Posts tagged “Robert De Niro

Cape Fear/e (1962/91/93) Revisited


I’m going to try something new in this review – 3 films, well 2 films and a TV episode all titled – Cape Fear. For sometime I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these horror films. Having also read that the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 was pointless really, I need to see this for myself to understand what is actually going on here. Has Scorsese wasted a cast and crews time and a film companies money, not to mention the audience who went to see etc. I’ll finish on a more comedic note with The Simpsons spoof Cape Feare which combines the best of both films. I’m one film in – the original which I shamefully saw in about 9 parts on YouTube whilst working at a summer camp a few years ago.

The 1962 original released as part of a cycle of horror films that attempted to emulate Psycho (1960) which reshaped the genre forever, what a was expected from the genre and its very form. What followed was a series of cheap knock-offs so to speak that tried to replicate that magic for the next few years. With time for the industry to react one of the first films out using A-list actors with well established careers, such as Deborah Kerr‘s The Innocents (1961), and the cult classic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However Cape Fear has more in common with film noir, or the first shoots of neo-noir after it ended a few years earlier with Touch of Evil (1959). Take some of the best bits of The Night of the Hunter (1955) and repackage it into a more audience friendly film that has also become a classic.

Taking the Charles Laughton noir of a preacher who works his way into a community, marrying a Jail birds widow, in order to get his hands on the money which the dead husband has hidden. Memorably played by Robert Mitchum, whose physical presence transformed the role and the film into that of almost folklore horror. Seeing America through the eyes of an English director who gave us his vision of a country deeply rooted in its religion that could be so easily be corrupted. The Mitchum character of Harry Powell becomes Max Cady, again not long released from prison has a one track mind, not money, he has plenty of that. Its more like a destiny that he has to fulfill coming to the home town of successful lawyer and family man Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who had to testify against him on an attack charge against an innocent woman. After first meeting Cady we know he’s not a family man, not meant to live around law-abiding people. He’s not a gentlemen who stops to pick up papers for woman on the stairs. He’s to be avoided, even before we learn his back story.

The Cady’s live in reasonable comfort, a small lawyer whose life is about to be turned upside down, about to take him and his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). I couldn’t help but start to draw comparisons with this to the remake, what were the new relationship that brings Cady to town. It’s more complex for sure in the remake. Back to this more straightforward film that doesn’t waste time establishing whose the good and bad guys. However it’s the law whose hands are tied, Cady’s being doing more than marking the days in his cell before being released. Reading up on the law and planning his revenge. Starting his war of terror against Bowden and his family, taking aim at the teenage daughter – Nancy whose awareness of the male gaze and sexual power is about to blow wide open.

Cady is not just a deranged criminal out for revenge he’s a sexual predator too, making Nancy his next victim. This could be where Scorsese got a bit of tunnel vision, along with changing taste and the loosening of censorship which allowed for a more adult version of the film. Nonetheless the original filmed in cheap/standard black and white adds another layer to this dark film that gets more intense scene by scene. Tying Sam in knots with nowhere to turn but to lead him into a trap on the houseboat along the Cape Fear river. The sexuality is all coming from Mitchum, even middle-aged has a decent body that added to his domineering on-screen presence. If anything I found the ending lackluster, instead of what the audience wants – and Scorsese gives us. We have the law winning out, the courts of justice putting Cady back behind bars before a swift and happy ending. It feels after all of that struggle the good and civilised in Bowden wins out, his primal desire and wishes earlier on in the film to shoot him are repressed to allow him to drag him to a prison cell before a having another trial. Hopefully leading to reform, something I really can’t see happening to Cady, whoever plays this disturbed character.

Onto the remake now, which after hearing it was pointless, I’m starting to see why after just finishing it. I first watched it at University, thinking it was a great thriller, I even used it as part of my research for thrillers and suspense. What the hell was I thinking, more to the point what was Martin Scorsese thinking. It wasn’t even a film he wanted to do, it was an assignment given to him by the Universal, for reasons I just don’t understand, I don’t think he does either. Probably hoping to get his next project The Age of Innocence (1993).

