Ripped-from-the-headlines political drama and harrowing survivalist tale help kick off annual Maui Film Fest series
November 18, 2010 | 06:08 PMFair Game
Three of five stars.
Rated PG13/106 min.
Considering how quickly Hollywood turns headlines into movies, we can expect to see The Lindsay Lohan Story in theaters by 2013. Case in point: remember the Valerie Plame scandal, involving Iraq and WMDs and Plame ultimately being outed as a CIA agent, possibly by members of President George W. Bush's cabinet? The story was a big deal for a couple of weeks before America's attention went back to what really mattered: what Beyonce wore to the Grammys. Now, barely seven years later, comes the movie version, with Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn co-starring as her reporter husband, Joseph Wilson.
There is something to be said for allowing people time to meditate on an event before depicting it in film. It's the difference between moving World War II epics like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line and
more divisive, muddled 9/11 movies like World Trade Center and United 93. If the wound is still raw, how much can we reflect?
Despite its close proximity to the events it depicts, Fair Game mostly works, maybe because it's about political intrigue and not national tragedy. The most riveting scenes show Plame as she's about to sneak out of her home at 3am. Her husband is there to see her off and share a few minutes with her, because he doesn't know if it's the last time he'll see her. They have an arrangement—he knows she's a spy, she can't tell him where she's going, what she's doing or when/if she's coming back and he must continue to live life normally, planning dinner parties and raising their two kids. There is a moving honesty to these moments that make these people far more real than any CNN profile ever could.
Doug Liman is a director known for adrenalized films like The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Go. While his latest is action-free and dialogue driven, his approach is still energetic and fast-paced, making this compelling nearly the entire way. Penn's typically fierce performance sometimes seems less like acting and more like channeling outrage. That said, he's always a mesmerizing presence and a fantastic actor. Reuniting with Watts, his 21 Grams co-star, brings out the best in both of them. Watts's opening scene epitomises the excitement of being a spy, but most of the film focuses on her struggle balancing a demanding career with being a wife and mother.
Some will be put off by the overtly anti-Bush tone and rhetoric, but unlike many ripped-from-the-headlines dramas, this capably portrays the political climate of the past decade and recounts a vital and troubling piece of American history.
Four of five stars.
Rated R/134 min.
Confession time: I'm not a fan of Danny Boyle's Slum Dog Millionaire, which was showered with undeserved acclaim and a Best Picture Oscar. In fact, I'm not crazy about most of Boyle's work. After the excellent Trainspotting, he's cranked out a series of ultra-glossy, frantic duds that make him seem like Michael Bay's long-lost brother. I had pretty much written him off completely, which made his latest a real surprise: it's a major creative comeback and one of the best films of the year.
James Franco stars as Aron Ralston, the daredevil adventurer whose one-man mountain climbing trip in Moab, Utah resulted in him getting trapped under a boulder for, well, 127 hours. You may remember the story because of the way Ralston escaped—by amputating his right hand. Even if you didn't know that it's not a spoiler; the movie hints at the gruesome moment from the very beginning, though when it finally arrives the scene is mercifully brief.
Boyle finds a visual approach that fits the story and complements his overboiled cinematography. The opening, with Ralston riding across the desert on a mountain bike, isn't promising: it looks so much like a Nike commercial, you expect "Just Do It" to splash across the screen. But once the story and the central conflict come into focus, the film finds its rhythm and we realize how the energy of the early scenes is a necessary contrast to the harsh, somber tone of the second and third acts. Why would Boyle film a scene in the first 10 minutes from the inside of a water bottle? To emphasize the loss of liquid in the latter half, where the camera angle is no longer cool, but devastating.
Franco does a lot to make this care-free, aloof character and his horrible man versus wild ordeal seem real. The movie sucks you into Ralston's claustrophobic hell and is hard to watch at times, but it isn't depressing and never stops entertaining. A sequence with Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara, playing hikers who briefly encounter Ralston, is a welcome detour, as are flashbacks that reveal important details about the protagonist.
Boyle still goes a little haywire with his jackhammer visual approach but, for a change, he doesn't drown out a great story. In addition to being a fierce, surprisingly humorous mind-over-matter thriller, the film made me acutely aware of the safety I was enjoying, sitting in a comfortable theater with plentiful (if over-priced) food and drink at my disposal. Everything in your life will seem easier and more valuable after watching this.
For First Light listings and showtimes, see page 17. For more info, call 579-9244 or visit mauifilmfestival.com
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