Tag Archives: James Badge Dale

Joe Carnahan’s The Grey

When the marketing campaign came along for Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, they really tried their hardest to make it look like ‘that Liam Neeson movie about punching wolves.’ It’s understandable, because what we really got was a heartbreaking, human survival story rooted in character, streaked with sorrowful existentialism and so far from the rugged action film advertised. That kind of film is hard to sell in Big Hollywood, but it’s always better as filmgoers to receive something this thought out, carefully made, entertaining and deep when visiting the multiplex, and it’s gone on to become one of the best films of recent decades as well as a personal favourite.

Neeson is scary good as Ottway, hired gun for an oil company and resident badass at the remote Alaskan rig where hordes of rowdy labourers chase that paycheque they’re just gonna blow on booze the same night. On a routine transport back to Anchorage their plane crashes horrifically, scattering the tundra with bodies and leaving a handful of survivors to fight their way across the desolation. Led by Ottway, they soon realize their path has cut right trough the hunting ground stalked by a hungry pack of wolves, and they are now in the crosshairs as well as at odds with the cruel indifference of Mother Nature. The wolves here are never really seen clearly and don’t mimic what you might see on BBC’s Planet Earth, instead we get snarls, gristle, sinew and nasty unseen phantoms growling out there in the dark until one of them lunges for a kill. They serve not so much as literal wildlife but rather as harbinger of inevitability, a spectral reminder of one’s mortality in a situation like that, and the ever present fear of death.

Carnahan has a background in what you might call ‘manly movies,’ previously helming the excellently gritty Narc, the fabulous and underrated Smokin Aces and the silly reboot of The A Team, but The Grey is a brand new bag. Deadly serious, deeply thoughtful and surprisingly emotional, this is a film that loves its characters despite putting them through icy hell. Neeson is uncannily good, his character goes through sadness in ways that mirror real life tragedy the actor has been through, events we can see echo in his haunted, career best, primal howl of a performance. Dermot Mulroney makes brilliant work of Talget, a pensive man who just misses his daughter and holds onto that as will to live. Frank Grillo brings down the igloo as Diaz, a macho, hard bitten jerk-off who quickly discovers that such abhorrent behaviour is something both his fellow survivors and the wolves have no time for. Other fantastic work comes from James Badge Dale, Joe Anderson, Dallas Roberts, Nonzo Anozie, Ben Hernandez Bray, Anne Openshaw and more.

Roger Ebert said that the only time he ever walked out on a film was the next one in line after seeing this, and that sort of encapsulates the almost profound effect this one has. The first time I saw it was a bleary bootleg version on a laptop and I sat there stunned in silence after. There’s many aspects that went into attaining that quality, but what resonates and makes it work so well for me is how much it respects, loves, and treats its characters like actual human beings instead of cannon fodder victims for the wolves. They are all well developed, non-archetypal individuals, and it’s that that pulls you right into the story. There’s a scene where Neeson eases the passing of a fatally wounded man with comfort and grace, it’s easily the most devastating death scene I’ve ever seen filmed, made so by blunt realism and uncomfortable truth. My favourite scene has to be the remaining survivors sitting around a campfire, simply talking. They banter, Neeson shares a poem his father wrote, Mulroney tells a story about his daughter he misses so much and Grillo lightens their collective mood with a bit of humour. You feel like you’re sitting right there with them. A masterpiece on many levels.

-Nate Hill

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Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold The Dark

It’s easy to see why audiences are having sort of an icy reaction to Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold The Dark, an oblique, austere Alaska set thriller with esoteric undertones. On a platform as diverse yet decidedly commercial as Netflix, it will take some time for the riskier, more artistic and less accessible projects to gain traction, and for the casual viewers to warm up to varied aesthetics that they often lazily dismiss in a lump sum as ‘weird.’ They’ll come around. For us who are tuned in, however, we can appreciate that these risks are being taken and that money is being spent on challenging, anti Hollywood stuff. Although not as tightly wound or succinct as Saulnier’s first two efforts (Blue Ruin and Green Room), Hold The Dark is definitely my favourite as I have an affinity for snowy settings and dark, ambiguous mysteries. Jeffrey Wright is great here as as an outdoorsman and wolf expert hired by the mother (Riley Keogh) of a child supposedly snatched by wolves to find the beasts and kill them. I won’t say much more except that things are so far from what they seem at first that you’ll truly have no inkling of where the plot is going to take you next, which is a sign of great, inspired scriptwriting. There’s an eerie edge to the whole thing, but the film’s secrets aren’t divulged willingly or at all half the time. Alexander Skarsgard is implosive and lupine himself as the boy’s haunted father, on his own freaky quest for a goal shrouded in enigma like fog swells throughout the Alaskan mountains, actually Alberta here. James Badge Dale is great as the intense local sheriff, Julian Black Antelope is a standout talent as a shady local villager involved in the central mystery, and the cast includes fine work from Savonna Spracklin, Peter McRobbie, Macon Blair, Jonathan Whitesell and Tantoo Cardinal. Playing around with genre and tone, Saulnier and cinematographer Magnus Nordendorf Jønck deserve huge props for staging a fucking volcanic firefight scene that has to be up there with the best shootout scenes of all time, it goes on for something like ten minutes, more bullets are fired than in a Rambo movie and there’s some gnarly violence. There are some spooky, intangible ideas at play here and almost none of it is made obvious.. it may leave some in WTF mode, but clearly a stylistic language is being spoken here, with some deep, disturbing things to say about nature, humanity and the dark symbiosis held over them, particularly in lonely, desolate places such as this. This won’t be everyone’s thing, but it’s stayed with me all day since I saw it last night, I’m on board with it.

