Posts tagged “Chris Cooper

Lone Star (1996) Revisited


A film originally recommended to me during my last year at art-school. I caught Lone Star (1996) a few years ago and found it to be a richly rewarding film with a lot of depth. I thought this time around I could really do the film some justice after a few more years exploration of the Western. Released during the mid 1990’s when the genre had seen something of a resurgence, beginning with Pale Rider (1985) going through to, well Lone Star and Buffalo Soldiers (1997) it would not pick up much traction until a few years ago with True Grit (2010) and Django Unchained (2012) that began to rework and understand the genre for a new audience in a time of uncertainty and political tensions. Also just in time for me to catch a few at the cinema too.

So what makes Lone Star stand the test of time to some of the more forgotten films that played fast and loose with the tropes and language of the genre, they maybe fun and action packed. It also stands alone from the pack, at a time when the life in the genre had run out of steam once more it takes the history of the genre and the state of Texas becoming more introspective. You could say it’s another modern version of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – more on that later. Beginning with the discovery of a pair of off-duty army officers who discover a skeleton, only a few meter’s away there’s a sheriff’s badge to go with it. Could this be relic from the old West now celebrate on film, or is the body of a more recent officer of the law?

We then travel back in time to the 1960’s finding it’s like the good old days with a crooked sheriff Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson) who holds the Rio county in his pocket. He’s foul-mouthed, racist and greedy, he knows the power that his position gives him and abuses it to his own advantage. The other officers just let him do get away with almost anything. Except Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey) who has a conscience that doesn’t agree with the status quo. Sounds familiar when you look back at the genres golden age, a crooked sheriff and a straight-laced deputy, if only they could stand up to the corruption.

Except this doesn’t feel like the old West, its more like the new West that rose from the ashes of the civil war, corruption, the cattle boom and the demise of slavery. We have a more serious Western, or you could say straight drama that’s set in the same location as the Alamo. With a mystery at the centre of the film being led by Buddy Deed’s son Charlie (Chris Cooper) who wants to prove his suspicions right and put this case to bed before politics takes over for the upcoming election for Sheriff.

Whilst the case is going on, we take a closer look at the town of Rio County, the people who inhabit it. From the school that sees the parents fighting the teachers to educate their own ideas of the country’s history. The old saying that histories written by the winners really does shine through in these scenes. Mexican parents want a more honest account of the events leading up to the Alamo and beyond before they lost land to Texas. Whilst American’s want to hold onto the myth, a fabric and important part of their own past, informed by celebration, dime novels and of course the films that blurred that history into something far bigger and yet more vague in the process.

We focus on one of those teachers, Pilar (Elizabeth Peña) who previously had a relationship with Charlie. It’s like he returned from her past to haunt her now when she picks up her son who had been arrested. We also see tensions between her and her mother Mercedes Cruz (Miriam Colon) who has her own fight with her staff who are not helping the immigrant crisis. She identifies herself as a Mexican American, wanting to speak English North of the border, trying to assert that in others is a fight. You can already see it’s not just a murder mystery, we have the border problem – which has still not gone away. The discussion around what kids should be taught in schools, the identity of the county and the State of Texas.

The local Army base is also depicted, and it’s not just about following orders and the chain of command. We have a Black Colonel Del (Joe Morton) whose latest posting has brought him back home to his estranged father – Otis (Ron Canada) whose part of the counties history and as we see the demise of Charlie Wade. The father son-relationship has it’s moments that are about to repeat themselves in Don’s own son who aspires to go to join the army. Whilst a current soldier who sees the army as a form of security in a society that wont accept the colour of her skin.

You can see a lot is going on in this film, longer than the average Western, it gives time to develop all these facets of a town that is in a state of constant change. Attempting to grapple where they all are. For Charlie it’s too things, the truth behind the death of his predecessor that has taken on mythic stature, which ultimately he won’t try and break, the truth for him and to shut the case is enough. There’s little he can really do once the truth is out. Like that finally revealed by Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, as much as he tries to set the record straight he can’t fight the myth, defeated by a journalist who refuses to publish it, knowing the power of the truth in the face of myth. Charlie understands that power far more than the old Senator who attends his old friends funeral. It’s bigger than him or anyone can really imagine.

