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Entries in ben foster (2)

Thursday
Jan092014

Lone Survivor

Last year’s “Battleship,” directed by Peter Berg, was hands down one of the worst movies of the year. It was a stupid idea based off a simplistic board game that was full of enormous amounts of cheese and patriotic grandstanding. While pride in one’s country is certainly not a bad thing, the ridiculous alien invasion story that surrounded it made such grandstanding laughable. When you combined that with lazy dialogue, contrived plot points and horrific performances, particularly from real life war veteran Gregory D. Gadson in one of the worst performances ever put to screen, you got something that was practically unwatchable. Berg is now back with “Lone Survivor,” another “Go America!” film that shares a fair amount of rough dialogue and cheesy moments, but these moments are offset by real actors giving gritty performances and action scenes that are truly intense. It’s not perfect (and it’s highly unlikely its limited release shoehorning into the last week of December is going to give it any awards recognition), but this is a major step up from Berg’s previous travesty. This is actually quite good.

Based on a true story, “Lone Survivor” follows SEAL Team 10 on a mission dubbed “Operation Red Wings.” Their goal is to capture or kill terrorist leader Ahmad Shahd. After a smooth drop into the nearby mountains, they identify their target on the grounds below. However, some unexpected civilians show up to put a kink in their plans. They have one of two options: they can either let them go and risk exposure or kill them and continue on with the mission. Refusing to kill civilians, they decide to let them go. Unfortunately, their radio equipment is malfunctioning and after those civilians notify the terrorists below, they find themselves in a firefight in the mountains.

“Lone Survivor” is not a pleasant film. Despite all the action, this is not a fun, stand-up-and-cheer “Rambo” type of action movie. It’s intense and scary and, for a while at least, a slow-burner. This doesn’t open with a slam-bang introduction, nor does it end with a high-flying conclusion. Instead, it starts out slow before finally erupting into violence. And when the bullets start flying, they don’t stop. The action never lets up, so the grip the film has on you stays there until the end. Slow beginnings like these require good acting to keep things interesting and this talented cast, which includes Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster, among others, is up to the task. Despite the cloying music and sentimental dialogue about their loved ones back home, they create real people out of these characters. By the time many of their inevitable deaths come, they mean something.

One of Peter Berg’s biggest deficiencies as a director, at least in regards to “Battleship,” was that he went too big. Everything was bombastic and in-your-face. He smartly goes the opposite route here. Much of the action consists of pop-and-shoot gunplay which requires a more focused approach than an explode-y Avengers-esque film, where the visuals can make up for a lack of substance, and he manages to pull it off. The sole flourish he occasionally includes are down-the-barrel shots, similar to a first person shooter video game, which feels a bit out of place in the context of both the story and style he implements elsewhere.

Bizarre stylistic choices similar to that are easily the film’s biggest problems, including an over usage of slow motion, which is supposed to be dramatic, but instead only serves to pull you out of the otherwise gripping and realistic action. But the movie’s intention is to highlight the heroic actions of these men who risked everything to live up to a well-intentioned moral code. They did the right thing and it cost almost all of them their lives. These men are to be applauded and remembered because even though their job required them to be violent, they carried out that violence only when necessary and they valued the lives of the innocent, and the lives of their fellow soldiers, above their own. That’s a noble thing. It’s still a bit too Hollywood to resonate and that aforementioned patriotic grandstanding is so heavy-handed that it threatens to derail it, but in the end, “Lone Survivor” strives to tell a simple story of courage and nobility and it does it well.

Lone Survivor receives 3.5/5

Friday
Feb242012

Rampart

A great performance does not make a great movie. People tend to forget that sometimes. The best example in recent years is The Wrestler. Although still a good movie and certainly recommendable, its story wasn’t as captivating or as complex as it thought it was. Mickey Rourke was breathtaking and deserved to be standing on that stage during awards season clutching an Oscar just as much as Sean Penn was for Milk, but the movie that surrounded that performance simply wasn’t up to his level. The same can be said for this week’s expanding release, Rampart. Woody Harrelson is terrific in the lead role, even as the movie struggles to find what it is it wants to say. It’s good, but given its lack of awards recognitions, it fell far short of film glory.

The film takes place in Los Angeles in 1999, during the famous LAPD Rampart scandal where more than 70 officers were charged with misconduct that included everything from covering up evidence to unprovoked murders. Harrelson plays David Brown, one of the cops suspected of unethical behavior, who, after being caught on tape violently beating a fleeing motorist after an accident, goes under investigation for his behavior.

All of that is fine and dandy and it creates a perfect backdrop for what could have been a wonderful drama. There’s corruption, violence, cover ups and all kinds of struggles, both internal and external, that the character has to face. With a clear idea of what it was going for, Rampart could have been a intriguing character study, but as is, you never truly get a sense of Officer Brown’s personality, despite Harrelson’s gripping performance (which is one of the main reasons this movie still succeeds), because you never get to see it. Instead, most of his personality traits are simply read off in passing dialogue. At one point, his daughter calls him homophobic, yet he has no interaction with a gay person throughout the entire film. She also calls him a racist, but as far as the viewer can tell, he’s only called a racist because the person he’s caught beating up on camera is black (and you get the feeling he would have done that no matter the person’s race). She even goes so far as to label him as sexist, but no scenes support that claim. In fact, the only four people in the entire world he cares about are female. Sure, when he picks women up at bars, he’s a little forward, but sexual aggression does not equate to sexism.

The only thing she gets right is when she calls him a misanthrope. As he expressly states, he hates everyone equally and, although this fact negates nearly every other label attached to his character, it provides for the most interesting sections of the film. His cold demeanor and brutal tactics don’t seem to stem solely from his reckless disregard for the rules. They seem to have evolved from the practices of those he works with. For instance, after making the news for beating that motorist to the edge of death, he is greeted with cheering and applause by his fellow police officers. Only a select few, mainly the ones investigating him, seem to have a moral compass. His brutal behavior reflects the culture of his job and those around him. As time goes on, his past actions begin to look more like inevitabilities than poor decisions.

Nevertheless, the meaning of all this is left vague. Whatever Rampart is trying to say about Officer Brown, the Rampart scandal or simply police corruption in general gets lost in its own maze of contradictions, but Harrelson keeps the movie afloat, even though his supporting cast isn’t the strongest in the world, especially Ice Cube, whose proven ineffective screen presence is that much more noticeable when opposite a veteran such as Harrelson. One could make the argument that the potency of the supporting characters is what makes a character study, especially one like this where the protagonist’s line of work forces him to interact with others. It’s a completely valid point and a suitable critique of this movie, but Harrelson is so good, he makes you forget all that and appreciate the film for its strengths rather than its weaknesses.

Rampart receives 3/5