Lets take a look at the film on the face of it, a remake of the 1960’s classic thriller which saw the Bowden family being tormented by the deranged Max Cady that still remains at the core of this film. However 30 years have passed and the script admittedly needed altering in some respects. There’s far more sex on-screen, along with the usual depiction of Scorsese penchant for violence. Making it a good match, but then the same can be said of lots of directors. He’s a director for hire here. The main difference is Cady played by a hammy Robert De Niro whose clearly having a ball, glad to be working with his old pal Marty one more time. The crime committed now is, aggravated assault, essentially rape when you get to know the character. He’s come back to get revenge on his old lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who we learn buried evidence that could have allowed Cady to go free. That facts are made clear early on away from Cady who is beginning his campaign of fear.

Originally Bowden was a witness to an assault committed by Cady, now we see that the lawyer has used his professional power to alter the course of Cady’s life. I couldn’t have seen that working in 1962, only a few years from playing Atticus Finch (Peck) couldn’t betray that upstanding heroic image. Whilst Mitchum could’ve easily played that role to the extreme without getting as hammy as De Niro. We spend more time with the daughter now named Danielle (Juliette Lewis) who is more sexually aware. Whilst the wife is pretty much unchanged, reacting instead to the plot as it unfolds. If anything she is more traumatised by the films events. So the father and daughter get the thick of it.

A memorable addition or “nod” of approval to the remake, is the inclusion of three of the original cast Peck, Mitchum and Martin Balsam each having a few scenes. Was this more a ploy to bring in the older audience to see three older actors once more, or to say that the film is not being made without their blessing. I think its more the former with a bit of promotional casting. Mitchum first appears as the detective who wants to help but is forced to not suggest to seek alternatives. Whilst Peck is clearly having more fun in his cameo as Lee Heller who is Cady’s defence lawyer. Whilst a clearly bored Martin Balsam the original detective plays the judge who rules a restraining order in Cady’s favor. The aging actor clearly underused and wondering what the hell he is doing on set.

The law is clearly not in Bowden’s side throughout, doing all he can to protect his family, being screwed at every turn by a criminal who has read his books, including the Bible and Sexus (just for added smut). There are times when you are on the Bowden’s side, then you think, haven’t we been here before, only in black and white and not for as long. Drawing out the scenes and adding new ones that only drag out this practically scene for scene remake. The religious overtones are very heavy and clearly a directorial stroke, which makes the work his – overtly.

Ultimately it’s a hammy overreacted, waste of film that sees an accomplished director scraping the barrel with sacred material that shouldn’t have been touched. He should have looked back to Dead Calm (1989) which had the boat thriller in the bag in every way. We have actors who are doing their best, whilst some are just glad for the bigger paycheck and a few days work. Lastly Scorsese only makes you think about the original more overtly with the lazy use of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Elmer Bernstein who simply conducted it for the “new” soundtrack. There’s no attempt to be really a unique film that is about the same basic premise, its the just the same just sexed up.

Now I want to watch the far superior Simpsons parody which focuses in the best elements. The second episode of season 5 – (yes it’s that old), a longtime favorite of mine. I remember getting it on video – the murder mysteries tape. Makes me feel old just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I last saw the episode until last night. It was still as fresh and spot on with the jokes that came thick and fast. Midway through the golden age of the now long running animated sitcom, which has now become the longest running of its kind too. Cape Feare was also the third time that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) appears in this now iconic role. Assuming the Max Cady role directly from the Scorsese’s film gave us a year before. It’s a cheeky spoof that is more entertaining that the thriller which is 6 times as long.

