Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Buried (2010): Good Idea, Bad Implementation

Have you ever imagined that you can wake up inside a sealed coffin buried in the middle of nowhere. If you haven't, imagine it. It should be really frightening. When you think about some further complications due to the lack of space, food, water and most importantly fresh air, it should look even more dreadful. This is the situation which Ryan Reynolds's character Paul Conroy wakes up in. With the limited help he can get from a lighter, a foreign language cell phone and a few additional items appearing to be of no great use, Paul has the heavy task to release himself from the trap while time and environment are working against him.

Unfortunately, as good as the premise of Buried is, its implementation is quite flawed unless we are supposed to think that the whole story is about some twisted, life-threatening scoff at Conroy. But because there is not any apparent reason why a group of random people would want to treat an ordinary American truck driver the way they do in Buried, it's hard to believe this is the case. And if it's not a mockery, the other option is to think that all involved in the plot are idiots or near idiots. It maybe acceptable that the buried man behaves inadequately under the circumstances he is put in but it's not likely that all of the rest do not know what they are doing also. Now, to back this statement up I will probably have to use some spoilers, so be warned about this.

To begin with, why would you bury your hostage if you want to get ransom for him? You risk killing him without a reason. You make everything harder for both sides. You can't control him or directly force him to do anything. You're not sure if the hostage is going to make a video to announce his situation and your ransom demand. And you limit your potential to harm him and to communicate with any eventual negotiators. According to Buried's narrative, this is not the first case of the same hostage situation so the kidnapper (although there is probably not only one of them) seems even more ridiculous due to his repetitive unsuccessful attempts to achieve his goal. And to make his actions looking extremely stupid, the moviemakers have decided to give the hostage only a couple of hours to get the ransom which is incredible to happen even if there has been someone wanting to pay the money. To finish with the kidnapper, he expects that a family of a truck driver will have 5 million dollars which are eventually lowered to 1 million in the middle of the movie as if there is any actual difference under the given time limitation.

The commander of the American Hostage Working Group is not any cleverer than the bad guy. He would not even think of taking some pictures with him when on a search of missing people. In his position, he should have been able to obtain a photo of Paul Conroy but at the very least he should have pictures of formerly vanished hostages. Another hardly believable part is the conversation between Paul and his company's representative which he is fired in. I'm not sure that such an act will be taken into account in court. Finally, the hostage himself behaves pretty unreasonable. He constantly wastes air, phone battery life and light sources. At least we can assume that he is under enormous stress in the situation. Frankly speaking, I'm not sure that Paul would not be able to release himself without any help if he had used all the available items at his disposal and having in mind the coffin seems rather unstable. At least, he could try (with good chances of success, I think).

Now, I understand that the idea of filming a man buried in the ground is quite restrictive and it is bounded with making some compromises if you want to create a watchable movie out of it. Yet, I don't think most of the faults in Buried are due to limitations of the premise. To be honest, the film is not all bad. There is a lot of tension. The ending is good. And the whole experience is different from the one offered by the majority of Hollywood movies. But it could've been a much better movie if the script has been improved and the characters' behavior made to be less serving the only purpose of devastating Paul as miserably as possible.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Grifters (1990): A Critically Acclaimed Movie You Can Skip

The Grifters
The Grifters is a movie with strong acting. Among the actors and actresses listed in its cast, the film has names like Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening and John Cusack. Certainly, the movie does not sport the best performances ever but its 2 Oscar nominations in acting categories could give you a hint about this aspect of the film. The Grifters has also 2 other Academy Award nominations, for Best Director and Best (Adapted) Screenplay. Now, these two have not been deservedly given. But before we go in details, let's make a brief summary of the plot.

The Grifters is about Roy Dillon (John Cusack), a small-time grifter, his alienated mother Lilly Dillon (Anjelica Huston) and his girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening), the latter two being grifters themselves but on a far higher-stakes level. Lilly accidentally visits her son only to find out that he has been beaten in a result of an unsuccessful job. She hospitalizes him and saves his life but Roy is not happy to see Lilly even after her good deed. His mother does not like Roy's girlfriend Myra and that additionally strains their relations. Because of the spent time in the hospital, Lilly fails to fulfil a job for her boss, a big-time bookie. Subsequently, this leads to serious problems for her too. Myra tries to convince Roy to become a bigger swindler but he has some reservations about it. As a result everyone becomes suspicious of everyone and additional complications follow.

The plot outline of The Grifters may seem interesting and in fact, it is, for an hour at least. But as the film progresses everything become a mess not only in the characters' relationships but also in the movie itself. The actions of the protagonists and especially the Dillons become more and more chaotic and not well motivated. The son begins to wonder whether to drop cheating or not without any strong reason. The mother that has faced serious consequences because of saving her son, all of a sudden, starts treating him almost like an enemy. Some incest insinuations appear without any good explanation or confirmation. And finally, The Grifters reaches almost to a dead end for both, the characters and the audience. We will skip any deeper criticism of these issues because to elaborate more upon them will mean to completely ruin the movie for you.

Another issue of this film is that Anjelica Huston, although acting very well and in reality being at the right age for the role of Lilly in the movie, seems, for whatever reason, a bit older in The Grifters, which is not good having in mind Lilly is supposed to be a glaringly young mother. Additional problem could be that some of the con jobs seen in the movie are not explained well enough in order even people without an idea about that kind of stuff to get effortlessly their meaning.

As a whole, The Grifters appears somehow pointless. There is not real character development. There is not a message. If the purpose of the movie is to show us how several supposed to be strong criminals transform themselves in a bunch of unhinged people, the goal is not achieved. If the intention of the film has been to announce that shit happens, then it could be deemed successful but still, it does not make the movie any better and there are a lot of other movies that deliver it in a better way.

We can see where the critical acclaim of The Grifters comes from. The acting is good. The film has a very potent premise and during most of its time span the movie and characters are interesting. There are also some plot twists although they are pretty much forced and not very believable. Maybe The Grifters is even based on a good novel (unfortunately unknown to us). But although the film is not all bad, chances are high you'll feel like being grifted after the ending.

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