Movie Review ~ 47 Ronin

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun.

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi

Director: Carl Rinsch

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: There’s nothing film critics will get behind quite like a big-budget bomb and it appears that 47 Ronin just made the grade in the final days of 2013, effectively wiping out memories of The Lone Ranger, the other expensive movie that tanked earlier this summer.  Here’s a little secret I’m going to let you in on though…it’s not anywhere near as bad as some fuddy duddy national critics would have you believe it is (neither, for that matter, was The Lone Ranger) but it’s also not the grand spectacle Universal Studios thought they were getting.

Arriving amid rumors of a troubled production phase, 47 Ronin could probably be called the Cutthroat Island of samurai films.  That is to say that like the infamous 1995 pirate epic that bankrupted its studio, it’s possessing huge production values thanks to a whopping budget but probably was never destined to be a movie that made all that cash back.  It does have one thing that Cutthroat Island didn’t have though; a plot drawn from Japanese folklore that provides more than enough excuse to go big or go home and 47 Ronin goes big.

Now it should be said that this is far from a perfect film.  Because it’s set up like a folktale, the filmmakers push the limits of reasonability to bring to life the story of the masterless samurai (called ronin) that seek to reclaim their land by avenging the death of their master.  Adding in lizard faced demons, ghosts of the undead, sinewy dragons, shape-shifting witches, and several beasts that can’t be classified,  screenwriters Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious 6), Hossein Amini (Snow White & the Huntsman), and Walter Hamada (a producer on The Conjuring) can’t be faulted for stuffing their take on the tale to the brim.

Where the film goes astray is the very fact that it’s a Hollywood film to begin with.  Though the legend has been put on screen seven times before, this is the first time that a major Hollywood studio has made a go of putting their stamp on the Japanese myth.  That’s like if a Russian production company made a film version of Johnny Appleseed…there’s something lost in translation that the film can’t recover from.

It always felt strange to me that a largely all Japanese cast was speaking English, probably so star Keanu Reeves (Parenthood) wouldn’t stick out further in his role as a foundling of mysterious origin taken in and raised with the samurai but never truly being part of them.  No disrespect meant to these Japanese actors but had the film been subtitled, it may have allowed these actors to dig deeper in their roles and not come off (as they often did) as simply reciting their lines phonetically.

Though I couldn’t stand her in July’s Pacific Rim, Rinko Kikuchi fares much better here as she slinks through the film as a villainous witch that changes appearance at will.  As an advisor to a rival kingdom’s leader she has a Lady Macbeth quality that’s lip smacking good without ever resorting to camp.  There’s also fine work from Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine) as the head samurai teamed up with Reeves and the lovely Ko Shibasaki as the requisite lovely princess in distress.

Even with a veteran editor (Stuart Baird) on board, it was probably not the best idea for Universal to place this property in the hands of a first time director.  With the emphasis on sumptuous costumes and large scale set-pieces, it’s actually hard to see where Carl Rinsch fit in as the director in the first place.  I think the movie could be trimmed by a good ten minutes but there are enough distractions for the eyes to keep you from checking your watch too much.  You can skip seeing the movie in 3D as it’s probably the least effective use of the medium in 2013.

This is one you’ll have to see and make-up your mind for yourself.  Maybe it’s because I read such scathing reviews for 47 Ronin before I saw it that the bar was set so low that it was destined to exceed those expectations…or maybe it’s just because the movie isn’t that bad to begin with and we’re just dealing with critics at the end of their 2013 good will toward men.  It’s not a film I’ll likely revisit but I wouldn’t chuck it in the trash heap if a copy found its way into my collection.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Expendables 3

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Synopsis: The third installment of the action-adventure franchise that follows the exploits of Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, and their associates.

Release Date: August 14, 2014

Thoughts: I can’t tell you how nice it is to actually see a true teaser trailer pop up.  As I’ve lamented recently (check here for an example), the art of the teaser trailer appears to be totally lost with most previews clocking in at a spoiler heavy 2:30.  So it’s nice to see the latest entry in the profitable The Expendables franchise giving audiences a whet whistle before the final hours of 2013 tick away.  Though it’s not releasing until halfway through 2014, this is a nice way to announce the return of a series of films that have worked almost in spite of their BDL (big, dumb, loud) origins.  And you have to hand it to Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 2); he sure knows how to rally the troops to get a cast that continues to makes 80’s/early 90’s action movie nerds salivate.  The Expendables 3 features a huge roster of stars: Stallone, Jason Statham (Homefront), Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand), Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas (Haywire), Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford (Working Girl), Kellan Lutz (The Legend of Hercules), Robert Davi (Licence to Kill) and Kelsey Grammer

 

Movie Review ~ The Hunt (Jagten)

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.

Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrom

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Life experience has taught me that there are some lies we desperately want to believe and some truths too horrible to fathom and that seems to be the thread at the core of the searing drama The Hunt (Jagten).  There’s something about the way a foreign film pulls no punches that maximizes the impact of our experience as audience members – though I can easily see The Hunt being remade in the US I can’t imagine how the overall energy of the movie could be duplicated.

In a sleepy Denmark town, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale) is an assistant teacher at a school working primarily with younger children.  A divorced father that keeps to himself but is well respected (at a distance) by his fellow teachers and townspeople, he seems to have a life that is arranged to his liking.  Though he doesn’t see his son as often as he’d like, you get the impression this is a man that goes with the flow and doesn’t disturb the peace.

When a lie involving Lucas spreads like wildfire through the school and town, his life is turned upside down in tragically terrible ways.  Try as he might, Lucas fights a battle where the odds were never in his favor and we can only watch as this good man is enveloped by darkness.  This is a film that from start to finish has an ominous feel that manages to keep you on the edge of your seat until the credits roll, never quite sure how everything will unfold (or unravel).

Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) co-wrote the film with Tobias Lindholm and both men have the appropriate amount of compassion for their lead character even as they continue to find ways to ensnare him.  I usually have a problem with films that have multiple climaxes but in the case of The Hunt each coda  and an unforgettable epilogue only deepen the resolution in most satisfying way.

Mikkelsen deservedly won the Best Actor award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for his sympathetically shattering turn here…a far cry from the villains he’s portrayed on screens both large and small (he also plays Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s hit show).  There’s a scene near the end of the film where Mikkelsen sits alone on a night that people should be together and his loneliness is palpable and terribly sad.  Even if things are sorted out, we doubt that anything will ever be the same for him again.

This is one of those movies that has the tendency to slip by mature, intelligent audiences and I’d urge you to make the effort to track this one down.  It’s one of the best films I saw in 2013 and months later I’m still haunted by Mikkelsen’s performance.

Movie Review ~ Captain Phillips

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, Max Martini, Yul Vazquez, Michael Chernus, Chris Mulkey, Corey Johnson, David Warshofsky, John Magaro, Angus MacInnes

Director: Paul Greengrass

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 134 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  For some reason, I resisted seeing Captain Phillips longer than I should have.  Though I had many chances to attend it during its advance screening phase I either found another screening to attend or came up with a reason why I didn’t want to sit through it.  I got the feeling this was one movie that you had to be in the right frame of mind/mood to see and I didn’t want to see it just because it was next on my list.

Finally, in the last few weeks it was the right time and after seeing it I wished I hadn’t waited so long.  Though I knew the basic plot of the film and how it was all going to turn out, I had deliberately distanced myself from further details so I could let the movie fill in the gaps for me as it developed.  I’m glad I did too because Captain Phillips turned out to be one of the more gripping films I’ve seen all year, housing two unforgettable performances.

The film begins with two men heading to sea.  The first man is Tom Hanks (Joe Versus the Volcano, Cloud Atlas, Splash!) in the titular role, an old school sea captain that finds himself taken hostage by Somali pirates when they make their way onto the cargo ship he’s piloting.  The second man is newcomer Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of the pirates who makes a bold play for such a large ship and winds up increasingly over his head as his hurried plans go awry.  Though neither men know it at the outset, both are embarking on a trip that will alter their lives (and the lives of the men that serve under them) forever.

