The Purge: Anarchy


Purge biker chic.

Purge biker chic.

(2014) Thriller (Universal) Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Justina Machado, John Beasley, Jack Conley, Noel G., Castulo Guerra, Michael K. Williams, Edwin Hodge, Keith Stanfield, Roberta Valderrama, Niko Nicotera, Bel Hernandez, Lily Knight, Jasper Cole, Brandon Keener, Amy Pierce-Francis, Chad Morgan, Dale Dye, Amy Paffrath. Directed by James DeMonaco

In a brutal environment, survival itself requires more brutality. When the world is kill or be killed, so must you in order to survive it. The way things are going in this world, the future won’t be for the faint of heart.

As explained in last year’s surprise hit The Purge, the New Founding Fathers – a kind of crypto-fascist neo-Conservative Tea Party on steroids gun-loving bunch have taken over the country and given the people what they wanted – safety, stability and prosperity. Of course, only if you happen to be white and wealthy.

The rest of us have the Purge, an annual night in which all laws are suspended and everything is legal including rape, murder and destruction of property. It is a night to, as the newscasters enthusiastically endorse, unleash the beast. As the day draws to a close and the Purge draws near, people look at each other nervously, murmuring to each other “stay safe” and praying that whatever protection they have be they state of the art security systems with steel window  covers and titanium doors, or plywood nailed hastily over doors and windows will hold against the onslaught of the night.

Sergeant (Grillo) is grimly gearing up for the evening. He has a small arsenal at his disposal and he means to go out hunting. Sweet waitress Eva (Ejogo) returns home to her ailing pop (Beasley) and her rebellious daughter (Soul) – is there any other kind – and prepares to ride out the storm as best she can. She can’t afford her papa’s medicine and her bitchy boss won’t give her a raise so that she can live decently. She is one of the working poor and although she does her best to make a decent life for her family there’s not much she can do on the paycheck of a diner waitress.

 

Liz (Sanchez) and Shane (Gilford) are a couple who are on the verge of splitting up. They can’t even agree on who to tell first. Picking up groceries on the way home, their car breaks down as the sun begins to set and they know they’re in deep trouble. They will have to find a way to safety on a night when there is none to be had and when every human they see will be out to kill them.

All of these five’s paths will coalesce in a moment of conscience and Sergeant will find himself trying to lead these people ill-equipped to survive in the urban jungle to safety, all the while his mission of vengeance uppermost in his mind. The night though is long and the odds are longer that they’ll make it through.

I will say right off the bat that this is a slight improvement from the first film. While there continue to be holes in logic and common sense in the overall story I found there to be fewer in the sequel than in the original and the pacing of the story was much more frenetic. The political overtones continue to be fairly blatant – this is certainly a fairly thinly veiled uppercut aimed at the American right, particularly the neo-cons in the Tea Party and the religious right (before nearly every murder, the lily-white upper crust Purge participants pray, invoking God’s blessings on the New Founding Fathers). I can’t imagine Fox News will love this movie particularly and I can’t say as I blame them for once.

 

Grillo who has been a sterling supporting performer for years finally gets a lead role and quite frankly I see more of the same in his future. He’s got the brooding Clint Eastwood-esque anti-hero quality to him only there’s a little more warmth to him. He definitely carries the movie along and stands out in a group of solid but unremarkable actors.

Another issue I have with the movie is that while there’s a ton of violence, there’s no imagination to it. People just open fire with automatic weapons and pepper human bodies with bullets. Not that I expect that in a real life situation that mirrored this it would be any different, it just kind of all runs together. There’s no cleverness here, just carnage.

I think that those who liked the first movie may well like the second while those who didn’t will definitely NOT like this one. While I get the sense that the filmmakers are probably on the same side of the political aisle as I am, their views may be a little bit too extreme for me. Even Fox News has something of value once in awhile and not all conservative ideals are as bad as they are made out to be here. I’ve met plenty of compassionate conservatives although it must be admitted that there are some who the New Founding Fathers resemble very much.

