Monday, August 13, 2007

Action Men

The multiplexes have suddenly delivered a small set of films about men in action that provide some interesting turns. Kevin Costner, Anthony Hopkins, Bruce Willis and Tommy Turgoose all give us some variations on men being violent. Costner's Mr Brooks has so much plot and so many characters it takes an eternity to tell its tale of a nice well-mannered serial killer whose alter ego is the real villain. Thus Costner can be a nice guy, mostly, and its left to William Hurt sitting in the back seat to say, or put in front of us, all those nasty guilt ridden things that schizophrenic serial killers may or may not endure. The conception is cute and if it had been made back in the glory days of RKO it may have been genuinely disturning because Jacques Tourneur and De Witt Bodeen may have worked out a way to keep us guessing as to whether Mr Brook's shadowy accomplice is real or imagined. Much may have been made of the alter ego's impotence perhaps. It has only one moment that one might call Hitchcockian when Costner agaonises as to whether he should save his daughter from prison by devising a murder that will get her out of the suspicions of the police. It doesn't last long. Fracture has a similar Hitchcockian moment, better done and with a bit of oomph when Ryan Gosling as the young lawyer tryinjg to nail ultra smart murderer Anthony Hopkins has to decide whether to abandon his integrity and 'frame' the man we clearly know committed the murder for the murder. It doesn't last that long but the film's plot at least has you wondering how the moral dilemma is going to be resolved and what twists and turns it will take to do so. Otherwise Fracture is just a detective story with tricks aplenty, not dissimilar to a John Grisham story. It is entirely devoid of any sensibility that might suggest that it inhabits anything other than a fairy tale world of good guys and bad guys and princesses who's hand is to be won or rejected.

The difference between both of these films and a genuine crime story is the palpable difference where you get involved in the downj and dirty details of the locales and all the people. Admittedly lawyer's offices aren't conducive to such details. To put it bluntly these two are modern film's equivalents of Agatha Christie and what we, at least I, really desire is the modern film equivalent of Carl Hiaasen or George P Pelecanos. Unfortunately the cinema's one attempt to do Hiaasen, Striptease, was a travesty and as far as I know nobody has even attempted to do Pelecanos. I can see why. The details of their stories, the backgrounds, the encyclopaedic knowledge of locale and local custom are too hard to render in a movie where the main action involves getting you from point A to point AA quickly and with a modicum of violence on the way.

That's why the Die Hard franchise is so effective. It does what it does without any great pretension and is far more inventive about the details of its background than the other films. Of course it's all invented and you wonder how on earth a villain could finance the elaborate scheme devised to destroy America's computer networks. Actually you only wonder that afterwards because while it's happening you get a mountain of often ugly CGI effects showing much near incendiary and visceral violence. The Asian bad girl is a terrific villainess and the kung fu kicking she gives Bruce Willis is very good indeed. You actually dont have much sympathy for him at all while it's happening.

And Tommy Turgoose. Well he operates as a sort of mascot to a group of skinheads in the North of England. The group divides into two - one racist, the other not. The other however still thinks that having a good time destroying derelict aprtment buildings is a good thing and quite forgivable. Through Tommy's eyes he discovers the sub-culture that formed as Thatcher thrashed her way through the Fallkands and bands I've never heard of play something the ads called 80s classics on the soundtrack. It's funny to get a piece about this subject which seems to serve only as nostalgia though the moment when Combo and his racist gang, lead by young Shaun stride out in Leone-esque slow motion has a deal of droll fun to it.

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