Director Paul Greengrass has staged his previous films (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) with a herky jerky handheld camera style that sent more than a few green faced audience members running for the bathroom but thankfully there’s precious little of that here.  The rugged camerawork of Barry Ackroyd perfectly captures the oncoming meeting of the two captains and Greengrass works with editor Christopher Rouse to amp up the tension slowly until the final act of the film turns into a total edge of your seat nailbiter.

Working with a script from Billy Ray (Color of Night, The Hunger Games) adapted from the book by the real Captain Phillips that wisely refuses to make the Somali pirates totally evil, the film gets more interesting as it goes along because we begin to understand why these Somali men have gone after the ship with such vigor.  We know they are in the wrong but without being overly sympathetic to the pirates there is empathy shown that makes the film that much more commanding.

I’ve grown accustomed to Hanks being solid in every movie he’s involved with.  Though I think his genial personality has given him a few more free passes on lousy films than the normal Hollywood star would get, there’s no denying that the man has charisma that only maturity in the business can bring.  I found him to be slightly miscast as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks with too many aw shuck-y moments but as Captain Phillips he reminds us all why he’s won two Oscars and been nominated for three more.  I had been told that Hanks was particularly effective in the final ten minutes of the movie and while that’s definitely true, I found him to be locked and loaded for greatness from the moment he appeared on screen.

If Hanks hits a home run than Abdi knocks it out of the park.  A former cab driver in Minnesota, Abdi was picked along with three other Somali actors for roles in the film and Abdi delivers one of my favorite performances of the year.  In a role that’s equal parts bravura machismo and childish naïveté to the danger he’s making for himself, Abdi dissolves completely into the role at times alternating between fear and desperation in his quest.  Without giving too much away, I think there’s one decision Abdi’s character makes with the full knowledge of what the outcome will be…yet he makes it anyway because it’s the only choice his character can live with at that point in time.  It’s a haunting performance, totally captivating, and honestly unforgettable…writing about it now I still shudder at several passages of the film he has total ownership of.

This is a great film – don’t be a wuss like me and put it off for so long that your attention is clouded with other less worthy films.  Hanks and especially Abdi do incredible work and if I’ve failed to mention anyone else in the film it’s not because they aren’t great as well…it would just be unfair to single out any one of the talented ensemble that supports Hanks/Abdi deliver the performances they have.

Not to be missed.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Best Offer (La migliore offerta)

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Synopsis: A master auctioneer becomes obsessed with an extremely reclusive heiress who collects fine art.

Release Date:  January 1, 2014

Thoughts: So close…we were so close to having a trailer for a nice little mystery from the director of Cinema Paradiso but then some marketing genius had to go and reveal a plot development I would have much rather waited until I saw the film to find out.  I can’t imagine withholding this bit of info would have seriously changed the mind of the audience this import would have attracted.  Oh well…The Best Offer still has my interest thanks to The Book Thief‘s Geoffrey Rush’s mysterious art dealer that meets up with an even more mysterious heiress and attempts to unravel her secrets.  I just wish, yet again, that previews weren’t always so long and spoiler heavy – but who knows, perhaps the biggest secrets are yet to come?  Here’s hoping.

Down From the Shelf ~ Frances Ha

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn’t really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles.

Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Grace Gummer, Michael Esper, Charlotte d’Amboise, Michael Zegen, Patrick Heusinger

Director: Noah Baumbach

Rated: R

Running Length: 86 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: I love a good indie film like every other nerdy movie fan but there’s a point when you have to draw a line in the sand and separate the good indies from the bad indies and not apologize for your feelings.

Frances Ha is one of those preciously darling films that critics fawned over and film aficionados loved to analyze over their fat free mocha lattes while combing their tiny moustaches…and I find myself wanting to call bullshit on all of them.  For Frances Ha is nothing new, nothing special, and nothing memorable when all is said and done.  It’s actually a very frustrating experience because it’s so mundane and ordinary that I started wondering if all the reviews telling me I had to see this weren’t part of some elaborate scheme to keep me occupied for 86 minutes while thieves bought Kit Kat bars in bulk with my stolen credit card.

Being fair to the film means pointing out that the reason I kept watching it was for the dynamic lead performance of co-writer Greta Gerwig who has become the Parker Posey of her generation after starring in several acclaimed indie features (we’ll just forget that she c0-starred in the Arthur remake, a certified bomb before retreating back to indie village).  It’s Gerwig that kept me from giving up on the film (and her character) and its why the movie winds up with a score higher than it probably deserves.

Reteaming with her Greenberg director Noah Baumbach, Gerwig collaborates with him on the script that sees the titular character bounce from one apartment to another as she struggles to make ends meet in her quest to become a reasonably famous modern dancer/choreographer.  She seems to be on some path…just not the right one or the one of her choosing so she’s constantly rebelling against it.  I find these movies (like the similarly themed Inside Llewyn Davis) wearisome at times because we can all see that the only thing standing in the way of these characters is their own ego and all they need to do is acquiesce to where they are headed and we can all get on with our lives.

But noooo…we need nearly 90 minutes of crisp black and white photography and a host of episodic encounters with the people Frances meets to finally arrive at that destination only to find that the resolution is better than we (or Frances) could have ever imagined.

This being a very low budget film, scenes were shot on the fly, which seems to support my theory that the mantra on the set was ‘absolutely no 2nd takes whatsoever’.  Most of the actors involved can work within that limitation…save for Mickey Sumner as Frances’ best friend.  I’m not sure what Sumner had on Gerwig/Baumbach to get them to cast her in such a pivotal role but she’s completely out of her league…which becomes painfully obvious with each tortuous scene she’s involved with.  Reading her lines like she’s reciting the back of a macaroni and cheese box, Sumner sucks the blessed life out of everything when she’s onscreen.

That leaves talented supporting players like Adam Driver, Michael Esper, Michael Zegen, and Broadway’s Charlotte d’Amboise to pick up the slack and they can only do so much.  The rest is up to Gerwig and I’d be lying if I didn’t say the actress is quite engaging and energizes much of the film with her zeal and zest for life…clueless as she is to how much she’s messing it all up.

At 86 minutes this isn’t something you’ll be checking your watch through, but it’s also nothing that demands your attention either when there are so many other independent features that have the script, performances, and insight to give you better bang for your buck.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Legend of Hercules

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Synopsis: Betrayed by his stepfather and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom.

Release Date: January 10, 2014

Thoughts: Oh lord have mercy does this look awful.  Attempting to evoke memories of Gladiator and 300, The Legend of Hercules arrives too little too late and this laughably heinous trailer doesn’t do anything to help its cause.  Lead dodo Kellan Lutz (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2) is hardly a bankable name and I’m left wondering why this is even being released theatrically at all when it may have done decent business streaming right to Netflix or showing up in your local Redbox.  Worst of all…it’s another surefire stinker from once reliable director Renny Harlin (Devil’s Pass)…I’d feel sorry for Harlin if he didn’t continue to take such also-ran dreck like this.

Movie Review ~ Inside Llewyn Davis

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Justin Timberlake

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I went into Inside Llewyn Davis with a bit of trepidation at the thought of two hours of melancholy set to a folk music score.  You see, I don’t seem to have it in my bones to have quite the love affair with the Coen Brothers as most dedicated cinephiles do.  For every homerun they hit (No Country for Old Men, Fargo, Blood Simple) they produce their fair share of fouls (Burn After Reading, Intolerable Cruelty) as well.

It tends to go that for every great Coen film, two mediocre ones follow and with their last picture being 2010’s commendable remake of True Grit I was expecting to be disappointed in their latest creation.  While Inside Llewyn Davis may have won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, it isn’t pitch perfect but I found it to resonate in the right spots.