 

Needless to say, this still isn’t quite good enough for me to recommend. There’s just too many plot issues and not enough well drawn-out characters to capture my interest. This is very much a one-trick pony and if you happen to like that trick, more power to you – enjoy. For those of us who need a little bit more variety in our hour and a half in the multiplex, this probably isn’t the movie to see.

REASONS TO GO: Different sort of film than the first. Grillo a promising lead.

REASONS TO STAY: Overtly political. Relentless violence. Not very thrilling as thrillers go.

FAMILY VALUES:  Lots of violence, much of it unsettling and plenty of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The lead character, known here only as Sergeant, had most of his backstory cut from the film during post-production; his name in the script is Leo Barnes.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/27/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Warriors

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Passengers


Passengers

Anne Hathaway figures out that Columbia has buried her movie.

(Columbia) Anne Hathaway, Patrick Wilson, David Morse, Andre Braugher, Clea DuVall, Dianne Wiest, William B. Davis, Ryan Robbins, Don Thompson. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia

If we’re going to properly deal with life, we also must learn how to deal with death. Every so often, we experience an event in which death stares us right in the face. How we react to that can be a life-defining moment – or a life-destroying one.

Claire (Hathaway) is a grief counselor and budding psychiatrist who is assigned to work with the few survivors of a horrific commercial airline crash. Her group contains the suspicious and skeptical Shannon (DuVall), the paranoid Norman (Thompson) and the euphoric stockbroker Eric (Wilson) whose brush with death has turned him into a type “A” personality.

Soon, the passengers begin to assert that contrary to the official report (which blamed the crash on pilot error), there had been an explosion in the main cabin. Arkin (Morse), an airline executive, begins to lurk around Claire’s patients and sessions, and as the survivors begin to disappear one by one, Claire begins to suspect that a conspiracy is afoot.

When she reports her suspicions to her boss (Braugher), she is met with some skepticism but as the coincidences begin to mount, even he starts to admit there might be something to her fears. In the meantime, she has become more and more attracted to Eric who is encouraging her to cross ethical lines (or as she incorrectly puts it in the dialogue, unethical lines). Soon, Claire herself finds that she may be in danger of joining the list of victims of the crash.

This movie was shelved several times from the Sony release schedule, eventually receiving a modest and somewhat begrudging limited run with a minimum of publicity behind it. This is what is known as burying a film, and that’s just what happened to Passengers. Generally, that means the film is truly awful and the studio is only releasing it to make back a modicum of its cost; generally execs will view the buried film as a kind of tax write-off.

I was expecting the worst when I saw this and was surprised to find that it wasn’t truly bad. Hathaway is an engaging performer and even if there were a few wrong notes hit for her as a psychiatrist, she makes up for it by being sympathetic (other than the ethical violation thing) and interesting. While the subplot with her sister seemed a bit forced, still Hathaway is one of the better things in the movie.

The script definitely has a “Twilight Zone” feel to it and while I think they would have benefitted with the input of a Rod Serling or a Richard Matheson, director Garcia and writer Ronnie Christensen have managed to create a nice, unsettling atmosphere with some legitimate spine-tingling moments. Unfortunately, much of the good will is undone with the ending, which is borrowed from a recent classic and brings the movie screeching to a halt. It’s not so much the concept I had problems with but with the execution, which felt a little too close to the way the twist was revealed in the other movie I referred to.

This is one of those movies that is certainly flawed but has enough going for it to get a mild recommendation. Those who like those old TV shows like “The Outer Limits” and of course “The Twilight Zone” might get a kick out of this. Those who like Anne Hathaway will certainly enjoy this since she’s in virtually every scene. This isn’t a hidden gem so much as a hidden rhinestone; still, it is much better than I expected it to be.

WHY RENT THIS: Hathaway is becoming one of the most compelling actresses in Hollywood. Some seriously good moments in the thriller vein, especially if you’re a fan of “The Twilight Zone.”

