Prestige films, dramedies and Afflecks, oh my!

by Beacon Staff • October 31, 2007

Including: Rendition, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Darjeeling Limited, Lars and the Real Girl, Gone Baby Gone,Rendition

DIR: Gavin Hood

2007 looked as if it was shaping up to be a politically-charged year at the movies, with anti-war films that echoed the urgency and emotional power of the anti-Vietnam war films Coming Home and The Deer Hunter. However, despite earnest attempts this fall by films like In the Valley of Elah and the upcoming Lions for Lambs, Hollywood seems incapable of drawing audiences in, mostly because the movies themselves have proven to be mediocre at best.

Such is the case with Rendition, a dry and dreary message movie about America's unjust methods of torture for terrorist suspects. The premise is as timely and unsettling as ever, but director Gavin Hood manages to diffuse any sense of suspense, fear and empathy that this hot-button picture could have had.

Instead, Rendition is a bloated and self-important Hollywood production with a dazzling cast (Meryl Streep, Jake Gyllenhal, Reese Witherspoon, Alan Arkin, Peter Sarsgaard) whose collective talent amounts to just about nothing. How can performances shine when the screenplay by Kelley Sane uses its characters as stale and lifeless representations rather than three dimensional human beings? The political agenda is so obvious throughout all of Rendition that one is able to sniff out any and all of its meaning before 20 minutes of the film has passed. There's nothing wrong with making a film that criticizes the disastrous war on terror, but if filmmakers are going to aim at such an easy target, they should do it with the integrity, thoughtfulness and power that great anti-war films have successfully done in the past. -Harry Vaughn

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

DIR: Shekhar Kapur

How Shekhar Kapur, the acclaimed director of the magnificent Elizabeth, managed to create such a gaudy and insincere sequel is truly disheartening, seeing as how the 1998 original was so beautifully conceived. Instead of the ominous and occasionally frightening mood evoked so effortlessly in the Oscar-winning Elizabeth, what we have in the follow-up is a nauseating display of color and undigestable dialogue. It's no wonder the film is shaping up to be crowned on of the biggest letdowns of the fall season.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is meant to capture the later years of history's most-talked-about queen, where she defeats the Spanish Armada and reluctantly beheads Mary Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton, who's given about three lines to work with). Oh, and according to Kapur, Elizabeth also engages in an extremely awkward love triangle between one of her servants and her flirty admirer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen, looking handsome yet vacant), an explorer who delights in trite tales of the new world. None of these stories materialize, however, and similar to the film's bright and bouncy costumes, they remain empty of any and all meaning aside from their kitschy aesthetic appeal.

The first Elizabeth, on the other hand, managed to stand its ground as a sumptuous, character-driven period piece. The Golden Age is the complete opposite-a period piece guided only by its costumes and its obnoxiously prolonged musical score. Had Shakespeare been alive to see this drawn-out mess of a film he would have most likely agreed; this is a flavorless film full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. -H.V.

The Darjeeling Limited

DIR: Wes Anderson

It's not hard to imagine The Darjeeling Limited, the newest film from Wes Anderson, appearing in an upcoming edition of Auteurism for Dummies. Anderson's trademark style, which was once boldly fresh, comes close to suffocating the humanity he's striving for in nearly every scene of The Darjeeling Limited. Once again, Anderson thrives on fractured fraternity, deadpan absurdity, an impeccable taste in music and droll montages.

Fortunately, Anderson loosens up a bit, along with stars Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Anderson-newbie Adrien Brody, who portray estranged brothers taking different approaches to grieve the death of their father. These characters' collective catharsis still feels a bit calculated, though. The three brothers are quickly established through the way they speak to each other, whether gossiping or withholding information, but, by the end, each of them is still more of an idea than a person, eliminating the pathos Anderson is attempting to elicit. Using a similar deep-yellow-and-blue color palate he used for The Life Aquatic, Anderson manages to make India look less like India and more like a Wes Anderson set. The situations are overly polished to the point where even baggage, scars and a car take on symbolic weight. Don't mistake this for subtlety, though; the inherent symbolism is so obvious that it's even apparent to the characters within the film. As a director and screenwriter, Anderson once signified something special, but with The Darjeeling Limited he's committed the worst sin for someone with a unique technique: he's delivered an unmemorable film.

-Nick McCarthy

Lars and the Real Girl

DIR: Craig Gillespie

It's difficult to take a doll created to give sexual pleasure, remove it from its social context by writing a screenplay that revolves around an introverted man's platonic relationship with a silicone RealDoll and expect to deliver a poignant comedy-drama. The drama will seem too silly and the comedy too vulgar and monotonous. Therefore, it's surprising that Lars and the Real Girl doesn't wear out its premise until the denouement, which is as neatly packaged and inauthentic as Lars' RealDoll girlfriend. Thankfully, the characters are finely drawn due to the genuine performances by Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider and Ryan Gosling-who looks as if he raided Bill Cosby's sweater closet. The actors try their best to maintain sincerity even when the film's shaky tone abandons them.

Lars and the Real Girl works best when it's analyzing relationships and not cracking another visual joke involving the wacky outfits on Bianca, Lars' "real" girlfriend. Its most admirable asset is the humility it exhibits while focusing on acute social observations within Lars' community. What begins auspiciously as a potent psychoanalytic character study soon devolves into shallow pop-Freudian psychology, however, with exposition dripping from every line of dialogue, creating a mess of a backstory. Ultimately, Lars and the Real Girl scales great heights to justify its central concept when it should have realized that an open-minded and modest depiction of its titular troubled individual would have provided more than enough satisfaction.

-N.M

Gone Baby Gone

DIR: Ben Affleck

Hey, did you guys know that Ben Affleck grew up in Boston, too? Well, he thought you forgot. You know he was in Good Will Hunting, but not the just-as-lauded, Best Picture-winning The Departed, like every other somewhat-Boston-affilliated actor of the past ten years.

Gone Baby Gone, his directorial debut, has arrived to remind you that Affleck grew up in Cambridge, damnit, and he's still in Hollywood too. Casey Affleck, Ben's little bro, plays Patrick Kenzie and leads a cast that flips on their best Dorchester dialects as they try to find missing Amanda McCready,

who is supposedly taken hostage in a drug deal. Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman drag you through the dark quarries and bone-laden backyards of Boston trying to find the baby-snatcher. And although the cast is a touch more authentic, the film just isn't as good and reeks of a rip-off.

Michelle Monaghan, for example, plays Casey's fianceacute;/sidekick, but her presence in the movie seems entirely superfluous. Just because The Departed had Vera Farmiga doesn't mean Gone Baby Gone needs another equally useless strong female character, too. This isn't 1967.

These drawbacks aren't to knock the film as a whole. The extended Law Order episode is entertaining, albeit long, and even develops a moral compass towards the end. Plus, Ed Harris goes to new levels of badass in this movie.

But the whole time you're wondering not who stole the baby, but this: did Ben Affleck start writing this movie during the second hour of The Departed, or during the first hour of Mystic River?

-Ben Collins