Tag Archives: Crime

Michael Mann’s Miami Vice


Michael Mann’s Miami Vice is a lot of things. Hypnotic, sedated mood piece. Thrumming, rhythmic action picture. Deeply romantic. More going on underneath it’s surface than what you see onscreen. Masterful crime piece. Showcase for digitally shot film. Restless, nocturnal urban dream. One thing it is decidedly not, however, is anything similar to the bright ‘n sunny, pastel suited 80’s cable TV show of the same name, also pioneered by Mann, at a more constricted and likely very different point in his career. A lot can be said for the show though, it’s instantly iconic and was one among a stable of crimeprimetime™ (The Equalizer and Crime Story did their part as well) to give many actors their break, actors who we take for granted as stars today. Mann’s film version is a different beast entirely, a likely reason for the uneasy audience reception. Let’s be clear: it’s one of the best films of the last few decades. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx make a deliberately moodier, more dangerous Ricardo and Tubbs, and their high stakes undercover work is set against an austerely fatalistic Miami that bares little resemblance to travel brochures, let alone the tv show many were used to. Their story starts one of two ways, depending on whether or not you view the extended director’s cut, which is the version I’d choose as it sets up tone before throwing you into a hectic nightclub sting operation they’ve got going, which is hastily interrupted by the exposure of a CI snitch (John Hawkes in a haunting cameo). This sets them on course to take down a powerful Cuban drug syndicate run by a scarily calm Luis Tosar and hotheaded maverick John Ortiz. Farrell gets involved with a girl from their fold, of course (Gong Li is a vision), a romance that has grown on me over the years, while Foxx is involved with beautiful fellow cop Naomie Harris, yielding heart wrenching moments in the final act. Darting in and out of the story as well are Tom Towles, Justin Theroux, Isaach De Bánkole, Eddie Marsan, Barry Shabaka Henley, Tony Curran and Ciaran Hinds, all vital cogs in a well oiled, momentous machine that doesn’t drop it’s pulse for a second. Composer John Murphy piles on the mood with his mournful score, highlighting evening boat-rides, shadowy shoot outs and outdoor nightclubs with a top tier soundscape, while cinematographer Dion Beebe works tirelessly to get shot after shot looking mint, not an easy task with a film this energetic and particularly lit. From start to finish it’s to the point as well, Mann has no interest in useless exposition, mapped out play by plays or cheesy moments. Everything careens along at a realistic pace and you’re on your own if you can’t keep up or make sense of the off the cuff cop jargon. There’s stillness too though, in a torn up Farrell watching his love disappear on the horizon, Foxx looking on from beside a hospital bed or simply either of them glowering out at the skyline from a rooftop pulpit before things Heat up. Like I said, do the extended version and you’ll get that terrific opener to set you up, instead of being thrown in the deep end right off the bat. Either way though, Miami Vice is one for the ages. 

-Nate Hill

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Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight


No one does the breezy, goodnatured crime drama like Steven Soderbergh, and after rewatching his 1998 romantic caper Out Of Sight, I’ve realized it’s my favourite of his films by a mile. The easygoing love story between George Clooney’s hapless career criminal Jack Foley and Jennifer Lopez’s feisty federal Marshall Karen Sisco is a pairing for the ages, and the two not only smoulder up the screen with their obvious presence, but have effortless chemistry in spades and know how to sell the romance until you feel that tug on the ol’ heartstrings when the stakes are raised. It doesn’t hurt that cinematographer Elliott Davis beautifully frames each encounter with them, the best being a gorgeous airport dinner where the two croon out Elmore Leonard’s savoury, measured dialogue against a snow laden Tarmac outside, the perfect romantic ambience. Foley is a trouble magnet, embroiled in scheme after scheme with his older, wiser partner Buddy (Ving Rhames). After their dipshit pal Glen (a stoned Steve Zahn) gets them mixed up in a plot to rob a pompous Wall Street millionaire (Albert Brooks) via some truly nasty jailbird thugs from their collective past (Don Cheadle provides the film’s only true dose of menace amongst the charm), all hell breaks loose and against odds, Jack and Karen find themselves falling in love. Elmore Leonard’s scripts always seem to find their way to great directors (Barry Sonnenfield made magic with Get Shorty), richly varied casts (Jackie Brown is an ensemble for the time capsule) and end up as films that are simply timeless. Dennis Farina mellows out as Karen’s concerned ex-cop father, Luis Guzman does his grimy cholo rat shtick, and watch for Catherine Keener, Nancy Allen, Isiaah Washington, Paul Calderon, Viola Davis, an uncredited Michael Keaton playing none other than his Jackie Brown character (an Elmore Leonard cinematic universe!) and a surprise cameo right at the end that I won’t spoil except to say it sets up any potential sequels nicely. The whole deal rests on Lopez and Clooney’s shoulders though, and they’re nothing short of mesmerizing. It’s a rag tale romance, classy but down to earth, two beautiful souls from very opposite sides of the tracks who generate sparks and circle each other like cosmic magnets. Stuck together in the trunk of a speeding car, they discuss life, love and films, reminding us that no romance is alike to another and the best way to start off something like that is perhaps on the wrong foot and in the least imagined circumstances possible. Like any love story it knows that a pinch of sadness is necessary to balance the bittersweet recipe and tweak our emotions just right. A career best for George, Jennifer and Steven and a film worthy of classic status. 

-Nate Hill

Encore’s The Take 


If you’re like me and were a fan of Tom Hardy before he blew up on the front page of Hollywood (I’ll willingly don the hipster mantle for certain areas of film), you’ll know about The Take, a brutal British produced miniseries chronicling the fall from grace of a severely dysfunctional London crime family. Hardy is Freddie, a sociopathic freak fresh out of the joint and ready to wreck havoc whilst the clan’s nasty patriarch (Brian Cox, never not a scene stealer) remains locked up. Freddie’s younger, more timid brother Jimmy (Shaun Evans) gears up to seize the reins of the ol’ family business, but the biggest obstacle in his path is Freddie, who seems intent on soaring down a violent path of self destructive, damaging behaviour, lashing out at friends, enemies and even family until the whole deal resembles some Macbeth-esque family showdown. Their two respective wives (Charlotte Riley and Kiersten Wareing are pure dynamite) get caught up on this unholy mess and it soon becomes clear that no one will make it out on top. It’s a nihilistic piece that exists seemingly as a dark, misanthropic soap opera or an instruction manual on how to fuck up everything in one’s life, and in that luridness it succeeds brilliantly. Hardy showed continuous sparks of budding talent early in his career, and his work here rivals even that of his heralded turns these days, his Freddie is truly a rotten bastard and a sadistic no good monster who brings death to all around him. A beatdown and a half of a watch, but worth it for lovers of tough, thoroughly downbeat crime television. 

-Nate Hill

Miami Blues 


Miami Blues is a crime film full of loose ends, incompetence, wanton violence and meandering characters who seem lost within their own story, and I mean all that in the best way possible. Some pulp affairs are sharp, succinctly plotted creatures, every cog in the machine placed to serve the momentum of plot and character, while other efforts have messily dropped the cogs all over the floor for an untethered, ‘wing it’ type approach in which story and character are like aimless leaves blowing about in a restless pond. Isn’t life like that though? There’s no narrative structure to a lot of what we do, and as such there’s little to be found in the tale of highly self destructive, psychotic criminal Alec Baldwin, who has barely left the airport upon arriving in Miami before he’s already got a serious warrant out for his arrest. He’s a violent sociopath who takes what he wants when he wants and, most aggressively, how he wants. He’s also very smart, which is a dangerous mix in anyone whose moral compass has flatlined. His anarchic crime spree gains the attention of an aloof older detective (Fred Ward) whose badge he steals for some good old law enforcement impersonation, leading the poor weary cop on a darkly comical mad goose chase all over town. He also picks up an endearing dumb blonde (Jennifer Jason Leigh, excellent) who’s infatuated with him and blatantly tunes out any and all red flags, of which there are…many. That’s pretty much all there is to it, but with these three actors it’s pure gold. The knowingly audacious arch criminal, the Betty Boop wannabe wifey sidekick and the exasperated, constantly outsmarted copper, a trio of archetypes augmented slightly in favour of each performer’s stellar work. Never takes itself too seriously, knows full well how heinous the turn of events within it’s frames are, yet firmly refuses to not have fun, a cheeky, sexy, sweaty and altogether terrific little venture. 

