As that Ryan Reynolds is sooo hot right now – thank to the success of “Deadpool” (and to the fact that they FINALLY got that character right!) – I thought: what would be more proper for the “Shelf”-column than to blatantly take advantage of this and have a look-see about a couple of Reynolds’ other recently released films. A couple that not so many people actually saw. At least in the theaters.
So here goes:
Dir: Tarsem Sing
Scr: David Pastor, Alex Pastor
So the first film here in the agenda pretty much caught my attention because of one thing: the director. Tarsem Singh has been a sort of visual wunderkind, whose films sometimes are “style over substance” (like is the case with “The Cell”, “Immortals” and “Mirror, Mirror“) – and sometimes brilliant (as “The Fall” is). Because no matter what the substance is, his films have been just wondrous eye-candy and absolute marvels to watch. So what’s the story of “Self/Less“?
Billionaire industrialist Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) is at the top of his game; he’s rich as hell and only becoming richer. But that has come with a cost; he’s also completely estranged from his daughter. And he learns that he’s running out of time – a terminal cancer is about to end his life. His only hope is a radical medical procedure called “shedding” – an operation ran by a mysterious Professor Albright (Matthew Goode) – in which his consciousness is transferred to a healthy, lab-grown body. After the procedure, Damian, now called Edward (Ryan Reynolds), starts a new life in New Orleans – basically partying hard like there was no tomorrow, but he’s plagued by disturbing, hallucinatory images, which are being kept at bay by a daily dosage of drugs supplied to him by Albright, who explains this to be only a simple body-rejection side effect. Damian suspects something else, and tracks down a place he sees in one of his visions. There he discovers a house, with pictures of a family that lived in it – the man in the pictures looking exactly like his new body. So the bodies were not lab-grown after all (and honestly, I didn’t put a “SPOILER”-warning there because the whole thing was already totally spoiled in the trailers!). With the wife an daughter of his body, revealed to be actually named Mark, Damian has to go on the run from the assassins sent after him by Albright, who will stop at nothing to keep the truth uncovered…
Well, holy shit. In the Interweb, this project is called a “loose” remake of the John Frankenheimer-classic, “Seconds“. If by “loose” you mean “we’ll just add some shootouts, hand-to-hand combat and car chases but other than that we’ll pretty much use the same idea”, then sure – let’s call it “loose”. Also, for some reason the concept of a filthy rich old guy having his consciousness moved into an younger body also reminds me a lot of “Freejack” (SARCASM)aka. “the best movie ever made”(END SARCASM). So one might actually call this “The ‘Freejack’ for the millennials“. But enough pretentiously witty wordplay – how was the film, dude?
First off – The acting is fine here. If you buy the fact that Ben Kingsley suddenly becomes a wise-cracking Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds DOES try to mimic certain mannerisms that Kingsley uses in the early portions of the film, but don’t expect any kind of impression of Kingsley from him – like so many actors do on each other in the body-swapping genre – he’s pretty much your plain old Reynolds in his action hero-mode. Which actually brings me to what I consider a massive plot-hole in the movie: if the pills are designed to keep the personality of the body’s real inhabitant dormant, how in the hell do his impressive combat skills(the guy is shown in the visions to be an elite soldier) still remain? I guess they tried to explain these in the film as “instincts”, but I much rather just call “bullshit”. But then again – I guess the story would be much more pedestrian if he only had the combat skills of an aged industrialist, wouldn’t it?
Moving on… Matthew Goode has made something of a niche for himself in the recent years by excelling at playing manipulative sociopaths (“Watchmen”, “Stoker“), and his Albright is definitely a fine add to that list, and the one very bright spot in this movie. Also, there’s a quite clever little plotline of the leader of his security detail, Anton, being resurrected in new bodies after being horribly injured by Damian at different points – although it brings into mind the clone assassins chasing Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The 6th Day“, but I’ll give it a pass. The wife and daughter of Mark don’t really have a lot to do here except act scared & shocked for most of the time.
