Master and Commander (r)-– 4 1/2 Stars; Paul Bettany as the naturalist / doctor who keeps us from taking the sailors’ macho act too seriously — you just can’t go wrong with Bettany! Russell Crowe is perfect as “Lucky Jack.” So many other strong performances: Max Pirkis, James D’Arcy, Max Benitz, Lee Ingleby. . .
The French Connection (r)– 4 Stars. . .; Hackman and Scheider are great together. The chase scene is impressive (even more so when you hear how they filmed it — watch the interview with director Friedkin). The editing is crisp. The ending is a thumb in the audience’s eye, but it’s also so iconic–it was the only possible ending! Otherwise, it’s Lethal Weapon. My go-to film writer David Thomson argues that the movie’s flaw is that Hackman’s character Popeye Doyle (a fascinating, stubborn lout) doesn’t change or grow. In fact, no one changes or grows, really. The bad guy gets away, the “good” guy goes off half-cocked. . .no resolution. Is it about how we can’t have satisfying endings? Is it about how police work corrupts the police–how the good guys sometimes are even bigger thugs than the bad guys? How about going back to Ebert. . .what happened to me? I moved that much further away from getting cheap thrills from syrupy endings.
The Impossible — 4 1/2 Stars — These characters I cared about. They changed from beginning to end. My heart and lungs were in my throat for much of the movie. In the hands of a hack, the movie could have been maudlin. It wasn’t. The actors playing the three sons are wonderfully real (and very well directed). I loved how the tsunami was treated as a plot point — both as it happened (disorienting and brutal) and in flashback/dream (expressionistic). Most affecting are the interactions between the oldest son and his mother. The movie works its magic with economy, too. It doesn’t give you anything more than you need.
The River— (giving stars to a Renoir film seems silly–he’s one of the masters). A beautiful film. What happened to me while I watched? I gained an appreciation for amateur actors: when they’re given real emotions and compelling problems, it doesn’t matter if they don’t manage the subtle gesture. I think I found the ultimate color movie. The flowers, the clothes, the bales of jute, the trees, Harriet’s hair, Melanie’s eyes, the dark river itself! Also loved: little Victoria’s adorable one-liners, obviously fed to her just before the shot by the dialogue coach. The physical oddities: Capt. John’s leg, father’s wall-eyedness, Melanie’s father’s crooked teeth. The name “Bogey” for the boy. The interlude of napping before the tragedy–reminded me of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. The interspersing of documentary-like footage. Capt. John’s kiss on Harriet’s forehead that he intends as big-brotherly but that she takes as possibly an opening. The boats going this way and that. It makes one want to spend a few hours pushing a boat along a river and then take a nap in the grass. One more gem: Rumer Godden (on whose book the film is based) said of her husband, “I had been carried away by Lawrence’s charm. And I have mistrusted charm ever since.”