Small Crimes


I was just starting to look up to Nicolaj Coster-Waldau.

(2017) Crime Drama (Netflix) Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Robert Forster, Jacki Weaver, Molly Parker, Gary Cole, Macon Blair, Michael Kinney, Daniela Sandiford, Shawn Lawrence, Pat Healy, Eddie Holland, Jasson Finney, Anatoly Zinoviev, Glen Bowser, Larry Fessenden, Tara Yelland, Derek Barnes, Tyrone Benskin, Frank Schorpion, Alex Stines, Stéphane Julien, Julia Dawi. Directed by E.L. Katz

 

There are those who say they make their own luck and I suppose there is some truth to that. Some people absolutely refuse to let themselves get down; they do whatever it takes to succeed. Conversely there are also people who always seem to be on the losing end of life; they self-sabotage through bad decision making. They truly seem born to lose.

Joe Denton (Coster-Waldau) is one such sort. Recently released from prison after a six year stint, he was once a police officer in a rural Midwestern town who was convicted of conspiracy of trying to murder the district attorney Phil Coakley (Kinney). Corrupt and a raging alcoholic as a law enforcement officer, he has found sobriety in the joint and emerges hoping to turn his life around.

He moves back in with his parents Joe Sr. (Forster) and Irma (Weaver). Ma Denton in particular is suspicious of her son; she doesn’t really believe he’s truly capable of change. Joe is looking to reconnect with his ex-wife and resume being a father again but a single telephone call is sufficient for Joe to back off after a half-hearted attempt.

His ex-partner Lt. Pleasant (Cole) has some worries of his own; not so much about Joe who kept quiet about his involvement even in the face of a prison sentence, but against local crime boss Manny Vassey (Lawrence) who is dying of cancer and has found Jesus; Pleasant is concerned that Vassey might decide to unburden his soul before departing this green earth and in the process incriminate Pleasant.

Joe makes a bee line for the nearest bar and before you know it has fallen off the wagon. He begins to sink into old habits, alarming his mother and a botched attempt to kill Manny brings Joe under the watchful psychotic eye of the mobster’s son Junior (Healy). The lone bright spot in Joe’s life is his budding romance with hospice nurse Charlotte Boyd (Parker) who has baggage of her own, but even this potential game-changer may not be what it appears to be; Charlotte’s only client is Manny Vassey. And so things are beginning to spiral down towards a confrontation as Joe struggles to figure out how to get out of this rapidly deteriorating situation. Knowing Joe, things won’t end well for anybody.

This film had a solid debut at South by Southwest last year followed up with a fairly inconspicuous release on Netflix. The streaming giant has been a big player on the film festival circuit, snagging some prestige properties for their service while showing off some of their own original content. This one, while purchased at SXSW falls more in the mold of filler.

Coster-Waldau is best known as Jamie Lannister on the HBO hit series Game of Thrones and has enormous upside. He plays both hero and villain well which makes sense as Jamie is a little bit of both. He’s had a few high-profile roles but none have really put him over that cinematic hump yet. Here the best moments belong to Forster who is absolutely marvelous. Joe Sr. hopes against hope that his son will turn the corner but the guarded look in his eyes tells us that he doesn’t really expect him to.

I was heartened to find out this was written by Macon Blair, who directed the marvelous Blue Ruin and has written a number of highly regarded gritty indie films. Based on a David Zeltserman novel of the same name, the movie is unrelentingly downbeat. Blair has almost no exposition in the movie whatsoever other than some desultory pillow talk late in the movie; mysterious events are referred to and characters pop in and out of the movie that Joe apparently has some sort of previous relationship with but we are never informed about the nature of those events or the relationships with these people.

Blair is outstanding when it comes to writing male-oriented tough guy material but there is a little too much testosterone flowing for my own personal tastes, a little bit too much macho preening. At the end of the day this is a fairly typical “ex-con struggles to get his life back together despite enormous obstacles and a past that won’t let him go” type of film and although there are a few interesting twists and turns here, eventually when all is said and done Small Crimes adds nothing to the genre. The characters across the board are all unlikable and despite Coster-Waldau’s native charm, he isn’t able to make the character rise above his own flaws and be relatable. By the end of the movie most viewers will pretty much have written off Joe much as his parents have, much as everyone else around him has. Some people, this movie seems to opine, are genetically pre-disposed to fail and that’s such a bleak outlook on people that I find it hard to support a movie that believes that.

REASONS TO GO: Coster-Waldau is always engaging and the rest of the cast does exemplary work. The filmmakers pull no punches.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s a little too much testosterone flowing for my own taste. The film is very much a downer.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, violence, drug use and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the novel that the film is based on, Phil Coakley and his daughter are both white; in the film, they’re African-Americans.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/17/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Justice League

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The Other Woman (2014)


Leslie Mann knows how to binge.

Leslie Mann knows how to binge.

