The International

A thriller about the banking industry?  You’d be forgiven for assuming it would be dull and full of tedious exposition, but with minor reservations you’d be wrong.  Clive Owen plays an Interpol agent trying to track down the truth about a giant bank’s involvement in weapon sales, money laundering and other illegal activity.   He is assisted or thwarted by various individuals and organisations along the way including an American DEA, Italian police and the bank itself.

The International is long but engaging and although I wouldn’t describe it as always gripping, it does demand your attention and keep you hooked through to the end.  Not least as a result of excellent performances from Owen and the cast around him.  I was particularly engaged by Armin Mueller-Stahl’s presence on screen, understated and calm yet totally real.

The story has a few holes and you have to wonder why it takes the police so long to arrive to a gun fight in a major public place in New York, but there’s nothing there that ruined the experience for me.  I do wish more movies took more time to avoid the little niggles like this, but I wonder if any film actually manages to achieve that.  The cinematography was subtle but really supported the cast and dialog.  There aren’t many action set pieces so it wouldn’t be true to call this an action-thriller but the one major set piece is certainly thrilling.  The writers opted to avoid any twists and instead build tension through Owen’s growing frustration at the cases progression and the threat on the lives of those around him.  I give them credit for that.

The end is downbeat, but rather expected and the newspaper headline snapshots during the closing credits do justice in wrapping up a couple of questions the main ending left you with.  Overall this was a surprisingly enjoyable film which probably deserved more credit than it got from the critics.


Liam Neeson isn’t the first person that springs to mind when talking about action movies but he’s a great actor with plenty of on screen presence and I was hopeful that Taken would deliver.  The film starts out pretty well, we learn about Neeson (ex-government agent of some kind) and his relationship with his ex-wife and 17 year old daughter.  Neeson is clearly paranoid and his ex-wife is maybe less protective of her daughter than she should be, so neither of them are perfect.  His daughter is planning a trip to Paris with her slightly older friend, they tell Neeson they’re staying in one place but the reality is they’re following a band on tour.  He finds out, but she still goes.

Once in France however, it’s clear her friend has slightly less concern about their safety than maybe she should and within moments they’re both kidnapped.  There’s no real spoiler here, the whole premise of the movie is that Neesom’s character has to locate his daughter, everything up to this point has really been about setting your expectations of him as a father and an action hero.

The pace quickens immediately from this point onwards, with Neeson telling his daughter’s captors that he has ‘certain skills’ and that he will find them.  You get the impression that these skills will be stealthy, investigative, assassin-like .  It turns out he’s just good at killing people with guns and running around.  The first big let down of the film is that Neeson isn’t that believable, not because of his acting but because the character isn’t that well written.  He’s too blundering, too reliant on luck, too emotional.  Yes, he’s trying to save his daughter but he’s a man of steel and iron and if he can’t control his anger at the critical moment then what kind of government agent was he?  The second let down is that there’s no twist.  None.  The movie starts at A, moves through the alphabet and arrives and Z.

All that out of the way – it’s a half decent action thriller.  The scenes are well played, there’s a small amount of tension as Neeson gets closer and closer to the men who have his daughter, and there’s a couple of moments where we see what might have been with a better written hero.  Maybe Bourne spoiled us all but in his shadow Bryan Mills (Neeson’s character) just looks like a thug.

I would have liked to see more skulduggery, and more involvement from his former team members (they get a small intro at the start).  Taken is a simple movie without complexity or concern for detail, it’ll probably entertain you for 93 minutes but you may soon wonder what you just did and where those 93 minutes went.

Body of Lies

The advertising for Body of Lies says something like “Packed with breath taking action sequences” which is essentially a lie.  This isn’t an action flick and trying to sell it as such does it an injustice.  Either the studio were nervous, stupid or perhaps they don’t think much of the cinema going public.  Whatever the reason, Body of Lies is actually a dramatic thriller espionage action movie with some action sequences (impressive) and lots of dialog.  I really enjoyed DiCaprio and while I disliked Crow’s character immensely it’s probably because of his acting prowess that he made the man so odious with so little screen time.

The story covers a US CIA agent (DiCaprio) based in the Middle East, trying to get closer to a terrorist leader who is currently coordinating attacks on mainland Europe.  DiCaprio and his superior (Crow) differ in how they want to deliver results, with DiCaprio clearly more sympathetic to Arabic and Muslim sensibility.  They clash several times and as we proceed to the movie’s climax we see how much both of them are prepared to sacrifice for what they believe in.

I found the dialog absorbing and the roles well played.  I can’t comment on whether the movie is an accurate portrayal of the conflict going on in the Middle East or America’s involvement in it, maybe Ridley Scott has spent years researching it, maybe it’s just a pastiche or an impression but it certainly raised some interesting ideas.  The action sequences were well done, realistic and gritty and the scenes in the final act were suitably traumatic (I won’t spoil it too much for you).

Ultimately however the ending felt too loose, too open perhaps.  Maybe because Crow doesn’t seem to suffer any consequences for his actions, maybe for other reasons.  In any case it was like the last rocket of your fireworks evening misfiring, it didn’t spoil what came before but it left me feeling like we’d missed out on something important at the end.

Max Payne

Oh Max, what have you done?

Warning: Review probably contains spoilers and definitely contains foul language.

