The Functional Hermit

musings from a homebody

Posts Tagged ‘Steven Soderbergh

Hermit Cinema: The Informant!

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This Steven Soderbergh film is a hard one to wrap your head around. Comedy? Yes. Period piece? Check. Docu-drama? Yep. Given how odd the created reality is in this movie, it wouldn’t have felt all that surprising if the characters had broken into song and dance.

The last movie I reviewed suffered by not building adequate empathy for its lead character. Here you don’t have much empathy, either. But you’re just so perplexed by the motivations of lead character Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) that you can’t help but keep watching with the faint hope of finding some clue that sheds the outer layer of his onion revealing only the true core.

Allegedly based on real events, it’s the early 1990’s and Whitacre is an up-and-comer at Archer Daniels Midland, or ADM. His impressive rise up the ADM ladder and the scattered thoughts that fuel his consciousness make for a strange juxtaposition.

When one of his projects hits a snag, he invents a lie that becomes the precursor to thousands more. The more he lies the deeper hole he digs for himself and he keeps digging, seemingly intent on coming out clean on the other side. At first it seems he lies to better his prospects at the company but the lying, cheating and attention given to him by Special Agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) of the FBI become an addiction.¬†Whitacre feeds Shepard tales of corporate price fixing and payoffs. Shepard thinks he’s onto a major, major case.

Whitacre seems to believe many of the lies he comes up with, a fact that underscores his lack of grasp on any firm reality. Soon rules and morality become so bendable to Whitacre that he become unable to realize how devious his words and actions have become. He is doing the right thing. He’s the good guy. And he keeps repeating as much probably in an attempt to convince himself as much as anything else.

There’s no real point in going into the plot here because this movie is as much about how it’s done as it is about what happens. The period details are pitch perfect and the film is desaturated to give it that very sterile video-look of the time. Damon gives a committed performance; his rambling inner monologue is perhaps the most entertaining and illuminating part of the movie.

I honestly don’t know whether to recommend this movie or to suggest taking a pass. This is one of those movies that is going to hit every single person in a different way. It is entertaining. It is funny. But sitting through the whole film is like being trapped in a humorous yet awkward conversation for a couple of hours. There’s a strange discomfort that permeates from the beginning; by design, I would guess, and probably the intended result. The filmmakers play it straight the whole way through. Damon too. See what you think.

I give this movie a pretty confused B-plus.

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Written by the bee dub

October 20, 2010 at 9:59 am

Happy July 4th: 10 DVD’s that define Americana

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This is a bit early but I figured, why not get an early jump on the holiday weekend? This is by no means a list of the best or my favorite movies. Instead, it’s a group of movies with themes that are uniquely American. In no particular order…

LA Confidential – Greed. Power. Celebrity. Desire. Ambition. Corruption. Justice. The timeless themes of this Curtis Hanson directed-movie represent an oversimplified list of has, does and will continue to drive America. The period details are flawless. Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey couldn’t be better.

Bull Durham – America’s Pastime, as seen via a 21 year old comedy that doesn’t at all feel out of place today. Still the best performances of Kevin Costner’s and Tim Robbins’ careers. Men will always want to act like boys, it’s in our DNA. The movie is a love letter for baseball, both the joy it provides and the heartbreak when taken away.

The Big Lebowski – Not everyone’s American dream is to work very, very hard so they can afford a big house, a big car and all the other trappings of success. Some people’s American dream is to simply spark up a J and abide…if they could only be left alone to do it. The plot here barely makes any sense and it makes no difference. Just ride along this Coen Brothers masterpiece with the Dude (Jeff Bridges), Walter (John Goodman) and their nearly-mute companion Donnie (Steve Buscemi) as they try to get justice for the Dude’s soiled rug.

Wall Street – The diametrically opposed summation of everything Lebowski is about. As Americans, we are trained to strive for success and wealth but at what cost? Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas shine in this 1987 Oliver Stone morality tale that might be even more relevant today, if that’s possible. This is the movie that injected the words, “Greed is good,” into the American psyche. I’ll never forget Sheen’s Bud Fox, right before meeting Douglas’ Gordon Gekko for the first time, saying into a mirror, “Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of those moments.” Too true, Bud…

Black Hawk Down – In today’s climate, America is often dealt the hand of playing policeman to the world. Most modern military engagements of the last fifteen years have taught us that the criteria for defining winners and losers have changed greatly since those of the 20th Century. This movie recreates what ended up being a hugely influential loss in terms of American foreign and military policy. It also spells out why these men fight; not to advance any kind of political agency but rather to simply protect the man next to them.

No Country for Old Men – Times change, not always for the better. In another picece of Coen Brothers handiwork, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles onto a drug deal gone bad with no survivors, just a satchel full of cash. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, playing arguably the most memorable villain in movie history) is a hitman sent to recover the money. Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is an old-school type trying to make sense of it all. It becomes clear to Bell that he’s witnessing a level of violence and ruthlessness he’s not witnessed before, a sure sign that perhaps it’s time for him to step aside. Progress isn’t always pretty.

Magnolia – Can you ever really escape your family? Or your desire to be part of one? Dysfunction becomes a main character in PT Anderson’s sprawling three-hour tale following the lives of several different people around Los Angeles. Here Tom Cruise shines (his finest performance in my opnion) as Frank TJ Mackey, a man who teaches shy men how to, “Tame the cunt!” He’s the estranged son of a very successful but dying Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), who is married to the cheating but repentant Linda (Julianne Moore) and being cared for by male nurse Phil Parma (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who tries to reunite father and son. Meanwhile, Officer John Kurring (John C. Reilley) is a lonely soul who feels a connection to Claudia (Melora Walters), a cocaine-sniffing woman battling the demons of sexual abuse by her father, Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall), a successful game show host. Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is a child prodigy making a historic run as a contestant on the show and Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) is a former winner of the show who can’t move on from his very brief childhood stardom. Confused? You should be. Just hit the play button and hold on for one intense ride.

Zodiac – As far as serial killers go, America is the clear World Champion. I had a hard time picking the one movie to represent this American phenomenon. David Fincher’s Zodiac stuck out as the movie of choice because it’s like a giant puzzle that never gets solved. To me, that’s a great analogy for the serial killer. Even if they’re caught, even if they’re completely psychologically profiled, no one can ever truly understand why they do what they do.

Traffic – A high-powered, all-star ensemble cast (Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Luiz Guzman, Topher Grace, Erika Christensen and several others) all hit their roles out of the park in this Steven Soderbergh masterpiece. Drugs and people’s desire to consume them have been constant since the formation of the very first society. Today, they’re illegal. Should they be? Should the folks addicted to them be treated as criminals or as people with a sickness? How ruthless do you have to be to run and protect a drug empire? What does it take to take one down? There are no easy answers. There may be no complicated, difficult answers either. Instead, there are real people getting caught up on every conceivable side of the multi-faceted War on Drugs.

The Candidate – Robert Redford stars in the 1972 piece as Bill McKay, the activist son of a prominent politician who becomes a ‘sacrificial lamb’ candidate in a race he cannot possibly win. American politics, as seen here, is nothing but an adversarial process to be won or lost, regardless of message. The classic line, after he does indeed prevail, “What do we do now?” His campaign manager (Peter Boyle) offers no answers. After all, the campaign manager’s job is indeed finished.

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