(2014) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Don Johnson, Kate Upton, Taylor Kinney, Nicki Minaj, Kenneth Maharaj, Alyshia Ochse, Victor Cruz, Madison McKinley, David Thornton, Olivia Culpo, John “B.J.” Bryant, Chelsea Turnbo, Brooke Stacy Mills, Raushanah Simmons, Cheryl Horne, Nancy De Mayo. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Infidelity is one of the most notorious deal-killers in any marriage. For many, it is the most unpardonable of marital crimes ranking just below physical abuse. While it isn’t the most common cause of divorce, it is right up there. Different people react to infidelity in different ways . Some are forgive and forgive sorts. For others, it’s not about getting mad so much as getting even.

Carly Whitten (Diaz) may well just have it all. Beautiful, smart, successful, she’s a lawyer at a high-power New York corporate law firm. She has a gorgeous apartment. Most importantly, she has a male model-handsome Mark King (Coster-Waldau), her new boyfriend who dotes on her and gives her the most amazing sex ever. He’s willing to meet her irascible dad (Johnson) and as she tells her self-centered assistant Lydia (Minaj), she’s cleared all her other guy friends off the bench. He may well be the One.

Then when he has to break his date to meet her dad because of some plumbing catastrophe at his Connecticut home, Carly is pissed off. Taking her dad’s advice to go and see him in Connecticut, she dresses up like a hooker plumber. The woman who answers the door however, is not Mark’s housekeeper; she’s his wife Kate (Mann).

Hurt and humiliated that she didn’t pick up on the clues that her shining knight was already taken, Carly wants nothing at all to do with Mark. In a strange twist however, Kate befriends Carly. Kate has been isolated and marginalized. She literally has nobody to talk to; all her friends are Mark’s friends she wails, and “they’ll blab!” Carly is at first repulsed but grows strangely drawn to the fragile and clingy Kate. Eventually they become friends, although never without the occasional brawl.

They soon discover that Mark has been a very bad boy. Not only is he cheating on them with Amber (Upton), a beautiful but none-too-bright model sort but he’s been skimming money from his firm. He’s also put Kate in the position to take the fall if he’s ever discovered. The three women decide to team p to teach Mark a lesson he’ll never forget and when you put brains (Carly the lawyer), bitch (Kate the wife) and boobs (Amber the…hey, my eyes are up here!) together, there isn’t a man alive who can withstand the combination.

On the plus side, I’m pleased to see a movie in which the female leads are formidable, strong and confident for the most part. On the negative side, there is a lot of stereotyping going on here; the strong women are vindictive and bitchy, the man a serial cheater and liar. The ladies feed poor Mark enough laxative to make him crap his pants, lace his protein shake with female hormones so intensely that he starts growing man boobs and put hair removal cream into his shampoo until he begins losing hair. It’s almost enough to make one feel sorry for the guy who definitely doesn’t deserve any sympathy.

In fact, the pants pooping incident is only one of two major fecal gags in the film. Now, I like a good poop joke as much as the next person but I think considering the subject matter it’s a bit disrespectful to the ladies who are doing their best to make this an adult comedy. Stuff like that doesn’t really go along with the theme of smart women taking their revenge against a douchebag who deserves it.

Diaz has become one of Hollywood’s most versatile actresses, equally at home in heartrending dramas (My Sister’s Keeper, Gangs of New York) or in comedies both dark and light (Bad Teacher, There’s Something About Mary). Here she plays smart, sexy and a little bit hard-edged but then Diaz has never been the softest, most feminine actress out there. She often uses her attractiveness as a weapon, a means of saying “See this? You can’t have it!” in a very subtle way. I’ve never warmed to her as much as admired her and her work here leads me to believe that she’s only going to get better as she moves into a new phase of life and career.

It’s not a revelation but Leslie Mann steals the movie for my money. Long known more for being a supporting player and Judd Apatow’s wife, she’s always shown a great deal of talent in the too-brief glimpses we get of her onscreen. Here she finally shows that she is absolutely capable of being one of the top comic actresses in Hollywood, adept at both physical humor and delivering zingers. She also shows a very appealing vulnerability as she allows Carly (and the audience) to see just how deep the wounds cut.

Unfortunately, the humor is a bit uneven. The movie is bipolar when it comes to comedy – when they get it right, they nail it but when they miss it’s crickets bad. And while I complain about some of the really venal things the women do, I have to admit I did laugh so in that regard mission accomplished. I did feel bad about laughing though and still I have to point out that I think the world is ready for a movie in which female leads don’t have to resort to scatological jokes and ultra-bitchiness to prove they’re strong.

REASONS TO GO: Leslie Mann is a consummate performer. Some very funny moments. Strong female leads, a refreshing change.

REASONS TO STAY: Gets a little muddled. Perpetuates stereotypes. Not all the comedy succeeds. Too much poop humor.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of sexual references and some foul language, along with mature thematic content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film to be released internationally by 21st Century Fox, one of two companies formed by the split of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. The new company continues to own 20th Century Fox film studios and the Fox Network, among other assets.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/12/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 24% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The First Wives Club

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Final Member