Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fractured narratives

These days watching a Hollywood film is like reading a newspaper article. You take your chances at your own peril.

In the last few weeks, I have watched Antoine Fuqua's Shooter, Walt Becker's Wild Hogs and Gregory Hoblit's Fracture. Different films, different genres, but nevertheless, all disappointing in one way or another. Disappointing because I take great care in choosing the kind of films that I watch (there is not much to choose from, honestly, talking on a weekly release basis) and I still miss the mark.

Shooter felt like a Bollywood film transported to America with an all American cast--it is so cliched that it even ends with the bumping off of a powerful politician, the film's villain. Instead of Mark Whalberg, you could have Sunny Deol (as the shooter) and Saeed Jaffery as the politician-villian, and Jackie Shroff could have played Danny Glover's part. To Fuqua's credit, he builds the story up very well, but somewhere mid-way the film begins to become less taut and more predictable. You don't expect this from the director of a movie like Training Day.

Wild Hogs should have been called Mild Hogs. It is a concept film, with a one-line plot, that must had had the studio bosses marvel at the concept.

Hey, what about a bunch of middle-aged guys trying to relive their past on their shining Harleys on a trip to the Pacific!

Wow, what an idea! Everyone jumped with excitement.

And, sure enough, they had a film ready with a star-studed cast! Excuse the others, what are John Travolta and William Macey doing in this film?

By the way, Macey's the most interesting character in the film. His geeky, blubbering and fumbling characterisation will cheer you a great deal.

But is this what Hollywood can produce in the name of a comic caper? One episode of Seinfeld can trigger more laughter than this comic poseur of a feature film.

Fracture, by far, is still a better film. A legal thriller of sorts, it justifies its existence. The subject of a husband killing his wife for sexual promiscuity is as old as cinema. Also, though there isn't anything great or new that Anthony Hopkins has done in this film, you do get to see all his trademark histrionics--the vacuous look, the twitching of facial muscles, the menacing gaze, hiding the smoldering lava of anger underneath. That itself is a treat as how often do you get to see actors like Hopkins.

Hopkins gets to mouth some clever lines, playing around the theme of the male sexual organ (you see, he killed his wife for cheating on him!). In a scene where he is telling the judge that he killed his wife because she was having an affair with another man, he says: "My Dick is good." His prosecutor, Ryan Gosling, is also in the room. Then, he smiles, and clarifies that Dick is the name of his private investigator. In another scene, he asks Ryan (who plays the role of a never-losing attorney) if he can call him "Willie." Ryan's name in the film is Willy Beecham. The humour may have been lost on him but we know!

Ryan Gosling is a surprise--I was watching him perform for the first time. Despite being a newbie, he admirably stands up to Hopkin's scene-chewing screen presence, making us interetsed in what he does and how he does it.

In a particular scene, Gosling takes a moment to take a crucial decision in the courtroom: the typical moral dillemma before a hero. We don't know what way would he go: Will he take the easy but morally wrong way or would he keep his high values intact? Everyone in the courtroom holds his/her breath, and so do we. Gosling is very effective in that scene.

Fracture's weakness lies in its storyline. Beecham's line of investigation is full of loopholes which is implausible as he is the best assistant attorney in the DA's office. Hopkins supposedly plays cat and mouse games with Gosling but there aren't enough such games in the story. Beecham's on-off romance with Rosamund Pike sort of distracts us from the story.

Overall, although there are some switcheroos (thanks James McCain) in the film, its open-ended conclusion kind of takes away the satisfaction of watching a wrong done right. How could it be? The writer seems to have lost the plot because the film's moral algebra is intact. So, what's the easy way out? Make it open-ended!

It was time Hollywood came out of its formulaic ways. One thing that I can straightaway think of is that they better stopped going by those focus group discussions!

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