Tag Archives: Sean Bean

Phillip Noyce and Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan: Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan has had a few iterations over the decades, the last two of which were sadly lukewarm efforts, but for my money Harrison Ford and Philip Noyce gave the best version with the explosive double feature of Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger. Star studded across the board, gifted with long runtimes, huge budgets and intelligent scripts, these are two enduring espionage films that I always have a place for on my DVD shelf and always tune in to if I come across them on TV. Ford is a heroic presence in cinema, and although his actions as Ryan are violently intrepid, he gives the character an unsure edge and resounding vulnerability that is always compelling and offsets the intrigue as great character work. This guy is an analyst after all, not a field agent and the portrayal should reflect that.

Patriot Games kicks off with Ryan in a brutal personal war against a rogue faction of the IRA, a tense conflict that reaps collateral damage on both sides. The two constant characters who ground both Ford and Ryan are his boss and mentor Greer (James Earl Jones) and his wife Cathy (Anne Archer), they keep him humble, human and sympathetic amongst all the chaos and political intrigue. Sean Bean is scary good here as Miller, renegade Irish operative whose plans are foiled early on by Jack, prompting him to swear bloody revenge on his whole family in a courtroom scene that is as chilling as Bean has ever been. Paranoia sets in as countless attempts are made against his and his families life, and even reassuring words from an IRA honcho (Richard Harris) who denounces Miller can’t set Ryan at ease. Only the eventual confrontation puts an end to it, which we get in a spectacular nocturnal speedboat chase across a Maryland harbour. The talent includes Thora Birch as Jack’s daughter, J.E. Freeman, Patrick Bergin, James Fox, Polly Walker, Bob Gunton and a young Samuel L. Jackson.

Clear & Present Danger sees the headstrong US President (Donald Moffat, never one to not devour dialogue like a good steak) declares war on marauding cartels from South America, another conflict that Ryan gets thrown into headlong both on location and back on the home front. Their leader (Miguel Sandoval) is a hotheaded moron, but the real danger lurks in Felix Cortez (Joaquim De Almeida, a spectacularly nasty villain), advisor, assassin and deadly power behind the throne who has ideas of his own. This entry is slightly more epic and action centric but the homeland espionage is played up too, particularly in the corrupt actions of two impossibly sleazy suits back in Washington played by Henry Czerny and Harris Yulin. They are so good in their roles they almost steal the film, especially Czerny as the ultimate prick and absolute last person you’d want making decisions for their country. Ford is less seething than he was in the very personal conflict of Patriot Games, but no less resourceful and violent when he needs to be. Willem Dafoe fills the boots of John Clark, a Clancy staple character and ruthless tactical agent who sometimes functions as a one man army. Further work is provided by Benjamin Bratt, Raymond Cruz, Dean Jones, Ann Magnuson, Patrick Bauchau and Hope Lange.

These two are not only great action spy films but to me represent an oasis of 90’s filmmaking that has never been replicated. Enormous casts, every dollar of the budget onscreen, timeless original scores (courtesy of James Horner here), vivid action set pieces, equal parts focus on story and action, no CGI in sight, character development and all round consistency in craft and production. I grew up with these two classics, watched them countless times with my dad and will always tune right back in whenever they’re around.

-Nate Hill

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Ridley Scott’s The Martian

You know those Sci-Fi movies where someone has a near miss, narrow escape or heroic encounter up in space and everyone down in the NASA control room leaps up, cheers and claps in collective catharsis? It’s a well worn narrative beat and can sometimes be an eye roll moment. Ridley Scott’s The Martian has several of these but because the characters and plot are so well drawn they feel earned, appropriate and exciting. That goes for the film itself as well, it’s a two and a half hour space epic that feels as breezy as a ninety minute quickie, an optimistic, human story of one man’s ultimate quest for survival and everyone else’s daring attempts to rescue him.