With so much going on and little action it’s an incredible change in tone, placing this Western in the Revisionist category, one that maintains the language but has moved on in time. You can no longer settle your disagreements like men with guns outside, times have indeed changed. It’s a film that takes it’s time to spend time with characters and really get into the meat of what’s going on in that part of the world. It’s a nice change too to see where the genre has come from the rebirth in the mid-eighties that celebrated the genre to a film that really interrogates it and ask, where has it all gone.

 

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The Company You Keep (2012)


The Company You Keep (2012)I can understand why not much of a fuss was made of The Company You Keep (2012) in the U.K. even with a starry cast that supports Robert Redford in this “thriller” that sees aging activist go on the run as his own past catches up with him. I thought from the trailer that I originally saw 3 years ago it would be pretty decent. A reliable actor in Redford would allow me to forgive him playing opposite Shia LaBeouf as the investigative journalist of the local paper. He’s persistent, I’ll give him that.

So why is The Company You Keep such a let down, even with it being rooted in modern history and politics. Maybe the fact that I could not be the core audience this film’s aimed at, more the baby-boomers who remember the raw images of the Vietnam war that shaped a generation in America. Most of the cast would definitely had an opinion either way on the conflict. I wont and don’t really relate to that era, it’s just too far removed for a guy who is more aware of Islamic terrorism than the threat of Communism. The conflict is a far different affair and ideology to Communism, and the War on Terror is only into its second decade.

For me a draw was supposedly strong cast of actors who are supporting Redford (Jim Grant / Nick Sloan) who is wanting to be freed from his past a reuniting him with his young daughter, which to me is stretching the characters age really thin to me. We first see Susan Sarandon whose arrested by the F.B.I. lead by Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) who is on the trail of others. To be honest Sarandon only has 3 scene which only help in reminding you that she;s actually in the film. Much the same goes for the rest of the cast really, I mean the big names who appear to only be doing a weeks work for their old pal Redford.

Chris Cooper is miscast as Sloan’s brother who himself has a few more scene, being his on-screen sibling, doing his best with what he’s given, the now legal guardian for his niece who Sloan has to get back to. Not his wife who died before the events of the film which would make for a better film really. Cooper like the rest of the older cast members are making do with the few scenes they have, putting up with LaBeouf’s Ben Shepard‘s desperate detective work to find out why Sloan is on the run. To be fair to his character he does do more detective work than the F.B.I. including his old flame Diana (Anna Kendrick) who lets evidence slip out to him. Also I think he was better cast in the role, the annoying guy poking around to get what he wants, No he’s not my favorite actor but he suits the role, so a good bit of casting that plays to his strengths..or weaknesses.

I really wish I hadn’t waited so long to catch this film. I spent most of my time tying to see who we would see next on-screen. Looking out for Julie Christie in all honesty, another member of the aging Underground weather group, who did much better than the Wake Up gang in Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie (2004) who actually more entertaining than these men and women who have all grown apart, most not wanting to stay in contact with a few die-hard’s for the cause, which we hear a lot about without the passion which is sadly lacking in this film with the potential for so much more with the pedigree of talent.


Capote (2005)


Capote (2005)With the sad passing of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman I had to find the time to watch his only Oscar-winning performance as Truman Capote in the dark Capote (2005) a film that I was previously wasn’t concerned about, thinking I would have far longer to get around to this film. Unaware of the actors battle with drugs that abruptly took him away. Leaving behind him a career of incredible performances in both Hollywood and art-house films, knowing at the time he was still very much hard at work.

Nonetheless I felt compelled to now view Capote with a renewed sense of respect for the actor who I already respected. His performance is completely transformative, going down the dramatic route of loosing weight, much like the Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (2013). Hoffman’s attention to the role goes into overdrive, taking on a high-pitched voice which at first unnerves the audience, not used to the writer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood which was the focus of the film.

When a family shooting in Kansas in 1959 catches the attention of Truman Capote he is compelled to use this news story as the basis for his next book. Like most artists, starting with the inspiration, not sure of the final form until it starts to take hold and forming, as he and friend fellow author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) go on a research trip, at first in the guise of a magazine. There is an unusual fascination with the events for Capote as he meets the investigating detective Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) who wants very much to solve the case in a town that is not used to such tragic events.

The fascination for the case becomes almost a fetish for Capote as he seeks out all the evidence, to visit the girl who discovered the bodies of the family to the men who are finally brought in. Wanting to share their story with the world. Which for most would be just another newspaper story to sell the paper. Here we have another aim entirely to show to the country what can happen when things go wrong for people, their actions and the consequences.