-Nate Hill

Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers


I will sing the praises for Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers til the day I either die, am too dementia ridden to compile a coherent review or too arthritic to type anymore (you folks will get some peace and quiet on your social media once any or all of the above happens). This film is less a film than it is a writhing elemental force, a cinematic being brought to life by tools seldom used in Hollywood, namely the sheer audacity of Stone’s frenetic filmmaking style. The MPAA kept an R rating just out of his reach for a while before finally conceding, harping to him that though he cut violent bits here and there to make it semantically tamer, it was the general aura of chaotic madness that irked them so. Stone considers this a compliment, and well he should, for its not everyday that an artist so fluidly taps into the artery of violence and the many catalysts of it in such a primal, intangible way that brilliantly splices what compels us with what appalls is, and the scarily thin line that wavers between them. This film is many things: a psychedelic road flick, a blistering indictment of sensationalist American media and the decaying degeneracy it breeds, a hallucinatory mood piece, a severely expressionistic action film, a thriller, a chiller and the list goes on, but more important than all of those is the love story that ties it all together. Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson are sticks of poisoned dynamite as Mickey and Mallory Knox, two twisted up kids on the run from everyone and everything, products of the darkest bowers of bizarro world Americana, deeply scarred by their pasts, fully committed to the wanton murder spree they’ve engaged in and unapologetic about the wave of carnage they’ve left in their wake. Demonized at every turn by the powers that be and everyone else in between, it’s easy to see why a system feeds two sick souls like this with infamy and notoriety instead of helping them. Anything for that big ol’ dollar sign, or simply whatever fills the void. We see the sickness creep after them, ever present in creatures like Tommy Lee Jones’s fire and brimstone prison warden, Robert Downey Jr.’s manic, sickening enabler of a talk show host and Tom Sizemore’s psychotic, gung-ho detective Jack Scagnetti. There’s a saying out there that goes “animals are beasts, but men are monsters, a sentiment that Stone has taken and run right off the cliff with, blasting us in the face with humanity’s very worst for a solid two hours, until he’s damn sure we catch his drift. The film is a stylistic tornado, every kind of colour, lens, filter, soundscape, visual trick and style of editing used until we realize we’re watching something truly unlike anything before, and likely after as well. Mallory’s backstory is staged in a stinging sitcom format as she’s terrorized by her abusive father (Rodney Dangerfield, cast grotesquely against type). Mickey breaks out of prison in black and white Lone Ranger style. A drug store Mexican standoff is painted with swaths of neon vomit green. Shadowy title cards and striking lighting are used in a sequence where the pair visit the lonely desert hut of a prophetic Indian (Russell Means). Visions dance on walls like spectral tv screens, faces leer and loom out of shadows for no apparent reason other than to add to the beautiful commotion, characters skitter through frames looking for a moment like demons. There is no other film like this, no other experience rather, an animalistic treatise on primal human urges, societal constraints that bind them, loosely and laughably out of place when you consider the dark urges within everyone. Amidst all this chaos though, like two corrupted beacons, are Mickey and Mallory. This is their story, and despite being a chief cause of the chaos I just mentioned (the universe has a sense of irony), it’s a love story, they being the centrepiece and everyone else rushing past like dark passengers in a swirling sideshow to their main-tent event. They’re brutal serial killers, no question, but they’re tender and caring with each other, and we see hints at a collective sweet disposition hiding below all those years of built up scar tissue. It’s a gorgeous film, full of scream-at-the-heavens ugliness, imagery that burns a patchwork quilt of impressions straight into your soul, an angry satirical edge that cuts like a knife and so much overflowing style you could watch the thing a thousand times and still pick up on things you never saw before. From the first cacophonous diner slaughterhouse set piece, to the second half of the film that descends into a regular Dante’s Inferno of a prison riot, this film is truly something else, in my top ten of all time and a uniquely affecting experience that has shaped the way I’ve watched films ever since. Plus that soundtrack man.. the story is set to every kind of music out there including Trent Reznor, Lou Reed, Patsy Kline, Peter Gabriel, Dre, Mozart, Marilyn Manson and so many more, with a pair of perfectly nailed opening and closing numbers warbled by Leonard Cohen. Everyone and anyone has quick bits and cameos to support the titanic work of the main cast too, including Denis Leary, Ashley Judd, Arliss Howard, O Lan Jones, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jared Harris, Mark Harmon, Balthazar Getty, Marshall Bell, Louis Lombardi, Steven Wright, Rachel Ticotin, James Gammon and more. What more can be said about this film? It’s a natural born classic.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Scam


