Friday, July 3, 2009

Valkyrie (2008)

The one-word movie reviews continue, in an effort to stop from thinking about all the myriad issues in TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF MICHAEL BAY. My interest in seeing VALKYRIE waxed and waned while it was in the theater, but a chance to see Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie work together again intrigued me enough to see if the lightning they captured in THE USUAL SUSPECTS could again be bottled.

VALKYRIE is based on the famous assassination attempt and political coup on Hitler and the Nazi regime in the final days of WWII by a section of his trusted inner circle, led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenburg, as played by Tom Cruise. The problem with a movie like this is the burden of history: you know the attempt fails. Overcoming that hurdle is a tough job, and when Singer and McQuarrie get down to the business of executing the attempt and what occurs in its aftermath, VALKYRIE really shines. A large share of thanks has to go to the performances of everyone involved, particularly Tom Wilkenson as a Nazi general who slyly plays both sides of the coup, and Bill Nighy, as the colonel battling his own fears and doubts as he moves to do what's right. Cruise, after a very wooden start in the first half of the film (there's a lot of "Tom Cruisey-ness" in his early scenes) explodes in the second half, really letting you feel the anger and doggedness of his conviction that his attempt has succeeded, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

The best part of VALKYRIE is not its action, but its beauracracy, as the coup is commanded from offices and telephones, teletype machines and switchboard operators. The tension is ratcheted up to a tremendous degree, proving that it's not the end, but the path to the end that's important. If Singer and McQuarrie had only tightened up the first half of VALKYRIE to equal the second half, they would have had a modern classic on their hands. As it stands, VALKYRIE is still an above-average thriller with enough ideas and visual style to recommend to anyone looking for a good story.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Taken (2008)

TAKEN is quite possibly the greatest season of 24 ever, if 24 was condensed to a more manageable 1.5 hour running time, Kiefer Sutherland was replaced by Liam Neeson, and the daughter was still annoying. Unlike TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE FALLEN, I feel completely as ease with the ridiculousness of the plot, the shallow characterizations, and the cringe-worthy coincidences. TAKEN is a film that knows exactly where it sits in the pantheon of modern film, and is content to be as fast and furious an example of that place as possible.

That it succeeds is due to two things: the direction by Luc Besson disciple Pierre Morel, who proved he can do this type of film admirably with the first TRANSPORTER film and the under-appreciated UNLEASHED, and the gravitas brought to the main role by Liam Neeson, who with this one film has become in my mind the most badass Dad in modern film history. Your typical action hero doesn't get to display too wide a range of emotion, but Neeson's got the chops, and one of the best things Morel does is let his star's face take over the frame long enough to convey the horror and pain he's going through with the abduction of his daughter. The trailer for TAKEN is one of the most thrilling advertisements I've seen in some time, and does a far better job of precisely explaining what you're going to get out of this movie than I ever could, so check it out below:

Refrains of "I will shoot you in the LEG!" echo through our house at regular intervals, coming from a previous season of 24, where CTU agent Jack Bauer threatens to shoot a suspect's wife in the if he doesn't give Jack the information he wants. There's a scene in TAKEN that takes this jokey moment and amps it to 11. Just for that I love this movie.