By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
Much of this he-said-she-said badinage takes place during a road trip that feels nearly as long as the actual drive to Vegas, which may be Shelton's way of subverting expectations, but mainly seems like a mistake. Shelton doesn't seem terribly interested in getting his boxers to Vegas (he focuses a lot of attention on Davidovich, who tends to smile at her co-stars rather than watch the road), and you can't blame him. Genre movies can be their own sort of prison, and Shelton has skills and interests that reach beyond the baseball diamond. (One of his early scripts was for Under Fire, about the Nicaraguan revolution.) Still, as a road movie, Play It to the Bone remains too long in low gear, which is why it's something of a relief when the trio finally hit the Strip and the movie kicks in: The camera perks up, playing paparazzo with the likes of Kevin Costner, then throws us directly into the ring for one of the most brutal fight scenes in American film. Ten rounds later, Vince's face looks like chopped meat, and Caesar has hit the canvas so many times it's a wonder he can stagger. Once again, Shelton is showing his love for boxers and his hatred for the parasites that suck them dry, but you have to wonder, too, if with this film, much as with Oliver Stone and Any Given Sunday, he's showing contempt for Hollywood power-players as well.
SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS
David Guterson's best-selling middlebrow potboiler arrives on the big screen as a lumbering prestige project with Oscar pretensions, one that bends over backward to convince us of its own seriousness, and snaps its spine in the process. Working with elements and issues similar to those that underpinned John Sturges' considerably more succinct Bad Day at Black Rock, director Scott Hicks and co-writer Ron Bass attempt to weave a tapestry of memory and history, personal and national, around a 1950 murder trial on an island in Puget Sound. The corpse is American. The defendant is a war hero of Japanese descent (Rick Yune) with a claim on land owned by the dead man. The narrator (Ethan Hawke) is also a vet and the town newspaper's editor, and was once in love with the accused's wife. The trial, of course, revives the same World War II bigotry and jingoism that saw Japanese-born citizens interned in concentration camps. However, the narrative chronology is so heavily hacked about, its tenses so addled and the material so thinly spread across so many characters, one can scarcely keep it straight in one's head without going cross-eyed.
THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY
One of the surprises of the year is just how seductive Anthony Minghella's adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley turns out to be. Originally published in 1955, and made into a flaccid movie called Purple Noon by René Clément in 1960, the Patricia Highsmith novel is a story whose time may have come (pace The New York Times), but, in truth, has never really gone out of style. Directed by Minghella in the smooth, engaging manner of an old-fashioned Hollywood drama, but with the late-century candor the story demands, the film benefits from its writer-director's fealty to Highsmith's unblinking world-view, as well as his ability to reap good performances from good actors and great ones from even better ones. The story begins with sublime simplicity. A New York shipping magnate named Greenleaf hires Tom Ripley to persuade his son, Dickie, to return home from Italy. Dickie, carelessly rich and very beautiful, has been living in a port town called Mongibello, where he spends his time sailing, eating indulgently long lunches with his American girlfriend and sunning himself nut brown on the beach. As played by Jude Law, he's a natural aristocrat, and as much a figure of lust as inevitable envy; you understand right from the start what Matt Damon's Ripley sees in him. For his part, as the smiling sociopath, Damon, while not as ravishing as Alain Delon (who was badly miscast in the Clement version), has just enough bland wholesomeness to be authentically creepy.
Tom eagerly agrees to Greenleaf's plan and travels to Europe, whereupon he begins to show himself quite insane. A genius at ingratiating himself into the graces of the unsuspecting, he slips into Dickie's routine, wedging himself between the young scion, his lover (a fine Gwyneth Paltrow) and anyone else who dares to call Dickie friend. The most worrisome of these threats comes in the person of Philip Seymour Hoffman, giving a terrific performance as a terminally obnoxious fraternity type named Freddie. When Hoffman taunts Ripley with Tommy, Tommy, Tommy in one painful scene, slithering the name around in his mouth, he's at once every bully who's ever terrorized another kid on the playground and the very embodiment of the too-rich, too-soft, too-hateful American. It's clear that the animus between Freddie and Ripley isn't simply jealousy, but has sprung from a fathomless reserve of class hatred and sexual panic. Although he never matches the book in either brilliance or sheer perversity, Minghella has remained essentially true to his source. Highsmith's genius is both in the way she nimbly ranges across the story's malignant moral landscape and in the way that she peels away at Ripley as if she were lifting his very skin, layer by layer. What's shocking isn't that Ripley may be mad, even a murderer, but that he's also unsettlingly, undeniably sympathetic. What's startling is that Minghella agrees.
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