Posts Tagged ‘Ben Mendelsohn’

Following up his masterful sophomore film The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, Australian director Andrew Dominik returns with recession-era gangland tale Killing Them Softly. The film is more concerned with commentary than action, making for a potent yet troublesome modern gangster yarn.

Adapted for the present day from the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, Killing Them Softly concerns hitman Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) as he arrives in post-Katrina New Orleans to tackle the suspects behind a heist on a mob poker game. The perpetrators are Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), a pair of petty crooks who soon find themselves way out of their depth.

The film opens with a jarring credit sequence, which juxtaposes the ragged, windswept image of looser Frankie with a hopeful oration from Barak Obama. It is campaign time in the US, but this means nothing for the first rung of the criminal underworld. Frankie meets risible heroin addict Russell, who is engaging in a frivolous stint as a dog walker. While Obama’s optimism contradicts this image Dominik soon inserts a more recognizable reference, George W. Bush’s unsettling address about salvaging the fledgling economy.

Putting socioeconomic preoccupations aside momentarily, Killing Them Softly is an unconventional gangster film. The film is comprised almost entirely of two-handers. Cogan’s introduction takes the form of a short hop from car to car (set to Johnny Cash’s When The Man Comes Around), before a long conversation with a character identified as Driver portrayed by Richard Jenkins. Driver is a distant benefactor of the criminal underworld and he likes to keep his hands clean. He is slyly attempting to financially undercut Cogan as he carries out his hit list.

Along with gangster genre heavyweight Ray Liotta as ill-fated poker king Markie Trattman, James Gandolfini joins the cast as Cogan’s fellow hitman Mickey; he is an old pro turned alcoholic sex addict. Gandolfini’s presence makes for a number of undeniably hilarious exchanges with Pitt, yet his character becomes tiresome. Mickey’s response to the financial downturn is to become a misogynistic mess of a man and he is perhaps the most deserving of a sticky end.

While Dominik managed to maintain interest for almost three hours with The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, he does not fare so well with Killing Them Softly. Running at around ninety minutes, the film surprisingly tests the patience more than its predecessor. This is largely down to the two-hander structure, wretched characters and relative lack of dramatic action.

When all is said and done however, Killing Them Softly is still an effective filmic statement. It is a biting commentary on how the capitalist structure affects the moral choices made by individuals, regardless of whether we are talking about the banks or the criminal underworld. The film grimly equates both worlds and Brad Pitt’s final monologue feels irrefutably on the money.

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As this review was published following the release of The Dark Knight Rises we would first and foremost like to express our sympathies to all of those affected by the Aurora premier tragedy.

Returning to the Batman franchise for the final time Christopher Nolan offers up The Dark Knight Rises. Dredging the emotional depths of Batman Begins and blending in the thrills of The Dark Knight, Batman’s final stand is a muscular epic, which successfully pulls its own monumental weight.

Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Christian Bale) story picks up eight years after his battle with The Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight. Grief stricken at the loss of his sweetheart Rachel Dawes, Wayne has abandoned his playboy reputation and become a mythic recluse to the people of Gotham. When terror attacks rock Gotham Wayne considers revisiting the Bat suit, but his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) fears Wayne’s own self-destructive tendencies may lead him to defeat.

Alfred Hitchcock once said “the better the villain, the better the film”. Christopher Nolan’s challenge for The Dark Knight Rises was to apply Hitchcock’s theory, in the shadow of Ledger’s show stealing Joker. This time Nolan opts for muscular terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), a criminal mastermind constantly pumped with a strength serum via an intimidating facemask. He is a considerable threat to the fragile Wayne, with a deep-seated conviction against Gotham’s culture of corruption. He plans to nuke Gotham city and wipe the slate clean.

While lacking some of the infectious charisma of Ledger’s Joker, Tom Hardy’s Bane is wholly compelling. Hardy personifies the character with bulging muscles and an air of worldly wisdom: he is well spoken, yet he phrases with an accent inspired by Traveller and bare-knuckle boxer Bartley Gorman. Hardy’s Bane is an odd proposition, but he is a convincingly vengeful outsider; this makes him all the more dangerous to tattered billionaire Bruce Wayne.

As well as staple characters like Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred, Nolan introduces other characters to ultimately explore Batman’s scarred psyche. Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) challenges Batman to delve deeper inside himself to fight Bane. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) stands out as a young cop who revitalises Batman’s responsibilities. Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) exploits the corporate weakness of Wayne Enterprises’, while Wayne entrusts the seductive Miranda (Marion Cotillard) to look after his interests.

But all is not perfect upon Nolan’s return to Gotham. In spite of the film’s apocalyptic intentions, there is a sense that it has been heavily toned done to achieve the 12A rating. When Bane and Batman brawl we expect serious bloodshed, but the fight scenes feel unmistakably muted making Batman’s peril less immediate. The script also sidesteps some serious logical concerns, in favour of narrative pace, and key characters are given fatally insufficient screen time for the same reason.

Another aspect that leaves an empty feeling is the complete lack of The Joker. While the character need not have appeared portrayed by another actor, many references to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight occur in flashback; Heath Ledger’s Joker should have too. The character made a sincere impression on Batman and we feel his presence, but cannot acknowledge it.

In spite of its flaws however, The Dark Knight Rises is a true cinematic accomplishment. Christopher Nolan has graced us with a mature blockbuster with a majestic scale reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Nolan has also achieved the essential with this film: he has returned the resonance to Bruce Wayne and to Batman. The Dark Knight’s ironic flaw was that the villain ultimately undermined the hero. With The Dark Knight Rises Batman sincerely captures our hearts and minds like he never has before.

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Over the years the Australian film industry has produced a particularly striking set of gritty and engaging films (from Mad Max to The Proposition). This year sees Australian short film director David Michôd burst into the world of feature films with the crime drama Animal Kingdom, which won the World Cinema Jury Prize for Best Dramatic Film at the Sundance Film Festival.

This tale of a crime family in meltdown has lead some critics to compare it to The Godfather. However while the films may bear some slight narrative semblance Animal Kingdom, set in the sweltering Melbourne underworld, tells a tale that is far more tragic and absurd.

Josh aka J (James Frecheville) loses his mother to a heroin overdose and with no one else to turn to he moves in with his extended family, comprised of his grandmother and four uncles. The uncles all operate as criminals and seem to live with a great respect and dependence for their mother (Jacki Weaver), who bizarrely insists that they kiss her on the mouth. When one of the uncles is killed by police the family wreak their revenge and consequences follow suit.  The naive J finds himself and his girlfriend in the middle of the chaos as his unhinged heroin addict uncle ‘Pope’ (Ben Mendelsohn) begins to call the shots.

Things become even more complicated when J is called in for questioning by the police and gradually develops a rapport with Detective Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce). The family recognise that it is J who is putting them in the most danger and when ‘Pope’ is imprisoned J’s grandmother becomes the last person he can trust.

The cast bring the group of colourful characters to life with great aptitude and Michôd’s taught and creative direction tells the story with masterful suspense and subtle humour. It would be easy to relate this film to American crime classics but this would not do justice to this distinctly Australian production.

Watching the film one gets the sense that Michôd had done his research to create a realistic portrayal of the Melborne crime landscape; the characters all feel like natural developments of this setting. It is this brilliantly creative approach to time and place that makes Animal Kingdom such a fresh addition to the Crime Drama genre, though it also seems that this time and place are the reason for such tragedy in peoples lives.

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