I think the focus was on the more recent film still fresh in the public consciousness, which is understandable, leaving the original alone. Taking the best bits of a pointless film and making fun of the rest in 20 minutes of animation. We already know that Bob has it in for Bart (Nancy Cartwright) who has twice already found him out, once for robbery, and for attempted murder. Now it’s time for revenge. There’s no need to build up that history between the two except in a few short scenes. The blood written letters and the parole hearing before Bob’s released, using his charm to gain his freedom.

Already the Simpson family are on edge, the letters and now the cinema scene which is ensures we are in for a scene for scene spoof. Of course there’s more common sense at play, the harassments taken seriously by the police instead of going down the private detective route – which leads to the fishing wire and teddy bear set-up which isn’t taken seriously. Ultimately they’re referred to the FBI who put them into the Witness Relocation Program giving them a new identity and opening titles. It’s all played fast a loose. Yet the law is on the families side, moving the spoof quickly on, there’s no time to discuss the need to use a gun or to kill Bob, it’s about hiding.

The finale is more family friendly with a Gilbert and Sullivan homage, making the most of an earlier scene in the car journey. The houseboat is loose on the water, just not out of control as Bart uses the performance to buy him time. He’s too clever to result to deadly violence to see his enemy (not Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) and his panda’s). The episode delivers some of the finest moments not just of the season but a collection of jokes that are better than the expensive thriller that tries to outdo the original.

So ends my first 3 (2 and a spoof) film review, attempting to find a relationship and history. I’ve chosen an easier trilogy (of sorts) to begin with a film, a remake and a spoof. I can see how it a classic (before it was more common) to remake a film. Seeing that it was sexed up, add some violence and some cheeky cameos to draw in the audiences. Whilst a controversial cartoon plays fast and loose, appropriate the events of a recent film and make fun of it, so is the nature of a spoof which in the case of this film is more entertaining, than the remake.

 


The Stalking Moon (1968) Revisited


The Stalking Moon (1968)A much-needed re-watch which has come a year after reading into The Stalking Moon (1968) compared to The Searchers (1956) (again) which I had to watch once more to see all the readings into the films depiction of the Native American for myself. It comes across as another possible narrative strand of The Searchers which really ends where Moon picks up. After a group of Apache are rounded up by the army, possibly having escaped a reservation or going to. Either way their freedom is over and future is determined. We discover a single white and blonde female captive Sarah Carver (Eva Marie Saint) who has been assimilated into their culture, she has assumed their language, dress and thinking.

For all intent and purposes she is a Native American, that is in the eyes of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) who would more than likely left he to die or killed her himself. Not the army scout/Indian tracker Sam Varner (Gregory Peck) who readily accepts her as white or even just human and a woman (be that in 19th century terms). She is a free woman to do as she pleases, bringing her son with her, also that of Salvaje (Nathaniel Narcisco) which is Spanish for savage. If you know your Spanish you are already being given a pre-loaded conception of who this mostly un-seen figure is. Not unlike Scar (Henry Brandon) who we see a few times and interact with in the earlier film. The Spanish translation is cicatriz as the Mexican in the cantina tells Edwards.

I can’t really compare Varner and Edwards both are very different characters and that’s not the point of this re-exmination of the film. For me it’s about how the later film has been influenced, taking the same iconography and the depiction of the Native American. You could say they are one and the same film in some respects. A woman’s rescued from a life with the “Indians” which is either looked down on, mocked or pitied. In the genre you are better of dead than alive being a squaw. In reality women and children were only taken as prisoners, used as leverage with the army to stay on their land. Most of not all were later released, you can see where the myth begins though which has allowed the on-screen image to become bigger and more exotic. Being captured and living as one of a number of squaws with a one of the warriors or even chief, having a number of children, usually after being raped. Not a pretty picture but one that both dime novels and Hollywood and built up and reinforced.

