THE PATRIOT (A-4, R)
stars Mel Gibson in his Braveheart mode as a rebel superhero
leading guerrillas against the supercilious British in South Carolina
during the American Revolution. Originally the story of the historical
“Swamp Fox,” Francis Marion, this fictionalized $100-million epic
features Gibson as Ben Martin, a widowed father of seven. He’s an
Indian-wars veteran who has committed savage atrocities, agonizes
over them and wants to fight no more.
This resolve lasts only
the first half-hour. Ben Martin confronts a Brit colonel (Jason Isaacs)
who terrorizes civilians. He begins by shooting one of the Martin
The rest of this 158-minute
movie sets up the decisive battle in which the colonials defeat Cornwallis
and Martin goes after the colonel. Directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence
Day), this action movie justifiably waves the flag about the heroism
and sacrifice of the citizen-warriors. They earned American freedom
by standing up to a professional, murderously efficient European army.
It’s also about the horror of war and the doubtful morality of violence,
revenge and terror on prisoners, civilians and combatants.
The vast arrays of armies
in combat are spectacular, but the details are brutal—we are forced
to see them in close-ups and super-slow-motion. Martin is in a rage
much of the time. And there is a mixed message about the satisfactions
of revenge, which remains among the deepest moral temptations.
The film reflects the
concerns of Gibson (the real-life dad of seven) and of our own times
with loving relationships between parents and children and family-based
communities. These don’t get equal time with the violence but carry
significant emotional power.
Other strong cast members
include upcoming heartthrob Heath Ledger as Martin’s impetuous oldest
son, Chris Cooper as an admirable Yankee colonel and Lisa Brenner
as Ledger’s brave young spouse. Visually powerful combat film,
with stress on emotion and macho heroics; very violent; O.K. for adults.
THE PERFECT STORM (A-3,
PG-13) will be remembered as a landmark sea movie. High-tech special
effects, a plucky cast and determined director Wolfgang Petersen (Das
Boot) combine to re-create the demise of a fishing boat and its
crew during the monstrous storm of a lifetime in the North Atlantic
in October 1991. This $100-million summer disaster movie is both awesome
and improbable, but different: It’s based on fact.
Adapted from Sebastian
Junger’s best-seller, Storm is a respectful docudrama re-creation.
It involves solid, physically capable actors like George Clooney and
Mark Wahlberg playing the real people who endured the catastrophe.
It slowly builds suspense as it focuses on the Gloucester fishing
culture and the Andrea Gail, the six-man swordfishing craft
that ventures too far and, inadequately warned, starts home too late.
Nobody knows what actually
happened to the Gail—that is invented by scenarist Bill Wittliff
(Lonesome Dove) in a way that gives the characters heroism
and dignity. The storm sequences are convincing and powerful. Although
shot in a huge soundstage tank, the preposterous size and ferocity
of the 100-m.p.h. gale machines and the 10-story waves did everything
to the actors except drown them.
The film also vividly
describes the courage of the Air National Guard helicopter search-and-rescue
teams that pulled off several miracles. While the movie may lack a
strong religious dimension, it is consistently uplifting. The people
on the boat are there in the storm under pressure to make money for
an unhappy boat owner. The real culprit is an economic system that
encourages foolhardy risk-taking.
If there is a clear
sacred element, however, it’s the valor of the ancient human relationship
to the sea, the source of life and joy, as well as the incomprehensible.
As Clooney’s doomed skipper, Billy Tyne, says of his work, “Is there
anything better in the world?” Authentic, rare action movie recommended
for mature viewers.
CROUPIER (A-4, not rated):
A dense but stylish and intriguing melodrama about a slick, very professional
dealer at a London casino who isn’t as in control as he thinks. Jack
(darkly handsome, proud, ice-cool Clive Owen) pities the losers he
services at roulette and blackjack, follows the rules and builds material
for the novel he’s writing.
His girlfriend (Gina
McKee), an ex-cop working as a store detective, loves him. She’s his
conscience and a symbol of moral strength. But he is distracted by
other women (including ER’s Alex Kingston). He brings on tragedy when
some clever schemers pull off a scam at the casino on Christmas night.
