In an undisclosed future date, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) doesn’t have much in life. He lives alone, almost divorced from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), with his only intimate moments taking place with strangers over the phone. For work he writes personal messages to and from people he’s never met, and he spends his spare time playing video games featuring a verbally abusive child-like being. That is until Theodore meets Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). She understands him. She spends all her time with him. They make each other laugh and have stimulating conversations. Oh, and she’s the operating system on his new phone.
Will Graham (William Petersen) is a profiler for the FBI who, after getting too close to his previous case, has taken a leave of absence, or possibly even retired, to recuperate and get his head back together with his wife (Kim Greist) and young son. However, his former boss Jack (Dennis Farina) has a case he can’t crack, and must pull Will out of retirement for one last job. A serial killer, dubbed the Tooth Fairy because of the bite marks he leaves behind, has so far massacred two families with several young children each, but he only strikes on the full moon. With the next one a few weeks away, time is running out for the FBI to find the guy, and with no leads to go on it is up to Will to get into the criminal mindset, and to do that he must meet with a former conquest of his, the incarcerated, highly intelligent but ruthlessly vicious mass murdered Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox).
Regardless of whether you know the story of Homer’s Iliad, it’s a certainty that you know of the expressions Helen of Troy, Achilles’ Heel and The Trojan Horse. These plot points have become more than the legend of which they are a part, and have entered the modern lexicon as sayings and day-to-day phrases. They aren’t anything new, you know what is means and have heard them a million times before, and the same can be said for every aspect of this film.
Amidst the 4th of July celebrations in California in 1969, two young romantics drive out to a secluded spot the locals refer to as Lover’s Lane. The mood is of anticipation; anything could happen as the other kids drive away, our lovestruck pair left alone. There’s a spark of romance, playful glances, touches, the gentle ribbing of one another as they become closer. And then they’re shot in cold blood and left for dead with no word of explanation by an unseen killer. This murder, along with the many that follow it, dramatically changes the lives of many people, but our focus here is a select three; Mark Ruffalo’s cop, Robert Downey Jr’s journalist and Jake Gyllenhall’s cartoonist, as they each set out to catch the killer. Their motives are different – Ruffalo’s David Toschi wants justice, RDJ’s Paul Avery is out to further his career and Gyllenhall’s Robert Graysmith is obsessed with the puzzles the killer sends to the local papers, but all three will suffer in terms of careers, personal lives and sanity at the hands of this killer.
Based on the real life Zodiac killer (the influence of the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry, here namechecked when Toschi can’t sit through a showing), the case remained unsolved when the lead suspect died some years ago, and it’s this sense of inconclusiveness that runs throughout the film – you know there will not be a satisfactory ending. Plaudits should be laden for the realism of the film – not since All the President’s Men has so much paperwork been completed – but unfortunately the dreary, depressing side of catching a killer rubs begins to rub off onto the film during its overlong running time. Director David Fincher (Benjamin Button, Seven) is usually so adept at keeping interest, even when Morgan Freeman went to a library, but here not even a cast including Elias Koteas, Philip Baker Hall, Brian Cox, Anthony Edwards, John Carroll Lynch, Adam Goldberg and Clea Duvall can raise this above tedium. There’s a good film in here somewhere, and a good edit could bring it out. More Downey Jr. and Brian Cox couldn’t hurt though, they’re the best parts of the film and are criminally underused.
A young Scottish boy in the 13th Century is mentally scarred by the sight of dozens of his kinsmen slain and hanged. He is too young to fight the English, for it is those villainous scoundrels that are to blame, and when his father and brother do not return from battle he is sent to live with his scarred uncle Argyle (Brian Cox). Taught to use his brain before his sword, he grows up to become Mel Gibson, returns to his home village and falls in love, only for those Anglo-Saxon bastards to kill her too. Understandably, this sends Gibson’s William Wallace into a bit of a tizzy, so he sets about raising an army to thwart the tea-drinking tossers and their leader, evil Edward I. I’m no historian, but to say the film is blinkered by a love for the Celts is no exaggeration, with us Englanders shown creating laws where it is fine for us to sleep with a Scotsman’s wife on her wedding night, and banning the kilt-wearing types from brandishing so much as a stick. I’m not saying this didn’t happen, and I’m not going to burn any calories finding out, but I’m going to assume that something from the mind from Gibson can be taken with a rather hefty pinch of salt.
That being said, Gibbo gives good as the rabble rouser, hinting at the madness (and mullet) of Lethal Weapon, with an imposing presence and questionable accent. Much too can be said of Gibson the director and producer – roles for which he took home the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars in 1996. With an eye for locations and an ear for mixing the comic with the tragic, this is a well balanced film. Some of the fights and chases feel a little clunky, and the many brutal deaths – throats slit, fence post impalings, gouged eyes and mutilated horses – seem a tad gratuitous at times.
With the consistently excellent Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) releasing his upcoming X-Men First Class soon, a film about which I am very excited, and not just because it features January Jones and very little clothing, I thought it was apt to cross off X-Men 2. Although there were some excellent scenes, most notably the entrance of fan-favourite Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attempting to kill the President, the attack on the Mutant Academy and the fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike, there were some plot holes I just couldn’t get past at the end of the film (spoilers). Firstly, when Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) breaks into Cerebro, where a brainwashed Professor X (Sir Patrick Stewart) is being used to locate and kill all mutants worldwide, we are shown the mutants writhing in pain for the 30 seconds or so they are being attacked, so when the machine is altered, to affect non-mutants instead, we can only assume that they (we?) are put under a similar level of duress. So we’re talking about everyone driving a car, every pilot flying a plane, every surgeon performing an operation, all these people would be unable to function for a few minutes, causing carnage worldwide, and probably a massive number of fatalities. Secondly, why did Phoenix (Famke Jannsen) die? Yes, she got off the plane to lift it into the air (I’m assuming there are some logistical difficulties with lifting something you yourself are inside), yet there is a period of time between the plane being up in the air and the flood of water, that she is holding back, from engulfing her. She knew there was a teleporter on the plane, as we are told she is preventing Nightcrawler from helping her, but why not let him bamf out and grab her after she’s lifted the plane? It is a completely needless death, present only so when Charles meets the president at the end of the film, he can say there were losses on both sides, even though we are shown she didn’t really die.
Other than that, Brian Cox makes an excellent Bond-like villain, complete with henchmen, underground lair and, ahem, crippling put-downs (remarking “don’t get up” to a wheelchair-bound Professor X), and making the film more of an ensemble piece, as opposed to the originals Wolverine-show , even though he is the most memorable and fleshed out character. I also approved of director Bryan Singer including elements of his own life, for example Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) ‘coming out’ to his parents as a mutant.
Do you want to see Morgan Freeman beat up Richard Dreyfuss? John Malkovich take out a rocket with a single bullet? Helen Mirren threaten to bury someone in the woods before unleashing Hell with a sniper rifle? Of course you do, so you should go and see RED. This movie is all about playing against type, with almost all of the principle cast not being well known for action roles. Bruce Willis, obviously, is the most well known for out-and-out balls to the wall action, and Karl Urban, perfecting his unemoting suit with balls ready for his next role as Judge Dredd, has done his fair share, but personally I’ve never seen Brian Cox unload an uzi on someone.