Thunderbolt and Lightfoot


Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood share a Zen moment.

Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood share a Zen moment.

(1974) Crime Comedy (United Artists) Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, George Kennedy, Geoffrey Lewis, Catherine Bach, Gary Busey, Jack Dodson, Gene Elman, Burton Gilliam, Roy Jenson, Claudia Lennear, Bill McKinney, Vic Tayback, Dub Taylor, Gregory Walcott, Erica Hagen, Alvin Childress, Virginia Baker, Stuart Nisbet, Irene K. Cooper, Cliff Emmich, June Fairchild, Karen Lamm. Directed by Michael Cimino

Once a mainstay of Saturday afternoon television movie programming, this Clint Eastwood action thriller is notable for being Oscar nominated back in the day. All the digital splendor of a DVD doesn’t hide just how dated this movie is, though.

Notable as the first directorial effort of Michael (Heaven’s Gate) Cimino, the film concerns the pairing of a middle-aged, jaded bank robber now in hiding (Eastwood) and a young, impetuous and, er, highly vigorous young man named Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges, who garnered a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for the role) who literally run into each other in a wheatfield while bullets whiz around them. That pretty much sets the tone for the movie.

They are being chased by Red Leary (Kennedy), a foul-tempered former member of the Thunderbolt gang (Thunderbolt is Eastwood’s character, by the way). Eventually, they all hook up and plan to duplicate the gang’s legendary heist of Montana Armored. But you just know that Lightfoot, so full of piss and vinegar, will get on stodgy old Red Leary’s nerves like stink on a two-dollar cigar, and that the fur will fly because of it.

The location in Great Falls, Montana, brings out the feeling of desolation and isolation that couldn’t be pulled off on a studio backlot. Cimino shows some decent writing skills with a few unexpected twists here and there, but mainly he borrows too heavily on a stylistic level from such movies as Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch and Easy Rider.

Eastwood is at the point of his career here where he was beginning to stretch his acting wings (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot immediately followed Play Misty For Me on Eastwood’s resume). Of course, the basics of his persona honed in so many badass Italian westerns are there, but the tough guy he plays here has a vulnerable, world-weary and dog-loyal soul beneath the veneer. Bridges was at the very start of his career which was somewhat checkered for awhile but has been awash with Oscar nominations and lately, Oscar wins. The supporting cast includes some of the era’s most solid character actors in Lewis, Tayback, Taylor and Dodson, while Bach is lustrous and Busey turns in one of his earlier performances.

Few movies age well, especially those that try to make a hipness quotient that generally eludes Hollywood movies. What’s hip in one era becomes hopelessly anachronistic in the next. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot has some meat on its bones, but generally speaking, holds up about as well as The Partridge Family does. Those who love ’70s movies or are students of the era however might find this a hoot.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine performances by Bridges and Eastwood. Very much a product of its times.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Extremely dated and doesn’t hold up well. Derivative of other, superior works.

FAMILY MATTERS: A bit of violence and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Eastwood’s son Kyle had his first movie role in this film at age 5; because he had one word of dialogue, he had to be paid union scale for actors with dialogue rather than extras, which meant he got $128 (scale at the time) for his work.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $21.7M on a $4M production budget.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Prisoners

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Contraband


Contraband

Kate Beckinsale won't bring up The Happening if Mark Wahlberg won't bring up Underworld

(2012) Action (Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna, .J.K. Simmons, William Lucking, Kevin “Lucky” Johnson, J. Omar Castro, Olafur Darri Olafsson, David O’Hara. Directed by Baltazar Kormakur

 

Heist films can be a diamond in the rough when they’re done right or a dime a dozen when they’re not. It isn’t easy getting them right. By their definition they need to be complex and light, a snowflake of a film that doesn’t overwhelm the viewer with too many details but yet must have those details worked out in order to retain its own internal logic.

Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) is a family man who owns a home security installation company. He used to be a smuggler but got out of the business (which is dad (Lucking) is in jail for) to raise his sons and provide a stable existence for his gorgeous wife Kate (Beckinsale).

Then Kate’s screw-up of a brother Andy (Jones) does a drug smuggling run, even though he promised Chris he wouldn’t and has to dump the cargo, which leaves him $750,000 in debt to a ruthless drug dealer named Tim Briggs (Ribisi). Drug dealers are not known for being compassionate, understanding sorts and Andy is hospitalized after Briggs tries to run him down.

Chris immediately realizes that Andy’s life expectancy has decreased dramatically and tries to make amends with Briggs. However Briggs is not a man to be reasoned with and Chris realizes that he has no choice. He has to make another run. Just when he thought he was out…

The problem here is that the plot is only superficially complex. There are some scenes in Panama that include a crazed drug dealer (Luna) that seem to come from another movie. There’s no cleverness here; it’s got the touch of a blacksmith where it needs the sure hand of a surgeon. None of the characters have much dimension to them. The big plot twists are telegraphed and Da Queen guessed it about 10 minutes into the movie, which even for her is pretty early.

Wahlberg is a capable lead. He’s got an innate decency that makes him a great everyman hero. He also is capable of action hero snarkyness  – witness his line “Did you think you’re the only guy with a gun?” which is perhaps the best moment in the movie. He isn’t particularly impressive here but he isn’t a disgrace either. Beckinsale is essentially a designated victim, a far cry from the Underworld movies.

While Foster has a great deal of potential, this is essentially the same role he played in The Mechanic and he’s way better there than here. He is still fascinating, but his performance here doesn’t continue his forward movement in his career. This is an Oscar nominee who deserve better than second banana.

There are a lot of inconsistencies from the casting  – Caleb Landry Jones is to Kate Beckinsale as Lyle Lovett is to Julia Roberts – to the cinematography, which is wonderful in Panama but kind of dreary in New Orleans. The action sequences are pretty nice, when they do come but they often feel like something added on rather than something germane to the plot.

It’s innocent enough entertainment mind you – you will not feel cheated of your ten bucks admission. However, it isn’t much more so you won’t feel like you got a bargain.

REASONS TO GO: Some nice action sequences and Wahlberg is now a more than capable lead.

REASONS TO STAY: Really predictable plot and characters. Telegraphs plot points, shows signs of lazy writing.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, a whole lot of cursing and a little bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on the Icelandic movie Reykjavik-Rotterdam which director Kormakur starred in, the same role that Wahlberg plays here.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/16/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100. The reviews are mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gone in 60 Seconds

PANAMA CANAL LOVERS: Some very nice overhead shots of the canal are on view.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Soul Surfer

Takers


Takers

You can tell these cats are cool because of the blue lighting. Really.

(2010) Action (Screen Gems) Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Paul Walker, Zoe Saldana, Hayden Christensen, Chris Brown, Michael Ealy, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Jay Hernandez, Steve Harris, Jonathan Schaech, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Glynn Turman, Nicholas Turturro, Gideon Emery.  Directed by John Luessenhop

There are those who go through life wishing they could have things, and there are others who simply take what they want. There are those who admire such people and wish they had the brains and the cojones to do the same.

Detectives Jack Welles (Dillon) and Eddie Hatcher (Hernandez) are on the trail of a group of bank robbers who pull of daring heists that operate like clockwork. Welles knows that he’s after some smart, competent men who know how to plan down to the smallest detail.

The crew is led by Gordon Cozier (Elba), a smart, dapper sort who has a sister (Jean-Baptiste) who’s addicted to crack. He is anxious to get out of the business while he still can so he can take care of his sister. Also in the crew is Jesse Attica (Brown) and his brother Jake (Ealy), A.J. (Christensen) and John Rahway (Walker). Missing in action is Ghost (T.I.) who was one of the leaders in the crew before he got caught during a botched robbery and imprisoned. Now he’s out and even though his ex-girlfriend Lily (Saldana) is engaged to Jesse, he is letting bygones be bygones.

In fact, he has a plan for a heist that should bring enough money in so that they can all retire. It’s an armored car heist, a very daring and seemingly impossible one. However, with Ghost’s help, the crew manages to pull off the heist although not exactly as planned. However, taking the money is not the whole crime. Getting away with it is what counts and with the cops hot on their tails and double crosses awaiting within the crew, who is going to be left standing when all the money is taken?

This is meant to be a slick, modern heist thriller with an urban cast. It can’t be denied that the movie looks stylish. However, the script is incredibly derivative with elements of many other heist films coming into play, The Italian Job coming chiefly to mind.

There are also way too many characters who come and go throughout the movie. Even the crew seems terribly interchangeable and some members redundant. It’s difficult to keep track of who’s who without a scorecard, and at the end of the day the movie would have been better if some of the parts had been consolidated.

What’s worse is that none of the characters that are here really stand out. Elba comes close as Gordon; he has a natural charisma that shines through a part that is essentially a stock character. His relationship with his sister is one of the elements in the movie that actually works; the interrelationship with the gang is largely forced and seems to come straight out of a music video.

The palate here is in soft hues and neon bright; there is also an overreliance on the hand-held cam which sabotages the filmmakers’ attempt to look slick and cool. There are moments however when the film succeeds and that is mostly in the action sequences.

The armored car heist is spectacular and is the best part of the movie by far. The fact that it doesn’t go off like clockwork only adds to the thrill factor. There are several chase scenes and fight scenes that are also effectively staged, although a hotel shoot-out with slow motion tumbles and bullets flying looks way too 90s for my tastes.

This is one of those movies that is all concept. It could have been a decent movie if the filmmakers (and likely, the studio) had taken more chances and tried to be a little more of its own film but sadly, there seemed to be more attention made to attracting box office numbers than making a good movie. In that sense, you get what you pay for.

WHY RENT THIS: Some really impressive action sequences.. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many characters who are too interchangeable; a smaller crew would have benefitted the film. Nobody really becomes the film’s center although Elba comes close. Too much style over substance.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence action-style, some nudity and sexuality and  a fair share of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author Stephen King called the armored car heist sequence the best action sequence of 2010.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: With a cast this heavy with rappers, you know there’s going to be a rap video on the extra menu.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $69.1M on a $32M production budget; the movie broke even.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Bless the Child

The Town


The Town

Jon Hamm confronts Ben Affleck over which one looks best unshaven.