Scott is no stranger to darker, more austere stuff particularly in his Sci-Fi exploits, but he shines a bright light on the proceedings here, making a super complicated, science based story with many moving parts somehow seem light and carefree while also making a big emotional landing. Matt Damon is Mark Watney, astronaut, botanist, space pirate and celestial castaway, marooned on the red planet following a mission gone wrong and presumed dead by NASA and his crew, until he’s able to communicate. He grows potatoes using… homemade fertilizer, repairs a satellite and awaits rescue while everyone else faces moral and technical quandaries in their struggle to bring him home. NASA’s director (Jeff Daniels, smarmy but never an outright baddie) is reluctant to go all out and send another mission, the crew’s handler (Sean Bean, fantastically low key and against his usual tough guy image) wants to do right by them and inform their commander (Jessica Chastain). The earthbound commotion is nicely interlaced with Damon’s solo outings up there and somehow they edit the thing to both realistically depict the passing of time but also fly through the proceedings breathlessly. Scott casts his film with ridiculous talent including Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Michael Pena, Aksel Hennie, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristin Wiig and Mackenzie Davis.

Many people wrote this off as a good film but simply fluff, like an enjoyable but kind of inconsequential ride, or at least that’s the vibe I got from some reviews. I couldn’t disagree more. This type of story is exactly the kind of thing we need more of in this day and age. One could remark on the vast amount of effort, overtime hours and expenditure NASA puts in simply to bring one astronaut home, and whether or not it’s worth it (Jeff Daniels certainly has that thought cross his mind), but the truth is that it’s not about just Mark Watney, or just any one person stranded up there, it’s about what the actions and efforts signify, and how important that is, as well as the notable and extreme resilience on his part. This is a film that shows the best in human beings who are put in impossible situations, and how we might make ourselves, and those around us into better people. It’s a rollicking space flick speckled with incredible talent, hilarious comedy, scientific knowledge and has already aged splendidly since it’s release four years ago. Top tier Ridley Scott for me, and one of the best Sci-Fi films in decades.

-Nate Hill

Niki Caro’s North Country

Charlize Theron can pretty much play any role when she sets her mind to it, and when it comes to embodying the collective injustice and abuse inflicted towards female mine workers in late 80’s Minnesota, she is heartbreaking. Of course many other brilliant actors work hard to bring Niki Caro’s North Country to life, but it’s Theron who gives it the wounded centre and makes us care, not just about the issues at had but her character as well.

She plays a semi fictional character named Josey Aimes, who is loosely based on a real life woman that launched a milestone lawsuit against the corporate mining giant. Josey has escaped her abusive husband and come home to seek refuge with her parents (Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins) while trying to provide for her two children. The highest paying wage in the region is at the mines but from the moment she joins up she’s faced with hostility, scorn and rampant sexual harassment from the vast male work force there, and the few other female employees fare the same, unless they keep their head low. Josey and her young coworker Sherry (Michelle Monaghan) have it the worst because they’re, shall we say, easiest on the eyes, while their childhood friend Glory (Frances McDormand) keeps up a tough exterior, but in truth they are all of them fed up. As their treatment gets worse, Josey does the unthinkable and launches a high profile lawsuit against Big Mining for mistreatment and neglect, causing a shit-storm of controversy for both herself and the entire town whose survival depends on that industry. Not only that, but the case dredges up painful events from her past that involve supervisor Jeremy Renner, whose special interest in tormenting her dates back to then and explains why he radiates with guilt.

This is a brave, difficult choice for a woman to make especially when it seems like everyone is against her, but Josey is determined and Theron makes her wounded, charismatic and captivating. Woody Harrelson does a fine job as the lawyer hired to represent her, an idealistic man who isn’t afraid to unleash some hell when delivering statements or interrogating a witness because he believes it will lead to change. Jenkins is always brilliant, the arc he carries out here goes from cynically intoning that his daughter must have cheated on her husband to illicit violence like that to later openly defending his her with his own violence in court when he finds out what she has gone through. The old pro handles it gracefully and I can’t remember if he was nominated for this but he should have been. McDormand is her usual salty self and is excellent, while Sean Bean, an actor who often plays gruff, alpha male badasses is laid back and sensitive as her introvert boyfriend. Watch for great work from Xander Berkeley, Rusty Schwimmer, Corey Stoll, Brad William Henke, Jillian Armenante, Amber Heard and Chris Mulkey too.

