Way late review: The Hunter

I’m happy I finally gave The Hunter a try via Netflix streaming. Having been on my instant queue for a while, I almost put it off to the point where it ended up in my “sure, I’ll watch that someday (which means I’ll always find something else to watch)” list.

Martin (Willem Dafoe) is hired by a mysterious company to track down the last Tasmanian Tiger on the planet, kill it, and bring back DNA samples. His housing arrangement while on his mission includes a widower and her two young children in the middle of the Tasmania wilderness. Mystery surrounds every one of Martin’s moves. He poses as a scientist studying Tasmanian Devils, which makes the local loggers immediately hate him and the environmentalists suspicious of his motives. His mission is simple yet complicated not only by the locals who see him as a threat but also by the widower and her two kids. Mom is so depressed and drugged she sleeps non-stop, leaving the children to fend for themselves. The girl is spunky and her younger brother is silent. Martin resists getting involved as much as he can but finally succumbs to a family sorely missing the adult male, a role Martin fills simply by being present.

Making a terrible looking film shot in the majestic landscapes of Tasmania is probably near impossible. Regardless, director Daniel Nettheim still deserves credit for making the most of the gorgeous scenery as our protagonist tracks his prey. Martin sets out on a number of hunts throughout the surrounding area and each one is filled with less than thrilling action. He sets various traps, tracks his progress, and then cleans up after himself. While not exciting, the scenes are nearly mesmerizing with the calm, professional Martin tracking the elusive animal. During most of the hunting the tension is built knowing there are those who don’t want him there and the fact that Martin seems like a man with a heart but still goes about this mercenary mission of hunting the last of a species for monetary gain. Just enough happens during these journeys to make the suspense grow while not overwhelming the story with melodrama.

There are loose ends which never get tied up in a satisfying manner. The height of the mystery driving the thriller isn’t as clear as it probably should have been nor are the motives of at least one character. As a result, the story feels overly ambitious for what should likely be a story focused on Martin and his inner conflict.

Maybe all the pieces don’t add up in a completely satisfying manner, but that doesn’t stop the beauty of The Hunter from resonating. Willem Dafoe carries the quiet thriller on his back with a performance which is as much about the smallest moments, the slightest of facial expressions in the midst of a mysterious hunt for the most unlikely animal to be called a tiger.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

[netflix:70209171:img:false:end]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Take This Waltz

Some films hit instantly – good or bad. Then there are the oddball films which refuse to give in to my scene by scene judgements. Just when I think I have it all figured out, written off as a so-so film desperately trying to be something more, Take This Waltz makes me take it all back. And it’s not because of a sudden turn in the final act, but in piecing together moments which make a greater whole.

Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) are a twenty-something married couple. They love each other and show affection for one another but something is missing, at least for Margot. Lou is either too naive or in too much denial to see his wife’s unhappiness. She hugs and kisses yet she mopes around as though life is her ball and chain. Making matters more complicated, the young work from home wife meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) during a business trip and the two hit it off in a slightly awkward yet hard to miss manner. While riding home from the airport Margot tells Daniel she is married and he confesses that is too bad as he walks to his home – across the street.

The dilemma is clear. Temptation sits not in another country, state, city, or neighborhood. No, temptation for Margot is one street crossing away. While she quietly laments her loss of love for her husband, her curiosity of what might be with the handsome neighbor who charms her in every way gets the best of her. In fairness, Daniel doesn’t make things any easier. He makes sure he is around whenever Margot steps foot outside and vice versa. The two talk and flirt with one another to the point where Daniel puts the pressure on thick and direct by describing just what he wants to do with Margot. She resists, at least for a while.

In most films the story is clear. Follow your heart. You fall in love, you fall out of love. Take This Waltz would appear to fall into this trap. The dialogue between Daniel and Margot is at times insufferably cutesy. The disciplined husband whose focus is getting his chicken cookbook out the door more than much else is portrayed as a bit of a yutz as a result. Everything is setup for the typical sabotage of a syrupy tale of love lost then found elsewhere, but something deeper is at the core of the telling of the story. The portrayal of the everyday life of a still young married couple provides a realistic glimpse.

Strong performances across the board lead Take This Waltz through troubled relationship waters. Visual metaphors abound and don’t completely sink in until the credits roll. What seems like an initially forgettable small romantic dramedy turns into something greater with the slightest of twists and the direct blow delivered by an alcoholic sister-in-law whose caved into the allure after a year long remission. Wisdom comes from the strangest of places.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

[netflix:70209166:img:false:end]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Lost in Translation


Ever watch a film, enjoy it and then come to appreciate it all the more on repeat viewings? I’m there with Lost in Translation. There is something hypnotic about it.

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an American movie star making some serious cash as a spokesman for Japanese whisky. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is the wife of a photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) and has tagged along with him to Tokyo. Neither Bob or Charlotte want to be where they are, in more ways than one. Both struggle to find meaning in the mundaneness. Bob is far away from home partially because distance is what his twenty five year marriage may need – or not. Charlotte is a Yale graduate unsure of what to do with her life. Her loneliness only grows as she’s left on her own when her husband has to work non-stop. Neither can sleep so they find themselves restless in bed or reluctantly at the bar listening to terrible lounge singers perform.

In between the laughs, which mostly come from observing Bob in a land so foreign to himself, there is a quiet desperation. Contrasts abound. The bustling streets and bright lights of Tokyo are juxtaposed against the serene temples and the backdrop of Mt. Fuji. The hectic lives of Bob’s wife (who we hear on the phone but never see) and Charlotte’s husband are in sharp contrast to the near sleepwalking state Bob and Charlotte are in much of the time. Japan culture and American culture collide on screen. The down to earth movie star opposite the hot mess of a Hollywood actress Charlotte’s husband runs into at the hotel. Middle age Bob and twenty-something Charlotte. Sleepless nights yet an incredibly tired duo. So many contrasts.

There is no big story to tell. The camera follows Bob and Charlotte as they form a friendship in the middle of a city and a moment in their lives where they feel lost. We take in Japanese culture through their eyes. Some may find it disrespectful or, at the very least, patronizing. I found it more a fish out of water story. The truth is, Bob and Charlotte are going to feel out of place anywhere they are. Their lives are in a state of flux and confusion, which makes the scenes of their night on the town filled with strange parties and karaoke all the more entertaining. Neither seems like they would want to be where they are yet they’re there, sort of; singing ’70s and ’80s tunes with all the sincerity and joy one might expect if karaoke were performed at a distant relative’s funeral.

The “will they or won’t they get together” aspect of our odd couple is present but never overwhelming in a sitcom kind of way. OK, maybe not until the very end where we are left to wonder what was whispered briefly in the final goodbye. The mysterious ending doesn’t irk me because it left me wondering what was said but because it puts so much emphasis on the friendship possibly moving to a romantic relationship. Up until that point speculation about the nature of their relationship was never the focus of the film. Again, the mystery is fine. I only wish it didn’t leave so much hanging on a question that the film didn’t spend much (if any) time addressing otherwise.

The chemistry between an unlikely pairing of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson can’t be beat. Their odd and lonesome shuffle through a country foreign to both of them is inexplicably compelling. Lost in Translation says so much in so few words. And who would’ve guessed Bill Murray’s last whisper would be, “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”?

[xrr rating=5/5 label=” “]

[netflix:60031214:img:false:end]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Rambo: First Blood


Rambo is a legend. He is as much a part of American pop culture as Coca Cola and McDonalds. An ’80s icon during a time when men with muscles took on the world by themselves and won. When Rocky isn’t a big enough movie franchise one must up the ante. Drop the boxing gloves and pickup endless amounts of ammo, a gun, a knife, a homemade bandanna and start a new, more violent mythology. I know this about Rambo, yet it wasn’t until recently when I saw my first Rambo flick, Rambo: First Blood. I hesitated all these years to watch any of the Rambo films because I thought they were likely mind numbing. I was wrong, at least in regards to the first in the series.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a former Green Beret who served his time in Vietnam. He’s trying to find his what’s left of his brigade, walking through the remote parts of Washington. He discovers his last known living member is dead due to cancer he got while fighting the war. Rambo makes his way through a small town where he is immediately confronted by the sheriff, Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and escorted out of town. The sheriff doesn’t like the looks of this straggly vagabond.

Sheriff Teasle: If you want some friendly advice, get a haircut and take a bath. You wouldn’t get hassled so much.

Rambo isn’t pleased and after the sheriff drops him off outside the city limits he heads back into town. Teasle sees this and confronts his new nemesis. Things don’t go well and the Vietnam vet is booked in jail. The town must be run by some of the worst policemen in the world. They harass Rambo until he snaps. One flashback too many from Nam and the belligerent officers experience John Rambo up close and personal. Our protagonist flees the jail, takes a motorbike, and the chase is on.

The pursuit of Rambo by the hard headed, fun to root against local law enforcement is non-stop action filled with interesting set pieces thanks to the mountainous terrain. Watching a green beret use all his tricks against guys who fancy themselves equals makes for a good time. Just when it seems he is out numbered with nowhere left to go, Rambo pulls another rabbit from his hat. He could easily kill anyone in the group hunting him down but he lets them live. Egos are often hard to heal. Egos the size of those belonging to Sheriff Teasle and his hapless crew are off the charts, which means an all out war breaks loose. And to think, all this started because Rocky Rambo wandered through town looking for a place to eat.

Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) enters the scene when Treasle unleashes hundreds of men on the forest in all out man hunt. Trautman created Rambo. He tells Treasle to give up. These men are no match for the war machine Trautman molded. Treasle doesn’t listen and brings some more hurt on himself and those around him. If there is any misstep in a film full of archetypes it is Trautman’s character. He is there to give Rambo a voice and grow the legend even while it plays out on the screen. His hyperbolic chatter becomes almost nauseating. We want to like Rambo but his commander almost gets in the way at certain points. The action overrules the chest thumping dialogue, even if the end provides a slightly over the top monologue. Still, after all the non-stop chasing, hunting, hand to hand combat, gun fire and explosions, a shift to the quiet moment expressing deep hurt is admirable even if it is a little heavy handed.

Watching a movie so long after the main character has been established as an icon for an era is often a recipe for disaster. First Blood surprised me. In the place of camp was pure, entertaining action. Rambo may go on and disappoint me in future films. I know the drill. I’ve seen the Rocky series. But I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, which makes me wonder why I waited so long to watch it.

[netflix:70017963:img:false:end]

[xrr rating=4.5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Atonement

Having recently finished watching seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey, I’ve been spoiled by a well done serial drama (i.e. soap opera) set around World War I and centered on an aristocratic family and their servants. That’s not to say it’s the greatest but it’s tough to beat the first season. Atonement would seem to be more of the same, minus the serial aspect. Except Joe Wright’s film is unique in almost every way except the one that matters most – expert storytelling.

Briony (Saoirse Ronan) is a young teenager in a wealthy English family. One day Briony sees her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy), a servant’s son whose education was paid for by the man of the house, get into a strange entanglement. From Briony’s point of view it appears as though Robbie is forcing Cecilia to take off her dress and jump into the large fountain in the backyard. In reality, Cecilia decides to take off her dress, remaining in only her slip, and jump into the fountain in order to rescue a piece of a family heirloom that was broken off accidentally by Robbie and sat at the bottom of the fountain. Both Cecilia and Robbie feel foolish for what took place. Meanwhile Briony is certain her sister has been assaulted in some way. Later that day Robbie struggles to write an apology. He’s conflicted between feelings of guilt and lust. One letter expresses remorse for the earlier incident while another crudely puts to words Robbie’s desires for Cecilia. Grabbing the wrong letter and handing it to Briony was Robbie’s first mistake. The next being his encounter with Cecilia before dinner. Rather than being turned off by Robbie’s explicit note, Cecilia seems turned on and before we know it the two are unbuckling belts and popping off buttons. Briony walks in and cuts things short. The evening goes from awkward to vengeful as Briony finds a way to get back at Robbie, who she sees as a predator. Briony pins a violent crime on Robbie and the servant’s son finds himself in prison. Cecilia is heart broken. Briony is satisfied. Justice was served in her mind, even if it meant lying about the perpetrator.

Robbie eventually finds himself in France fighting in the war. He could serve in the war instead of in a prison cell. That should have been a clear message about how brutal the war was. Robbie roams the fields looking for a way back home as he and a couple other men lost their troop in the thick of battle. Along the way the men see the horrors of WWI. Cecilia becomes a nurse, as does Briony. Cecilia won’t speak to her younger sibling as she hopes to one day reunite with the man her sister put in prison with a false testimony.

The story is rather simple and, likely as a result, is told in a broken time shifted manner. Sometimes scenes are replayed from a different perspective or the year is fast forwarded or rewound abruptly. This broken narrative doesn’t resolve the bloat in the film. For every creative use of a typewriter mixed with a symphony serving as the soundtrack or interesting shots of everyday life, there are long shots and scenes that overstay their welcome; contributing little to character development or story progression. Beautifully shot and far more experimental than most period pieces (even the expertly shot Downton Abbey), the pacing is off and no amount of time shifting can cover that up.

