(Netflix Streaming, March 2016) Having inadvertently gone through most of Adam Sandler’s filmography in short succession (don’t ask why), I’ve been circling Reign over Me as a final pièce de resistance. After all, it’s often mentioned in the same breath as Punch Drunk Love and Funny People as the three movies showing Sandler’s range as a dramatic actor. Best to keep the best for last. As it turns out, the critics are right: While Reign Over Me isn’t a completely successful film, Sandler does get a good performance as a debilitated widower endlessly mourning his wife and daughters killed on 9/11. His aggressive man-child persona here comes across as pathological and off-putting, a cry for help that the film’s protagonist (Don Cheadle, as good as ever) seeks to answer even as he himself needs to change. Reign Over Me does overplay its melodrama at times, and doesn’t quite know what to do with its characters. (Sienna Miller’s character, in particular, feels like a punchline for too long in the middle of such a dramatic film, and one gets the sense that she ends up as a prize to be won.) There are tonal problems, the ending feels off in ways that don’t entirely satisfy and Sandler doesn’t get much to do other than mope and lash out in anger. Still, Reign Over Me often feels like a successful experiment. Even today, it’s one of the few Hollywood movies to use a specific videogame in a thematically appropriate fashion, and it has a dramatic weight that we don’t usually associate with Sandler. Congratulations to director Mike Binder for coaxing such a performance out of him and channelling his inner rage into a worthwhile character.
(In theatres, May 2010) As one of, apparently, only half-a-dozen people who didn’t go completely crazy about the first Iron Man film, my expectations for the sequel were kept in check. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself nodding in agreement at this follow-up’s overlapping snarky dialogues, well-choreographed action sequences and pleasant character beats. The force of the film remains the character of Tony Stark as played by Robert Downey Jr, one of the few superheroes around to actually enjoy the superpowers at his disposal. Contrary to many of his brethren, this sequel tackles the responsibilities of power from another direction: while the parallels with alcoholism get heavy at times (in-keeping with the source material), it’s a neat bit of character affliction that keeps things interesting even when stuff is not exploding on-screen. Add a little bit of honestly science-fictional content in how Stark manages to synthesize a solution to his problem (“That was easier than I thought”, the movie self-knowingly wisecracks) and there’s enough fun here to pave over the film’s less convincing moments. Never mind how a single suit-equipped billionaire can apparently create world peace, or Sam Rockwell’s unconvincing grandstanding as another, dumber billionaire, or the shoe-horned intrusions by the rest of the Marvel universe, or the lengthier stretches in which Iron Man 2 occasionally bogs down. At least the film has a good understanding of the character’s strengths, and works hard at maintaining them. I can’t say enough nice things about the replacement of Terrence Howard by the ever-dependable Don Cheadle, nor of Gwyneth Paltrow’s adorable reddish bangs: director Jon Favreau is fine on-screen and even better directing the whole thing. Iron Man 2 is, unlike other superhero movies often dominated by angst, about joy –and the feeling is infectious. It may not be a classic, but it’s a decent follow-up.
(In theatres, March 2010) Brooklyn’s Finest is a profoundly ironic title, but there’s little sly humour in the rest of this deliberately gritty and down-beat police drama that follows three variously-corrupted Brooklyn policemen. This isn’t director Antoine Fuqua’s first corrupt cop drama (remember Training Day?), nor the first corrupt cop drama in recent memory (Dark Blue? Street Kings? Pride and Glory? Righteous Kill?), so viewers may be spared a sentiment of déjà-vu. Where this film distinguishes itself is in structure: The three stories rarely intersect, except for a bit of tragic cross-fire at the very end. In the meantime, we get Richard Gere (far too proud and well-coiffed for his own role) as a disillusioned veteran marking down his last days, the always-fantastic Don Cheadle as an undercover informant with stronger ties to criminals than his own superiors, and Ethan Hawke as an overwhelmed father-of-many who resorts to stealing drug money in order to supplement his pay check. Brooklyn’s Finest has a patina of unpleasantness that is supposed to transmute into authentic grittiness, but this illusion doesn’t sustain the steadily-increasing body-count as criminals are gunned down in police raids by the dozen. Few of the film’s characters can be expected to live until the credits. This sombre tone, alas, creates expectations that the unfocused, moralistic ending can’t match: Since this isn’t a popcorn picture, we look in vain for a deeper message and a stronger conclusion than a final hail of bullets. The script, while interesting throughout, fails to cohere in its third act and the result is a mild disappointment. Like many of its corrupted-blue brethren, Brooklyn’s Finest will be another forgettable DVD in the crime section; adequate to satisfy those looking for that kind of film, and insignificant for everyone else.