Face/Off

FBI Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) has been on the hunt for career criminal Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) for years, a search that was intensified six years previously when Castor accidentally killed Sean’s young son whilst trying to kill Sean. Finally, Sean has managed to catch and apparently kill Castor and incarcerate his brother Pollux Troy (Alessandro Nivola), but not before the pair have planted a bomb somewhere in L.A. With only a few days before the bomb is due to explode in an unknown location, the only way Sean can discover the location is to talk to Pollux, but the only person Pollux will trust is his brother. So, the only logical solution is for Sean to remove his own face and replace it with Castor’s, going undercover as the man he’s spent the past few years despising.
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Fargo

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a bit down on his luck. He’s run up some pretty substantial debts, and will be in trouble for fraudulent affairs any day now, as soon as the bank realise the cars he has been claiming against don’t actually exist. The solution to his problem? Arrange for his wife to be kidnapped, so Jerry can collect on the ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. Unfortunately the miscreants hired to do the kidnapping, Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare), bungle the escape, leaving enough clues for the police chief, a heavily pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), to begin tracking everyone down and sorting this mess out.

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Zodiac

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.

Choose life 7/10

Fargo

Snivelling, double-talking car salesman Jerry Jundegaard (William H. Macy, Oscar nommed but somehow losing to Cuba Gooding Jr.) has a plan. He needs money. His father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell) has money, but hates Jerry. So Jerry hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife and demand a ransom, of which Jerry will keep half. What could go wrong? Well, quite a lot it turns out, especially if everyone involved is an idiot and you’re being directed by the Coen brothers. The men’s escapades are chaotic, unstructured and are all heading off in different directions until, at the 32 minute mark, heavily pregnant Sheriff Marge Gunderson shows up to set them in order. Frances McDormand deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal, nailing that wonderful sing-song North Dakota accent “Yah, you betcha” and, once full of eggs, keeping a straight face whilst clearing up the handbasket Hell’s clearly fallen out of around her. 

Few films as short as this (98 minutes) have room to divulge us with background lives – a meeting with an old school friend, conversations about stamps – whilst still keeping the action moving briskly. Every line is considered and real, every character feels genuine, and this is the greatest proof you can find against the argument that the Coens can only write caricatures. Often underrated, this film can never be over-seen, and no-one can call themselves a film fan unless they’ve both seen it, and loved it. The title of this blog was very nearly called Your Accomplice in the Wood Chipper, and a car boot opening has never made me laugh before.
Choose film 10/10