Director Caro drew huge acclaim for her film Whale Rider a few years before, another story that dealt with a girl trying to find her place in the world and defying the men in her life. Once again this is a fantastic piece that shows her talent for filmmaking, never coming across as too much of a dramatization or too slack when it needs to cut deep. Theron is a force of nature and you can see the hurt, frustration and will to not back down burning in her eyes. This is a tough film to watch in many instances, but an extremely important one to sit through and the type that Hollywood doesn’t usually jump to green-light, at least back then anyways. Something of a masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy

What’s the first R rated film you ever saw in theatres? For me it was Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy, a gorgeous piece that has since stuck with me not just for the fact that it left a vivid, bloody impression on my young psyche but also because it’s quality filmmaking, no matter what anyone might tell you. Never mind the fact that Brad Pitt doesn’t quite fit the old world aesthetic or is out-acted by almost everyone in the film including the host of classically trained professionals he’s surrounded by. There is a lot to love here, starting with a narrative that is kind of not so common in big budget Hollywood; there are no real good guys or bad guys here, just people making decisions that lead to war. We witness compassion on both sides of the army, and cruelty too, but there are no clear cut heroes or tyrants, it’s all politics or emotion. This makes it pesky choosing who to root for but so much more fascinating once the swords start swinging and you have stock on either side.

Pitt may not have the accent down as mythical warrior Achilles but he sure gets a striking look going, streamlined physicality, epic spear throws and concise, satisfying sword fight choreography that he obviously put a lot of work into. Eric Bana is just as impressive as Trojan prince Hector, a rational, anti-war guy who resents his younger brother Paris (Orlando Bloom, wooden as ever) for basically screwing things up as badly as you possibly could. The romance between him and Helen (Diane Kruger, radiant) never feels authentic and definitely is not developed enough to start a war of this magnitude, but their relationships aren’t where we place out investment here anyways. It’s Hector, his princess (Saffron Burrows will break your heart) and their infant son as well as Achilles’s protectiveness over his cousin Patrocles (Garett Hedlund) that win over our emotions and make us care.

The siege on the beach of Troy is a nervous spectacle set up with anticipation in the air as a single bell rings out, signalling ships on the horizon. As spectacular as the war is cinematically I found myself wishing it wasn’t happening just because of the suffering inflicted on either side. It’s not a pleasant or glorious set of battles and no one really wins but rather comes to a collective bitter end, which is another unique factor here. Look at this cast they’ve assembled too, with bold turns from Sean Bean as Odysseus, Peter O’Toole as King Priam of Troy, Brendan Gleeson as the petulant king of Sparta and a loathsome, fantastic Brian Cox as the greedy warlord Agamemnon. Rose Byrne is soulful as the young Trojan priestess who serves as concubine to Achilles until he actually catches feels, and watch for James Cosmo, Tyler Mane, Julian Glover, Nigel Terry, Vincent Reagan and a quick cameo from the great Julie Christie, still beautiful as ever.

Petersen mounts an impressive production here, full of horses, ships, elaborate sets and gorgeous costumes, brought alive by James Horner’s restless, melancholy score. The set pieces are fantastic too, the best of which involves Pitt and Bana in a ruthless one on one fight to the death, each angry and lunging with sword and spear while their people look on, its well staged and genuinely suspenseful thanks to the hour plus of character building before. I couldn’t give a shit whether this is either historically accurate or follows the literature closely at all, that’s not the point for me in going into something like this. I want to see immersive, brutal battle scenes that thrill and I want an overarching story that makes me care about said battle, so every spear throw and image of carnage holds some weight beyond itself. Actors like Pitt, Bana, O’Toole, Reagan and especially Burrows sold me on it and had me legit worrying what will happen to them so that when the dust settles and the very tragic, depressing outcome is apparent, you are haunted by it after. It sure had that effect on me at age eleven or whenever. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Platinum Dunes’ The Hitcher

I won’t pretend to be a fan of horror remakes other than Rob Zombie’s Halloween, but when they cast Sean Bean as iconic highway madman John Ryder in the inevitable second lap of Robert Harmon’s horror classic The Hitcher, I perked up. Bean, like Rutger Hauer in the original, is one of my favourite actors of all time and I had to to see what he did with the character (he pulled out of another contract and jumped a plane just to accept this gig). The good news is.. he lives up to Hauer’s original asphalt angel of death, and I’ll fight anyone who argues. The bad news? The film doesn’t. It’s one of those dodgy, hit or miss Platinum Dunes horror updates (avoid Jason and Freddy like the plague, but their first Leatherface incarnation is quite good) and really misses out on the atmospheric, haunting pace of the first, where nightmares and reality blend into the mirages appearing on the desert horizon for lone motorist Jim Halsey… the thing is, here Jim isn’t alone at all but travelling with his girlfriend and that takes some of the primal fear out of it. Zachary Knighton fills C. Thomas Howell’s shoes and a surprisingly adept Sofia Bush plays the gal, on a road trip for spring break when they’re suddenly tormented by Bean’s Ryder, an intense creation by the actor that carefully avoids any callbacks or mimicry of Hauer. How could he though? Rutger made that role his own and Bean wisely does the same with a sardonic, smouldering aura all his own, and wins a spot in horror pantheon as a worthy update on this boogeyman of the backroads (he’s also better than Gary Busey’s kid was in that god awful sequel that no one wants to admit was even made). Everything here gets a torqued update, from the infamous body tied between two trucks scene (yuck) to the car chases (that Trans Am tho) to the violence itself, to legendary highway super-cop Lt. Esteridge, trading in cucumber cool Jeffrey DeMunn for hilariously hammy Neal McDonough, who kills it as the only officer who isn’t a bumbling moron. But who needs all that sound and fury when you’re trying to throwback to an atmosphere classic? I guess go your own way, but it really doesn’t do the Hitcher legacy any justice. Aside from Bean who elevates his scenes to horror greatness, it’s a slapdash, needlessly gruesome slice of knockoff cash grab slasher fare that takes everything that was spooky, shadowy and mysterious about the first one, shines a big broad daylight aesthetic on it that shakes off the cobwebs we never wanted gone in the first place, like Bon Jovi trying to cover a song by The Cure. There is, however, one moment that gets it right and rises to a level of quality deserving of the Hitcher brand. It’s right at the end, everything has gone haywire, all the cops are dead, all the cars have been thoroughly blown up, and Ryder makes one last dash to escape. Sofia Bush takes up a dead cop’s shotgun and musters one final confrontation with him, as the score by Steve Jablonsky swells to adrenaline heights and we get an exchange of dialogue between the two, both beautifully delivered, that is the first shred of originality the film displays and almost, *almost* redeems itself. Where was that for the previous eighty five minutes? In any case, this holds a spot in my heart simply because I’ve watched it enough times and has crystallized into something nostalgic, which as we all know sometimes supersedes what we know is quality from that which we know is not. Worth it for Bean, the score and that supersonic final scene.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems with Nate: Far North 

Far North is like a half whispered tale told round a campfire way out in the tundra, a tale that keeps the fire going while freezing your blood. I’m not sure if it’s based on some Inuit parable or fable, but it certainly has the aura of such. There’s a  whole lot of land up there, and most likely centuries of stories just like this one, witnessed only by the wolves and the winter cold, as well as the few hard bitten inhabitants who call it home. Michelle Yeoh is Saiva, an outcast from her tribe after being deemed cursed by her shaman at birth, left to wander the expanse alone. Her only companion is a young girl (Michelle Krusiec) who she rescued from marauding soldiers as a baby, and has raised somewhat as a daughter. The two live an isolated existence, until Saiva finds half dead soldier Loki (Sean Bean) wandering the tundra, and reluctantly takes him in. That’s where trouble begins, as he takes a liking to the young girl, a bond is formed, and another is soured and broken. There’s a third act shocker that will have your skin crawling, a jarring act of violence, deception and betrayal that leaves us feeling as cold and cast out as Saiva, an existence which probably foretold such horrors years ago when the shaman gazed upon her face. It doesn’t quite fit with the lyrical beauty and ambient pace that came before, but it’s definitely an unforgettable way to end the story, and a reminder of humans and their capacity for darkness. Roaming caribou, miles of ice, wandering wolves, and the few humans who survive out there, perhaps affected by something deeper, something elemental that lives in the very air. Not a perfect film, but fascinating and quite unlike any other. Oh, and a warning: ther are some graphic and suspiciously realistic scenes of animal violence. 

Silent Hill: Revelation- A Review by Nate Hill 

I’ll admit that Silent Hill: Revelation pales dimly compared to the first excellent film, and is kind of a slipshod mess, but it’s a lovable mess in my books, still a Silent Hill film after all, and kind of wins points just for bringing back some of it’s old cast as well a few newcomers. Silent Hill is one of my favourite horror films of the 2000’s, and I waited on this sequel like a dog, through production delays and distribution hell, and I think somewhere along the way I realized it wasn’t going to measure up, but nothing would deter me from seeing it. Well, it squeaked out onto Blu Ray and made a tiny splash on everyone’s collective radar, prompting terrible reviews. The story more or less picks up where the first one left off, if a few years down the road. Sharon (now played by Adelaide Clemens) and her father Christopher (Sean Bean returns) have been on the run for most of her teenage life, eluding the dark forces from the town of Silent Hill, which still linger and follow them. One day Christopher disappears, and Sharon is forced to confront her past (which she curiously has no memory of) and return to dreaded Silent Hill, assisted by a mysterious hunk (Jon Snow, who does know some stuff here, and more than he let’s on). Once she’s there it’s essentially more of the same, with abstract looking demons running about, a disconcerting tarantula made from spare mannequin limbs (shudder) scuttles aroind, that relentless fog permeating every alcove and street, as well as a new arch villain in the form of terrifying Claudia (Carrie Ann Moss, of all people), a matriarchal cult leader who creates all kinds of trouble for Sharon. We are treated to a brief ghostly appearance by Sharon’s mother Rose (Radha Mitchell cameo), the return of damaged soul Dahlia Gillespie (Deborah Kara Unger) Sharon’s birth mother and far more coherent this time around, and a bizarre special appearance by a blind, babbling Malcolm McDowell, whose part in the whole mess still escapes my comprehension. The 3D effects are odd and stand out in not so much of a good way, the plot makes little sense when compared to the first, and where the first was eerie, elemental and atmospheric, this one is clunky, rushed and nonsensical. But you know what? I kinda liked it all the same. One thing I really enjoyed is a very well done WWE smackdown of a fight between a souped up Moss and the infamous Pyramid Head, who pulls a T-101 here and actually steps in to save the day. It’s the one sequence that achieves that hellish, otherworldly aura which ran through both the games and the first film like an undercurrent, and as a rule. It’s too bad they decided to replace Jodelle Ferland with a badly rendered CGI dollface in scenes where that little brat Alessa shows up, the effects there are abysmal. Watch for Peter Outerbridge briefly as trucker Travis O’ Grady, a character from the games who I imagine would have gone on to star in a third film, which seems unlikely now. If you’re a fan of the first film, you may get a marginal kick out of this, or at least certain aspects, but only if you’re feeling generous. It ain’t all that.