REVIEW: The Hero

24 06 2017

“I know we were hoping to get good news from this biopsy,” begins the doctor of Sam Elliott’s Lee Hayden. “Unfortunately, I don’t have good news.” The scene happens so early in Brett Haley’s “The Hero” that I held out hope this kind of dialogue was not indicative of the rest of the movie and the doctor just had terrible bedside manner.

I was wrong.

“The Hero” is a stale rehash of cliches surrounding estranged fathers, aging Hollywood actors and ailing elderly people coming to terms with illness. Most of the film entails Lee avoiding the disclosure of his pancreatic cancer diagnosis so he can continue chugging away on film sets and toking his marijuana to feel the slightest hint of contentment. He’s moving slightly closer to a younger romantic interest (Laura Prepon’s Charlotte Dylan) and rapidly farther from his daughter (Krysten Ritter’s Lucy).

The one interesting bit of the movie comes when Lee sees his stock rise after a viral lifetime achievement award acceptance speech that’s sincere, thoughtful … and also the result of a Molly trip. It puts the wind back behind his sails for a brief moment, landing him an audition for one of the hottest parts in town. As he prepares, the part inspires at outpouring of feeling and emotion that he hasn’t tapped into in years since he started phoning it in.

What a shocker, life can lead to inspired art, and art can lead to an inspired life! While Elliott chewing on something more than an archetype with his distinctive drawl is a pleasure, it’s a shame that he gets such banal material to work with for his moment in the spotlight. (Haley did such a great job crafting a unique and charming story for the AARP crowd in “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” but he does not recreate that magic here.) Elliott has more to give than welling up with tears by the ocean and spouting bland platitudes of regret. Hopefully someone else lets him. C

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REVIEW: The Girl on the Train

5 10 2016

Arguably the most famous close-ups in cinema history take place in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” the 1928 silent classic that elevated the expressively tight framed shot of facial contortions to the position of high art. Dreyer later said of the close-up, “Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring.”

It’s a blessing Dreyer did not live to see Tate Taylor’s “The Girl on the Train,” a film that puts the close-up to shame through bludgeoning and excessive use. This specific shot is the movie’s only language to convey the internal agony of its three leading female characters. No need to waste time detailing the multitude of other techniques available at Taylor’s disposal, so let’s just leave it at the fact that the close-up is lazy shorthand for emotional intimacy.

The camera tries to substitute the reservoirs of feeling hidden by the icy women, each with their own secrets to bury and axes to grind. Their blank stares into the distance are meant to convey restraint or secrecy; instead, they convey nothing. One only needs to hold up the work of star Emily Blunt in “The Girl on the Train” alongside her performance in “Sicario” to see the difference. In the latter film, the most minuscule movement in Blunt’s face communicates a complex response to the ever-shifting environment around her character Kate Macer. Here, as the alcoholic voyeur Rachel Watson, Blunt is reduced to gasps and gazes that do little to illuminate her psychology.

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