I’ve just checked my original review for Field of Dreams (1989) it was nearly 4 years ago, a film that even then struck a chord but not in terms of my written expression for it. As time has passed my critical thinking (and maturity) have allowed me to come back to this film and at times be really moved by it. I think also life experience allows you to view the things you have differently. That and an increasing love for Burt Lancaster which I’ve mentioned a few reviews back. Now I can go into more detail with a film that maybe a little heavy on the schmaltz which can be a hallmark of either a really cheesey or a filmmaker that really knows his craft.
Now I’m not the most religious person, the notion of there being a heaven is mostly a comfort for those I have lost and said goodbye to. A coping mechanism, however that may turn out for me I’ll have to wait until I kick the bucket myself. I’ll let you know if I can, just watch for the sign, I’ll let you know nearer the time. Now imagine a possible gateway to heaven, a heaven for long dead baseball players to return to this world. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) has come across one of these gateways, completely by accident. A man whose own relationship with the game is fraught with personal regret. Hearing voices is only the beginning of Rays journey of discovery.
There’s something rather quaint about the film, nearly 30 years old, like myself next year, it has aged gracefully, as have I. It has an innocence of a simpler for a whisper from the heavens of a baseball player to grab Ray’s attention and set him on a course that changes his and his families lives forever. A modern miracle for our times is being written, ok that maybe going a bit far, but he has received a message from a higher power, one that can enter and leave our existence at will. He’s soon compelled to build a baseball pitch on the edge of his corn field, putting his families future at risk over an impulse that he can’t shake. If sport or baseball were a religion, which to huge portion of America, Baseball is a big part of so many lives, then Ray is building a church, if at first for no reason other than the whisper of “If you build it, he will come.” A line that could be used as an excuse to build almost anything you can think of. But we know it’s a baseball pitch from the prologue that sets up Ray’s backstory. A collection of archive footage and doctored photographs that place both Ray’s younger self with his father. I can see the actors who play the baseball players are also added subtly for added realism, they are part of the fabric of the films history, not just getting actors who look like these old time heroes.
With the pitch built it’s waiting time, after so the families life-savings are exhausted, what was it all for? A chance to play catch with his young daughter or to wait for that “he to come”. We don’t have to wait long for Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) to turn up lout of nowhere. Amazingly it was the daughter to first witness this miracle, not Ray. The innocence of a child, still open the possibilities of life and the wonders that are out there to be discovered. Ray soon follows to see who this guy, who could have just driven up to check out the pitch, really is. There’s already a sense of wonder, something special emphasised by the soundtrack, the heavenly tones of the church out in the corn fields of Iowa where life just passes by. The next night more players are on the pitch – the Chicago White Sox A team are out there now, all the old faces of an era that has begun to fade into the memory of an older generation.
It really is seeing is believing in this film, you have to see the miracle to believe, something that Ray’s brother in-law Mark (Timothy Busfield) is not prepared to do. Seeing only what is in front of him without that added belief that allows faith to take hold in a person. Instead only interested in the realities of life, his sister’s families impending financial ruin. wanting to buy them out before the bank pulls the farm from under them. Just as things become more real, they become more interesting for the audience. A heated debate on a Terrance Mann book compels Ray to go out of his way to track him down and bring him back home to see a game. A weird thing to do, an author who has now shunned the limelight of celebrity, working on computer programs for kids, the recluse is hard to win around.
Mann played by James Earl Jones brings real experience to the film, not just his place in film history as Darth Vader but sense of having lived a life full of change of upheaval, wanting to do what was right during at the time. When Ray meets the reclusive writer it’s a war of words and a shared experience that allow this pilgrimage to continue. It’s not very often you can use religious words in a review that actually translate so well. Moving on from Boston to find Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham (Burt Lancaster) who they learn has already passed on. Again I had forgotten that he has died before we have even seen him on-screen. Built up already in previous scene, a collection of bar stool interviews that paint a full and sad picture of Lancaster’s last theatrical film role. When we meet him, we have travel back in time, a cheeky reference to the era’s films before we meet an elderly doctor walking alone, with a hint of Irish in his accent we have Lancaster and we are under his spell once more.
Trying to persuade a ghost to join him and Terrance for a match is a lot harder than we think, instead we have to wait a little longer for another miracle. As we reach the close of the film the schmaltz is poured on a lot thicker to make the non-believers in the film realise what has been going on all along. It’s a film that relies on the faith to work, to really suspend your disbelief and just wonder what if. Well you don’t really have to go far, just go to a small independent cinema when they are playing a release or a classic film for a season they are curating. They have the power to bring back to life, if only for the duration of the film these stars of the screen who have long since died. Trapped forever in celluloid that has the effect of giving them immortality. The screen is a gateway for them to return, just as the players use the corn to remain hidden and rest before coming out to pitch a few more rounds or whatever the terms are. When Terrance is invited to join them, is he being taken to meet his maker or is he just old enough to understand whats going on. Does he have enough life experience to understand the meaning life of life of what is in store for us. We will never know. Field of Dreams maybe laughable for some, for me I was sold by the miracle that happens before for Ray, his family and Terrance who all are willing to believe. It speaks to a part of me that hopes there’s something in the next life, if there is one.