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The “twist” ending has been done before and much better; savvy moviegoers will be able to suss it out pretty quickly.

FAMILY VALUES: A few decent scares and some sensuality make this suitable for older teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Eric tells Claire he’s a vice-president at the brokerage firm Kahane-Drake. Nathan Kahane and Joe Drake are the executive producers on the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A feature about the staging of the plane crash is relatively interesting, but most of the features are the usual standards.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Charlie Bartlett

The Bourne Ultimatum


The Bourne Ultimatum

Matt Damon ponders how much cooler he would have looked if the production had sprung for a Harley.

(Universal) Matt Damon, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Julia Stiles, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, Paddy Considine, Edgar Ramirez, Trevor St John, Daniel Bruhl, Joey Anash, Tom Gallop, Corey Johnson, Colin Stinton . Directed by Paul Greengrass

The most recent installment of the hit film series based on the John Le Carre spy novels, The Bourne Ultimatum picks up pretty much where the last film, The Bourne Supremacy left off, in Moscow. We pick up with memory-challenged superspy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) being chased by the Moscow police through the back alleys of Moscow. An injured Bourne finally makes his way into a closed for the night medical clinic where he tries to effect crude repairs, but he is interrupted by a pair of clever cops. They aren’t quite clever enough and he escapes once again, disappearing from the CIA grid.

Back in the States, CIA director Ezra Kramer (Glenn) is very eager for Bourne to be caught. Deputy Director Noah Vosen (Strathairn) believes Bourne is a major threat to the agency, whereas Deputy Director Pamela Landy (Allen) thinks Bourne is not necessarily out to take down the agency, but instead to get answers. Landy is put in charge of the hunt for Jason Bourne.

In Turin, a newspaper columnist (Considine) meets with a CIA section chief (Stinton) who gives the columnist information about Blackbriar, the successor to the Treadstone program that created Bourne (and that Bourne essentially destroyed). The CIA, apparently monitoring every cell phone call on the planet, picks up a call from the columnist to his editor that contains the word “Blackbriar” and immediately he is put under surveillance. Bourne by chance reads the man’s column (apparently he’s a big fan of the Guardian newspaper, since he reads it in another country) and realizes that the columnist may have information that Bourne needs. Of course, this sets off all sorts of mayhem, including a chance meeting between Bourne and Nikki Parsons (Stiles), the Treadstone agent who helped Bourne previously. Chased by the CIA, Interpol and quite probably some irate Girl Scouts, Bourne makes his way to New York City with the intention of discovering the truth about himself and possibly bringing an end to the game he no longer wants to play.

In a terse spy thriller like this one, you have to take a few things on faith, and suspend disbelief to a certain extent. It’s hard to believe that an agency with the technical ability to pick out a single word in a phone conversation involving two men not under suspicion for anything are unable to suss out a man entering their country undisguised under a passport they themselves issued. I mean, don’t they have computers at the airport?

Plot holes aside, you come to a Bourne movie for the action sequences, and here the movie doesn’t disappoint. Chased by assassins (and chasing them), evading detection by legions of agents and police, director Greengrass sets up a massive body count (not to mention an auto body count, as the film might just be worse for automobiles than for stuntmen) and extended action sequences which, while breaking no new ground, do cover old ground expertly. He keeps the suspense ratcheted up to 11 throughout most of the movie, with very little breathing room and manages to move the plot along with expository sequences without breaking momentum created by the action scenes – the one in Tangiers, by the way, might be one of the best you’ll ever see. However, be warned many sequences appear to be filmed by hand-held cameras. While this delivers a kind of you-are-there feel to these sequences, in my opinion it’s used a little overly much and gives the movie a kind of jerky quality that I found jarring.

Damon continues to do the part of Jason Bourne with extraordinary aplomb, rarely displaying much emotion but allowing the feelings bubbling below the surface to see the light of day from time to time. Strathairn plays a worthy adversary who picks up after Chris Cooper and Brian Cox from the first two movies and acquits himself nicely. Stiles does some of her best work in the Bourne movies and as the only other actor besides Damon to appear in all three movies, providing some nice continuity.

The movie takes place in several European cities, including Moscow, Turin, Madrid and in Tangiers, Morocco as well as New York City. The movie uses actual locations to add a further air of realism, a nice touch (which created some difficulties for the filmmakers – if you look closely during the train station scene, there are people who notice the cameras and point to them). While many of the secrets of Jason Bourne are explained (including his actual identity), there is certainly enough room left at the end for a sequel if the filmmakers and actors choose to go there which for awhile, it appeared they did until Greengrass recently withdrew from the proposed fourth Bourne film, leaving the status of the movie very much up in the air – Damon’s participation without Greengrass is certainly less likely.

Like most of the third movies, this one is pretty flawed but you can take some solace in the fact that while it doesn’t arise above its own ambitions, the movie nevertheless fulfills those ambitions nicely. In other words, you get exactly what you came to see.

WHY RENT THIS: Awesome action sequences as have become synonymous with this franchise. Exotic locations that bring to mind the cold war spy thrillers that the source material was contemporaneous with. The tension is unrelenting.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot holes are hard to ignore. Too much hand-held camerawork which was cliche even before this was made.

FAMILY VALUES: While the action sequences are terrific, they may be a bit overwhelming for some, as the sudden and sometimes realistic violence will be.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Among the pictures of terminated agents that Landy faxes near the film’s conclusion are producer Frank Marshall and actor Richard Chamberlin, who portrayed Bourne in a 1988 TV mini-series.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: Nothing listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Miami Vice


Miami Vice

Their other car is a Corolla.

(Universal) Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Gong Li, Naomie Harris, Ciaran Hinds, Justin Theroux, Barry Shabaka Henley, John Ortiz, Luis Tosar, Elizabeth Rodriguez, John Hawkes. Directed by Michael Mann.

It’s a given that everything old will become new again at some point. Take Miami Vice as an example. As a television show during the mid 1980s, it helped define the era with its South Beach cool. The soundtrack included some of the signature songs of the era – “In the Air Tonight” (reprised in the movie, but not by Phil Collins sadly) and Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City.” For a time, record labels campaigned mightily to get their music onto the show’s soundtrack because it guaranteed them a serious sales upsurge.

Twenty years later, the show has largely faded into its time, but for those who loved the show are as affectionate for it now as they ever were. Show creators Anthony Yerkovich and Michael Mann have made the decision to resurrect the show and update it for the 21st century. For me, this set off a lot of alarm bells in my head. Movies based on classic television shows have been nearly without exception extraordinarily bad. For every Mission: Impossible there have been several like Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched and My Favorite Martian. The only thing that even kept it on my radar was Mann’s recent track record, which includes Collateral, one of the more stylish thrillers of recent times, and The Insider, which was nominated for seven Oscars.

While the names remain the same, this is most definitely not your father’s Miami Vice. Detective James “Sonny” Crockett (Farrell) gets a frantic phone call from an informant (Hawkes) who has had to give up FBI undercover agents to a vicious drug cartel operating in Miami in order to save his family – unsuccessfully. It’s obvious there is a mole in the FBI somewhere.

Fujima (Hinds), the FBI agent in charge, enlists Crockett and his partner Rico Tubbs (Foxx) to go undercover; since they are in the Miami-Dade police department, he can trust them. Their superior, Captain Castillo (Henley) agrees to it. The two undercover cops set themselves as transporters of illegal goods. Fujima tells them that the supplier for the man they’re after in South Florida is a Columbian named Jose Yero (Ortiz). They arrange to take down a shipment of his, destroying the boats of the transporter he has been using. Using an intermediary, they set themselves up to take over the business.