Croupier is decidedly
not a pro-gambling film but gives the casino atmosphere rich backstage
detail. Director Mike Hodges (A Prayer for the Dying) also
offers a psychological study of his cerebral hero. This film will
appeal to viewers who like to ponder what is real and what Jack is
only making up for his novel. Overall, the tone is gloomy. “The world
quickly destroys the good and the brave,” Jack says. “It will kill
you, too. But it will be in no special hurry.” Love and betrayal
among the high rollers; O.K. for adults.
CITY (LA CIUDAD)
THE CITY (LA CIUDAD)
(PBS, September 22, subtitles): Documentary filmmaker David Riker’s
superb, gritty, heart-cracking first fiction film is a highlight of
the new TV season for those who continue to hope the medium will rise
above its more stupid and pandering influences. Based on the hardships
facing Central and South American immigrants in New York, this prizewinner
at many film fests shows reality as we used to know it, before stuff
like Survivor and Big Brother turned the word into a
images recall great but simply stated movies about the lives of ordinary
people. The City (in Spanish with English subtitles) tells
four poignant stories likely to move us deeply and help us recognize
our common humanity with these mostly Catholic newcomers.
One is a gently ironic
love story in which boy (newly arrived from Mexico) meets girl but
loses her when he gets lost among the city’s bewildering array of
apartment complexes. Another is sad, poetic and Felliniesque, about
a homeless man and his daughter, age six, scratching out a living
giving puppet shows in vacant lots. When it’s time for the bright
child to go to school, the father can’t enroll her because they have
no address—he can’t prove they live in the city.
The other two stories
are about the difficult lives of workers, often exploited because
they are illegals. “Bricks” follows men recruited off a Brooklyn corner
at 5 a.m. to salvage bricks from an abandoned factory. After a truck
ride to the site, the wage goes down to 15 cents a brick. Then a tragic
accident ensues. All is set (like music) to the voiceover of a wife’s
letter from home.
In “Seamstress,” women
sew garments for tough Korean bosses in a Manhattan sweatshop. A crisis
develops when one desperately needs her long-overdue paycheck to help
her suddenly sick child back home. There’s a Norma Rae moment
when the bullied women realize their strength is in sticking together.
spent five years developing the 90-minute film and relies on nonactors
whose life situations reflect events in the movie. Issues of social
justice and humanity are the focus; conscience and aesthetic sensibility
are powerfully touched. Highly recommended for mature viewers.
NUREMBERG (TNT): Producer-star
Alec Baldwin and company took on the biggest moral horror of the horrific
20th century in this July miniseries. This four-hour dramatization
of the 1945 Nazi war-crimes trial gets down the spectacle and import,
as well as human conflicts. It also pulls few punches in providing
rarely seen footage of death-camp atrocities.
Yet for all the power
of documentary evidence and historical record, the strongest passage
relies on acting at its most basic: Christopher Plummer, as the British
prosecutor, standing in court and simply reading an eyewitness account
of the murder of 5,000 Jewish men, women and children in a single
Another major distinction
is the success of David Rintels (one of the medium’s most prolific
and gifted writers for 35 years) in individualizing the defendants,
and in contrasting the remorse of Speer with the pride and cunning
of Goering (memorably played by British actor Brian Cox). Baldwin
is a dramatic match for Cox as chief prosecutor Robert Jackson, but
Nuremberg earns respect mainly for its willingness to explore
the nature of evil for an audience that would probably prefer to be
doing something else.
SHORT TAKES: One of
the upbeat new fall series is Courage (Fox Family Channel,
Mondays), hosted by Danny Glover. It offers one-hour profiles of real-life
heroes from around the world (people who have taken risks for others)
and puts the constant media hyping of heroes in some perspective.
What’s happened to comedy
in pop culture must make the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges gag.
Raunchy, sick, sophomoric—you pick the word—is the rage in
movies and only slightly less in TV sitcoms. Variety reports
that this summer’s Scary Movie is so over-the-top vulgar and
leans so heavily on sex/toilet humor that it can’t be used on TV even
in edited form. NBC plans to give it a try, anyway.
Here’s a nice fantasy:
that all those folks celebrating in the magazine lottery commercials
because they’ve presumably won millions have just learned instead
that the God who created the universe loves them and will never abandon