What the hell did just watch. Oh boy, what can I say about this one without tearing it a new one. Alan Rudolph’s Trixie is a dud, a paperweight, a misguided, clumsy disaster of the highest order. It has the tonal equilibrium of heart attack on a flow chart, and a troupe of actors who mercilessly embarrass themselves into the ground with work that goes beyond tireless pantomime. It’s sad, because I’ve seen this type of thing work nicely before, with the right amounts of quaint and quirky qualities, but here the mixture tanks in a god awfully messy cannonball of a landing. It tries to be a detective story, but fails to realize that you need some semblance of a story to care about, and I just…. didn’t care. It’s a slog to get through, a struggle to stay focused on, and basically a big awkward failure on every level. Also puzzling is the fact that cast, all of which are excellent actors who I love in almost everything they do, all made me want to hit them here, and when you’ve got a cast this good, that’s no easy feat. Emily Watson will make you want to tear your hair out as titular Trixie, a casino security guard with aspirations of taking on a big detective case, an irritating Chicago accent and apparantly mild brain damage that causes her to mispronounce every expression, figure of speech and slang term in a fashion that is neither cute nor funny. She’s wooed by Dex (Dermot Mulroney) a goon who works for sleazy land developer Red Rafferty (Will Patton). Soon, through a set of circumstances both inane and cartoonish, they find themselves deep in some sort of backhanded scheme involving murder most foul, tied to a corrupt state senator played by Nick Nolte, who is the peacock of the bunch, sucking all the energy out of the room with dialogue that is literally lifted straight from political speeches from the past. I’m not even kidding, he blusters out platitudes that vaguely have a place in whatever seen is going on, but barely. There’s also a hot young waitress (a bouncy Brittany Murphy), a flamboyant lounge singer (Nathan Lane is excruciating), a washed up pop star (Lesley Ann Down) and a bizarre cameo from Stephen Lang who attempts an accent that made me supremely uncomfortable. It’s weird, cumbersome and altogether pointless as everything it tries: comedy, thriller, romance, whodunit.. all fall miserably flat. Bummer. I’m gonna go make a list of all the things I could have been doing with the two hours I spent on this wreck.
The Last Outlaw is a revenge themed western written by Eric Red, and if you’re at all familiar with his other works (he also penned The Hitcher and Near Dark), you’ll have some idea of how bloody and intense it is. It’s a smile story populated by hard bitten, gruff sons of bitches, and the violence comes fast and hard from all directions as soon as a few backs are stabbed, and several ravenous tempers ignited. Often in westerns the violence is clipped and minimal, the damage which a six gun does to flesh oddly shirked in favour of theatricality. This one has no use for that, and messily displays exactly what such a weapon does to people, repeatedly and with no discretion. It’s rough, gritty, Walter Hill style stuff, with not a trace of levity, smash or buckle, and every character kicking up dirt and anger the whole time. The film opens with a daring bank robbery, executed by former civil war Colonel Graff (Mickey Rourke), and his brutal gang. Their victory turns sour when mutiny looms among them in the form of Graff’s second in command, Eustos (Dermot Mulroney). He can’t abide by Graff’s sadistic methods, and bitterly betrays him. The rest is a bullet ridden cat and mouse game in the dusty deserts and shanty towns of the southwest, as the bodies pile up and the blood spatters in the dirt time and time again. Rourke is an implosive, grade A dickhead as Graff, a man less concerned with the fruits of his labor and more driven by the desire to exact violent retribution. One wonders if that’s what he’s in the game for anyway, to bide his time until something goes amiss, and the revel in the carnage. The supporting cast is just epic, with work from Steve Buscemi, Ted Levine, Paul Ben Victor, Richard Fancy, John C. McGinley and Keith David. It’s essentially one big stylish bloodbath, a pulpy ride through the gutter of arrogant machismo. Terrific fun, if that’s your thing.
David Fincher’s Zodiac is the finest film he has ever brought us, and one of the most gut churning documentations of a serial killer’s crimes ever put on celluloid. Fincher has no interest in fitting his narrative into the Hollywood box or sifting through the details of the real life crimes to remove anything that doesn’t follow established formula. He plumbs the vast case files and sticks rigidly to detail, clinging to ambiguity the whole way through and welcoming the eerie lack of resolution we arrive at with open arms. That kind of diligence to true life events is far more scary than any generic, assembly line plot turns twisted into stale shape by the writer (and studio breathing down their neck, no doubt). No, Fincher sticks to the chilling details religiously, starkly recreating every revelation in the Zodiac killer case with the kind of patience and second nature style of direction that leads to huge atmospheric payoff and a hovering sense of unease that continues to make the film as effective today as the day it was released. A massive troupe of actors are employed to portray the various cops, journalists, victims and pursuers involved with the killer during the 1970’s in San Francisco, the film unfolding in episodic form and giving each performer their due, right down to the juicy cameos and bit parts. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Rob Graysmith, a news reporter who becomes intrigued and eventually obsessed with the cryptic puzzles which the Zodiac taunts the bay area with by sending them in to the paper. Mark Ruffalo is Charlie Toschi, dogged police investigator who is consumed by the hunt. The third leg of the acting tripod is Robert Downey Jr as Paul Avery, another journalist who takes the failure in capturing the killer a little harder than those around him. The film dances eerily along a true crime path populated by many people who veered in and out of the killers path including talk show host Melvin Belli (a sly Brian Cox) , another intrepid cop (Anthony Edwards), his superior officer (Dermot Mulroney) and so many more. For such an expansive and complicated story it’s all rather easy to keep track if, mainly thanks to Fincher’s hypnotic and very concise direction, grabbing you like a noose, tightening and then letting you go just when you feel like you have some answers. While most of the film examines the analytical nature of the investigation, there are a few scenes which focus on the killings themselves and let me tell you they are some of the most hair raising stuff you will ever see. The horror comes from the trapped animal look in the victims eyes as they try rationalize the inevitability, with Fincher forcing you to accept the reality of such acts. One sequence set near a riverbank veers into nightmare mode. Every stab is felt by the viewer, every bit of empathy directed to the victims and every ounce of fear felt alongside them. It can’t quite be classified as horror outright, but there are scenes that dance circles around the best in the genre, and are the most disturbing things to climb from the crevice of Fincher’s work. They’re nestled in a patient bog of studious detective work, blind speculation and frustrating herrings, which make them scarier than hell when they do show up out of nowhere. Adding to the already epic cast are Jimmi Simpson, Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch, Donal Logue, Pell James, Philip Baker Hall, John Terry, Zach Grenier and a brief cameo from Clea Duvall. I think the reason the film works so well and stands way above the grasp of so many other thrillers like it is because of its steadfast resolve to tell you exactly what happened, urge you to wonder what the missing pieces might reveal should they ever come to light, and deeply unsettle you with the fear of the undiscovered, something which never fails to ignite both curiosity and dread in us human beings.