A Tale of Two Brothers

11 Nov

In recent days, since the baseball season is ostensibly over, my attentions have turned to the movies. In quick succession I viewed Captain Phillips, Enough Said, Blue Jasmine and the Counselor. HBO was kind enough to send me the James Toback documentary that David Thomson has aptly called a “cinematic romp”,Seduced and Abandoned and additionally, though I own a copy of the DVD, I watched Tony Scott’s non-pareil Man On Fire, 2 days running on cable.

Man on Fire is the only film that I have watched more than 3 times (actually, I have lost count). Scott and Brian Helgeland (42,LA Confidential) adapted A. J. Quinnell’s (WM Morrow)novel, originally set in Naples,now Mexico City, featuring near burned out and alcoholic Creasy/Denzel Washington (a mercenary in the novel) a counter terrorism operative who is persuaded by a friend /Christopher Walken to become a bodyguard. Anti-social and aloof, Creasy takes on the guarding of 11 year old Lupita Ramos /Dakota Fanning. Precocious and adorable, Lupita overcomes Creasy defenses and he becomes deeply attached to her.

She is kidnapped (an ordinary occurrence in modern Mexico, hence the need for bodyguards)and Creasy is grievously injured.An attempt to pay a $10 million dollar ransom goes bad. The kidnapper known as the Voice tells Lupita’s parents, Samuel Ramos Marc/ Anthony and Lisa Ramos/Radha Mitchell that their child is dead. Barely recovering from his injuries, Creasy promises Lisa Ramos he will kill anyone who had anything to do with Lupita’s kidnapping.

Havoc ensues as Creasy makes good on his word. He is aided by newspaper reporter Mariana Garcia Guerrero/ Rachel Ticotin who is committed to rooting out corruption.She relies on her friendship with ex-Interpol director Miguel Manzano/Giancarlo Giannini to secure license plate numbers and banking information. Eventually Creasy finds out Lupita is alive and tracks down the Voice to make a deal for her safe return.

On the making of Man on Fire

The Counselor: A Screenplay by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage International)

Here’s how you get a movie made: (watch Toback’s Seduced and Abandoned if you doubt me). Get a Oscar winning director (Ridley Scott), a Pulitzer Prize winning author/screenwriter (Cormac McCarthy)and a bankable star (Brad Pitt),a beautiful co-star ( Penelope Cruz) and a stellar supporting cast, Javiar Badem, Cameron Diaz, Michael Fassbinder, pepper it with some compelling cameos ( Rosie Perez, Ruben Blades, John Leguzma and Bruno Ganz).

Now you have the money, time to make a great film.

Micheal Fassbinder, the never-named Counselor, has a stylishly appointed abode(with a color palette lacking in any color—various shades of gray and white), drives a high strung white foreign job and a beautiful girlfriend Laura/ Penelope Cruz. Apparently, he either needs or craves more money. His night club owning pal Reiner/Javier Badem (who has a Jackson Pollack flag painting in one of his ostentatiously furnished rooms puts him on to lucrative drug deal, all the while loquaciously expounding on the dangers involved. Makina /Cameron Diaz, Reiner’s consort, broadcasts malice and danger such that even Reiner is afraid of her, describing vividly to the Counselor an instance of auto eroticism heretofore unimaginable or at least unimagined. The deal goes south and the $20 million drug shipment, concealed in a sewage tanker truck—well, this is the tricky part. In any case ,the Counselor is —use your own word to fill in a condition of extreme risk— I think fucked does nicely. And it is situation from which he cannot extract either Laura or himself. Mayhem follows with three of principals meeting disagreeable ends, one that had been explicitly foreshadowed earlier.

My problem with the Counselor began with the opening, a tender love scene with the Counselor and Laura, shot beneath white linen sheets and appearing above the opening titles.I found it distracting and suspect. And though the cast was peopled with a high concentration of actors that one is compelled to watch, the serial monologues/soliloquies border on and often trip into silliness. My go-to-film guy David Thomson offers some astute observations:

…For reasons that may never be explained, you have consented to let the novelist Cormac McCarthy do the screenplay, his first. McCarthy is a mighty novelist who has evolved a way in which his book characters say very little and speak out of brutal, movie-like necessity. But you might have surmised that McCarthy would lunge towards literary respectability in doing a movie and so churn out yards and miles of banal aphoristic chat about violence, danger and what men will do, and what women will do. You can imagine the actors sighing: We have to live in El Paso and say these endless lines?..

If a cinema masterpiece is in part defined by how many times one can view it, than I would offer that Tony Scott’s Man on Fire is such. Ten years later it remains visually fresh and narratively compelling. And Denzel has rarely been more convincing.Dakota Fanning is pitch perfect and Christopher Walken acts like a friend that everyone should have. I have always had a fondness for Rachel Ticotin and her supporting role as the muckraking reporter is well-nuanced. My only regret is that for some inexplicable reason there is no soundtrack available

Currently reading Spying on Democracy by Heidi Boghosian (City Lights)

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