(In French, On TV, August 2015) What is it about the Disco era that makes every single historical film about it feel so… dour? Was it the way it imploded upon itself in a few months? Was it that it gave way to the AIDS era? I’m not sure, but there are a lot of disco-themed films, from Funkytown to Party Monster and Discopath, that ultimately show Disco as a false front for existential emptiness. All of this throat-clearing is meant to say that 54 still stands strong as pretty much the same fall-from-grace narrative, wistfully recalling an era of excess before taking it all away from the lead character. It feels very, extremely, completely familiar as a nominal protagonist played by Ryan Phillippe discovers Disco at the famed Studio 54, befriends plenty of interesting people, and then becomes completely disillusioned about it all. Two or three things still save the film from terminal mediocrity: First is obviously the period recreation, especially early on when we discover the excesses of Studio 54 at the same time as our protagonist does. Then there are a few performances worth talking about. Neve Campbell was on the cusp of superstardom in 1998, and her role here plays off of that then-popularity. Salma Hayek has an early-stardom role as a signer that makes an impression. This being said, the film’s best and most affecting performance is Mike Myers’ decidedly dramatic turn as Studio 54’s owner, a sad role with a terrific scene set on a money-covered bed. Myers has never done anything half as dramatically powerful since then, and it’s with the same kind of sadness that we can look at 54 more than fifteen years later, measuring it against the end of the Disco Era’s promises of non-stop fun. The film itself may struggle to distinguish itself, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have one or two redeeming qualities.
(In theatres, April 2011) There’s been a dearth of courtroom drama over the past few years, and The Lincoln Lawyer isn’t just a good return to the form, it’s about as good an adaption of Michael Connelly’s original novel as fans could have hoped for. As with most readers of the book learning about the film’s casting, I wasn’t sold on Matthew McConaughey as protagonist-lawyer Mickey Haller: I had always envisioned Haller as more mature and cynical than McConaughey’s typical romantic-comedy laid-back persona. So it’s a surprise to see him return to serious drama as an older, wiser, far worldlier presence, fully comfortable in the role of a professional defence lawyer operating from his chauffeur-driven car. Brad Furman’s direction fully embraces the California-noir style of the novel, Los Angeles’ broad avenues offering as many dangers as tiny back-streets. The cinematography is bright, sunny, energetic and compelling. Rounding up the main cast are good supporting performances by Ryan Phillippe (detestable as always), Marisa Tomei and William H. Macy. While the twists and turns of the plotting are familiar, they’re well-handled and make up for a refreshing legal drama that proves that execution is often more important than fresh concepts. The Lincoln Lawyer may be less reflective about the role of defence lawyers than the book, but it still delivers enough legal manoeuvres to keep things interesting. For some, it may be the start of a franchise (there are now three further Haller adventures on the shelves); for most, though, it’s a solid, well-paced, well-made crime drama with a cynical smirk: Exactly the kind of film that’s always welcome.