REVIEW: Baby Driver

12 07 2017

I saw Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” twice in the span of a month and fixated primarily on how it functioned as a new take on the movie musical. (If you want my full thoughts on that aspect, check out my piece on Little White Lies – I do far more heavy lifting with the film there.) It is that, but like any great movie, it’s so much more.

It’s a kickass action flick where, for once, the terms “balletic” and “choreographed” are not critical hyperbole but apt, justified descriptions. Wright’s tightly edited escapes, whether by car or by foot, fall in lockstep with their musical inspirations as they play diegetically through the headphones of Ansel Elgort’s titular driver. Is this what it felt like to watch the “Ride of the Valkyries” sequence in “Apocalypse Now” back in the 1970s? “Baby Driver” is a giddy rush of cinephilia as Wright treats us to impeccable execution of a bold gambit.

It’s a film about how we relate to culture and to each other. Baby, an archetypal stoic stalwart, suffers from ailments both emotional (still traumatized from being orphaned in a tragic car crash) and physical (tinnitus leaves his ears constantly ringing). As such, he’s never one to communicate in a straightforward fashion. He signs with his deaf foster father. He pulls dialogue from the snippets of movies he sees on TV. He times his vehicular getaways to the music on his iPod (and one with a clickwheel, to boot). He’s more likely to block people out with his headphones and cheap sunglasses than let anyone in – until, of course, he catches a few bars from diner waitress Debra (Lily James).

I could sit here and bang out another few paragraphs trying to convince you of how much “Baby Driver” has to offer. But that might make you feel obliged to sit here and read my words, which will only serve to rob you of the experience of discovering the film’s ecstasy for yourself. There’s probably something you’ll find that did not even occur to me, and the film will motivate you to do so. Wright provides the perfect blend of originality, dazzling technical craft and emotionally invested storytelling to inspire a deeper dive into his movie’s pleasures. A-

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REVIEW: Wind River

28 05 2017

Sundance Film Festival

“You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists,” stated Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro in the final lines of Taylor Sheridan’s “Sicario” script. “You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.” As if picking up exactly where he left off, “Wind River” continues following the journey of a law-abiding law enforcement official into the heart of darkness.

It’s almost a little too eerie how many parallels exist between Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer in “Sicario” and Elizabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner in “Wind River.” Both are female FBI agents sent to perform their duties in a place outside their jurisdiction where previously all-encompassing authority means nothing. For Jane, that’s an Indian reservation in the remote regions of Wyoming. In order to survive, both agents must rely on a more experienced, world-weary male who can serve as her shaman to a more questionable legal territory.

Jane’s guide is Jeremy Renner’s Cory Lambert, who unlike Alejandro in “Sicario,” does not belong to the group with whom he liaises. He is a white man who has gained the trust of the Native American communities by taking the time to understand how they live, a marked contrast from Jane’s treatment of a murder case on their land like it’s just another Las Vegas or Ft. Lauderdale homicide. The film’s most poignant scenes show how Cory can code switch and compartmentalize the many facets of his life. Going from a hunter to a father to “Cap,” as he’s known, takes a toll on his psyche – even if his stoic expressions never reveal such turmoil.

Otherwise, “Wind River” plays like a “Sicario” spinoff with far fewer surprises. The tone, attitude and general plot progression are familiar now and remain mostly unchanged. While the United States’ relationship with the Native American reservations is one that definitely deserves more attention, it lacks the searing topicality of a story set on the Mexican border. Without that heft, Sheridan’s signature terse one-liners like “Luck is in the city” come across as more risible than bone-chilling. B-





REVIEW: The Accountant

11 02 2017

In big-budget cinema these days, I’m looking to get a lot of bang for my buck. So are most Americans, many of whom are far more inclined than I am to browse for a better option on Netflix. Whatever Gavin O’Connor does in “The Accountant” gives me plenty of bang, but the noise comes from lots of big bullets being fired indiscriminately from a sniper rifle.

The film, written by Bill Dubuque, smashes several movies into one. There’s the Jason Bourne-like super assassin narrative, which is the one you sell during sports games. Then there’s the bit about an autistic wunderkind, Ben Affleck’s Christian Wolff, uneasily assimilating into corporate America, which can be emphasized to select audiences to give the film an appearance of thematic heft. And don’t forget an awkward platonic romance subplot between said autistic man and his fumbling co-worker, Anna Kendrick’s Dana Cummings, for … wait, who exactly cares about this aspect?

All of these aspects compete for airtime in “The Accountant” with the latest Greengrass ripoff winning out most often. Whatever extra intrigue that Wolff’s condition might add to the film gets nullified by Affleck’s weak acting, which treats autism like an affect that turns on and off when convenient. The connective tissue of this closet killer to a larger scheme of financial malaise is weak, too, spoiling any chance for a sideshow to serve as pleasant diversion.

In fact, the only thing that O’Connor does manage to do well is advertise. “The Accountant” might represent the most elaborate promo for a Ford F-150 I’ve ever seen. If any clips of these scenes of Wolff driving were posted on social media, I should hope they were tagged with #ad or #sponsoredcontent. C2stars