Sundance TV’s Rectify might be a quiet, modest, unassuming small town drama but in its narrative is contained a cosmos of human experience, pain, suffering, love, joy and sadness in one Georgia county. It’s a show that was conceived by an actor called Ray McKinnon, who is very memorable in everything from Deadwood (the preacher who has seizures) to Sons Of Anarchy (the anachronistic federal agent) to the Coen’s O Brother Where Art Thou (“He’s bona-fide!!”). I had no idea that his mind contained the kind of emotional and empathetic wellspring of creative enterprise to pull off something like this though, because it’s one of the most staggeringly mature, emotionally intelligent and uncommonly compassionate stories I’ve ever experienced onscreen. It tells the story of Daniel Holden (Aden Young) a man who was once convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend as a teen one hectic night and has been sitting on death row for something like two decades. When new evidence comes to light and he is tentatively exonerated pending a trial on the horizon, he experiences freedom for the first time in a long time, gets reacquainted with his family, faces animosity and controversy from many who are convinced he’s still guilty and must find a way to reintegrate into his community. There is also the matter of who is actually responsible for the girl’s murder so many years before but if you’re thinking this is any kind of thriller well then cool your jets because this is about as slow burn, introspective and deliberately paced as television gets. This isn’t your garden variety murder mystery, it’s a studious anthropological undertaking, a dignified observation of one man in an unthinkable position and the humans who orbit him in a nebulous nexus of relationships fraught with complexity, contradictions and the mysteries of the human soul. He’s faced with retooling relationships with his parents (J. Smith Cameron & Bruce McKinnon), the sister (Abigail Spencer) who never gave up on him, his misunderstood stepbrother (Clayne Crawford) and wife (the angelic and wonderful Adelaide Clemens) who is also something of an old flame to Daniel, a boorish US Senator (Michael O’Neill) determined to see him back behind bars, a former childhood friend (the inherently shady Sean Bridgers) who was there that fateful night and many, many more. His time out in the world is beautifully woven together with painful, illuminating flashbacks to his many years on death row where we see a kinship and brotherhood form between him and and another inmate (Johnny Ray Gill) who will become his best friend. Along with all these tangible, traceable relationships he has there are also several key allegorical figures who appear to him on his journey including a charismatic antiques dealing socialite (Leon Rippy), a compassionate prison chaplain (Matthew Posey), a flirtatious conventioneer (Frances Fisher) and a mysterious booze swilling, livestock thieving wanderer (W. Earl Brown) who imparts to him in a dreamlike journey the haunting wisdom: “It’s the beauty that hurts the most, not the ugly.” It’s quite a journey, and every step of the way the show’s creators make the right decisions for characters they love and care for deeply, even the challenging ones who are tough to relate to. This isn’t a story about whether or not Daniel is guilty or not or who actually committed the crime and if you’re expecting resolution, you’ve come to the wrong place, however if catharsis is what you seek then you’ll be rewarded greatly, just not in the ways you might think. Consider a moment where Daniel experiences a sunrise for the first time in twenty years of being locked in one room, or enjoys a bag of chips and a pop in the afternoon sun on a grass field, or simply shares a deep conversation about the rain with Clemens’s impossibly soulful Tawney. These are moments that to you and I might seem trivial because we take them for granted, but to Daniel who hasn’t been able to do these things in a cruelly prolonged amount of time they mean the world. This story takes its time getting to know its characters, allows for deep moral complexity to unfold, has some of the best writing I’ve ever heard, explores the passage of time in a way I’ve never seen attempted and is just overall legitimately one of the finest pieces of art I’ve ever seen in any medium an at times reaches levels of pure transcendence.
Given Alan Moore’s corrosive reaction to any adaptation of his work so far I admire the big brass balls of anyone who attempts to go near it these, much less craft a new story based on his existing volumes. So that said, HBO and Damon Lindelof should be given the slow clap for attempting such a thing and not only that but making something just as sprawling, provocative and prescient as the source material. I have a deep love for Moore’s original graphic novel, I’m a huge fan of Zachary Snyder’s epic big screen version and I can now happily say that I am also over the moon about and mostly appreciate what they’ve done here.