Scam is a breezy, Miami Vice-esque TV movie that no one saw. Nothing remarkable, but the cast has fun with the seedy crime thriller plot, and no doubt got to vacation in the Caribbean locale where this was filmed between takes. Christopher Walken never misses a beat, even in inconsequential fluff like this, and he’s fun here as shady FBI agent Jack Shanks, who is stalking a couple scam artists working the local beat. Gorgeous Maggie (Lorraine Bracco) lures men out of bars, spikes their drinks real good and then her and her violent boyfriend (Miguel Ferrer) rob the poor fuckers blind. Walken is wise to their act and entraps her for his own agenda, which involves lifting sensitive floppy disks from the clutches of a nasty crime lord (Daniel Von Bargen). Seamy, sweaty and oh so sleazy, it’s pure early 90’s cheese that has aged not too shabbily. Bracco and Walken have sexy chemistry, while Ferrer’s rabid dog thug livens things up, as does a wonderfully over elaborate, sun baked plot. Good times. 

-Nate Hill

HBO’s Witness Protection 


The sad thing about HBO original films is that they air pretty quick and without notice, then are scarcely heard from again, despite having really good stories and production design to boast, with no theatrical crowd to ever share them with. Witness Protection is one among many of these, a brilliant, surprisingly thoughtful mobster melodrama starring Tom Sizemore in a rare and commanding lead role. He plays Boston area gangster Bobby ‘Bats’ Batton here, a wiseguy who gets a rude awakening one night when a violent attempt is made on his life by rival crime factions, striking at home while his family are there. His lifestyle has inadvertently put those he loves in danger and now there are consequences, as grimly outlined by Forest Whitaker’s sympathetic FBI agent. Bobby, his wife (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is so great, why isn’t she in stuff anymore?), son (Shawn Hatosy) and young daughter (Sky McCole Bartusiak, who famously died young a few years ago) are relocated into the witness protection program run by the Feds, given new identities, their lives uprooted and their future uncertain. Now, I searched for this film for years (it’s near impossible to find) thinking there’d be some kind of actuon intrigue angle, a few gunfights as his enemies tracked him down, but such is not the case. This is a mature film, a meditation on what it takes to change who we are when our choices endanger the lives of those we are supposed to protect. Bobby is a man of violence who grew up in a certain way, and he has transformed that into his livelihood. But it’s also a risky creed to cling to, and eventually a line is crossed, the line between balancing a chaotic life, or letting it run away from you. He’s forced to change, to show honesty and the will power to go straight, and this causes intense strain on the relationships with each of his family members, both individually and as a group. It’s equal parts fascinating, heartbreaking and hopeful to see a family go from one extreme to the other, and every facet of the situation is explored in a script that feels authentic and unforced. Sizemore and Mastrantonio deliver powerhouse work that stuns and stings, inhabiting uncomfortable moments of personal anguish with gravity to spare. This one isn’t your typical crime drama, and is all the better for it. 

-Nate Hill