Ok Cop Land (1997) is not the best title for a film, it sound primitive and thoughtless, something from the first draft of a scrip that thankfully changed to something with a better ring to it. However that’s not the case here, plus it doesn’t matter with a cast as good as this. Even with most of them in supporting roles behind Sylvester Stallone an actor I usually avoid, not really taking to his brand of macho films. I gave this film a chance based on the line-up not him so much. I came away surprised really as Stallone plays against type, a town Sheriff who is stuck in a position where he can’t progress to make a real difference to his community.
A community made by cops for cops to live in safety, with one of the lowest rates if crime in the state of New York, coincidence I think not. When you scratch beneath the surface of this suburban town you see cracks begin to show. After two black men are killed in a drive-by-shooting with Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport) who thinks his career is over. Yet another case of racially motivated shooting by the police, thats all they need. Leave it to Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) to clear up the mess and create a hero from the wreckage of the crime. You don’t expect this twist that turns the film upside down and invites internal police investigator Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) who begins to stick his nose where it’s not wanted. Even though none of this happens on Freddy Heflin‘s (Stallone) patch he is drawn in slowly.
I think the reason that this is Stallone isn’t throwing his weight as much as we have come to expect him to. He hardly throws a punch, only fires a few shots and spends most of his time in the community. Reflecting on his past, and the choices that have lead to his current position. It’s much a more about his emotions, we see him more depressed and down-trodden than anything else which is a refreshing change and something I can really buy into from him. Allowing the other actors to take up the weightier material as they all act as his conscience. As Tilden wants his help with his investigation into Donlan’s corruption. Whilst Donlan is trying to keep him quiet the more he pries into things he shouldn’t.
There’s a history of keeping quiet as we learn from Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta) who lost his partner and friend who is blames on Donlan. You could say this is a partial reunion of the Goodfellas (1990) cast which is further from the truth. All supposedly on the right side of the law this time. There is lot of shades of grey here, as they all fight crime but using their own rules. Donlan and Tildan act as Heflin’s conscience. It’s only when events escalate that Heflin s forced to act, the push over starts to stand up and investigate his colleagues, a dangerous move, whistle blowing your friends.
What makes this film memorable is that the system that is there to protect the public is protect itself from the outside world. Hiding the corruption in order to live a safer live, in the pockets of gangsters, the strong stand tall, able to fight crime whilst also committing their own. They believe they are above the law. Even with soft sheriff Heflin who takes his time to pick himself up and put a stop to it all. Filled with traditionally tough guy actors they all show flaws in their character. Personified by Stallone who does a role reversal of his screen persona to deliver a very different character which I can identify more with, an average cop who rises above it all. Set against the mid-nineties media landscape that keeps things in perspective for the audience, the bigger picture is painted opposite a character driven cop film that wants to give us something different and to an extent does.
I remember hearing about Killing Them Softly (2012) a dark thriller which got the attention of Mark Kermode. Sadly I never got around to catching it on its initial release. I’ve made up for it now and it was worth the wait too. A stylistically dark looking into America’s underworld just as the economy had crashed, the race to the white house was is well underway too. And order needs to be restored after a protected gambling ring is robbed, people are going to pay, not in money but in blood.
Two dumb guys Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are sent on a job that could have been avoided. Men who are no more than low-lives more bothered about getting high really. Acting under orders to rob a protected card game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) who had already had his fair share of trouble in recent times. The robbery is only a taster of the violence we are in for. Russell and Frankie somehow rob Trattman and the men, made easier by Trattman who practically hands over the money, whilst offering away. The hold-up is shoddy and amateurish and it shows, creating for a tense a scene that goes unfolds. One that determines the rest of the film.
What follows is the complicated demise of the men involved in this one robbery, a robbery they wish they’s never even started. When an unnamed man (Richard Jenkins) brings to town complex killer for hire Jackie (Brad Pitt) who already knows some of the men to kill them. He can’t do it alone, needing the assistance from old friend Mickey (James Gandolfini) who flies in.
