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With December finally here and the awards season right around the corner, one can’t help but wonder what the motivation was to release Deadfall right in the thick of it. It certainly doesn’t deserve a place among the more coveted films to be released this month, instead feeling more like a standard throwaway thriller that should have been released in January or February, when studios dump whatever garbage they have sitting around into theaters just to get it out of their hands. To be fair, Deadfall isn’t terrible. It’s just terribly boring. With movies like Skyfall behind us and The Hobbit in front, there’s no real reason to see this. Just wait the extra week until it inevitably vanishes from our collective memories.

Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) aren’t your typical siblings. They’re actually thieves who have just escaped from a casino heist gone wrong and are on their way to the Canadian border. However, when their driver crashes their car in an attempt to avoid a passing animal, they find themselves forced to make the trek on foot in a blizzard, splitting up and vowing to meet later. Eventually, Liza runs into Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a Silver medalist at the Beijing Olympics who has just been released from prison and is on his way to his parents (played by Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson) for Thanksgiving dinner. Liza and Jay start an innocent fling with each other, playing a game where they pretend to be together and go by different aliases, which puts a kink in Addison’s plan to reunite with his sister and cross the border, which Jay’s parents live very close to.

And, as expected, this leads to a final showdown at Jay’s household that plays out more like a whimper than a bang. Although it wouldn’t be right to spoil what happens, Deadfall is such a conventional thriller that all but those who are completely unfamiliar with the genre will be able to predict its sequence of events well before they actually happen. It plods along rather typically and banally; it’s not until that final sequence that the film manages to build up any excitement at all. When everyone converges on that house where Bana has taken the parents hostage and the game between Jay and Liza has blossomed into a full-fledged romance, everybody unaware of Liza’s true relationship to Addison, intrigue is built, but by then, it’s too little too late and it ends too abruptly, never allowing us to savor the feeling of watching certain characters get their comeuppance.

With such a boring, trite story, the least Deadfall could do was give us the pleasure of watching someone get what’s coming to them, but it instead favors wrapping up inconsequential side stories that were mostly uninteresting and laughable to begin with. The most egregious offender of this comes in the form of Hanna (Kate Mara), a police officer in this small, quiet town who has daddy issues revolving around sexism, blame and a lack of trust. Unfortunately for her, her dad is the Sheriff and she answers to him. It's a terrible an underdeveloped B-story and every exchange they have is forced to the point where I’m pretty sure the actors involved developed hemorrhoids. (When asked why she can’t go out and help in their investigation, he responds with a question about what she would do if something important came up. “What if you have to change your tampon?” he asks.)

Perhaps the only thing more bored than I was while watching Deadfall were the actors actually in it, most of whom seemed to be coasting by for a paycheck while they waited for their next big break, particularly Eric Bana, who has always been an underwhelming actor, even in critically lauded films like Munich. They all seem to put forth only the slightest bit of effort, as if they knew that pretty much nobody was going to watch their movie. If they somehow had that premonition, they’re likely to be right. Deadfall just doesn’t deserve our time. Put it out in the middle of February, when moviegoers have been numbed by at least a month of likely-to-be-bad films and perhaps it looks more appetizing, but now? We have plenty of better options.

Deadfall receives 2/5


The Help

Most stories aren’t original. While the locations, era and characters may be different, the core of most stories never evolve beyond what has already been told. In many cases, it’s a detriment to the film because we, the movie going public, want more. But sometimes, a story is so important, so significant, so thoughtful that we don’t mind seeing and hearing it again. This week’s touching film, The Help, explores racism and hatred towards African Americans in the 60’s south and though its message is no different than many that have come before, it remains a good one and works as a reminder that we should love and respect everybody regardless of their differences.

The film takes place in Mississippi where friends Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) work for a couple of white families as their housemaids. They are bossed around and treated like lesser beings simply because of their skin color, despite the love and care they put into raising those neglectful families’ kids. In their neighborhood, whites and blacks are expected not to mix. Public places are segregated and a bill is about to pass that will require all homes to have a “colored” bathroom just for the help. It’s an unhappy place for Aibileen and Minny, until they meet Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone), who recognizes what they go through. She has just graduated from college and aspires to be a journalist, so she offers to write a story from the perspective of the help. It’s a dangerous venture for the housemaids, but they’ve put up with abuse all their lives and decide they aren’t going to stand for it anymore.

The Help, as familiar as it can be at times, is an important film to watch. It’s not always pleasant and is certain to bring tears to many who view it, but we need to keep these past events close in our thoughts. As philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” A more truthful sentiment has never been uttered, especially given the state of dogmatism we face even today. While certainly not to the same extent, the condemnation of groups in the past parallels certain cases today, especially with the rampant intolerance for homosexuals (a parallel The Help seems to recognize, taking the time to quickly mock those who ignorantly think there’s a cure for homosexuality). Though set in the 60’s, it’s relevant to our times and works as a duality: as a reminder and as a cry for change.

Still, I’d be lying if I said The Help was anything more than a piece of fluff. It’s a crowd pleaser, unconcerned with crafting a tight, smooth flowing story or any critical backlash. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t make for the most structured movie. It’s a long film, well over two hours, but real drama doesn’t begin to build until its back half. It attempts to mash it all together at one time, which isn’t an effective substitute for a thoughtful, slow build throughout. The parts that do work, however, are weakened by unnecessary (and sometimes sickening) scenes, like when one of the maids bakes her feces into a pie and watches her old boss eat it. If in a gross-out comedy, this moment would be lambasted by critics everywhere (as it should be); it’s only fair for it to happen here too. But at least in those movies, it’s a one-time affair. In The Help, numerous plot turns actually stem from the poo pie scene. While watching, you can’t help but wonder why the filmmakers couldn’t come up with something less childish to keep their story moving.

That thought comes to mind because the movie is anchored by an impressive cast; such a scene seems desperate. They do what they can, though, and what they can do is deliver performances that rank among the best of the year. While Octavia Spencer is delightful and Emma Stone skillfully breaks away from her comedic typecasting while retaining her charm and innocence, it’s Viola Davis who impresses the most. Even with a dramatically uneven screenplay, she manages to bring forth feeling with ease. Every quiver of the lip and tear that rolls down her cheek hits hard; it might make you forget how inconsequential her sadness sometimes is to the story. The movie she’s in might not be great, but she is and deserves an Oscar nomination come awards season.

The biggest problem with The Help is that its subject matter is so heavy, but its handling is a little too light. It’s peppered with humor throughout, some of which admittedly works, but it rarely feels imperative, hitting a strange middle ground opposite the drama without ever hitting a good balance. The underdeveloped romance for Stone only makes matters worse; you’ll forget she’s even in a relationship before it comes to an end.

The Help suffers from all these things and more, including what I like to call “Lord of the Rings syndrome,” coming to a seeming conclusion multiple times before moving ahead another 20 minutes. It may be an ordinary movie, but it nevertheless tells an extraordinary story. That’s why, in spite of its faults, it’s still well worth checking out.

The Help receives 3.5/5