Patriots Day, written and directed by Peter Berg, 2h 13min
The story centers on a fictitious Boston detective being disciplined with beat duty near the finish line of the race. Mark Wahlberg, a Boston native, is pitch perfect for this role with his authentic accent and cocky swagger.
The film does an exceptional job of blending in actual footage of the race without distraction. Many of the characters portrayed are based on the actual people who were injured, and that makes the story even more realistic and gripping.
The pace never lets up as the aftermath of the bombing turns into the citywide search for the two brothers who planted the homemade bombs along Boylston Street, the final stretch of the race where the crowds are heaviest.
The interagency rivalry between State Police Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) propels the plot, but is much less interesting than the hunt for the brothers and the fate of the injured. One surprising aspect was the intensity of the gunfight when the brothers are first cornered, but that may have been dramatized.
The ending of the movie is very satisfying as you see how resilient the injured and the city have been. It looks like this is out of theaters but should be available on-demand soon. It's a feel-good movie, and it’s riveting – a rare combination.
Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, 2h 19 min
This is the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) a conscientious objector in World War II who refused to carry a gun, insisting on serving as a medic. His incredible valor earned him the Medal of Honor.
A little goofy with a hillbilly accent, he is a Seventh-day Adventist and confounds his alcoholic father, who is still mourning the death of his friends in World War I, by signing up for the Army. When he refuses to carry a gun in training camp, he is regularly beaten up by the other recruits and nearly forced out by his superiors.
The core of the movie is when Doss’s division is confronted with the sheer cliff that they must scale to join the fight for Hacksaw Ridge, part of the Battle of Okinawa. This is where Mel Gibson’s talent as a director shines. The battle scenes, while gory, are realistic and frightening. The film was recognized with two Academy Awards, film editing and sound mixing.
The climax finds Doss trapped on the ridge with the uninjured soldiers having escaped down the cliff. He refuses to leave, returning again and again under Japanese fire to drag the injured soldiers to the edge of the cliff and lower them down to safety. As he risks his life so courageously, you pray he isn’t killed.
This is a different kind of war movie. The battle is key, but the real story is Doss, proof that bravery comes in all forms. The film’s nomination for Best Picture was well deserved.
Elle, directed by Paul Verhoeven, 2h 10min
Just a brief plot outline we’ll give you the idea:
Michèle Leblanc (played by the lovely and enigmatic Isabelle Huppert) is violently raped at her apartment in the opening scene. She coolly takes a bath and then doesn’t mention anything to her son when he drops by that night. Later she casually mentions the assault to friends over dinner, seemingly unfazed.
Her father is in jail for murdering 27 neighbors, including children. Afterward he and Michèle burned down their house. Many still suspect she had something to do with the killings.
She is having affairs with her business partner AND her husband. She even pleasures herself while furtively looking out the window at her handsome young neighbor across the street.
The rapist keeps contacting her by text and also by leaving notes (and one very nasty reminder) around her house.
She has a running feud with her son’s greedy, bullying wife. When she gives birth to a black baby and her son’s black best friend is there, Michèle coldly points out the obvious. She casually torments her ex-husband and his girl friend. And she finds her 70-year old mother Irene with a male hooker!
She runs a video game company where she terrorizes everyone. Someone’s even made a video showing her being raped.
Between her family, best friends and employees there are many, many people that dislike her. Suspects galore!
For all the strangeness, you can’t help but be fascinated by the pervasive evil, and the mystery of the rapist’s identity keeps you glued to each new revelation.
Isabelle Huppert is the fascinating, mysterious center of this film and was nominated for Best Actress. That’s a debatable selection. Does her unchanging facial expression and emotionless response to even the most devastating circumstances create an indelible character? Or is the drama all in the writing with Huppert merely the blank vehicle for the screenwriter? With all the upheaval in her life, by the end you still won’t know what Michèle is truly thinking.
Regardless of your feelings about Huppert, Elle will leave a distinct impression that could be positive, could be negative. You’ve been warned!
The Salesman, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, 2h 5min
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, The Salesman also focuses on a woman’s assault.
Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Aidosti) are a married couple playing Willy Loman and his wife Linda in Death of a Salesman. They have recently moved to a new apartment after the building where they were living starts collapsing from a bombing.
There are some disturbances at the new apartment, where, they are told, a prostitute used to live. When Rana returns alone after a performance, she carelessly rings up a person and leaves the front door unlocked, thinking it’s her husband. When he does return, he sees blood on the staircase.
At the hospital Rana has obviously been beaten, maybe raped. For the rest of the film she is traumatized and will have little to do with Emad. Increasingly frustrated he searches for the man who has attacked his wife.
By the end we see the couple trying to sort out what to do with the man responsible. Since they never involve the police, it’s up to them to decide his fate. They face a clear moral dilemma – and the answer may split them apart permanently.
Although made in Iran by Iranians, that country’s volatile political situation is incidental. This is simply but wrenchingly a story of family pathos and the limits of love and rationality. The essential irony for is that Emad and Rana can’t recognize that they are confronting real-life versions of the Willy and Linda that they play every night in the theater.
I was surprised this won the Foreign Language Oscar. The middle of the movie sags, and you want the plot to develop faster. You have empathy for Emad and Rana and even her attacker, but the pace is too slow.
This is based on James Baldwin’s unfinished novel, Remember This House, and follows the story of three assassinated icons of the civil rights movement: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The film brilliantly mixes archival footage from the early 60’s, interviews with Baldwin and narration by Samuel L. Jackson.
While sometimes opaque in his language, Baldwin is clear in blaming white society for economically, politically and socially exploiting blacks for 400 years.
Depictions of lynchings are, of course, horrifying. The most frightening segment, however, is watching the unflinching young woman who was the first black to integrate the Little Rock public schools walk in that first day as crazed young men revile her with curses and spit.
Even with the advances he had seen in race relations, Baldwin was ultimately very skeptical about the possibility of true equality, given the deeply engrained prejudices in white society. While the most violent aspects of the struggle have subsided, Baldwin wouldn’t be surprised to see the formation of Black Lives Matter, the erosion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the phony voter fraud accusations used to curb minority voting.