminal males are officers of a U.N. peace force, along with some corporate contractors (one sneers, “We work in the real world”).
The lonely crusader exposing them is a new recruit, Kathryn Bolkovac (Weisz). Divorced and far from home, the trained Nebraska cop is shocked but brave. Though reality-rooted and less pulpy than Trade, the Kevin Kline film about sex-sold kids, this movie cuts a few corners. And it has so many odious men that almost the whole gender seems condemned (most of these villains had diplomatic immunity from prosecution).
Kathryn presses ahead, not striking martyr poses, never pulling a gun. Weisz is always deeply genuine. The fierce care in her face is not a slapped-on logo of empathy (her main advisor, acted by Vanessa Redgrave, is like the noble ghost of a dead U.N.). The movie feels necessary and overdue. Over two million victims are mired in sexual slavery. For the vast majority the U.N. is not responsible, but in a cruel world it also has meager resources to help them.
Anne Hathaway poses as an intellectual in One Day, tying her hair back and wearing glasses. The effect was no more convincing when Dorothy Malone did it as a prim bookshop clerk in The Big Sleep (1946), but for Malone it set up a sharp sex gag. Bookishness is meant to define Hathaway’s Emma, who snootily keeps putting down the man she supposedly desires.
Soon the glasses are gone, the hair is free, and Hathaway glows. Though she hath a way with us, she is often snide with Dexter (Jim Sturgess). She likes subtitled films, Dex likes (even appears in) trashy TV. She reads Milan Kundera, he leafs through magazines. They cool their initial fever by avoiding sex, and then reunite every July 15. After many meet-cutes, she is keen to be impregnated and he is game to oblige, although by now he’s a married and doting dad. Their teased-along “friendship” seems like an experiment in dim-witted desire.
It echoes the dinner-theater charms of Bernard Slade’s Same Time, Next Year, which also used the once-a-year gambit. The 1978 film lacked this one’s lush views of Edinburgh, London, and Paris, but Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn zipped it along expertly. Here we suffer an episodic mishmash. Ever-boyish Dex keeps meeting the dream woman who makes him feel unworthy yet still dotes on him sentimentally.
Hathaway achieves a paradox: irritating adorableness. Having pre-tested her okay English accent in past films, she still tends to swallow or rush her lines. Emma not only strings along Dex but also dithers with a love-smitten comedian who isn’t funny (yet is quite engaging — Rafe Spall is the son of the great Timothy Spall). Emma remains an opaque figure, and director Lone Scherfig never finds with Hathaway the gold of Carey Mulligan in An Education. The July 15 episodes start to seem like Bastille Day hangovers.
Pierce Brosnan hustles suavely as Rev. Dan Day, whose pictures of himself dwarf those of Christ in his mega-church office. He must be the first film pastor to pray in a luxury shower stall. In Salvation Boulevard, Day is worshipped by groupies such as Gwen (Jennifer Connelly), whose husband (Greg Kinnear) is puzzled by Day’s swaggering holiness. And then a professor (Ed Harris), the local Christopher Hitchens of righteous atheism, debates Day into a rather devilish situation.
George Ratliff’s satire from Larry Beinhart’s novel is not an attack on religion but a Mad-like lampoon of the travesties of religion. Brosnan never challenges Burt Lancaster’s Elmer Gantry, Robert Duvall’s evangelist in The Apostle, or Brad Dourif’s Bible-howler in Wise Blood, but he might be the funniest preacher since Dick Van Dyke in Cold Turkey. Expertly amusing help includes Marisa Tomei as a Grateful Dead freak turned security guard and Ciarán Hinds as an ex-military plank of manly wood. Among the fine touches is Rev. Day’s cell phone, lighting up in satanic red. I chuckled often but not loudly.
Crime After Crime
Justice rides rough in Crime After Crime. Yoav Potash’s documentary is about Deborah Peagler, an L.A. woman who met her dreamboat in 1975. The smooth egotist married, impregnated, abused, and pimped Deborah, who was finally driven to using Crips gang thugs to scare him away. They overdid it, and Peagler went to prison on a 25-to-life ticket, thanks to a lazy lawyer, hard laws, and a mean district attorney.
Peagler’s many legal appeals were often futile. Committed pro-bono attorneys Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran costar engagingly with Peagler, a devoutly religious model prisoner. With Potash serving as legal videographer, the talking closeups are endless. But the story grabs. Is there a villain more perfectly self-cast than repellent D.A. Steve Cooley? Or anyone more movingly mired in Kafka limbo than Peagler? Despite its plodding tactics, the movie is an alarming witness.
Interview: Former La Jollan Yoav Potash, Director of Crime After Crime
Miranda July wrote, directed, and stars as Sophie in The Future. She also does the scratchy voice of her sick cat, sharing its tiny thoughts with us. Sophie’s normal, drained, deadpan voice matches her spaced husband (Hamish Linklater), a quirky guy who can “stop time.” He also hears the moon talking to him. The script seems to be on meds and often has the aura of Pee-wee Herman having a weird little party with David Lynch.
Despite some amusingly drab lust in Tarzana, July’s fey and feline charms coagulate into a glum paste of abstract anxieties about aging, death, infidelity, and ecology. It might work better as performance art in a loft, though some night images are excellent. If July keeps going in this direction, she will become the next-most aggravating woman in movies, right after low-budget vanity star Tanna Frederick.
The first point against Point Blank is that it steals a great movie’s title. Not the 1998 Mickey Rourke dodo, but John Boorman’s 1967 Point Blank, a brilliant thriller starring Lee Marvin’s definitive performance as a monolithic menace. By contrast, Fred Cavayé’s new film is slick and slippery Euro-trash. As in 2008’s Everything for Her, Cavayé uses a husband trying to save his wife from a French justice system prone to fascism (the Nazis got a lot of police cooperation in France).
Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) is a hospital nurse whose wife (Elena Anaya) is in late pregnancy. Talk about trimester blues: she is abducted and hauled to a grim refrigeration plant by thugs who are into deep merde with corrupt Parisian cops. As Samuel becomes a Real Man (no mere male nurse!) by looking for his wife, we pinball along with the many clichés: chases, ambushes, subway violence, shady Gypsies, Mafia hoods (sauced, as usual, by an opera aria). Roschdy Zem is a Marvin-like hard case, clipped and lethal. Marvin famously shot holes in a bed. Zem plugs a mattress through the flesh of a fat, decadent gangster. So much for progress.
Reviewed in the movie listings: Final Destination 5 and Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie.