Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, although pretty darn stylish, is just cursed with being the least engaging and unique Hannibal Lecter film out there. It’s not that it’s a bad flick, but when you have Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal and the far superior Manhunter to compete with, you’re trucking down a rocky road. The strongest element this film has going for it is Ralph Fiennes, who plays the hell out of the role of Francis Dolarhyde, the disturbed serial killer also known as the Tooth Fairy. Previously played by an introverted and terrifying Tom Noonan, Fiennes gives him a more rabid, haunted vibe and steals the show, but then he always does. Edward Norton is a bit underwhelming as FBI behavioural specialist Will Graham, sandwiched between William L. Peterson and Hugh Dancy’s modern day, definitive take on the character. Graham has the tact and luck to ensnare notorious cannibalistic murderer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins purrs his way through a hat trick in the role), whose help he subsequently needs in pursuing Dolarhyde. Harvey Keitel clocks in as rock jawed Jack Crawford, Graham’s boss and mentor, solidly filling in for far mor memorable turns from Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Farina and Scott Glenn. All the scenes with Dolarhyde fare best, given some truly impressive rural cinematography that sets the mood for the killer’s twisted mindset nicely. The cerebral jousting between Graham and Lecter only half works here, dulled in comparison to the crackling exchanges that Jodie Foster masterfully handled with Hopkins, who was far, far scarier back then. Emily Watson lends her doe eyed presence to the blind girl that brings out the only traces of humanity still left in Dolarhyde, Philip Seymour Hoffman shows up as bottom feeding tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds, and Mary Louise Parker, grounded as always, plays Graham’s wife. You could do worse in terms of films like this, but in the Lecter franchise it falls pretty far short of any of the other entries, save for the few inspired moments involving Fiennes.
Yes, Patch Adams is a pile of sentimental mush. Yeah, the filmmakers took severe liberties with the source material until their protagonist scarcely resembled the fellow they based him on. Sure, it’s soppy to all hell. My thoughts on all of the above: So freakin what. None of that has stopped me from loving the film growing up as a kid, and continuing to do so these days too. The message it delivers and the values it supports can be relatable to anyone in any walk of life, not just the medical field. Robin Williams had his demons, but he could be the brightest beacon of love and optimism a lot of the time, and he carries that wonderfully throughout the film. Patch Adams is a manic depressive, deeply sad man who finds his calling in the field of medicine following an epiphany involving a fellow patient (Michael Jeter, always great) at the psychiatric facility he is staying in. Upon enrolling in medical school he finds the cold, clinical atmosphere of his field uninviting. Patch is a vibrant soul who wishes to combat illness and despair not just with medicine, but a healthy dose of humour, empathy and the readiness to listen to your patient, think outside the box and have compassion. His methods are seen as unorthodox, especially by the college dean (Bob Gunton), whose ass is so tight that when he farts only dogs hear it. Patch both struggles and triumphs, finding solace and inspiration in daily interaction with patients, and hits walls with his superiors, who neither trust nor understand his ways. It’s always an uphill journey for any sort of pioneer, but he soldiers on, aided by William’s remarkable work. Patch starts his own independent clinic along with fellow student and girlfriend Carin (the lovely and very underrated Monica Potter), and life is good. But it’s never safe from tragedy, as we tearfully bear witness to in a plot turn that will rip out your heart and huck it off a cliff. Patch is undeterred though, adamant in his quest to bring light, levity and love into the lives of the people he works with, regardless of how much time they have left on this earth, or who tells him what he should and shouldn’t do. That’s essentially what the story is about: helping others any way you can. That extends beyond simply trying to cure their disease, remove a tumor, prescribe a medication or diagnose an illness in a dry, detached manner. It’s about alleviating suffering not only with the tools of your practice, but with those of your heart and soul as well. Patch knows this, and won’t back down from the good fight. Bless his heart, and William’s too, for a performance of warmth and affection. Watch for work from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Josef Sommer, Ryan Hurst, Richard Kelly, Harve Presnell, Daniel London, Irma P. Hall, Barry Shabaka Henley, Alan Tudyuk and and excellent Peter Coyote as a stubborn cancer patient. There’s naysayers galore buzzing around this film like gnats. Swat ’em harshly, and don’t let ’em get you down. Those of us who appreciate the film know what’s up.
Doubt is an impeccable piece of filmmaking. From the Oscar-nominated writing to the air-tight direction to the spellbinding performances, it’s a precision-tooled work from a master storyteller who has an amazing grasp on what he wants to say. Adapted from his Pulitzer winning play of the same name, writer-director John Patrick Shanley crafted one of the most thought-provoking films from 2008 with Doubt, a piece of work that scorches the nerves because of how vital and possible all of it feels. Set in the 1960’s at a NYC Catholic school, Doubt tells the story of a priest who is accused of improper behavior with one of his altar boys. Philip Seymour Hoffman, forceful as ever, is Father Flynn, a seemingly good and decent man who takes a liking to the only black student/altar boy in the school. The scarily intense Meryl Streep is Sister Beauvier, the main accuser, who teams up with another nun, the fragile Sister James, played by Amy Adams, in order to try to bring Flynn down. Sister James is the one who thinks that something improper has occurred; she doesn’t have definitive proof but she merely thinks that something bad has happened. Shanley asks his viewers to make a decision at the end of the film as to who was right, who was wrong, who was lying, and who was telling the truth. This is a hard film to review without spoiling because there’s little to no fat on the bones of the story, with each scene feeding into the one previous and the one following. Every piercing line of dialogue is important to the overall narrative and every moment in each of the three central performances are so integral to the film’s outcome that it becomes a tricky movie to discuss without giving everything away.
And then you have an emotionally shattering Viola Davis, who stole some heartbreaking scenes as the altar boy’s deeply concerned mother; there’s not a false note played by any of these superlative performers, all of whom were bestowed with Oscar nominations for their riveting portrayals. With Doubt, what I think Shanley was trying to get his audience to ask themselves is: How do we really know what goes on behind a closed-door? Is it enough to simply think that someone has done something wrong before you attack their character? What is a person’s moral compass made up of, and how do we truly know the people we work and live with? How do we decide who is right and who is wrong when all of the facts aren’t made clear? Working with the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, Shanley brought an appropriately chilly visual aesthetic to the film, with Deakins stressing grays and browns and darkly lit interiors with tons of Dutch angles and long takes that maximize the dramatic potency of every face-off between the verbally sparring actors. Every line of dialogue crackles with authority, especially when spoken by Hoffman and Streep, and Adams, in the film’s most layered role, did excellent work, painting a portrait of a confused woman who may or may not have started something she has no way of ever controlling. And most importantly, Shanley knew exactly how to wrap up his story, and during the film’s final, stinging moments, you’ll be left with a lot of fodder for discussion after the final credits have rolled.