Antoine Fuqua’s The Replacement Killers is one of the most stylish and visually synergistic action flicks ever made. It’s like John Woo meets John Wick, and seriously has some cool to it. Chow Yun Fat, that effortless, laid back badass, plays lethal hitman John Lee, who suffers a crisis of conscience at the worst professional crossroads. When Detective Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker adds to the noirish feel) kills the son of powerful Chinese crime boss Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang), he and his family are marked for death by the syndicate. Lee is employed to take out his young son, but holds back in the last moment, making a split second decision to defy Wei, take a rogue’s path and create a huge problem for everyone involved. Now, Wei has replacement killer after not only Lee, but Zedkov again and anyone unlucky enough to get in the way. Lee teams up with sexy identity forger Meg Coburn (love me some Mira Sorvino) and the two evade bullets, bombs and multiple murderous assassins all in the highest of style. Chow is the perfect action hero, with a mournful like ability and stoic streak that’s never too serious and always punctuated by his baleful sense of humour. Plus the guy can make bloody magic with two handguns in a career of epic stunt work that is almost as big a feat as that of the characters he plays. Sorvino also has a downbeat energy, adorable self deprecation and tough chick sarcasm that she masquerades with to hide the bruised girl beneath. They are a wonderful team, and I like that the film never outright forced any romance, but rather let the performances subtly suggest it via the absence in the script. Rooker holds up his end with endearing toughness, especially when forced to work alongside Lee and Meg to save their asses, a perfect character arc that he really sells.Jurgen Prochnow is deadly and devilish as Michael Kogan, the only German mercenary I know of that works for a Chinese crime syndicate lol. Danny Trejo and Til Schweiger are hilariously over the top as two silent monster assassins, leather clad death angels hired by Wei to hunt our heroes. The action really steps it up into comic book mode when they show up. Keep any eye out for Frank Medrano, Patrick Kilpatrick and a young Clifton Collins Jr as a street vato named ‘Loco’. Epic cast, unmatched visual style, an action gold mine.
Barry Levinson’s Sleepers is a deliberately paced, downbeat look at revenge, and is one of the most brilliant yet seemingly overlooked dramas of the 90’s. Part of it could have been marketing; The cover suggests blistering violence, confrontation and courtroom intrigue. While there are such moments within the narrative, they live to serve the story, which Levinson and his dream cast are doggedly intent on telling. It’s a sombre affair to be sure, slow and methodical as well, but never to be confused with boring. It’s just such a great story, one that unfolds exactly as it needs to. It starts in the 1950’s, where four young rapscallions run wild on the streets of Manhatten. It kicks the story off with a sort of urban Stand By Me vibe, and if you thought that film went to some heavy placed, stick around through Sleepers. When an innocent prank ends in tragedy, the four are sent to an austere children’s correctional facility, where they run afoul of some sadistic and abusive guards, led by Kevin Bacon, who is scummier than scum itself. They endure months of ritual abuse at the hands of these sickos, until their eventual release. Life goes on, as it must, the four boys grow up and follow very different paths from one another. Michael (Brad Pitt) becomes an esteemed lawyer. Shakes (Jason Patric) lives a quiet life, while Tommy (Billy Crudup, wonderfully cast against type) and John (Ron Eldard) take a darker road to drugs and crime. Eventually their past rears it’s head, and they are presented with an opportunity for much delayed revenge. It doesn’t all play out the way you may think though, and half the fun of this one is being surprised by geniunly lifelike plot turns and characters who behave as real humans would. Pitt is the highlight in a performance of quiet torment. Dustin Hoffman is fun as a washed up lawyer who gets involved, Minnie Driver shows up as a tough NYC gal who gets involved with Patric, Robert De Niro has a nice bit as a kindly priest who counsels the boys even until adulthood, and there’s further supporting work from Jonathan Tucker, Bruno Kirby, Frank Medrano, Brad Renfro, Terry Kinney and more. Levinson usually takes on bright, chipper comedies and razor sharp political satire. With Sleepers he deviates into tragic dramatic material, and shows his versitility excellently. This one gets grim, no doubt about it. However, it’s a story not only worth the telling, but worth the watching for us.