I can’t say much about the story without spoiling both this and the book for anyone who isn’t up to date but anyways: The year is 2019, over two decades since ex superhero Ozymandias changed the course of history with a certain gooey incident in NYC (this follows the book, whereas Snyder did his own thing in the third act, which was also welcome). The setting is rural Oklahoma where masked police officers team up with costumed antiheroes to tackle a white supremacist hate group who have hijacked deceased Rorschach’s extremist views for their own nasty agenda, complete with wearing his mask. If you remember Rorschach you’ll recall that although his intentions steered towards the righteous now and again, for the most part he was a hateful, maladjusted prick and I wouldn’t put it past that elusive diary of his to spark this kind of cancer across the land years later. Anywho, police officer Angela Abar (Regina King) moonlights as a badass called Sister Night and along with her captain (Don Johnson), human lie detector Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson, finally gifted a role that exercises his talents beyond ‘dim-bulb hayseed’) and more, try to get to the bottom of what’s up. This proves tricky especially when former Silk Spectre Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) blows into town hunting vigilantes and a shadowy conspiracy begins to emerge involving everyone’s past. Lindelof & Co. carefully pick their cast and as such we get amazing work from the likes of Hong Chau, Tom Mison, Sarah Vickers, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Louis Gossett Jr, Glenn Fleshler and scene stealing Jeremy Irons as a haggard, very eccentric older Ozymandias.
I really can’t comment much more on story without ruining the surprises here, of which there are many. This is a byzantine tale, one that at first seems to have little to do with the original story until slowly, carefully and cleverly the layers peel back and the “Aha!” moments begin to roll in. My favourite performance of the whole piece is Jean Smart as the brittle, jaded and supremely badass Laurie, I noted with interest that she took her father Edward ‘The Comedian’ Blake’s last name despite everything that happened to her and her mom, and its these little touches that augment what we remember and add such rich depth to the mythology. Where is Dr. Manhattan in of this? There are blue phone-booths all over the world that one can go into and supposedly get a direct one way line to Mars where he just might be listening. Thousands of tiny, bizarre squid aliens periodically rain from the sky serving as reminder of the great unknown that made itself known in NYC. Watching this I felt immersed, I believed that this is the way the world could very well have ended up after what happened all those years ago. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross outdo themselves with a menacing, sonic original score that surges the action along and spins up the same kind of paranoia one feels reading the source material. Aside from a few issues with character development and the deliberate one note portrayal of some of the antagonists, this is worthy of the Watchmen name and then some.
I’ve always liked Gone In 60 Seconds, even if it is one of the more lukewarm notches in Jerry Bruckheimer’s belt. Helmed by Dominic Sena who comes from a music video background, you get what you’d expect from a craftsman like that in the way of a flashy, eye catching popcorn flick that sees an easygoing Nicolas Cage as Memphis Rhaines, a car thief guru culled out of retirement when his dipshit little brother (Giovanni Ribisi) gets in deep with a dangerous UK mobster (Doctor Who). It’s the perfect setup for one long night of auto boosting as the villain gives them a laundry list of sweet cars to steal and ship out of the port by sunup or they end up as fuel for his scary flame factory/junkyard thing that these guys always seem to own and live in. The real fun is in seeing Cage put together an eclectic team of fellow thieves to work their magic, including Will Patton’s slick veteran booster, Scott Caan playing yet another insufferable horn-dog, Robert Duvall as a sagely old fence, Vinnie Jones as the strong silent muscle and Angelina Jolie as the motor mouthed tomboy who inevitably ends up in the saddle with Cage. They’re all hunted by two detectives, one an intuitive veteran (Delroy Lindo) and the other a misguided rookie (Timothy Olyphant) who always are naturally one step behind them, and so the formula goes. The cars are indeed pretty cool, especially Eleanor, Rhaines’s fabled unicorn automobile that happens to be a gorgeous matte silver Shelby GT with a seriously sexy purr. The supporting cast is solid and includes William Lee Scott, James Duval, Chi McBride, Michael Pena, John Carroll Lynch, Master P ad Twin Peak’s Grace Zabriskie as Cages’s feisty mom. This isn’t a knock your socks off flick or anything revolutionary in the genre, but it cruises along with an easy swing, carefree urban vibe and the actors, as well as Sena’s sharp and snazzy visual editing make it fun enough. Oh and it doesn’t get much cooler than those wicked opening credits set to Moby’s Flower, that’s how you lay down a mood for the film to follow.