The big question that came to mind while watching is: “what the hell happened to Tarsem Singh?”. Save for some of the hallucination-sequences, there is really no trace of his usual visual flair in this movie. None. It’s very clear that he had absolutely no personal interest in making this movie and as such, had no real vision to it either. This film looks like it could have been directed by just about any workman director of generic medium budget-action thrillers currently working in Hollywood.
It’s an easy watch. Sometimes entertaining, but pretty forgettable.
I have to say this right off the bat: I am not familiar with any of Atom Egoyan’s work. So I guess there goes some of my credibility out the window. Then again I have never claimed to have any credibility in the first place. So, the plot of “The Captive“:
The story of the movie is presented in a fragmented timeline spanning through a little over eight years: starting with the kidnapping of a 9-year old Cassandra Lane (Peyton Kennedy) from a car, while her father Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) is in a pie shop. The detectives who are assigned the case Jeffrey Cornwall (Scott Speedman) and Nicole Dunlop (Rosario Dawson), immediately target Matthew as their prime suspect – not even bothering with any other paths of investigation. Little by little the increasingly frustrated Matthew grow estranged from his wife Tina (Mireille Enos). We then follow the events from the points of view of the now-teenager Cassandra (Alexia Fast), who is locked up in a rather fancy basement complex and is supervised by the creepy Mika (Kevin Durand), her handler. Mika also keeps a constant live surveillance feed of Tina cleaning out hotel rooms at her job playing everywhere in the lair. Eight years later, Matthew – on constant obsessive search for his daughter – is still being investigated by the police who are also trying to crack open a large, extremely tech-savvy pedophile ring who are using Cassandra as a lure to reel in new victims. Meanwhile Mika has started to leave little personal momentos to the hotel rooms, so he can enjoy the slow-building agony of Tina. When the police finally catch a lead on Cassandra, the web begins to tighten around the kidnappers…
Well I was impressed. “The Captive” is not an easy watch, in any way. First, there’s the extremely dark subject matter of the child kidnappings organized by internet pedophiles – and then there’s the extremely fragmented way in which Egoyan has chosen to edit the film. Like I said, the film takes place in the span of 8+ years, every scene taking place at a different occasion in the timeline, jumping backwards and forwards without any time indicators – so this is a film where you REALLY have to pay attention. Egoyan also has decided to set every scene during the winter to keep the grim, cold mood consistent throughout the picture, which is a very clever touch. And it also makes the film feel very claustrophobic – even during the exterior scenes. Also, the fragmented nature of the film makes (for a while, at least) even the viewer have some suspicions – with the police – that Matt might be somehow connected to the crime somehow. The paranoia is so effectively played in the film, that during a scene where Detective Dunlop is giving a speech at a fundraiser, you get a feeling that she’s like a spider in the web – you actually suspect that ALL the rich people attending are in on the crime. That’s effective mood-building right there.
Acting-wise, while the movie only has Reynold’s face on it’s poster, this is very much an ensemble piece featuring some damn good work from all throughout. This is the “Smoking Aces”/”Buried“-Reynolds at work here, by which I mean that when he leaves his smartass-persona out of the equation he has some pretty damn efficient dramatic acting chops. Mireille Enos plays the different stages of eight years of sorrow and trauma effectively, Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman (yes, even him) are excellent as the world-weary cops-become-lovers. But the show-stoppers here are definitely Alexia Fast and Kevin Durand. The strange, borderline creepy sort of father/daughter-dynamic that exists between these two is almost on a whole other level than with all the other characters. Durand is probably best known as Keamy – the villain every watcher of “Lost” loved to hate. I guess it’s partially because of his very unique features that he ends up playing the creeps and the villains so often, but his Mika is a huge departure of his previous parts: Mika is sharply dressed, well groomed, calm, intelligent and – probably his most disturbing aspect – kind. But at other times – outside the lair – he’s also a calculating, sadistic sociopath. It’s an interesting duality. Probably the best part Durand has played so far in his career.
“The Captive” is grim. It’s mood is of an ever-growing dread. But it’s also a very rewarding watching experience, if you keep paying attention to it. Definite recommend.