Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Not many actors would want to be shown in this light, especially at the age Harvey Keitel was during the filming of Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant. By this stage both De Niro and Pacino had ceased their select few roles where they took risks and really dedicated themselves to a character. They had lost their intensity or simply chose to hang it up because what else did they have to prove. I'm not a method actor so I can't judge. Keitel has taken risks his whole career, but has never received the credit that the former names garnered. That's a positive in my books because when you see a Keitel film it feels even that much more fresh. 

Bad Lieutenant is unapologetic in its content and both Ferrera and Keitel are uncompromising in their vision and performance. It's a rough watch. Not that it particularly violent, not because of the sexual and drug abuse content, but because Keitel portrays it so convincingly. The film is very reminiscent of the themes of Scorsese's films with emphasis on the struggle between good and evil, the element of Catholicism and guilt. Keitel's character, simply labeled the Lieutenant is a despicable man. When he is not smoking crack, he is making ludicrous bets on baseball or blackmailing teenage girls to act like whores while he masturbates.  He is on a slippery slope to say the least...not a nice man. Even in the most intense film roles we recognise the character as the actor, but Keitel is too sincere here, allowing himself to be filmed completely naked (cock and all) while drooling vodka down his chin and crying. 

The subplot comes into play when there is a horrific crime where a nun is raped in a church by two local street toughs. This crime doesn't seem to affect Keitel and his deeds at first, but as time passes he is unable to comprehend how the nun, who knows who her violators are, will not give them up and asserts that she has forgiven them. We don't even need to know who her attackers are because we understand that there is know real plot, we are just watching to witness what deplorable act the Lieutenant might commit. 

Before the Lieutenant realizes that the nun fully forgives these men, he has no hope of salvation religiously, and even in terms of health. He know's he is wrong, sinful and is fully aware of his drug abuse. He understands that his demise is approaching considering his baseball gambling debts, but he figures that if the two rapists can be forgiven by a mere human then maybe there is hope for him and he can make his peace with Jesus. The drugs and paranoia lead to hallucinations in the third act as the lieutenant is alone in a church screaming out his rage at Jesus ("where were YOU!!!"), who stands in front of him before begging for forgiveness for his sins. He kisses the feet of Christ, who turns out to be an elderly black lady, who leads him to the rapists. In order to follow in the footsteps of Christ and the nun he lets them leave New York with all the money he has. Soon after he is shot. He is free.

Werner Herzog made Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans in 2009 and claimed that it wasn't a remake or sequel, and that he never even heard of the original. The nerve of that crout. Not that his film was terrible and it is not a remake or sequel, a completely different style, but the character is clearly based on Keitel's and the balls to actually claim that he never even heard of the original...that's simply disrespectful. This time around Nicholas Cage plays the Lieutenant and there is no comparison. This film was a lighter, commercially acceptable film. I havn't seen an actor give a more daring performance since, possibly before. It's not pretty.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I wanna do to Tom Hanks what Sergio Leone did to Henry Fonda.

The Guard

John Michael McDonagh, who wrote and directed The Guard is brother of playwright, screenwriter and director Martin McDonagh, who brought us In Bruges. Both films starred Irish veteran actor Brendan Gleeson, who plays polar opposite roles in the two films. These two brothers need to make more films because frankly Irish cinema would be nearly dead without them. The two McDonaghs have a chance of becoming true auteurs in the cinema world in the same breath as Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee. I refer to these three directors in particular as they have all expressed their culture within their films: Lee (black), Scorsese (Italian) and Allen (Jewish). The McDonagh's represent part of Irish culture without the bloated troubled past with England, which has been repeated constantly is Irish films. 

They also write and direct their own material places them in the category of an auteur, we just have to see if they stay true to themselves and continue the good work. The Guard is a very basic story, which has been played out a million times, and the fact that a black FBI agent and a white police officer have to reluctantly work together isn't that new either. However what makes The Guard so great is the visual intent of Martin McDonagh with the help of cinematographer Larry Smith and the rugged west coast Irish landscape. This independent movie has what so many other indie hits don't: true cinematic technique and craftsmanship. This is what is missing from cinema today whether indie or Hollywood. You get pretentious young indie filmmakers shaking the fucking camera everywhere to give it that "real" look. Anyone can do that, but it is hard to find someone that can make the camera move as smoothly as say a De Palma or Hitchcock feature. 

McDonagh is aware of this and knows exactly the type of look he is going for and film buffs know too because they can reference a certain camera movement or close up they see in this to dozens of classics from the past. A scene where Boyle (Gleeson) needs to meet a young boy about hidden guns is a clear nod to Scorsese's Taxi Driver. The camera is on the boy and proceeds to do a 360 degree turn to show his surroundings before landing back on the boy. A scene where Boyle is stuck a predicament involving a gun being pointed at him has resemblance to a Sergio Leone spaghetti western with the camera giving extreme close ups of the men's faces to enhance the tension. In fact the entire movie works like a Leone movie from the Ennio Morricone-like soundtrack to the shots of the rugged country landscape.

However the main nod would have to go to Quentin Tarantino in regards to the dialogue and the fusion of humor and violence, but that is not to say that McDonagh is ripping of anybody because he puts his own experience and thought into everything, the same way when Tarantino references every film under the sun in his work he always brings his own energy and writing to the piece.

Gleeson is excellent and his relationship with his ill mother is surprisingly very moving. The scene in the pub when they are together listening to Irish music is devastating. The three antagonists Sheehy (Liam Cunningham), Liam (Dave Wilmot) and Clive (Mark Strong) are excellent. They are hilarious, but frighteningly real too like when they have to kill a guard for pulling them over, which is also excellently played by Rory Keenan. When he realizes he is about to die, the look on his face and his reaction is one of the best I've ever seen on film. Don Cheadle is fine, but brings nothing great to the table, but the story doesn't really allow him to. From viewing the trailer one would think that this is a real tight buddy cop movie, but it really focuses on Gleeson's character a whole lot more. The non political correctness isn't that strong either, where I believe again by looking at the trailer you would think it would be. The racial tension between Wendell (Cheadle) and Boyle is very tame altogether and the "racial slurs" aren't really offensive at all because we all know Boyle is joking just to get a rise out of everyone. He is "really motherfucking smart".

Gleesons becoming like the John Wayne of Ireland in the film world and in The Guard he does actually resemble the big guy a bit, not through his whoring or drug abuse, but his relationship with Aidan McBride's wife after he is found dead. He acts like a father figure to her and says goodbye to her kisses her goodbye when he goes to take on the "bad guys". Also through his weaknesses he is a man with moral fibre, who will not be bought even though the whole west coast guard force is. John Michael McDonagh succeeds in delivering an excellently crafted Irish film that is a breath of fresh air. You would think that looking at most Irish films that the directors have no real taste our influences in the cinema world, but the McDonagh's prove that they love film through wonderful references and technique. Young Irish filmmakers should take a note from these two.