Llewyn Davis is a young-ish folk singer in New York in the early 60’s trying to strike out on his own after his former singing partner tosses himself off a bridge.  Playing in smoky clubs with names like The Gaslight Café and the Gate of Horn, he’s clearly a talented singer but his general ‘why not me’ attitude has soured him and alienated him from friends and family.  Over the course of the week we get to know Llewyn we see him make all sorts of personal and professional mistakes in a journey that proves to be less about gaining a greater self awareness of past wrongs and more about an inner awakening of the direction his life is headed.

The screenplay by co-directors Joel and Ethan Coen is pretty maudlin and curiously lacking the usual crackle they instill in their dialogue.  Even with that spitfire patter absent, the film is dryly funny with many scenes soaked through with an acidly salty banter between Llewyn and the like.

As our titular anti-hero, Oscar Isaac (Won’t Back Down, The Bourne Legacy) possesses a helluva voice that fits perfectly into the folksy tunes compiled by dynamo music producer T-Bone Burnett.  Each scene seems to have a song to go with it and the film is most surely at its assured best when Isaac, Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby), Justin Timberlake (Runner Runner), and Stark Sands (Broadway’s Kinky Boots) are plaintively singing in their quiet way.  I’m not a huge folk music aficionado but these music sequences (all set realistically and not staged like a musical) were the moments I was truly transported within the film.  The songs are so good, in fact, that the movie could have excised all the dialogue and just kept the songs to tell the story and the effect would be the same.

Where the film struggles are the moments between the songs when the situations get a bit routine.  Though a wayward road trip with John Goodman (Flight, Argo, ParaNorman, Stella) and Garrett Hedlund  has moments that exemplify the quirkiness that put the Coen Brothers on the map, too often we’re treated to the same incidents were Llewyn screws up and is reprimanded…usually by a woman so it comes across as mundane brow beating.

Though the film is fairly somber, I left with a song in my step feeling more refreshed than I have at other Coen films.  Like all of their films it’s a quiet affair best taken in in some small dinky theater with sticky floors and non-stadium seating…exactly the opposite of the refurbished classic theater I saw it in.  Even so, this earns a recommendation for Isaac’s strong leading performance and a soundtrack you’ll want to get your ears on pronto.

The Silver Bullet ~ Million Dollar Arm

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Synopsis: A sports agent stages an unconventional recruitment strategy to get talented Asian cricket players to play Major League Baseball.

Release Date:  May 16, 2014

Thoughts: Let me start out by saying that I’m going to see Million Dollar Arm when it’s released in 2014 because I like this particular type of film.  No one makes an underdog story with the right amount of schmaltz quite like Disney and it’s hard to find good PG material that doesn’t pander to tots and doesn’t induce eyerolls in adults.

I will say, however, that this film looks an awful lot like Cool Runnings, Disney’s 1993 film of another American Jo(h)n (Candy) that finds star athletes (a bobsled team) in a most unlikely location (Jamaica).  Jon Hamm (Friends with Kids) seems like the right gent for the job but he’s yet to truly prove he can carry a theatrical film all on his own.  There’s charisma to spare here but it’s not yet made the leap from TV to film…perhaps this sure-to-be feel good-er will seal the deal.

 

Movie Review ~ American Hustle

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A con man and his seductive British partner are forced to work for a wild FBI agent who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

Stars: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Alessandro Nivola, Michael Peña, Louis C.K., Robert DeNiro

Director: David O. Russell

Rated: R

Running Length: 138 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  Maybe it’s because I saw American Hustle so close in time to seeing Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street that I can’t help thinking that Hustle was really just Scorsese-lite.   All the elements that make-up a classic Scorsese film are present and accounted for here.  You have the West Coast setting of wheelers and dealers all looking for a break no matter how small time it may be.  The familial and familiar relationship that law enforcement has with these crooked folk is grist for the mill of the scheme that screenwriters Russell and Eric Warren Singer lay out.  And you have all the loyalty-testing double crosses (both real and imaginary) that have populated many a Scorsese crime drama for the last four decades.

