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Entries in Antoine Fuqua (2)

Thursday
Mar212013

Olympus Has Fallen

This week’s new film, "Olympus Has Fallen," is not going to be for everyone because it brings out feelings that many know all too well. Although it’s perhaps a strange comparison to make, the film will undoubtedly remind many Americans of what they felt on September 11th, 2001. The story revolves around an extremist terrorist group that infiltrates the White House and takes the President hostage, killing dozens in the process. It’s an unwarranted attack, much like that sad day in American history, and the group’s motive is nothing but one of hate, though they hide it under the veil of their skewed ideologies. Some will find the feeling too much to bear and perhaps even find the premise itself despicable while others will swell with patriotic pride at the way the characters onscreen handle themselves in such an extreme situation. Being an inhabitant of the Washington DC area (and having watched the movie mere miles from the actual White House), I felt a strange mixture of both, but the latter outweighed the former. Olympus Has Fallen knocked me down and drained me emotionally, but those initial feelings just made the back half of the film that much sweeter, when I had to fight my urges to stand up in the middle of the theater and cheer.

Gerard Butler plays our hero, Mike Banning, a former Presidential bodyguard who was demoted after allowing the President’s wife, played by Ashley Judd, to perish in an automobile accident, even though it was the right call to make and it saved the President’s life. A year and a half later, those aforementioned terrorists overtake the White House, codenamed “Olympus,” so Banning, not too far from the building itself, springs into action. With the White House’s staff all dead and the terrorists holding the President, played by Aaron Eckhart, hostage, it’s up to him alone to save the day.

If you strip away the setting, Olympus Has Fallen tells a well-worn story. From the “last action hero” set-up to the “ticking clock” conclusion, it’s nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times over. Luckily for the movie, it’s that setting that makes it so intense and, ultimately, rewarding. Because of its sensitive subject matter, it will surely sadden some and anger others, while forcing them to ask that one question one always asks when they witness such senseless violence: why? But that’s what gives the film its bite and when that good old fashioned American bravado comes into play, it’s immensely satisfying.

Of course, this is all assuming you can get past the fact that the story itself is so outlandishly absurd. The background of these terrorists and the extensive preparation they must have undertaken are absent from the overall narrative, most likely because there is no convincing way to make their actions seem legitimate. To be fair, this isn’t the film’s focus, but one can’t help but wonder how they were able to pull this mission off with such accurate precision, which included in-depth knowledge of highly confidential information, American nuclear weapons systems and “next generation weaponry” that, for some reason, is mounted on the White House’s roof.

The story is indeed ridiculous and its poor CGI doesn’t help in pulling off the illusion of plausibility, but it’s nevertheless gripping. Where it lacks is in its side story revolving around Banning’s wife, Leah, played by Radha Mitchell, which is embarrassingly underwritten and exists solely for some late movie cheese that should have been cut out altogether. It also tends to dumb things down a bit, constantly flashing names and places onscreen, as if it thinks its audience isn’t smart enough to realize the characters are standing in the middle of the Oval Office. But what Olympus Has Fallen lacks in intellectualism, it makes up for with pure visceral thrills and optimistic pride and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t work, even if it is a little too obvious for its own good.

Olympus Has Fallen receives 3.5/5

Friday
Mar052010

Brooklyn's Finest

It's been eight years since director Antoine Fuqua brought us Training Day, the gritty crime drama that netted Denzel Washington his second Oscar. In between that terrific film, he has helmed a few pictures that have been hit and miss among fans and critics, Tears of the Sun and Shooter among them. Now it seems as if he's trying to strike gold twice with Brooklyn's Finest, which can only be described as Training Day-lite. While this movie deals with some similar issues (and even goes so far as to cast Denzel's counterpart in that film, Ethan Hawke), it's unfocused, meandering and it tries to justify evil if the end result is good, which I would hope any moral, upstanding citizen could see the hypocrisy in.

The film follows a number of cops as they deal with crime in Brooklyn. Hawke plays Sal, a dirty cop trying to pay for a new home for his family, Richard Gere plays Eddie, a suicidal police officer only a week away from retirement, and Don Cheadle plays Tango, an undercover cop who finds himself struggling with his allegiance because he has a duty to bring down the bad guys, but one of those bad men by the name of Caz, played by Wesley Snipes, previously saved his life and he refuses to bust him. A dirty cop, an undercover cop and a cop one week away from retirement. It's three cliches rolled into one.

The three stories do intersect at times, however rarely that may be, but I suspect the physical intersections are not the crutch of the movie, but rather the way each character's emotions get in the way of their true goals. In that regard, they all find themselves in the same boat, yet their stories play out so differently that that argument would be hard to make.

The most irksome part of Brooklyn's Finest, however, is its portrayal of these men as good men despite the evil things they have done or, in some cases, are doing. As previously mentioned, Sal can't afford a new home for his family. He has a wife and a couple of children and twins are on the way. The house they live in is encompassed with rotting wood and his wife's lungs are working three times the amount they should be due to her asthma and her breathing in mold. He needs to get them out of there. I understood this hardship and I felt for him, but the way he gets things done is inexcusable. He murders drug runners and steals their money. The film tries to make the case that there's nothing else this man can do and besides, he's killing bad guys so it's ok, right?

Eddie, on the other hand, is a cop who turns the other way when bad things go down. Early in the movie, he's on patrol with a rookie cop and the young man tries to break up a dispute between a feuding couple after the man slaps the woman. This is the right thing to do, but Eddie pulls him away and they drive off. He tells him to think nothing of it and just go home. Of course, Eddie has a change of heart by the end of the movie, but one good action does not forgive his years of neglection.

This happens with damn near every character. The film puts them on a pedestal and tries to rationalize their way of being. It doesn't work and instead of feeling for the hardships these characters are going through, I ended up loathing them all. None deserved my sympathy.

I suppose Brooklyn's Finest is technically a well made film. Fuqua directs it competently and the performances, though hit and miss at times, are far from bad, but its the twisted vindication the picture gives each character that really derails it. It tries to ask questions about what is considered right and wrong, but what's right and wrong doesn't change simply because the situation you're in calls for it to. Wrong is wrong no matter the predicament.

Brooklyn's Finest receives 2/5