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s The Departed

Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is like being at a frat party where you slowly begin to realize that every other person there is an irredeemable asshole, but they’ve somehow strung you along with charm and charisma thus far. Like a nihilistic den of wolves where everyone involved is out to get each other, its quite simply one of the most hellbent, devil may care, narratively self destructive crime flicks out there. I admire that kind of reckless abandon in a huge budget Hollywood picture with a cast so full of pedigree it’s almost like The A list agencies just packed up all their talent in a clown car, drove it to South Boston and turned them loose on the neighbourhood. By now you know the fable: Two roughnecks, one a mobster (Matt Damon) who has infiltrated the state police, the other a deep cover operative (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is posing as a crime figure. Both are are intrinsically connected to Boston’s most fearsome gangster Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson in a performance so balls to the wall one almost feels like his 89’ Joker ditched the makeup and left Gotham for Southie. He’s a calculating maniac who openly mocks the veteran sergeant (Martin Sheen) putting in every effort to take him down, and rules over his vicious soldiers (Ray Winstone is a homicidal bulldog and David O’ Hara gets all the best comic relief) like a medieval despot gone mad. At well over two hours, not a single scene feels rushed, drawn out or remotely dawdled, there’s a breathless tank of violent machismo and wicked deception that never runs out, as the artery slashing editing reminds you every time it cuts to a new scene before the soundtrack choice has made it past the intro. The supporting cast has work from the gorgeous Vera Farmiga as a sneaky cop shrink, Anthony Anderson, James Badge Dale, Kevin Corrigan and more. Mark Whalberg also shows up to do the bad cop routine in a role originally meant for Denis Leary, and as solid as he is I kind of wish old Denis took a crack at it because you can obviously see how perfect he would have been, and is the better actor. As much as Jack Nicholson eats up the spotlight and chews more scenery than the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, my favourite performance of the film comes from Alec Baldwin as the head of the police tactical team. Spouting profanity like a fountain, slamming Budweiser as he swings his 9 iron and kicking the shit out of his employees, he’s a mean spirited, violently comical force of nature and I fucking love the guy. Scorsese has clearly set out to not deliver a heady message or lofty themes here as some do with crime epics; the characters all operate from the gut, use animal instinct and never pause to ponder or pontificate. The only message, if any, is the oft spouted ‘snitches get stitches’ as you can clearly see by the film’s final shot, also the only frame containing anything close to a metaphor. I admire a film like that, and certainly enjoyed the hell out of this one.

-Nate Hill

Joe Carnahan’s Stretch

It’s a crying shame that Joe Carnahan’s Stretch got buried with marketing and now no one knows about it, because it’s a pulpy treat that really deserved to be seen on the big screen and given a bit of hooplah pre-release. In the tradition of After Hours, consistently versatile Carnahan whips up a feverish nighttime screwball comedy of errors and bizarro shenanigans that doesn’t quit pummelling the viewer with rapid fire dialogue, hedonistic spectacle and a funhouse of LA weirdos getting up to no good, including a trio of the best celebrity cameos to come around in a long time. Patrick Wilson, who continues to impress, plays a sad sack limo driver who’s life has thrown him nothing but nasty curveballs, but he gets a chance to make bank and retribution in the form of Roger Karos, a deranged billionaire masochist who could unload a monster gratuity on him at the end of the night and clear the guy’s gambling debts. It’s a devil’s proposition and a fool’s errand, and as expected, pretty much everything than can go wrong does go wrong. Karos is played by an incognito and uncredited Chris Pine, and the guy should have gotten as many awards as they could throw at him. It’s a shame he’s in hiding here and no one knows about this performance because it’s a doozy. Pine plays him as a sadistic, scotch guzzling, cocaine hoovering monster who’s certifiably insane, like a smutty LA version of the Joker who’s as likely to shake your hand as set you on fire. Wilson’s Stretch is stuck with this demon, as well as his own, and it’s the night from hell, but nothing but mirth for the audience. Orbiting the two of them are wicked supporting turns from Jessica Alba, James Badge Dale, a maniacal Ed Helms, an unrecognizable Randy Couture as a freaky Slavic limo guru, Brooklyn Decker, and insane turns from Ray Liotta,