Forming a careful bond with the convicted men who now await their final sentence, the book that Capote aims to write will remain incomplete until he has the truth of what happened, which lies with Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.). The relationship is based on power and desires, all one way, leading to years of internal struggle and turmoil for Capote as he writes what is to become his last novel. Even with friends around him he finds it hard to really open to them.

Hoffman is mesmerizing as a man who is far smaller than him, taking on the life of a legend of modern literature, instead of the Audrey Hepburn classic for which he is more fondly remembered. We find the man, openly homosexual in a time that is still not ready to accept his lifestyle, being incredibly bald in his direction to seek out the truth, a truth that may cost him his sanity and happiness. Visually the film is very muted in tone with the dark subject matter. In a writers world, as one seeks out his newest project and another on the sidelines is being pushed into the limelight for To Kill a Mockingbird which later saw Harper Lee spending the rest of her life in seclusion. The writers life is full of struggles to get a book in the form they want, which can cost more than you first hope. The line between journalistic professionalism and distance is blurred in the endeavour for a story, from which you may never return.

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The Company Men (2010)


The Company Men (2010)I’m becoming more aware of the post recession films that react to the financial crisis of 2008, the end of the last boom and bust, which saw huge corporations lose millions whilst the average man on the streets life just got harder as the living costs started to increase and jobs became a nightmare to find. I was drawn more than anything to The Company Men by the top-billing that was shared by Ben AffleckChris Cooper, Tommy Lee-Jones and Kevin Costner.

What I found at first was a hard-nosed shipping company/corporation making another round of redundancies, this time affecting one of their best sales executives Bobby Walker (Affleck) who is a cocky salesmen who believes he will bounce back soon with a job that matches his skills and previously salary. Not what the audience knows to be true, having experienced the hard reality of the recession. Whilst we follow to more men at the company a divisional president Gene McClary (Lee-Jones) and Phil Woodward (Cooper) both long-time employees giving thirty years of their lives to this company that has had to take tough decisions to survive, restructuring and downsizing. The two remaining don’t like to see what is happening, seeing good hard working people being made redundant. All with the help of human resources manager Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) who is seen as a hard-nosed b**** who doesn’t really care who goes.

We follow these three men as they each come to terms with the redundancies. We more easily empathise with Bobby who even with the help of his old employer looks for new employment, understanding the mounting rejection from prospective employers, who believe they are right for the job before having their hopes dashed after all the hollow promises that are made. I personally can understand the struggle to find a job, the pressure and competition for each position. It became disheartening at time with all the rejection that comes your way. More so for Bobby who knows he has to provide for his family who are relying on one source of income, it’s not enough to support the house which they may have to give up. He wants to portray the image of success which he has been used to for some time. An image that he believes will help in securing a new job. He needs to come down to earth.

Whilst for those still at the company things are looking grim as more tough decisions are being made, the face of the once simple shipping construction company becomes far more than it’s beginning. Especially for Gene (Lee Jones) who know longer knows his best and oldest friend Conal (Tom Kemp) who has risen to the top with all the trappings that to the average person are luxuries. Gene who lives a similar life has become jaded to it all and his wife who lives a luxury life. He wants nothing of it, wanting something far simpler.

Whilst for Phil (Cooper) along with Gene are later made redundant. For Phil a man nearing his sixties, his chances of being employed are slim as he soon finds out. Reality is hard to deal with, spiralling into a depression that reflects many who have been victims of the recession.

The Company Men shows the light at the end of the tunnel, when your job and life come crashing down, it;’s how you deal with it that. Falling to the lows that even those in corporations feel, something the majority of the population cannot easily relate to. Seeing the bankers of the world to be the cause of our financial trouble. They are like us, if we like it or not.It has a limited reach to the audience showing how redundancy can affect the average guy, to the executive.  It’s only with Bobby’s brother-in-law Jack Dolan (Costner) a builder doing his best to survive in a bleak housing climate. He’s the really the only one we can truly relate to, a hard-working man, who has not had the great success and lifestyle of others. We see others who are struggling and accept anything they are given, something that comes harder to the likes of Bobby.

I don’t think films such as this and Margin Call (2011) will have a massive audience, they focus on the wrong people for a mass audience appeal and empathy. They do try to humanize those who suffer as a result of the crisis that like it or not also are effected. The Company Men (2010) does go some way to breaching that social gap, we all have bills to pay, payments to meet, lifestyles we want to maintain. So does it matter where on the food chain in the workplace you are when and if you do fall?

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