They are surprised to find out that Yero is not the boss of the organization. Isabella, a beautiful Asian woman (Li) seems to be in charge, but it turns out she is just the girlfriend of the man who is in charge, a man named Montoya (Tosar). Crockett and Tubbs find themselves in a position to take down the entire organization from top to bottom.

There are complications, however. Crockett falls hard for Isabella, which makes Yero suspicious. He sets up a hit on the two of them and when that fails, kidnaps Tubbs’ girlfriend, fellow undercover cop Trudy Joplin (Harris) whom he has for reasons I can’t fathom introduced to Yero as…you guessed it, his girlfriend. Crockett and Tubbs may be in over their heads against a network of vicious killers that have absolutely no compunction about leaving a high body count of civilians in their wake.

Miami Vice gets high marks for its action sequences. Mann doesn’t waste a single moment on-camera (OK, the shower scene with Tubbs and Joplin might have been a little too long, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining) and keeps the movie’s pacing at a breakneck pace.

Like its predecessor, Miami Vice gets high marks for style. The detectives drive state-of-the-art wheels, boats and jets and hit night clubs that actually look like clubs that the high and mighty would hang out at. While the soundtrack isn’t as memorable as that of the television shows, it nevertheless pulsates with some excellent tracks from Moby and India.Arie.

You don’t go to a movie like Miami Vice for the performances. I thought Foxx did pretty well as Tubbs, but Farrell at times was a bit too mannered for Crockett, and he gets the majority of the screen time – I would have liked to see more of Tubbs. However, Gong Li does an unsurprisingly good job in the femme fatale role.

The gun battle at the movie’s conclusion is loud and looks and sounds a lot like what that kind of confrontation with that kind of firepower would look and sound like. Hopefully, you’ll have a high end sound system to take enjoy the experience. This is far grittier than the television show, which makes some sense – given that it has an R rating, they could go a lot farther than they could on the small screen.

This is pure summer entertainment, and has a sense of realism in the police procedural aspect as well. Although there are a few moments that make no sense other than to put one character or another in jeopardy, there is no doubt that this movie succeeds wildly at what it set out to do. From that standpoint, there’s definitely something in the air.

WHY RENT THIS: Extraordinary action sequences take front and center stage. Foxx is outstanding as Tubbs. The movie retains the South Beach style and an updated but still strong soundtrack which may invoke a sense of nostalgia.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the plot points are a bit preposterous. Farrell is a little too mannered as Crockett.

FAMILY VALUES: Oy vey! Violence, sex and drugs aplenty. Lots of foul language. Definitely one to put on after the kids are in bed.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Actor Edward James Olmos turned down the opportunity to reprise his role as Castillo and TV theme song composer Jan Hammer also turned down the job of scoring the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A realistic prank played on Farrell by undercover officers he was shadowing for research purposes is shown as part of a feature on the actors preparation for their roles. There is also an unrated directors cut that restores footage cut out to get the movie its R rating.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Doubt

Black Book


Carice van Houten and Michel Huisman get bombed.

Carice van Houten and Michel Huisman get bombed.

(Sony Classics) Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint, Christian Berkel, Dolf de Vries. Directed by Paul Verhoeven.

While war itself is an absolute evil, often life in wartime is characterized by varying shades of grey. Those caught up in it must often differentiate between these shades, trying to find the one that is least black. In the process, they often have to become something terrible in order to avoid becoming a corpse.

Rachel Stein (van Houten) is a Dutch Jew hiding in the countryside during the waning days of World War II, hoping to survive until the Germans are defeated. When her hiding place is obliterated, she is taken to see a sympathetic notary (de Vries) who helps reunite her with her family with the purpose of getting them across the border to Allied territory. During the river crossing, the boat full of Jewish refugees is ambushed by the Nazis and gunned down. Rachel is the only survivor.

She is rescued by Gerben Kuipers (de Lint), a Dutch resistance leader who offers her shelter. Instead, the vengeful Rachel joins the resistance as a spy and changes her name to the less ethnic Ellis de Vries. During a mission with Hans Akkerman (Hoffman), she meets Ludwig Muntze (Koch), the head of the Dutch SD. She makes an impression on him, but thinks nothing further of it.