As the title of the film more than hints at, the story revolves around atonement. Briony’s misguided and jealousy driven action to pin a crime on an innocent man leads to unintended consequences. Or did it? Didn’t Briony know she was dooming this servant’s son, whom her father must have loved as he paid for his schooling and her sister loved too, to a life in prison or worse? While Briony feels much remorse, she never repents. Almost as a way of self punishment, she becomes a nurse who has to do the dirtiest jobs and the toughest emotional assignments. And the way the film ends, I’m not sure if we’re supposed to admire Briony’s “gift” to Cecelia and Robbie or if we’re to shake our heads in disbelief of the arrogance. I know which side I fell on.

An interesting visual take on a period piece, Atonement achieves its heights when the actors are allowed to interact with one another and not contend with a desire to extend the story beyond its capabilities by employing time shifting and other similar narrative trickery. Based on the epic nature of the filmmaking and the title itself, Atonement feels like it wants to say something more than it does. An interesting film with a lot to admire but also reaches a bit too far in certain aspects as to render it less potent.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: The Grey


Based on how some (many?) would describe The Grey, it was all about Liam Neeson punching some wolves in the face. When did Liam Neeson become 80’s circa Sylvester Stallone? I remember him most for his roles in Schindler’s List, Michael Collins, and Rob Roy. Certainly it’s the 2000’s where Neeson’s name becomes associated with big action with little brains. The Grey is a little more intelligent and nuanced than his action films of late. In other words, there is more to it than awesome action set pieces and our favorite Irish tough guy bashing in the brains of monster wolves.

Some rough and tumble guys make a living drilling for oil in Alaska. John Ottway (Liam Neeson) has the honor of protecting them from wolves. He uses a rifle to pick off the predators before the canines pick off the men. The team sets off for a new job on a flight. The ride goes from rough to tragic and crashes into the Alaskan wilderness. Seven men survive only to find themselves in a new battle for their lives. They’re being hunted by a pack of wolves whose territory they’ve intruded on. To call these animals “wolves” is like calling a T-Rex “Barney”. These wolves are on the Barry Bonds training program. In fact, Barry Bonds would likely advise these wolves to lay off the PEDs.

Ottway is the leader. While most of the others either suffer from trauma or varying degrees of immaturity, Ottway rounds up the troops and provides direction. One slight problem. Ottway was only moments away from ending his own life before making this trip. He is haunted by the loss of his wife. Now, thrust in the midst of a near death experience, the wolf hunter finds himself fighting for life – his and those around him.

Jump scares are plentiful. The sounds of wolf attacks are as brutal as anything actually shown. The dire situation makes for a non-stop survival thriller. And yet, in the quieter moments the thoughts about nearing death seeps in. The quip that there are no atheists in a fox hole doesn’t play out in The Grey. We don’t get to know the men alongside Ottway all that well, but we find that most cling to what they see and experience. There are moments where faith in a creator are displayed or called into question – or both at the same time; but the bulk of the men come back clinging to the observation made in the very book most of them mock: eat, drink and be merry. Of course, there is little to be merry about while ravenous wolves track your every footstep. There is no rest for these men. Death is inevitable for all, but for these men it feels inevitably close.

More than a wilderness survival thriller, The Grey takes the sub-genre and contemplates the biggest moment in all our lives – the end. There are no answers provided, no sermons preached. The men examine what matters most to them and often come up with little. Their fight against the odds is compelling. And, yes, you get to see Liam Neeson punch a wolf in the face.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRWF4cepn8U[/youtube]

Way late review: Margaret

I used to wonder what happened to Kenneth Lonergan, director of a film I adore, You Can Count on Me. It’s been roughly a dozen years since that near masterpiece of a film was released. Apparently Longergan was in a bit of a mess with Fox Searchlight over his next film which was shot in 2005. That film, Margaret finally found its way out in a very limited theater release in 2011. And in 2012 I finally got to see it.

The plot driving Margaret is rather simple. A high school girl, Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), witnesses a bus accident she feels she was at least partially at fault for. Lisa then struggles to deal with the aftermath. Rather straightforward yet the layers are many. The people weaving in and out of Lisa’s life, some right through the core and others on the periphery, are numerous. Scenes from one story line cut abruptly into another.