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Slaine, Owen Burke, Titus Welliver, Dennis McLaughlin, Corena Chase, Brian Scannell, Isaac Bordoy. Directed by Ben Affleck

Before the credits start rolling, we are informed that Charlestown, a suburb of Boston near the city center and populated by a predominantly working class Irish demographic, has more bank robbers per capita than anyplace in America. I don’t know that it’s true, but it certainly makes for an interesting concept.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) lives in Charlestown and is one of the aforementioned excess of criminals. He and his crew Jem (Renner), Gloansy (Slaine) and Desmond (Burke) are robbing a bank wearing ghoulish masks and so far the caper is going like clockwork. However, things go a little sideways; it’s discovered that one of the employees set off the silent alarm and Jem, a hothead, reacts by viciously beating the assistant manager whom he thinks did it. He also forces them to take pretty bank manager Claire Keesey (Hall) hostage as insurance. However, once they’re satisfied the cops didn’t follow them they let the blindfolded woman loose feeling fairly comfortable that she didn’t see anything.

What they didn’t take into account is that Claire lives in the same neighborhood as the four of them, so Doug decides to keep an eye on her to make sure that she really didn’t see anything. He arranges to “bump into her” at a local Laundromat and the two begin to like each other, and maybe something more than that.

In the meantime Agent Adam Frawley (Hamm) of the FBI is hot on the tail of the crew, even if he’s at least two steps behind him. One advantage he has is that his partner is Dino Ciampa (Welliver), who grew up in Charlestown and knows most of the guys involved. Even with that, he’s no closer to figuring out who this mysterious crew is until he figures out that one of them worked for a specific electronic security company.

Despite the heat, the crew continues to pull jobs which turn more and more violent. Doug wants nothing more than to get out, preferably with Claire as company. However, Fergus “The Florist” Colm (Postlethwaite), who sets up their jobs and gets a cut of what they pull, wants him right where he is. Doug doesn’t want to end up like his jailbird dad (Cooper) but as The Florist tightens the screws and Frawley inching closer to pinching him, he knows that something’s got to give and it might be his relationship with Claire – who is still ignorant of his identity as one of the robbers who kidnapped her and is to his mind his only way out of Charlestown.

This is Affleck’s second directorial effort and like the 2007 crime thriller Gone Baby Gone it makes excellent use of the city of Boston. There’s a car chase through the narrow alleyways of Boston that is absolutely outstanding, one of the better ones you’ll see this year. Affleck also captures the gritty flavor of Boston’s working class neighborhoods.

He has assembled an excellent cast. Renner shines as the hair-trigger Jem, who served a stretch of nine years for taking out a guy who wanted to take out Doug. His relationship with Doug is strong, but he needs Doug far more than Doug needs him, and he knows it. Lively also turned my head with a performance as Jem’s drug-addled floozy of a sister, a role as far from her “Gossip Girls” character as it’s possible to get, and serves notice that Lively is an outstanding actress in her own right. Veterans Cooper and Postlethwaite have miniscule parts, but make the most of them.

Affleck has been on a roll lately albeit mostly in supporting parts, from Hollywoodland to Extract; taking a lead role since Surviving Christmas (2004) he is very strong, although he could have used a little more flavor. He is supposed to be the brains behind the operation but never comes off as excessively clever, and we get the sense that he’s more meticulous than smart.

Affleck’s best moment as both an actor and a director comes during a scene where Doug and Claire are sitting at an outdoor cafe when Jem strolls up. Throughout the scene there’s a great deal of tension; I won’t reveal exactly the source but suffice to say that there is real jeopardy that Claire will discover that Jem is part of the gang that robbed her bank and took her hostage. Affleck the director keeps the tension at a high level, while Affleck the director sells it with his body language, trying to hide his concern from both Claire and Jem. It’s a masterfully done scene and Affleck the actor makes it work.

The movie has done surprisingly well at the box office thus far and looks to be a hit, which is good news for Affleck’s career both as a director and as a lead actor. Hopefully his work in Company Men later this month will continue that trend; after the fallout from Gigli I always thought he was unfairly stigmatized as a terrible actor, which he obviously is not and I generally look forward to seeing his movies. Here, he’s crafted a satisfying crime thriller as a director that oddly doesn’t showcase his best skills as an actor, but still shows enough of him to make the movie worth seeing and Affleck’s role memorable. It’s enough that I look forward to seeing Affleck in both capacities in the future.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty nifty acting performances and a terrific car chase sequence make this a gritty crime thriller worth checking out.

REASONS TO STAY: The thick Boston accents can be difficult to understand from time to time and the material may be a bit too gritty for some.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is extremely rough, particularly if the F-Bomb disturbs you. There’s some sudden and brutal violence, as well as a little bit of sexuality. Mature teens can probably handle this, but I wouldn’t go much past that.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rob Reiner founded Castle Rock, the production company behind Flipped but later sold it to Warner Brothers; this is the first time he’s worked with them since 1999.

HOME OR THEATER: The car chase is certainly worth checking out on the big screen, but otherwise the home video option is just as viable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Final Destination