So why isn’t American Hustle better?  That’s the question I kept asking myself as the movie slogged along for nearly two and a half hours and it’s a question that was left unanswered by the time the credits rolled.  With a talented director who scored so well with 2012’s surprise hit Silver Linings Playbook, a starry and award ready cast gnashing their way through the material, and a mostly true story to pull from this should have been a much more entertaining film.  But it’s not and that’s just the cold hard truth.

There’s enough fault to go around so we’ll go through it step by step.

First off, though Russell has assembled a cast culled largely from his previous projects there’s something to be said about working with your friends because they are right for the roles and simply working with them to have them around for a few months of shooting.  Two of the actors present have won Oscars for working with Russell and another three have been nominated so it’s easy to see why they’d eagerly sign up for another round with Russell.

In the case of Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises), Russell has made the right choice with the actor once again falling whole hog into the character.  With his bloated stomach and comically nutso comb over system, Bale’s puffy Bronx-born hustler Irving is truly a sight to behold.  Though married with an adopted son, he becomes enamored with kindred spirit Sydney (Amy Adams, The Master, Man of Steel) and soon they’re partnered up in the bedroom and in a loan scam that makes them comfortable if not rich.  Bale was better in Out of the Furnace but this performance is nothing to shake a stick at, either.

Adams is a strong actress that seems to appear in no less than four films each year and while I salute her work ethic I’m wondering if she’s not spread perhaps a bit too thin.  The vixeny femme fatale doesn’t sit quite right with her and no amount of plunging necklines can change that.  Side note, Adams wears so many dresses day and night with a neckline that plunges past her navel that if her character needed to go into the witness protection program she’d only have to put on a turtleneck and she’d be incognito.  Her performance winds up feeling governed by great costumes, perfect hair, and a justifiably awful English lilt.  She’s much more effective in her supporting turn in Her, coming out in early January.

I had high hopes for Bradley Cooper after his dynamite turn in Silver Linings Playbook but he dashed those tidings with summer’s grotesque The Hangover Part III and doesn’t quite regain his footing here either.  There’s a lot of showboating going on and you can just feel Cooper’s desire to Brando-ize every single scene he’s in.  The acting reeks out of him, to borrow an oft-repeated phrase from the movie, ‘from the feet up.’

If the movie has a secret weapon it’s most certainly Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) as Bale’s immature wife.   Fresh off her Best Actress win for Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence is way too young for the role but otherwise takes the movie by the balls whenever she’s onscreen which isn’t often enough.  Her wise acre grimace and towering head of hair ignites the film in ways that no one else is capable of doing.  Though the buzz is growing on her for an upset win for Best Supporting Actress, it doesn’t make the kind of lasting impression that she did last year but should earn her a place on the shortlist for a nomination.

Rounding out the cast is Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy, Marvel’s The Avengers) as the mayor of New Jersey who unwittingly gets sucked into the abscam scheme Cooper’s federal agent cooks up to catch crooked politicians.  Renner is fine in the role but I can’t for the life of me figure out why Russell casts his children with actors that look at least a decade older than Renner and his wife.  Louis C.K. (Blue Jasmine) is totally out of place as Cooper’s beleaguered superior, Michael Peña (End of Watch) turns up ever so briefly as a Mexican impersonating an Arabian sheik, and if Alessandro Nivola wasn’t doing a Christopher Walken impression in his role then I’ll eat my shoe.

The central plot scheme of the movie is your standard compilation of betrayal and criss-crossing double crosses.  Only in the final fifteen minutes or so does the movie start to resemble something of interest and by that time I was nearly slumped over in my seat.  Though the film has an admirable production design that deftly recreates New York in the late 70’s without being obnoxious and a soundtrack of era favorites, there’s a dullness that really overtakes everything.

This film has been greatly lauded and I just can’t see why.  As a fan of nearly everyone involved I wanted to like this and desperately tried to latch on to something, anything, that would allow me to recommend it to others.  It lands with a thud, though, and for that I have to suggest you temper your expectations if you choose to take it in theatrically.