The Departed

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

In Boston’s grimy crime-ridden underbelly, Irish mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is high on the wanted list of Massachusetts State Police, who plant a mole, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) inside Costello’s operation. Unbeknownst to the police, Costello has performed a parallel manoeuvre, with his man Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) infiltrating the police system.
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The Monuments Men

During World War 2, it becomes evident that the Nazis are not only collecting countries, but famous pieces of artwork too. Not only that, but if Hitler is killed he has ordered that some of the hoarded pieces will be destroyed as well. In order to prevent this, a small team of art experts – none of whom are overly fit for duty – are sent in to retrieve and save the art. Continue reading

Contagion

Chaos descends onto the world when a deadly, and highly contagious, illness descends worldwide, seemingly beginning with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has just returned from a business trip to Hong Kong. The CDC are soon brought in to deal with the situation, but things rapidly spiral out of their control as the illness spreads across the country. We follow the outbreak from the points of view of those desperate to stop it, members of the public affected by the crisis, and the few who see it as an opportunity for personal gain.
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Invictus

South Africa, May 1994. Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) was released from prison 4 years ago, and has just been elected as the country’s president. Amidst a nation-wide racial clash, Mandela believes that the key to a united country could lie within the national rugby team, the Springboks, and their captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon).
Mandela’s plan, it seems, is for the Springboks – a team so despised by the black population that they instinctively root for whoever is playing against them, and who hadn’t been doing terribly well before Mandela got involved – to win the Rugby World Cup in less than a year’s time, though experts believe they’ll get no further than the quarter finals at best. The Springboks, with only one black player and a uniform of apartheid’s green and gold, find themselves in a position where their president wants them to be cheered on by the entire mixed nation, so embark on a PR campaign involving playing and teaching rugby to the poor black kids from the slums of the country. Going in, I thought his plan would have been to create a team comprised of 50% blacks and whites, thereby creating animosity as to whether the players were recruited for their skill or the colour of their skin, but in effect his plan was… nothing. Other than some inspirational speeches, standard marketing techniques, a slightly more intense training regime and an admirable cause, the aim seems to be just to will the team to win. Much like Million Dollar Baby, I could have done with some more time spent on the reasons behind the success, not simply showing it.

The subplot involving Mandela’s begrudgingly mixed race security team being forced to work together, eventually bonding over the rugby matches, was well played if predictable, but ably showed the success of the president’s plans. I’d have liked more time spent on Mandela as a person, maybe depicting his rise from prisoner to presidential candidate in an extremely racist country, as opposed to skipping through it in an all-too-brief opening montage. The man behind the title is hinted at – his broken family, way with the ladies and fondness for afternoon tea – but such a prolific, historical figures surely deserves a full biopic that doesn’t spend half it’s time on the rugby field. But then Eastwood’s recent biopic, J. Edgar, has received largely negative reviews, so there could be a reason for why he didn’t do the same here.
The closest the film comes to spectacle is in the rugby matches, and I’m no sports fan. Every modicum of emotion that can be wrought from the game has been, but those unfamiliar with it’s intricacies (I’m only just out of this category) could believe it to be simply about mid-pitch wrestling matches and kicking a ball between two posts.
Morgan Freeman has been trying to play Mandela for years, eventually getting the project off the ground with his Million Dollar Baby/Unforgiven director Clint Eastwood. He does a great job with the accent and the performance, but his casting was such an obvious choice that it dullens the impact. There is no-one else that could have portrayed the character better, and its doubtful that were someone else casting the film they’d’ve asked anyone else. If Freeman weren’t involved, the project probably never would have gone anywhere, and perhaps that’s how it should have been. Damon is good too, and it shows the notoriety of Eastwood as a director that Damon, one of the most outright and capable leading men working in Hollywood today, is willing to take a supporting role just to work with him.
Some plot points are clearly superfluous – much attention is put on Chester, the Springbok’s only black player, injuring his hamstring so he is unable to play a couple of matches – and far too much time is spent on the less interesting sports aspects over the far more captivating figurehead at the heart of the story.
Choose life 5/10

Saving Private Ryan

There is a drinking game, the most disrespectful and coma-inducing that I’ve ever come across, where when watching Saving Private Ryan the players all drink a shot every time someone on screen dies. If one were to play this game, which I cannot advise for medical, moral and cinematic reasons, then I would recommend having 50-100 shots per player lined up ready and waiting for the opening 25 minutes of the film, as the much celebrated D-Day landing is a veritable cornucopia of fatalities, with soldiers coming a cropper as soon as the rear doors of the landing ships open, drowning in the water struggling with heavy packs, being carried to safety and every other way available.

This opening scene is a landmark in war movie history, recreating the sense of utter confusion and imminent death present at that time. With a shaking camera, dialogue lost to explosions and gunfire, men wandering around after lost limbs and a bloody tide lapping at fallen soldiers and shot fish alike, it’s almost a relief once the landing has finished and they can get on with the plot, as Tom Hank’s captain is ordered to find Private James Francis Ryan, last survivor of four brothers and location unknown after parachuting somewhere in France. With a cast positively brimming with stars and up-and-comers – Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Damon, Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Davies, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Adam Goldberg, Paul Giamatti, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Ted Danson, Bryan Cranston, Dennis Farina – no character is left without some characterisation, or providing an insight into a soldiers life, be it collecting dirt from every country they fight in, writing a novel about their experiences or making sure every German soldier they come across knows they have been bested by a Jew.
There are those that claim this is a long, boring film about walking, bookended by two of the greatest battle scenes in cinematic history, yet without the middle, where we truly understand the brotherly bond felt by soldiers fighting and dying together, would the closing battle – a much more personal, strategic affair than the opener, have such an impact? For my money this is Spielberg’s most cinematic film, showcasing his ability to show ordinary people in extraordinary situations, yet without losing the human touch.
Choose film 9/10

The Bourne Trilogy

Back in 2002, the espionage genre must have felt a little like Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne at the start of this trilogy, floating unconscious in the Mediterranean Sea with a bullet in the back after the abysmal CGI tsunami of Die Another Day and the shallow, clichéd hotchpotch of Mission Impossible 2, although they may have envied Bourne’s lack of memory. Thank the heavens then for the metaphorical fishing vessel of star Damon, director Doug Liman and writer Tony Gilroy for bringing this energetic affair to the screen, both setting up Damon as a bona fide action star and throwing the gauntlet at the feet of Bond and Ethan Hunt to step it up a gear (both of whom willingly accepting the challenge with Casino Royale’s gritty realism and MI3’s intelligent action).

Good Will Hunting

Is anyone else waiting for the second Oscar-winning screenplay from Matt Damon and Ben Affleck? I know they’ve been busy (until recently, Damon more so than Affleck), and that they essentially wrote the script because they weren’t getting the roles they wanted, but the guys obviously have talent, and I hope they start tapping away again soon. Affleck could even direct this time, as he’s shown great promise with Gone Baby Gone and, apparently, The Town (I’ve not seen it yet but am looking forward to, I’ll keep you posted).
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