As much as this is a violent film, there is in fact very little of it time-wise. Most of our time is spent listening to these men put the world to rights. Understanding the psychology behind what they do. Making the build-up to violence very necessary to give us a break from all the dialogue which is delivered. And when we do receive it, its both painful and a sense of relief. Trattman’s shooting is stretched out into a three minute ballet movement that takes Trattman from this world to the next. Using slow-motion to create and elongate this brutal act into something quite beautiful, catching each moment in minute detail. Its something to behold. We think we have seen this a thousand times before on film, but never so heightened to a level where is becomes horrific by it’s close.
That scene alone is as both technically in terms of character as it in in post-production of the scene, allowing us to understand how powerful it is to take another persons life. How it can be seen as a brutal act and one of great skill, seeing each bullet impact, causing great damage and death. We never get that level of violence again, becoming more of a thriller, waiting for that moment of the trigger being pulled, We who’s getting it but when we don’t find out till it’s over in a flash.
As much as this film is dark you can get bored if only slightly by the weight of the dialogue which both raising this gangster thriller to another level, whilst also holding it back. You want action, violence, not just men complaining about the world, how the economy is messing around with their empires. Where the weight of the film holds it down, technically it feels lighter. The transitions feel effortless at times. They maybe planned or just coincidence it doesn’t really matter we are left moving from one moment with ease that transports you around this murky film.
There are great performances by both Pitt and Gandolfini who just both talk, old friends who keep each other in check. Jackie is a man of great contradiction, in one breath he will kill a man but he won’t rob another, he knows his limits. Whilst Mickey is over his best, under surveillance, more bothered about women than killing these days. A shadow of his former self yet still respected. I am starting to respect the nuance of Gandolfini’s performances, however typecast he became in his roles, he gave them depth and dimension. Whilst Pitt who leads the film is placed more on the side-lines. It’s more his influence of those around him which has greater impact.
I’ve been looking forward to catching The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), if only to see Ryan Gosling in action, always making an impact whenever he is on-screen. Well this time here is shorter than I expected. A brave move by Derek Cianfrance who worked previously with Gosling on Blue Valentine (2010) who spreads the impact of a month in the life of Luke (Gosling) over 16 years, how the actions of two men affect all those around them.
Even though Gosling gets top billing his time on-screen is fleeting in comparison to Bradley Cooper who really impressed me in the first straight role I’ve seen him in. With Luke with have another man who can handle himself, after the stunt driver from Drive (2011), independent and dangerous, with a heart deep down. His heart is in the right place, even if his fists isn’t. On leaving the circus as a stunt biker he wants to provide for the son his only just discovered. Being told by his only friend Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to channel his skills to rob banks. Something that will later lead to his demise 45 mins into the film, muck like the ill-fated Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) Psycho 1960) killed off in the first half hour. This could both divide or bring and audience closer to the narrative as police officer Avery Cross (Cooper) on patrol intercepts Luke in the only scene they share together, passing on the baton of the film from one to another.
Becoming about Avery and his recovery from the shooting that takes out Luke so soon. Surrounded by family who have not had him around since the arrive of his own son. Wanting to return to work, a world that has a few corrupt cops led by Deluca (Ray Liotta) and Doc Crowley (Luca Pierucci) who go to the home of Romina (Eva Mendes) who Luke was trying to provide for. The off duty cops search the house for cash that was stolen. Invading their privacy and grief, whilst at the same time acting as a wake-up call for Avery a by the book cop, which smells heavily of Serpico (1973) playing out for a good half our before a sneaky deal is broken leading into the last third of the film.
A third which really takes sometime to get used to, as we move to the next generation, the sons of the men who we first met in the 1990’s, both 17 years, both from fragmented families. AJ (Emory Cohen) and Alex (Alex Pulling) meeting in high school, just by coincidence (well not really being in the same neighbourhood), one with a father who’s hardly in his life, having taken to drugs, whilst the other is beginning a life of petty crime, not really knowing who his real dad was. It feels like a little contrived at first putting them both together. Handled so well allowing the past of their fathers to catch-up and come full circle, the past was never really dealt with, a man was killed in the line of duty, not something that could have been avoided. It’s Alex who really has to deal with his past as he learns more about his dad, finally vengeance is being sought and delivered. Having been on hold all his life, closure is at hand. Leading to a confrontation that reminded me of Miller’s Crossing (1990) where scores were settled and lies were hidden.
I could say the film is original, but it’s not when you break it down begging, borrowing from other films to allow this otherwise fresh film alive. Maybe it’s a clever way of progressing the story. It shows the harsh reality of family life living with crime, from either side of that world, the police and criminals and those who are directly affected by their actions. Resolutions are sometimes left lingering if we just carry on and don’t deal with how they can change us. Was it worth the wait really when Gosling was killed off not even half way in? Yes and no, he was the main draw for me, yet his departure allows things to continue, they maybe partly recycled elements from other films which I can forgive to an extent too.