The Lincoln Lawyer was the first film in the revival of Matthew McConaughey’s career after a lengthy slump stretching back to the early 2000’s, and what a banger of a pseudo courtroom drama it turned out to be. Based on the series of novels by Michael Connelly which focus on slick, morally untethered defence attorney Mick Haller (played to perfection by Matt), director Brad Furman whips up an enjoyable, razor sharp yet laid back LA crime saga that’s smart, re-watchable and competently staged, not to mention stuffed to the roof with great actors. Haller is something of a renegade lawyer who operates smoothly from the leather interior of his Lincoln town car, driven by trusty chauffeur Earl (the always awesome Lawrence Mason). Mick is ice cool and seldom bothered by the legal atrocities he commits, until one case follows him home and digs up a tormented conscience he never knew he had. Hired to defend a rich brat (Ryan Phillipe) accused of murdering a call girl, events take a turn for the unpredictable as older crimes are dug up, double crosses are laid bare and everyone’s life starts to unravel. It’s a deliciously constructed story with twists and payoffs galore, as well as one hell of an arc for McConaughey to flesh out in the kind of desperate, lone wolf role that mirrors the dark side of his idealistic lawyer in Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. Let’s talk supporting cast: Marisa Tomei is sexy and easygoing as Mick’s ex wife and rival, Bryan Cranston simmers on low burn as a nasty detective, William H. Macy does a lively turn as his PI buddy, plus excellent work from Frances Fisher, Shea Wigham, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton, Bob Gunton, Pell James, Katherine Moennig and the great Michael Paré as a resentful cop who proves to be quite useful later on. There’s a dark side to the story too that I appreciated, in the fact that not every wrong is righted, or at least fully, a sad fact that can be seen in an unfortunate character played by Michael Pena, but indicative of life’s brutal realities, something Hollywood sometimes tries to smother. One of the great courtroom films out there, a gem in McConaughey’s career and just a damn fine time at the movies.
House Of Sand And Fog is an emotional thunderclap in ways you won’t see coming, leaving the viewer gutted after a finale that feels spare and detached yet wracked with emotion in the same moment. You feel haunted after witnessing the story unfold, and I was particularly affected by Ben Kingsley’s determind, tender performance for days after my viewing of the film. He plays an Iranian man, a proud man who was a Colonel in the air force in his home country, and has been forced to work construction labor jobs in America to support his family, and to keep up the appearances of their lifestyle. When neglected taxes force a troubled woman (Jennifer Connelly) out of the house she grew up in, Kingsley sees an opportunity to buy the the property for a fraction of what it’s worth, essentially leaving Connelly homeless. She has a history of alcoholism and instability, and this unfortunate situation really worsens her condition, leading to angry and confrontational behaviour towards Kingsley. He has no ill will towards her, he’s simply trying to make a better life for his family whom he loves very much. His wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is still very much rooted in Iranian culture, and much of what’s going on goes over her head. There’s also a cop (Ron Eldard) who strikes up a reckless romance with Connelly and tries to strong arm Kingsley into selling the house back to her, pretty much reasoning with his dick instead of his brain. This is a film that refuses to take a side, showing us unblinking and compassionate views of both people within the conflict, and never lifting a judging eyebrow. It’s a sad, sad turn of events and the film wants to show us the tragedy, but it does so with the utmost care, and always has a loving hand in presenting it’s two lead characters. Connelly is heartbreaking, showing us the burning humiliation that frays her spirit to the last sinew. Kingsley is flat out brilliant in the kind of performance that holds up for decades to come. He rightly won an Oscar for his galvanizing turn that breaks hearts and opens tear ducts. Ron Eldard is the only piece that doesn’t fit, because he’s usually not fund in this type of stuff. He’s really talented as an offbeat character actor, but just seems out of place here playing it straight, and it also doesn’t help that his character is just damn unlikable. Aghdashloo is the third leg of the acting table, and her work earned her an Oscar as well, she is plain superb. Be careful of what mood you’re in when you give this one a go, it’s pretty devastating. It’s also powerful cinema, and a story that could happen to anyone, anywhere in the world, giving us something real to latch onto and connect with.