Lisa is an unlikable character. Before the accident wrecks havoc on her, she is shown to be manipulative. In fairness, the adults in her lives aren’t exactly role models. Her math teacher (Matt Damon) proves to cross the line from caring to creepy. Her dad is on the other coast and is so passive in his moments on screen that it makes Lisa look like a competent decision maker. Lisa’s mom is a broadway actress who takes care of Lisa and her brother in New York City but most of the film shows the young grade school boy fending for himself. He seems to enter and leave the house on a whim. Lisa does the same.

Margaret attempts to examine the lives of those in and around Lisa’s life. There are powerful scenes mixed throughout, the problem becomes the thin thread that holds it all together. The film could have been five hours long and only scratched the surface of the many topics and themes hinted at throughout the theatrical cut. The editing seems frantically disjointed at times as characters flash on the screen and then sometimes don’t reappear until much later, if at all.

In between all the chaos is Lisa’s attempt at ensuring justice is served to the bus driver behind the wheel of the accident. She goes from traumatized teenager to a justice crusader. We’re never sure if she is sincere about her pursuit of justice or simply thriving off the drama. Even the best friend, Emily (Jeannie Berlin), of the victim confronts Lisa on the motives behind Lisa’s sudden interest in making a case. The interactions between Emily and Lisa are tense. But as tense and as strong as those moments are, they never reach a resolution that is satisfying one way or the other.

A two and a half hour sprawling drama centered on a generally unlikeable character does not sound appealing. Oddly enough it’s also not a chore, thanks mostly to director and writer Kenneth Lonergan’s penchant for writing scenes that more than hold interest. Margaret is at least two very good films hiding inside one good one. A strange formula but fitting for a film with such a struggle in getting a final release.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POPLzI40Uiw[/youtube]

Way late review: The Interrupters

Access is everything. At least it is for many documentaries, where the level of access they get to their subjects plays a large role in the success or failure of the film. Director Steve James gets unbelievable access to those he covers on the streets of Chicago in his film The Interrupters.

CaseFire is a Chicago based group determined to stop the violence that ruins their neighborhoods. Many of the staff are former gang members who have served time in prison and some earned notoriety for their antics on the streets. The goal of these interrupters is to intercede before violence erupts. They do not aim to solve all the world’s problems. Their goal is simple yet tragically complex. Stop the violence. The film closely follows a few members of CeaseFire as they go about their work and along the way a picture of who they are and who they help is developed in a sometimes painful manner. There is little rest for those who find themselves locked in a seemingly endless cycle of violence.

There is no shortage of deeply emotional material and yet the rough edges are never avoided. The easy way out for Steve James would have been to make the CeaseFire crew saviors on the mean streets, with those they “save” serving as mere victims. Instead he allows both those who interrupt the violence and those who are creating it tell their story. They tell it in interviews as they reflect on their past and in the midst of the action. The stories told and shown are frustrating, heartbreaking, filled with anger and spite as well as love and care. No one comes out unscathed.

A film dealing with inner city violence can’t help but avoid the political implications. And while the politics are touched upon, James wisely keeps his focus on the deeply personal examination of those his camera hones in on. There are no easy answers given. Any politician given screen time comes off as rather out of touch in comparison to the reality on display.

Sad stories permeate with only glimpses of hope. Those who do their jobs as part of CeaseFire appear driven by a need for redemption. Their lives have always been mixed up in the sad stories. Instead of intervening as they do now, in the past they were causing the sadness. Now their perception of reality is different. The reaction is not to lash out in anger but rather to help as many people stuck in their old way of life as they can. The dangerous situations this desire causes are numerous. We learn that only one interrupter has ever been shot doing the work. We briefly meet that gentleman in his hospital bed when Tio Hardiman, the director of CeaseFire, visits. Up until this moment Tio comes off as a confident leader hell bent on making his organization’s goal a reality. Seeing one of his people in significant pain after being shot in the back and foot, causes this strong man to break out of his motivational speaker mode and into that of a teary eyed father who realizes the young man on the bed is around the same age of his sons.

While reality TV has trained most of us to build a cynical force field to what we see on the television, documentaries like The Interrupters pierce our hearts, not with emotional trickery but by displaying slices of life otherwise unnoticed by most.

[xrr rating=5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wS5Hjhy1RhM[/youtube]

Way late review: The Debt

The horror committed by the Nazis during WWII has provided no shortage of stories. As more true stories from that troubling time are told via Hollywood there is now an allure to tell fictional stories based on some loose version of that era. The Debt does its part as a film about a former Mossad intelligence agent reliving her mission to capture a Nazi war criminal. The screenplay is not based on a true story, instead it takes some horrific facts from WWII and the perpetrators and creates a smart thriller.

Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) is legend in Israel. Her daughter recently published a book retelling the events that made mom a hero to her people. In 1965 Singer joined two other agents in a mission to capture and bring back to Israel Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), aka “The Surgeon of Birkenau”. Vogel is based on the real life Nazi concentration camp doctor, Josef Mengele, a man who did monstrous experiments on camp inmates.

The retelling of Singer’s story is done in long flashback scenes with Jessica Chastain playing the young agent. Disjointing at first, the time shifted storytelling is put to good use as the truth comes out in pieces. Time shifting can be a cheat but here it serves the purpose, conveying the unreliable narrative of one character only to be corrected when the details of the present form the truth.

The methodical manner in which the plan to capture and smuggle Vogel out of East Berlin is executed is engaging, as it shows the preparation such operations require. There are no shortcuts. The love triangle that forms between Singer and the two other agents, David Peretz (Sam Worthington) and Stefan Gold (Marton Csokas), is not played as a distracting side plot but rather as at least one key motivator for some of the decisions that each agent makes along the way. The believability of it all remains thanks to strong performances (by both generations of actors) and a steady screenplay.

The primary dilemma at the center of the story is one relevant to today where leaders of countries often opt not to tell the whole truth in order to protect themselves and, often to a lesser degree, the people they serve. Consciences are seared all in the name of protecting one’s responsibility to a greater cause. The end result for the film is a bit of a compromise but the climax pays off nonetheless. True, that climax creates an identity crisis of sorts by reveling in a gotcha type thriller rather than a more reality grounded one which made up most of the film. A less than ideal ending does not ruin an overall strong film.

An uneasy thriller that feels like the initial premise could be based on a true story, The Debt delicately blends fictional entertainment with loosely based non-fiction based characters and events of the most sensitive nature.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFp28r9sqUw[/youtube]

Way late review: Redbelt

Life can be strange, both the real and the fantasy portrayed on the screen. Fact is often stranger than fiction yet how is it that fiction can seem so unlikely? Redbelt is one of those films that pushes believability to its limits as conniving individuals weave together a scheme which relies on intricate details playing out just so. Thankfully the film is in the steady hands of writer and director David Mamet and a solid cast.

Michael Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a Jiu Jitsu black belt. He is a man of principle and runs his school strictly on those principles which means he barely makes any money. No matter, Terry is more concerned with maintaining his integrity. His wife, however, is not. She worries about how they’re going to live while Terry’s business can barely make rent and her own business (clothes) struggles to keep them out of the red.

After one of the roughest martial arts classes I’ve ever witnessed finishes with police officer Joe Collins (Max Martini) nearly passing out in a choke hold by another student, Laura Black (Emily Mortimer) enters in from the rain rattled. She’s smashed into Terry’s truck. She is all nerves which leads her to grab officer Collins’ gun and accidentally fire it when she mistakes the off duty cop’s motion towards her as threatening. And just like that the plot thickens.

One event leads to another in mostly believable ways to the point where Terry finds himself working with a famous action movie star Chet Frank (Tim Allen) on the set of the star’s next film. If it sounds a bit convoluted, it kind of is, but the pace is so quick it’s forgivable.

Behind the scenes, there are plans to get a compelling mixed martial arts competition going. The promoters aren’t thrilled with the prospects. I imagine it’s what today’s heavyweight boxing promoters feel like. The money men would love to get Terry in the ring. He’s known to be one of the best but refuses to fight in competitions because there is no honor in fighting competitively. Again, the principled man finds himself walking away from money.

A more unwieldy chain of events takes place that leads Terry into the ring. He’s fighting to win money not for himself or his wife but for the widow of officer Collins, who committed suicide at least partially due to the mess his sensei unknowingly got him into. The final twist just before the bout may push the plausibility factor. No matter, the setup for the final fight and the ending are worth it.

Chiwetel Ejiofor commands every moment on the screen. Mamet’s dialog is as crisp as always. In fact, the dialog often feels as though it’s human beings speaking and not uber smart beings that only appear to be human. This is a problem I’ve found some of Mamet’s other screenplays have suffered from. The story could stand one or two less hard to believe connected events that turn into one well orchestrated con. But when the pacing is so fast and the acting so strong the faults become slight.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CA_L-riL5ik[/youtube]