After Kuipers’ son is captured she is enlisted to seduce Muntze and obtain the release of the captives. She is hired as his assistant and soon befriends Ronnie (Reijn), a Dutch woman who is using whatever means necessary to survive, including sleeping with Frankel (Kobus), a ruthless sub commander who was responsible for the death of her parents. Ellis/Rachel manages to bug Frankel’s office, giving the resistance much useful information. She also finds that Muntze’s duties are being suborned by his conscience, and that he is an incredibly decent man. She begins to fall in love with him.

After several missions go horribly wrong it soon becomes clear that the resistance has an informant in its midst. Suspicion falls on Ellis/Rachel after Frankel frames her. Now, she finds that post-war Holland is in many respects more dangerous for her than the Nazi occupation was as she tries to discover who the true traitor is before she is captured by those she worked so hard to assist.

Verhoeven, whose career was established based on his Dutch war masterpiece Soldier of Orange has been making Hollywood blockbusters such as Total Recall, RoboCop, Starship Troopers and Basic Instinct. This is his first Dutch film since 1983’s The 4th Man. Black Book holds the distinction of being the most expensive film ever made in Holland at the time it was released, and also the most commercially successful film to come from the Netherlands ever.

The movie has a very slick look to it, and cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub does a fine job of making it look good. Verhoeven has done an excellent job of bringing wartime Holland to life. He has also co-written a script that has ample twists and turns as Ellis/Rachel navigates – often painfully – through the politics not only of the Nazi occupation but of the Dutch resistance as well. It works pretty nicely as a thriller.

The big problem with the writing, if it has any, is that there are too many twists and turns. As Ellis/Rachel wails near the end of the film, “When will it all stop!” and we, the audience agree – the movie is about 20 minutes too long. However, that really is where the bellyaching from this critic begins and ends.

Van Houten is a spectacular-looking woman, and not a bad actress to boot. She has to carry the movie nearly entirely on her shoulders and she does a good job of it. She gets support from Koch, who reminds me of the Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe, and from Hoffman, who reminds me a bit of Andrew McCarthy.

Overall, this is very well-made and does keep you on the edge of your seat. Although this is a work of fiction, many of the events depicted here actually happened. Verhoeven, when at the top of his game, is a world class director, and he’s at the top of his game here. With just a bit of tweaking, this might have been his best work ever. Instead, it’s a very enjoyable, entertaining two hours well worth spending.

WHY RENT THIS: This is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that is as well-made as any coming out of Hollywood. Van Houten is an absolutely spectacular looking woman. World War II-set movies are big these days.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Movie goes on a bit too long with one two many twists. Dialogue is mostly in Dutch and German, so those who abhor subtitles will be annoyed.

FAMILY VALUES: Many Nazi atrocities are depicted in unflinching detail. There is also a fair amount of female nudity, as well as extremely sexual situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The genesis of the film came when director Verhoeven was researching true stories from the Second World War in the Netherlands back in 1977 when he was making Soldier of Orange.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Capitalism: A Love Story

Cache (Hidden)


Juliette Binoche gets a call from the library regarding overdue books.

Juliette Binoche gets a call from the library regarding overdue books.

(Sony Classics) Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Benichou, Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq, Walid Afkir, Lester Makedonsky, Daniel Duval, Nathalie Richard, Denis Podalydes, Aissa Maiga, Caroline Baehr. Directed by Michael Haneke.

I have to admit that as a young man, I was abysmally ignorant of French cinema. I tended to look down on it, feeling that it was too cerebral and too pretentious for my tastes. I demeaned critics who had an appreciation for it, sneering that they didn’t like anything that wasn’t subtitled.