I don’t want to crucify this film because I don’t think it deserves it.  However, as you can imagine as the start of a review, that sentence can’t bode well.  I wanted to see this in the cinema because I think action / thrillers deserve a shot on the big screen.  I think that was the right choice, but I also think we might have enjoyed Zack and Miri make a Porno more.

Max Payne (for the 2% of the people in the world who might ever read this blog and don’t know) is based on a computer game of the same name.  The gimmick, if you like, in the game is the ability to slow-down the action so you can aim or react more accurately.  The main character in the game (it’s a 3rd person shooter) is Max Payne, a cop whose wife and child are murdered.  The movie has a similar premise and while the general elements of the game are the same, the overall plot structure is different.

Ok that’s enough background.  So, what’s wrong with it?  Well, the pace is wrong.  It’s too slow for an action movie, but not tense or suspenseful enough to be a thriller.  The pace doesn’t flow either, it jerks around like a lame fish and that doesn’t help the overall image.  I have a feeling this is mainly an issue with how the final movie was edited, but I could be wrong, it could be the screenplay.  On top of that, Max is plain dumb.  He’s stupid.  He behaves like a stupid dumb fuck.  He’s miserable, he’s an idiot.  When he finally gets the evidence he needs to prove he’s innocent and begin the search for what really happened he doesn’t even send it to the police, FBI or internal affairs before running off to exact his revenge.

His dumb fuckedness and miserableness mean it’s almost impossible to empathise with him.  Fuck, he got shot and even I thought ‘good, maybe he’ll die and we’ll be put out of his misery’.  Yeh I get that his wife and kid were taken from him, and I get that he’s brooding, but fucking get over it man really.  Mark Wahlberg does fine with the material, assuming that’s how it was written, but you can’t like the character, there’s just nothing to like.

The screenplay – well.  The story is contrived, yeh I know it’s based on a game, but come on, some of this shit is basic stuff.  Here’s a few:

  1. there’s an internal affairs guy, whose sole reason for existing appears to be to ensure in the last few moments of the movie he can go ‘don’t shoot Max, make sure we bring him in alive’, in case you know, the thousands of armed police involved decide to put him down.  He adds zero value (other than a minor role allowing us to learn who the real bad guy is).
  2. near the end, the FBI get called in but don’t do anything other than galvanise everyone else into stupid and pointless fucking gun-toting action.  WTF.
  3. the mid-level bad guy sweats, a lot.  Come on, I’ve seen CSI, his sweat is all over every crime scene he’s in, they would have nailed him months ago.
  4. Max is ‘framed’ for a death (of a cop), but at the same time he’s almost beaten to a pulp, except the only injury he appears to sustain is a sore hand which goes away in the next few scenes.  Based on that, somehow the entire police force thinks Max did it.  Despite that, he’s allowed to walk around with his gun and the police just stare at him in a menacing manner.  And a useless IA guy asks him some questions (two to be exact).  The whole thing is a contrivance to somehow make us feel Max is being set up or prevented from doing something.  However since we have no empathy for whiny-fucktard Payne, we don’t care.
  5. Max Payne, super-cop, misses that his wife’s work has been taken from her desk the night a robbery goes down, and only notices 3 years later.  Come on!

I could rant like that for a lot longer but I’ll stop.  Suffice to say, the screenplay is contrived, we’re forced to make too many assumptions, believe too much bullshit and accept too much stupidity from our hero to make it work.  It’s possible some of this was explained in cut scenes and it’s been butchered or it’s possible it was never in the screenplay and the director made the best he could.

Did I say yet that Max Payne (the character) is fucking stupid?  Not unlucky.  Not in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Just dumb.  And he shoots a lot of people without asking questions, after he’s invaded their place, yeh sure most of them are bad guys, but moping unhappy revenge driven cops who shoot first are hard to empathise with.

Not only is the screenplay contrived, it’s just not very good.  The dialog is cliched, there are sections of exposition to explain stuff we already got (we’re not as fucking stupid as Payne is) and then there are things which just don’t get explained that make little sense.  Again, could be an editing issue (too much on the cutting room floor) or the original screenplay’s problem.  It looks to me like the director has more experience than the two writers though, so I’m going to hedge a bet and say the screenplay sucked.

So why am I so angry?  I mean, the screenplay for Doom was pretty stupid but I coped okay with that (mostly).  I’m angry because this movie was three feet away from being really good.  Not Oscar material, but certainly a top quality Action Thriller with some nice quotes and some good memories.

The visuals were great, really.  I loved the look of the movie, it captured the bleak, harsh world and the contrast between that and the burning hallucinations of the drug addicts were superb.  The hallucination scenes were beautifully rendered and the little falling flaming mote motif ((yeh I did that on purpose)) was really nice.  The action scenes were pretty good, although there weren’t enough and they were too short (but that might have been an issue with getting the American PG-13 rating).  The acting is pretty good, considering the movie genre, original source material and the shoddy screenplay.  Despite the crud that Mark Wahlberg had to spout, he did a good job of it.  He looked the part, credible.  The supporting cast was good enough.  The soundtrack was solid but nothing special.

But it fell short.  Either the good screenplay was ruined by bad direction, or a terrible screenplay was directed as well as possible.  Whichever it was, Max Payne is a movie that could have finally brought us a credible computer game conversion, but didn’t.

Fuck you Max Payne, and your miserable bloody existence.