I love Kathryn Bigelow’s early films from the 80’s and 90’s, she’s such a fantastic storyteller when she sticks to genre stuff, but I’m not quite sure what went down with The Weight Of Water, a muddy, confusing doldrum of a thriller that drifts by heading nowhere, with no real rush to get there either. I’m assuming there’s a level of clarity and coherence in the source novel by Anita Shreve that just didn’t translate onto the screen too well, but what the film lacks in discernible themes and substance it at least makes up for a bit in the production design and visual department. Two stories unfold simultaneously here: sometime in the 1800’s, restless housewife (Sarah Polley is all kinds of creepy) lusts for her brother in a rural township on the blustery New Hampshire Coast. A mysterious stranger (Ciaran Hinds) enters their lives and bears witness to a violent, romantically motivated double ax murder that culminates in a freakish storm and ends their story, becoming infamous throughout the centuries to follow. Meanwhile in present day, a keen photojournalist (Catherine McCormack) peruses that very same coast on a yacht, researching the long past events that led to the horrible crime. She’s joined by her listless husband (Sean Penn), his brother (Josh Lucas) and foxy girlfriend (Elizabeth Hurley). They start to forge an equally tense romantic triangle that is somehow supposed to mirror the past in profound or symbolic ways but doesn’t feel like anything deeper than narrative coincidence. The two stories have little to do with each other beyond happenstance and are constantly at odds in tone and intent. The Sarah Polley one works better but only just, having a more specific atmospheric mood, also because she’s just a terrific actress who puts on a dangerous, unnervingly introverted show. I’d like to read the novel one day and see if there’s more to be found there or some lynchpin of content that missed the boat from paper to celluloid, but as it stands this film is a hollow blast of nothing, and the only weight to be found is in the title.
Tony Scott’s Spy Game is a kinetic yet heartfelt espionage thriller that sees the director maintain considerable shards of his assaulting sensory overdrive of style, whilst pausing along the way for a story that is really rooted in the personal story of the bond and friendship between two men. A lot of his films are predominantly visual and auditory, a bullet train of sound and fury, with plot and characterization as passengers onboard. Here those elements are cogs in the machine, resulting in a very touching, extremely exciting outing and perhaps the director’s most overlooked piece. Robert Redford used to be the younger, more naive faction in a lot of cinematic pairings, especially with Paul Newman. Here he flips the coin, taking on the grizzled mantle of both father figure and mentor to Brad Pitt. Pitt is Tom Bishop, an operative taken under the wing of veteran agent Nathan D. Muir (Redford). Nathan no doubt sees some of himself in the lad, and takes a shine to him, grooming him with all the skills and cunning that a lifetime in the business has given him. Life throws curveballs though, and more often than not they involve love. Bishop has gone rogue in an attempt to rescue relief worker Elizabeth Hadley (the brilliant Catherine McCormack, who needs to be in more movies) from a Chinese prison. In his eagerness he is captured, leaving Muir to make some tough decisions, pull some hidden cards and use all of his talent and resources to extract them. Now in many films like this there would be several blistering action set pieces to show how it’s done. Scott instead chooses to give Redford the intellectual grit and subversive genius to pull hidden strings and come up with a wicked fun solution that is endlessly more satisfying than an explosion ridden shock and awe campaign. His struggle to get his friend back is laced with flashbacks of his training, with a 70’s flavour that feels authentic and writing that lovingly builds the blocks of their dynamic. Stephen Dillane provides wonderfully understated work as a quietly smarmy CIA prick, and watch for a quick appearance from the great Charlotte Rampling. To see Scott’s frenetic aesthetic hired for a script that takes its time and plays out less like a conventional thriller and more like the paced, elliptical spy thrillers of years past (vaguely reminiscent of aspects of Le Carré) is a somewhat rare treat. Terrific thriller with Redford at his best, highly, highly recommended.