Times change and people change with it. I have grown to embrace French films and French culture. I’ve come to appreciate that not every director in France is making movies that require one to think about and puzzle over until one’s head explodes. Some of the most charming comedies I’ve seen recently are French; some of the most intense action movies I’ve seen have also been French. I’ve even seen some terrifying horror movies that are French. In my opinion, French filmmaking is as alive and vibrant today as it has ever been. It has even prompted me to catch up on some things I used to turn away from.

Cache begins with a video, innocently enough, of the front of an innocuous looking house. People come and go down the street, completely oblivious to the fact that they are on camera. However, the occupants of the house are considerably more puzzled. A videotape has been delivered to them of their home, without any note or explanation. Georges Laurent (Auteuil), who hosts a literary round table discussion program on French television, is puzzled. Why would anyone videotape the front of their home? It’s not an architectural gem – far from it. It’s just an ordinary suburban townhouse. His wife Anne (Binoche) finds it unsettling. The videotape itself is unthreatening – it just seems to indicate that somebody is watching them.

Days go by and additional videotapes arrive. They are of different locations, but of the same nature as the first; an unwavering eye on a place that is of some importance to the Laurents. Coming as well are postcards with unsettling drawings, but again no explanation. The police won’t help them because there are no overt threats.

In one of the videos, a streetscape, Georges is able to freeze-frame one image on which he is able to read a street name. Deciding to take action, he follows the path of the video without telling Anne about it. He eventually arrives at an apartment and the person inside is someone he knows – more I will not say about the identity of this person, other than to say he is not likely the author of the videos. In the meantime, the Laurents life goes on with some degree of normalcy; they give dinner parties, they deal with their exasperating son Pierrot (Makedonsky).

Anne eventually finds out about Georges’ investigations, and feels betrayed. Georges is obviously keeping secrets from her, secrets about his past. The videos continue to arrive. She is unable to trust him; he is unable to fully explain what she wants to know. He is emotionally detached, and growing less and less able to remain in touch with his feelings.

This is as unsettling a movie as you are ever going to see. Director Haneke (who won an award at Cannes for his work here) echoes the looks of the video by keeping his camera stationary most of the time, offering an unflinching look at the Laurents and their lives. It is a fascinating insight into the lives of the Parisian upper middle class, showing a home full of books but with the television constantly on. It’s a slice of life with a side of subversive.

Auteuil and Binoche are two of the best actors in France, and they are dependable time after time. They make a believable married couple – on the same page most of the time, but not always. They have their issues, but they also are drawn close together. Auteuil can be frustrating and difficult to read, but he is exceptional here; he’s genuine and real at every turn; nothing about his performance rings false. Binoche is not just a beautiful movie star; she’s a terrific actress. She is not glamorous at all in this role – she’s a housewife, after all – but her chemistry with Auteuil is undeniable.

This is not the kind of thriller that makes you jump out of your seat. It’s more of an undercurrent of tension that grows slowly and organically. You know something is wrong, something is not quite right and it just raises the hair on the back of your neck, but you can’t put your finger on it…and as the movie progresses as things begin to be pieced together, that feeling of unease grows.

I’m deliberately omitting much of the detail about the movie – this is a movie meant to be experienced as a whole without its secrets being spilled. It’s a movie that isn’t always what it seems to be, and those in it aren’t always who they seem to be. There is much delight in the details, and often you can glean information from seemingly unimportant visual clues. This is the kind of movie that is going to appeal to people who like jigsaw puzzles; it very much feels like something that you have to put together for yourself. The best part is that the image it forms won’t be the same for any two people.

WHY RENT THIS: A slice of life of the French upper class intellectuals that has a disturbing edge. The chemistry between the leads is genuine, and they portray a couple that certainly could exist in real life.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It’s very subtle and can be infuriating trying to figure out where the movie is going. Certain segments of the DVD-renting audience will find it too much work.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a horrifying scene that happens very suddenly and dramatically that may be too much for youngsters.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: There is no music whatsoever in the film save for the theme to Georges’ television show.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A documentary on director Michael Haneke.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Gamer