David Hasselhoff and Norman Reedus, who play warped versions of themselves. Wilson owns the role like a spitfire, Pine goes absolutely batshit bonkers for his entire screetime, Carnahan writes and directs with sleek, stylistic panache and a flair for realistic dialogue that feels elaborate but never false. I could talk this fucker up all day and type till I get carpel, but I’ll quit here and say just go watch the thing, it’s too good to be as under-seen as it is.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger: A Review by Nate Hill 

There’s always those films that get buried under a landslide of terrible reviews upon release, prompting me to avoid seeing them, and to wait a while down the line, sometimes years, to take a peek. I was so excited for Disney’s The Lone Ranger, being a die hard fan of both Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp’s monolithic work on Pirates Of The Caribbean, and just a lover of all this western, as well as the old television serial. The film came out, was met with an uproar of negative buzz, I went “well, shit”, and swiftly forgot it even existed. The other day I give it a watch, and would now like to pull a Jay and Silent Bob, save up cash for flights and tour the continent beating up every critic I can find in the phone book. I was whisked away like it was the first Pirates film all over again, the swash, buckle and spectacle needed for a rousing adventure picture all firmly present and hurtling along like the numerous speeding locomotives populating the action set pieces. Obviously the material has been vividly revamped from the fairly benign black and white stories of the tv show, especially when you have a circus ringmaster like Verbinski at the reigns, the guy just loves to throw everything he has into the action, packed with dense choreography and fluid camerawork that never ceases to amaze. Johnny Depp loves to steal the show with theatrical prancing and garish, peacock like costumes, and he kind of takes center stage as Tonto, the loyal sidekick to the Lone Ranger, who is given a decidedly roguish, unstable and altogether eccentric edge that the series never had, but I consider it a welcome addition to a character who always seemed one note in the past. Armie Hammer has a rock solid visage with two electric blue eyes peeking out of that iconic leather strap mask. It’s an origin story of sorts, chronicling Reid’s journey to visit his legendary lawman brother (James Badge Dale) and family in the small town West. Also arriving, however, is ruthless butcher and psychopathic outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) at the behest of opportunistic railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). Tempers flare and violence erupts, and before you know it Reid is without a family, left for dead in the desert and befriended by Tonto, who himself is a tragic loner in a way. Revenge is on the minds of both, as they venture on a journey to find Cavendish and his men, discover what slimy Cole is up to and bring order to the west, one silver bullet at a time (actually there’s only one silver bullet used in the entire film, but let’s not get technical). Now, I’ll admit that the middle of the film meanders and drags quite a bit, half losing my interest until the intrigue steps up a notch. A sequence where the pair visit a circus brothel run by a take no shit Helena Bonham Carter seems like unnecessary dead weight and could have been heavily trimmed, as could other scenes in that area that just aren’t needed and might have been excised to make the film more streamlined. It’s no matter though, because soon we are back in the saddle for a jaw dropping third act full of gunfights, train destruction and unreal stunts that seem like the sister story to Pirates, some of the action often directly mimicing parts from those films. Depp is like fifty, and still scampers around like a squirrel, it’s a sight to see. Fichtner is a world class act, his mouth permanently gashed into a gruesome snarl, the threat of violence oozing from his pores and following him like a cloud. Wilkinson can take on any role, period, and he’s in full on asshole mode, Cole is a solid gold prick and a villain of the highest order. Barry Pepper has a nice bit as a cavalry honcho who never seems to quite know what’s going on (it’s perpetual chaos), watch for Stephen Root and Ruth Wilson as Reid’s sister in law who ends up… well you’ll see. It’s fairly dark and bloody for a Disney film as well, there’s a grisly Temple Of Doom style moment and attention is paid towards America’s very dark past with the indigenous people, which is strong stuff indeed for a kid orientated film. Nothing compares to the flat out blissful adrenaline during the final action sequence though. That classic William Tell overture thunders up alongside two careening trains and your tv will struggle to keep up with such spectacle, it’s really the most fun the film has and a dizzyingly crowd pleasing sequence. All of this is told by an elderly Tonto in a museum exhibit, to a young boy who dreams of the west. A ghost from the past, part comic relief and part noble warrior, Tonto is a strange character indeed, and the old version of him has a glassy eyed reverence for his adventures before, the last one alive to remember. Many a review will tell you how bad this film is, but not mine. I found myself in pure enjoyment for the better part of it, and would gladly watch again.