DESTROYER (2019)

January 11, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. The rogue/burned-out cop obsessed with an old case or particular criminal nemesis is something we have seen many times before. Ordinarily there would be no reason to seek out yet another movie on the subject; however, this time the reason is obvious … Nicole Kidman.

Ms. Kidman, an Oscar winner for THE HOURS (2002), is an excellent actress and has had a wonderful career, but this is something altogether different for her. She plays LAPD Detective Erin Bell, a worn-down, emotionally shattered shell of the idealistic cop who, 17 years earlier, was part of an undercover operation that went tragically and violently wrong. Director Karyn Kusama (JENNIFER’S BODY, 2009) bounces back and forth on the timelines – sometimes we are viewing Erin’s undercover work with her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan), and others we get the haggard Erin of present day. The contrast is stark.

The ghost of case past has returned, and we witness what has haunted her these many years. Past decisions and actions have rotted her spirit, while alcohol has since destroyed her body. She is a wreck – physically and emotionally, and her reputation within the force is shot. It wouldn’t be totally accurate to describe her as self-destructive since she has already destructed. The only thing keeping her going is booze and a desire for revenge.

Flashbacks take us through her early work with the crime gang led by Silas (Toby Kebbell), a master of psychological manipulation (think Charles Manson). We also see Erin’s too-close connection to partner Chris, and a terrific bank heist scene explains how things went down. Now it’s 17 years later, and Silas has resurfaced. Erin wonders why. We also see Erin’s feeble attempts to be a mother to her 16 year old daughter (do the math) Shelby, played by Jade Pettyjohn. The two have only a sliver of a relationship as Shelby lives with Erin’s ex Ethan (the eternally underutilized Scoot McNairy).

Other support work is provided by Tatiana Maslany as one of Silas’ gang, and Bradley Whitford as a scummy defense attorney. Erin has a sequence with the latter that emphasizes just how alone she is. When asked where her partner is, we realize she has no partner with her and no back-up on the way … she is a lonely, desperate, rogue cop with a murky plan and a head clouded by booze.

Writing partners Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (known for CLASH OF THE TITANS and RIDE ALONG) deliver very few surprises with the script, leaving the burden on Ms. Kidman to keep us interested. And despite her character’s train wreck of a life, the performance is quite something to behold … her look, her gait, and even her whispered voice – all point to a woman hanging on by a thread and lacking basic daily energy to show any signs of hope. Director Kusama adds texture by showing many non-touristy areas of Los Angeles, and filming the two timelines in such a way that the structure works – although the Erin in shambles is far more intriguing than the younger one. On a separate note, there should be a special Oscar for the make-up team that managed to make the usually glamorous Ms. Kidman look realistically shattered.

watch the trailer:

Advertisements

78/52 (2017, doc)

October 12, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Does it make sense to create an entire movie about a single scene from another movie? Director Alexandre O. Philippe answers with a resounding “Yes” and proves it with thorough and varied analysis of the infamous and iconic shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic PSYCHO.

“The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.”

That quote from Edgar Allan Poe opens the film, and reminds us that the hullabaloo surrounding PSYCHO would never have been possible if Janet Leigh hadn’t been a beautiful movie star … and if Hitchcock hadn’t shocked us with the timing … and if so many other pieces hadn’t fallen into place. It’s those pieces that are the focus of Mr. Philippe’s expository on the immediate and lasting impact of the scene.

The film’s title comes from the 78 pieces of film and 52 cuts that make up the 3 minute sequence being adored, admired and argued here. The interviews and insight come fast and passionately from filmmakers, writers, educators, film historians, and actors. We meet the ultra-charming Marli Renfro, who was Janet Leigh’s body-double for the film – and also graced the September 1960 cover of Playboy. There is also Tere Carrubba, Mr. Hitchcock’s granddaughter and the daughter of Patricia Hitchcock, who has a minor role in PSYCHO. A few of the others who discuss the scene and film’s influence include directors Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, and Karyn Kusama (JENNIFER’S BODY); writers Leigh Whannell (SAW, INSIDIOUS) and Bret Easton Ellis (AMERICAN PSYCHO); and  Janet Leigh’s daughter, actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

True technical analysis and peek behind the mysterious filmmaking curtain kicks into high gear when Walter Murch speaks. Mr. Murch is a 3-time Oscar winner and 9-time nominee for such timeless films as APOCALYPSE NOW and THE CONVERSATION. He is an expert on sound and film editing, two vital components to the shower scene, and he literally guides us through the individual cuts. Most fans of the film know of the chocolate syrup, but the casaba melon and the painting on the wall might be new territory. The film ties together, like never before, the script of Joseph Stefano, the storyboard of Saul Bass, the editing of George Tomasini, and the scene score of Bernard Hermann … all giants of the industry.

Whether you are a film lover, Hitchcock fanatic, or film theorist, you are likely to find something new here. The film represents so many “firsts” and was truly a turning point in the film industry, while also being a cultural phenomenon. When Martin Scorcese talks about the PSYCHO influence on RAGING BULL, it’s the culmination of a blissful 90 minutes.

watch the trailer: