Despite appearing in many films beforehand, I think it's fair to say… MoreDespite appearing in many films beforehand, I think it's fair to say that Tom Hardy's breakout role was in Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson in 2009. Many (myself included) were instantly struck by his bravery and his ability to inhabit such an intense role. In that film he threw everything at us and since then he hasn't looked back. What's most encouraging, though, is that he isn't afraid to spread his talents. He's already done Hollywood: The Dark Knight Rises, Warrior and Inception, to name a few, but it's in this small independent project that Hardy delivers some career best work.
Successful construction manager, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a man of principals and a dedicated father and husband. However, on the eve of the biggest deal of his career he receives a phone call which forces him to assess some choices he has made in life and sets forth a series of (e)motions that threaten to undo everything he has been dedicated to.
Locke has a very simple premise. So simple, it would lead you to believe that it's a very dull and uninteresting affair. It basically consists of spending 1hr 25mins stuck in a car with a man who does nothing more than talk to people on his hands-free device while driving from Birmingham to London and talking through his personal problems. However, it's anything but dull. In fact, the very simplicity of writer/director Steven Knight's approach is what makes the film so compelling.
Hardy talks a lot. A lot about his work in concrete; building development and laying foundations but the real development and foundations are built from his emotionally charged character.
Set entirely within the confines of his moving vehicle, the real driving force behind the narrative is the dialogue. It methodically peels back the layers of one man's quest to right a wrong in his life and Hardy's expressive mannerisms completely own the screen. Granted, he's the only person who actually appears onscreen (Olivia Colman et al literally phone in their roles) but that's not to take away from his exceptional and spellbinding performance.
For a film that's constantly on the move, it's actually deeply rooted in character development. Ivan's goals, achievements and morals are teased out with every conversation he's involved in and Hardy's emotion and nuance lends a captivating intensity to the overall mood and atmosphere.
A claustrophobic chamber piece that defies the big spending studios by delivering something personal and intimate without digging too deeply into it's pockets. It's more like a one-man play than a film and a great example of how less can be more.
The Drop is one of those films that almost sneaks by an audience but… MoreThe Drop is one of those films that almost sneaks by an audience but strangely there's still something that catches the eye. That something may be because it's yet another adaptation of the normally successful page to screen transfer of crime novelist Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River, Shutter Island), the English language debut of Bullhead director Michaël R. Roskam or that it features the last screen performance of the late, great James Gandolfini. All of these are reason enough to see it, but the one that really makes it worthwhile is a quietly commanding Tom Hardy.
Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is a quiet, unassuming bartender working with his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) in his Brooklyn bar. Marv is a bit of a has-been who lost his bar to incoming Chechen gangsters who use the establishment as a "drop" for illegal money takings. However, when the bar is robbed it puts them in a tight spot and leads to an investigation that brings up the past and the depths of the neighbourhood's criminal affairs.
The Drop has come in for a fair bit of criticism from numerous corners. Predominantly these issues have stemmed from plot strands not coming together or Lehane going a bit on the soft side and to a minor extent I can agree with this. There are some problems with the narrative, namely a religious sub-plot involving John Ortiz's church-going cop that feels misplaced and underdeveloped and the talented likes of Noomi Rapace is wasted in a woefully underwritten supporting role. However, what the film manages to capture is a perfect sombre mood and uses a patient approach that very much works in it's favour.
Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis captures Brooklyn in all it's blue collar edginess while the two central characters in Bob and Marv are afforded the space to grow and develop at their own pace - resulting in both Gandolfini and, especially, Hardy raising the film to a whole other level. There's also a good support from rising Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Rust and Bone). However, Gandolfini's presence hangs heavily over the film and it's a real shame that this is the last we'll see of this fantastic actor. That being said, he's not the main player and you get the impression that Gandolfini is happy to step aside and allow Hardy to do his thing.
I don't suppose there's anything here that hasn't been done before but that still doesn't take away from this slow-burning, gritty drama. It's a fine addition to a sub-genre that I have a real soft spot for and that's, ultimately, down to the strong performances. Roksam has a good command over Lehane's prose and dialogue but the plot comes secondary to the characterisation. And in terms of Hardy and Gandolfini, there's plenty of that to be had.
We may have lost a great actor that'll be hard to replace in Gandolfini, however, rising star Schoenaerts is deservedly becoming more prolific and Tom Hardy just continually manages to impress. The Drop's low-life tale of criminality benefits from seeing all three deliver solid work.
"Being right is not a bullet proof vest, Freddy"
The problem with Cop… More"Being right is not a bullet proof vest, Freddy"
The problem with Cop Land, is that it's full of cops. Well there is that, but in all seriousness, for any fan of the crime genre they will find there are two things that are unavoidable when looking over the cast of the film. One, is legendary director Martin Scorsese and the regulars that feature in his work: There is, of course, DeNiro and Keitel (who need no introduction) but there's also Liotta (Goodfellas), Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull) and Frank Vincent who appears in both the latter two (as well as Casino). Vincent also brings me to the other unavoidable thing... the finest television series on the subject; The Sopranos. By my count, there's no less than ten cast members that are recognisable throughout six seasons and those well versed will notice; Carmela, Paulie, Arty Buco and Vincent's Phil Leotardo, among others.
The New Jersey town of Garrison is populated by cops from the NYPD who have set up their own community to live in peace. As intended, it's a community that doesn't need policing but still employs local Sheriff, Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) to oversee things. Freddy always wanted to join the police force but was prevented from doing so because of a childhood accident that left him partially deaf. However, when Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) and his corrupt activities begin to surface it brings it to the attention of Internal Affairs Agent Moe Tilden (Robert DeNiro) who may just have the policeman's job opportunity that Freddy has coveted.
Narratively, the film starts very strongly and draws you into the murky depths of police corruption and cops ruling cops. Director James Mangold also seems to know what he's doing; he builds the tension slowly and assuredly and introduces his characters at precise moments. It's not long before we realise Keitel is one of the shady one's and firmly in control of his environment. Stallone also happens to establish himself quickly by playing firmly against type. The whole premise of the film is built around Sly and the, seeming inability, to do the job he's been denominated for. It's quite a distance from most of his action-hero work but it's the supporting roles of a strung out Liotta and doggedly determined DeNiro that really bring shape to the whole corrupt debacle.
All of the supporting players are brilliantly placed but it's, unsurprisingly, the aforementioned four actors that drive the film. Liotta, Keitel and DeNiro deliver the high calibre expected from them but the biggest surprise is Stallone. He's wise enough to sit back and let the heavyweights chew the scenery while he subtly underplays it and brings a touching vulnerability to his afflicted Sheriff.
With an abundance of talent on display you might ask why Cop Land doesn't entirely work? Quite simply, it's a generic and formulaic story. The leads do what they can - and they all get their moment to shine - but the lack of three dimensional characterisation and some redundant plot strands only allow them to go so far. However, despite Mangold's inability to come up with a solid script, his handling of events and a who's-who cast are very diligently attuned. It's also worth noting that the denouement is impressively intense in a High-Noon homage with Mangold, very skilfully, utilising Freddie's hearing impairment to the utmost effect and manages to turn, what would normally be considered a Hollywood hokum get-out, into a refreshing and satisfying showdown.
Alas, Cop Land is not the sum of it's parts. It had the potential to be a classic but ends up just another attempt at a genre that so many have covered to better results. That said, it's hard to argue with the cast and the solid performances but because it's easy to see the potential this film had, it makes it all the more frustrating that it doesn't quite achieve it. It's good, but it could've been great. As it goes, the problem with Cop Land is that it's not full of cops, the problem with Cop Land is that's it's full of quality actors working under restrained and clichéd material.
"I'm sorry! If you were right, I would agree with you".
Despite being… More"I'm sorry! If you were right, I would agree with you".
Despite being a prominent director throughout the 80's and 90's, surprisingly, Penny Marshall seemed to hang up her boots after 2001's Driving in Cars with Boys. To be fair, her films always had a cloying or whimsical tinge to them and her last few movies didn't reach the enjoyable heights of her earlier work like A League of Their Own and Big but she always showed promise as a director - with Awakenings, arguably, being her most accomplished work.
In 1969, Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Robin Williams) takes a Neurology position in a Brooklyn Psychiatric hospital where he finds patients that have been in a catatonic state for decades due to a condition known as post-encephalitis. With further investigation, he focuses on Leonard Lowe (Robert DeNiro) and begins to prescribe a drug called L-Dopa. Miraculously, Leonard responds to the drug, awakes from his "sleepy-disease" and begins to move, talk and embrace life once more.
Based on the true life events depicted in Dr. Oliver Sacks' novel of the same name, Marshall has a solid handling of the material. Steven Zaillian's script has a good balance of humour and pathos and an all-important sensitivity to the characters while Marshall is aided with a wonderful cast where she's able to tease out heartfelt, powerful performances.
Even the relative unknowns bring something to the table but, ultimately, it's the two major players who shine brightest: Robin Williams brings real humanity to his excruciatingly shy doctor while DeNiro is a tic-ridden, tour-de-force as his patient and delivers one of his very best, and heartbreaking, performances. It would not be out of place to argue both actors deliver some career best work here. Williams plays it absolutely straight and resists any urge to wisecrack or improvise while DeNiro is simply astonishing. You can watch him, fully informed of his acting prowess, yet he still manages to convince you that his involuntary movements and speech patterns aren't for real. DeNiro was rightly awarded with an Oscar nomination for his work but why he didn't win is beyond me. In fact, it must have been a frustrating year for him at the Academy Awards in 1991. He lost the Best Actor award to Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune but this was the same year that one of DeNiro's best films - Goodfellas - would be overlooked and his good friend Martin Scorsese also ignored for Best Director. On reflection (although not unsurprising) the Academy made a number of mistakes but there's no doubt in my mind that DeNiro took the brunt of it and thoroughly deserved more for his output that year. His work as Leonard Lowe is truly captivating and epitomises the sheer breadth that DeNiro is capable of. Actors embodying a disability or medical condition tend to be Oscar bait with the likes of Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man), Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) notably winning the Academy over. As good as they were, DeNiro's performance is even better than those and the only exception that just might overshadow them all is Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot.
Despite my admiration, Awakenings has come in for some criticism. In particular, a forced sentimentality has been found by many. I suppose this will depend on the individual viewer and in a sense I can see why they might think that. However, I found the sentimentality to be well judged and the performances balanced and authentic. That said, there's no denying it's ability to bring on the water works. It's hard to keep a dry eye (especially with the help of Randy Newman beautifully pitched score) but I, personally, didn't see this as being overly sentimental but more about it having the ability to relate and draw you into it's very personal and tragic story. And what a story it is. Admittedly, I never read the late Dr. Sacks' novel on which it's based but I did read his memoirs and case studies told in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and that, like Awakenings, was a book of medical revelations and anomalies that are nothing short of fascinating.
Powerful and affecting, Awakenings is a film that captures the heart and triumph of the human spirit to it's empathic core. It also provides two exceptionally excellent performances from Williams and, especially, DeNiro. It's through these captivating performances that we are allowed access to the wonder and bewilderment of human conditions and Penny Marshall's delicate handling brings it to the fore.
A genuine treat from the early 90's that possesses one of Williams' strongest dramatic roles and one of DeNiro's last truly committed.
Although Mean Streets wasn't Martin Scorsese's directorial debut it… MoreAlthough Mean Streets wasn't Martin Scorsese's directorial debut it can often feel like it was. He'd already done Who's That Knocking at My Door in 1968 and Boxcar Bertha in 1972 but this was the film that not only began his illustrious collaborations with Robert DeNiro but it was his first film to delve into the gangster sub-genre and displayed all the embryonic, stylistic trademarks that he has now become synonymous with. Quite simply, Mean Streets showcased the talents of Scorsese and fully confirmed the arrival of one of the greatest American directors while becoming hugely influential on future films and filmmakers alike.
Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is a small time criminal trying to work his way up the local mafia food chain. However, his religious beliefs continually cause him to question his choices in life and as his conscience gets the better of him, so too does his misjudged loyalty to his low-life friends.
Some may find the style and fashion of this early 70's classic as dated but Scorsese's flamboyant skills and style are far from it. This was a young, relatively inexperienced director who was way ahead of his time and displayed approaches to filmmaking that are now taken for granted. That said, when you look back at Mean Streets and consider just how early Scorsese delivered this, it still packs a punch and is, without doubt, one of the best and most impressive films from the decade.
Following on the heals of Francis Ford Coppola's sweeping crime classic The Godfather in 1972, Scorsese took us to a more personal, working class criminal environment. It feels raw, even claustrophobic, when compared to Coppola's epic proportions. The characters in Scorsese's tale are more real and easier to identify with. They're not throwing elaborately expensive weddings or severing horse's heads to send messages, they're just trying to get by, day to day, and turn a coin from whatever petty criminal activity comes their way.
At it's core, it's anchored by two excellent performances: Keitel shoulders the brunt of the film's narrative as Charlie; basically a good guy who has chosen a life of crime that leaves him in a tortured state due to his religious upbringing and near constant state of catholic guilt. He struggles with the choices he makes in life and struggles even more with those of his self-destructive friend, Johnny Boy, played with real electric verve by a young DeNiro. Even though Keitel delivers a solid lead performance, it's DeNiro's recklessness that really stands out. There's not a moment where he doesn't command your attention with his maniacal and random fits of rage and immaturity.
As this proved to be the moment that Scorsese came to everyone's attention, it done the same for DeNiro. His improvisation and natural ability does, in front of the camera, what Scorsese was doing behind it. Both of their work seems to mirror and compliment one another and this became the birthing of one of cinema's greatest, long term, partnerships.