I’ve read lots of reviews that go ahead and dismiss Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall as just another schmaltzy post civil war melodrama like Hollywood used to do a lot in the golden age, and this film is certainly reinforced by and reminiscent of that aesthetic but to say it’s just hollow romantic fluff with good scenery is to miss out on real darkness, complex human characters and a deep, tragedy soaked narrative that is quite a bit more ruthless and unforgiving towards its characters than this type of gorgeous big budget historical piece usually is. The setting is Montana (filmed in Alberta though, because those Yanks can’t let our superior Canadian scenery speak for itself) sometime before the start of World War 1. Ex Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) lives a peaceful life on a sprawling ranch with his three sons, Tristan (Brad Pitt), Alfred (Aiden Quinn) and Samuel (Henry Thomas). The Colonel is a fiercely antiwar fellow having seen more than his fair share of combat and wishes to shield his sons from the horrors of war, but Samuel incites the other two with his idealistic nature and soon the trio is off to France to play in the trenches. This and the complex relationship the entire family has with Samuel’s fiancée Susannah (Julia Ormond) maps out a tangled web of malcontent, shifting romances and uneasy relationships as war, tragedy and crime make their mark on changing landscapes both physical and mental within this clan. Brad Pitt’s Tristan is the lynchpin of the story, an untamed halfbreed who has a good soul but seems to be a magnet for darkness and destruction, a nature that follows him no matter where he goes in the world, or who he loves. Quinn makes stately, resentful work of Alfred, Thomas is the baby-faced kid of the family who Tristan fiercely tries to protect in wartime scenes that depict harrowing, elemental carnage. Hopkins’ Ludlow has a warrior’s heart that has long since turned to peace with the wilderness and his family around him, until times get tough again. Ormond is quiet, dignified and heartbreaking as a girl who starts off the film having lost her own family and unfortunately is headed towards the same gauntlet with the Ludlows. The supporting cast is composed of excellent work from Tantoo Cardinal, Karina Lombard, Kenneth Welsh, Bill Dow, Gordon Tootisis, John Novak, Paul Desmond and Bart the Bear. I’ll listen to any arguments saying this movie is Hollywood melodrama and be in a modicum of agreement but that doesn’t make it bereft of substance, spirit or vitality. The characters are all immensely well drawn, starting with Hopkins’s patriarch who has seen what his former cavalry did to the indigenous tribes and has tried to purge that trauma from his being by spending the rest of his life being kind. Pitt’s Tristan is a supernova of the plains, the kind of character who makes an entrance followed by a literal flock of wild mustangs and it doesn’t even come across as silly because the film is so earnest. James Horner contributes a swelling orchestral score that is every bit as majestic as the jaw dropping cinematography and emotional as the narrative beats. Zwick did a small handful of these big sky, super emotional historical epics in his heyday including Glory, The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond, but this has to be my favourite. It’s such a potent, full blooded film and looks just spectacular on Blu Ray.
Conor McPherson’s The Eclipse blends elements of horror, romance, grief and mystery beautifully, it’s a small film with a big emotional core, some genuinely scary ghostly occurrences and a fantastic rare lead performance from character actor Ciaran Hinds. Set in a small seaside town on the Irish coast, he plays an artist who is mourning the death of a family member while trying to steer his two young children through the grieving process. It doesn’t help matters when he starts to see frightening apparitions and hear things going bump in the night around his creaky old house, beginning to question what’s real and what’s brought on by stress. When a novelist (Iben Hjejle) comes to town for a writer’s convention, sparks fly between them and a tender romantic angle is introduced, becoming something of a triangle thanks to another far more obnoxious author (Aiden Quinn) who just barges in to make things difficult. The supernatural elements are very subtle and always serve to mirror the mental climate of Hinds’s character, an arc he handles with grace, geniality and gravitas, he is truly a talent and I wish he’d get more starring roles. Ambiguity and uncertainty cement a decidedly European vibe here vs that of many in-your-face, obvious North American horror films which is always welcome too. An undiscovered gem.
Across The Line: The Exodus Of Charlie Wright is the very definition of overlooked. It was probably underfunded and squeaked forth through meager marketing a few years ago, neither of which has prevented it from triumphing as a sharp little sleeper flick that of course nobody saw. The central theme is age and regret, each character finding themselves at some sad crossroads, placed there by the decisions they’ve made in the past and the ways in which they have conducted themselves up to the final act of their lives. To observe people at such a stage haunts you as much as it does them, and made for a film that took a while to get out of my head. Aiden Quinn plays Charlie Wright, a billionaire financial genius whose empire has been exposed as nothing more than a pitiful ponzi scheme, right under his unwitting nose. He is in self imposed exile in Mexico, and soon the consequences rain down on him in the form of several different pursuers. A Mexican gangster (Andy Garcia) wants him, as well as a Russian (Elya Baskin) and his dodgy American representitive (Raymond J. Barry). The FBI has their sights on him as well, in the form of a weary looking Mario Van Peebles, sanctioned by the Director (Corbin Bernson). There’s also a trio of merceneries headed up by a dogged Luke Goss, Bokeem Woodbine and Gary Daniels who have been deployed south of the border to hunt him. It sounds like a bunch of commotion, but I found it to be a very reserved meditation on just how far people are willing to stand by their life choices when they see what’s become of the goals they had in mind when they made said choices in the first place. Quinn is the most understated, yet speaks the loudest as a man on the run from the world. Gina Gershon makes an emotional impact as a woman involved with Garcia, who is also great. South of the border intrigue. Ponderous introspect. A winning recipe.
Haunted is an atmospheric, valiant yet frustratingly uneven ghost story effort, in the tradition of stuff like The Awakening and The Haunting. If the plot seems close to last year’s Crimson Peak, it’s because it is, and I’d bet that Del Toro had this forgotten entry in mind when he embarked on that journey. I say frustrating because there’s a certain few absolutely terrific moments of gothic horror that truly shiver your timbers, but they’re hopelessly mired in a mucky moor of a plot that unfortunately is not as effective as those key scenes. You David Ash is rough housing around wit his sister in the English countryside when she hits her head on a rock, and drowns in the pond below. He grows up soaked in guilt, dedicated to disproving the existence of paranormal phenomena. As an adult he’s played by Aiden Quinn, who is an average dude with slightly wild looking eyes who is always effective in the sense that he seeks out challenging, odd projects which test his everyday aura nicely. In the early 1900’s he is summoned back to rural Britain by an elderly woman (Anna Massey) who is convinced that she is surrounded by ghosts. He is greeted there by the luminous, attractive Christina (Kate Beckinsale), a friendly young thing with a distinct untrustworthy vibe and a penchant for getting creepy close with her two strange brothers (Anthony Andrews and Alex Lowe). She lives out there in isolation with them as well as their disturbed mother, and one gets the sense right off the bat that something is wonky. I suppose that’s the point though isn’t it? Beckinsale has carved a path of playing either somber, distraught women or tough, silent warrior chicks. This is the most animated work I’ve ever seen from her, and the most radiant she’s ever looked as well. It’s aslso to date the only nude scenes she’s ever put forth, and I don’t use the term lightly… she really bares it all here. The middle portion of the film meanders around with these characters, not revealing enough to push the plot forward enough, until the curtain is whisked away jarringly in the third act, cementing it’s pacing issues for good. It’s a picturesque enough journey, I just wish we had something to latch onto besides that, some substance and a consistency in the creepiness factor to keep us invested. Alas. It’s got a spookily wonderful beginning, and an electric, full blooded ending, the only two instances where it shows true feeling and commitment. The rest is, well… stale. It’s worth a peek for a few reasons though, including Beckinsale’s solid performance and that one uber-scary scene in the opener.