So with this image built up on paper and on-screen, the Native American all but quieted on reservations the myth of conquest’s being formed and reinforced by clichés which we see in both The Searchers and The Stalking Moon, they are always seen through the eyes of the white man, usually the tracker who has a vast knowledge of them, which the audience dripped fed. Edwards is delivered with hate and disgust, whereas Varner’s more about the survival skills which he uses against them in order to stay alive. There is no real hatred behind his eyes, he is even close friends with his younger partner in the army a mixed race Nick Tana (Robert Forster) who looks up to him as a father figure. We can see that the fight between his two heritage was won by his white side, which in turn makes is easier for us to engage with him.

Going back to the depiction of the key Native American, both come from over-used nations – Apache and Comanche- the very names are more exotic on the ear, and sound more frightening than others. Scar the Comanche chief has lines and shares screen-time with Edwards, neither like each other and you can really feel it as they have a fruitless trading session. Whereas Salvaje is not even seen until the finale which is more about tension. He’s treated as an animal who has to be stopped in his tracks. There’s no eye to eye scene until it’s too late to do anything about, Salvaje is very one-dimensional and his only one goal to rescue his son from the white people, more able to accept his mixed heritage but not his circumstances. For the majority of the film he is only seen in the form of the aftermath of the victims he leaves as he comes in search of his son. He is the Apache Ethan Edwards going all the way to find his son, except it’s not over the course of seven years, more like a week if that.

The cost of the deaths could’ve been avoided as its pointed out to Sarah who is eager to get moving back home, knowing she needs to keep moving to survive with her son. She’s taken into the care of Varner who takes it on himself to escort her so far before getting to her destination of Silverton, her home town. She and her son (Noland Clay) who’re treated as second class citizens, with restricted travel and casual racism.

I must touch on the ranches that feature in both films, The Edwards ranch where we begin in The Searchers and with the Jorgensens as Debbie (Natalie Wood) is safely returned by to white safety and civilization, restoring her you could say. That restoration happens far earlier for Sarah, discovered at the beginning The Stalking Moon and is later invited to stay, possibly live at Varner’s ranch where we see inside far longer than the establishing scenes of Ford’s film. We only see the beginning of the Comanche raid, we don’t see anyone, nature discovers them first. The ranch is barricaded, cutting to Scar who has already found a young Debbie in the family graveyard, which is where her white life ends and “Indian” life begins. Back to New Mexico where Varner’s ranch and battle ground for the finale of the later film takes place. The danger is brought back to the homestead which eventually end with Salvajes death restoring order. Sarah’s able to adjust to White mans life along with her son, much like Debbie Edwards before her.

As I have found they share a lot of the same themes and imagery, just reordering them within the same basic landscape of the American West. It’s the last real conventional Western retelling of the same plot before we enter the modern world where Native American’s are replaced with criminals and other low-life that replace the previous obstacle. We have lost the racist in Edwards for a more well adjusted figure in Varner who can easily live among others. I guess the only true comparison would and will always be Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) whose an urban outsider, to dangerous for mainstream society. I think I know which film I’ll be watching again soon.

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Death Wish (1974)


Death Wish (1974)I’ve been quietly looking out for Death Wish (1974) for sometime, wondering what it was about. Then reading a brief description it became clear that this was Michael Winner‘s version of The Searchers (1956). Two years before Martin Scorsese‘s own take on the film – Taxi Driver (1976) However architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is not an outsider of society. In fact he lives a middle class lifestyle. Even making his mark on his country by helping design the future for an undeveloped section of Tuscon, Arizona. Unlike Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who drives the streets of New York at night, unable to have a normal relationship with a woman. We have moved on from John Ford‘s original wandering Confederate Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) who will never have a place in civilised society. He does have more in common with Bickle though, we all know or have seen someone who doesn’t quite fit in, standing out and whom we fear for some reason.

So how else is this quietly violent film like The Searchers and other Westerns, we must first look at the women that are/were in Kersey’s at the beginning of the film. He loves his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) who he has just returned from a holiday with. They are enjoying their freedom from their now grown up daughter, a second flourish of love, it’s a rosy picture. All this is soon lost after not even a word has barely been uttered by anyone. Normality in their lives restored, mother and daughter Carol Toby (Kathleen Tolan) have been out together. Where we meet three men, criminals out for their next easy victims who have plenty of cash to steal from. These thugs/criminals take the place of Native Americans on the street, the wild and uncontrollable, the lost and disillusioned youth of the streets with no-where to turning on the successful and affluent who have the image of an easy life. These three men track down and follow the mother and daughter home, the defenseless women are soon in the arms of the gang who leave the women ravaged, not quite raped but beaten within an inch of their life.

Nearly on a par with the ultra-violence of A Clockwork Orange (1971) but still with some way to go. The effect of the violent is soon felt when the absent men in their lives are at the hospital, who are left to accept the consequences of the crime. Joanna soon dies (not from her external injuries at least) and Carol traumatized to the point she’s moved into a psychiatric hospital. Reminding me of the powerful scene in The Searchers when Ethan and Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) come across two women who are little more than scare children after their time with the savage natives. Time as a squaw is an experience that’s compared to a fate worse than death in the classic genre.

The women in Death Wish are silently labelled “Comanch” they are victims of street crime.  For the men they both deal with their loss’ in different ways. Jack Toby (Steven Keats) Kersey’s son-in-law accepts his wives condition and does what he feels medicine and society can do for her. Whilst the elder who has lost his wife doesn’t take that option, justice has failed for him. Needing to find another way to grieve and right the many wrongs which is beginning to see on the streets of New York City. It takes him a business trip to Tuscon, working on designs for new homes on yet untouched land. He has left the East to go to the old West where. He is helping to define the future for more settlers who want to move West, except there journey is a lot safer.

It takes a trip to a Wild West film set which I recognised from a few films, where Kersey along with his colleague Sam (William Redfield) a member of a gun club awakens the gunfighter and eventual vigilante in the conscientious objector of the Korean War. A man who for years had not picked up a gun and for good reasons too. his principals are thrown to the wind on his return, his first act of self-defense becomes a chance to clean up the streets. Taking law into his own hands, a reversion to an outmoded gunfighter, long after law and order has been instated in the country. Here comes a gunfighter who wants to kill for good. Having the to break the law, to kill in order to make the streets safer.

Soon getting the attention of the police, lead by investigating officer Frank Ocha (Vincent Gardenia) who wants to restore civilised law and order. Or to put him back on-top, allowing the police to do their job. Not exactly the kind of guy you would expect, full of a cold, but wants to see this vigilante who he begins to understand, methodically getting to Kersey who is attracting attention and wannabe vigilantes, not to the same level. He’s enjoying the attention from behind the comfort of his apartment. Collecting newspapers that mention his acts/work. This the gunfighter basking in the glory of his good deeds, writing his own history, without the media even knowing him.

Instead of bringing Kersey to justice he is eventually persuaded to leave, helping to create a modern legend. To be a legendary gunfighter today you have to be a vigilante, it still happens even forty years later as have-ago-hero’s, citizens arrests. The violence in the film is far less in your face, it’s a collection of moments of tension that are built up. We first meet the criminal in the urban setting before Kersey the possible victim turns around and kills them, easing the tension. More death, but less crime as a result, does that make the act of violence right? From a man who abhorred violence soon comes to get a thrill out of it, yet feels like a hero, killing only for good. The first in a string of sequels (which I am toying with watching) he has yet to avenge his wife and daughter.

The Native Americans of the urban streets are not seen again, complete with spray paint and few words. Is he looking out for them or others like them on what has become life’s work. A frightening prospect when you think about it, an architect who allows for progression forward, yet reverts to an outmoded way of life. Much like Ethan Edwards who spent 7 years of his life filled with racial hatred looking for Comanches to kill, whilst searching for his family, was he out for his family or for blood, that’s one of the bug questions you come away with. He’s already an outsider, a Confederate who has not accepted surrender so cannot progress with the forward thinking country. Kersey is a 20th century take on that, before the more iconic and dangerous Bickle, not as prolific in his violence he is not one to get close to, there is more humanity in Bronson’s take on the outsider, a man whose known for his violent roles shows a sensitive side before he becomes the iconic role for a generation.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the original and let you decide how far we have come.

“It just so happens we be Texicans. Texican is nothing but a human man way out on a limb. This year and next, and maybe for a hundred more. But I don’t think it’ll be forever. Some day this country’s gonna be a fine, good place to be. Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come.” – Mrs Jorgensen (Olive Carey)

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Nightcrawler (2014)


Nightcrawler (2014)Another film I have been meaning to catch for some time, after seeing Enemy (2013) a few weeks back I was spurred onto catch Nightcrawler (2014) a sure sign that Jake Gyllenhaal is hitting a stride of successful films, much like Matthew McConaugheywho knows it could be Gyllenhaal picking up a heap of trophies soon or is he just laying the groundwork for greater things to come. I was advised to watch Nightcrawler when it was dark, which is harder this time of year with the shorter nights I decided to just go for it. The whole atmosphere of this film makes things darker without the need of even drawing the curtains. The moment that you see Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) an unemployed internet educated loner tries to get a job, using unconventional methods that just alienates prospective employers.

He’s a creepy pasty looking guy who is driven to get a job, a head filled with business jargon. Not a guy you want to meet in the office and stuck in a conversation with. After a few failed job interviews (if you can call them that) more like sales pitches, finds his calling on the dark streets on L.A. when he sees a car crash being filmed by amateurs, known as nightcrawler’s, feeding on the suffering of the victims. He’s find his calling (if you can call it that) begins what is disturbing yet compelling film. Scoring his first scoop and selling to a local news station for the night-shift lead by Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who is grateful for the footage that is raw, unpolished. Even more scary is that Bloom shows potential which she encourages. Herself a rating hungry, a reflection of the modern media hungry for anything that grabs their audience’s attention. 

You could say Nightcrawler is a culmination a few a films film, or an extension of them. Going back as early as Peeping Tom (1960) that sees a wanna be film-maker taking the art of film to levels of voyeurism we had not seen on-screen. The desire to see raw emotion, to see the power of danger and the moment of death in the eyes of the victim. Moving forward we have both Network and Taxi Driver (both 1976) which have their influences. It took me a while to really see the connection between Lou Bloom and Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who travelled the streets of New York at night. However his aims were more honourable, to save those who had fallen into a world of despair, trapped you could say. He was an outsider who wasn’t really able to have a proper relationship, much like Bloom I don’t really see this as an extension, more a strange coincidence between both films. Moving onto Network the news station that is hungry for ratings, driven by a career hungry Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) now in the form of Romina who is at an equally struggling station, much more prophetic than Nightcrawler which reflects those ideas back in the 1970’s.

Moving away from the comparisons to the more technical aspects of the film, it’s visually a very striking film with the contrast cranked up reflecting the intensity of the film’s content. A fast-moving soundtrack to match how fast the amateur film-maker is improving, the lengths he goes to in order to get the best footage. With the aid of intern Rick (Riz Ahmed) the audiences way into the film and able to question Blooms motives and drives. Like many of us he’s also been out of a job needing something, anything to get him back on his feet. Able to maintain some level of morality which becomes blurred over the course of the film, when the drives of money, ratings and success. Something that really attracts Bloom as he gets better and better, using his police scanner and Rick on the sat-nab he’s on the tail on incidents that affect the white middle class, striking fear into the audience. Its something that is not immune to American audiences, I have seen myself people slowing down on roads to get a glimpse of traffic accidents, to see the damage, hopefully see some blood, cinema is no longer able to compete with this lust for danger that TV news can cater to, if you go for the lowest common denominator.

All this comes to a climax when Bloom gets to a shooting in an affluent borough, entering the house to capture all the gruesome detail. He crosses the line between us and the police, seeing what the public only imagine. Usually our imaginations are left to run wild. That no longer happened the footage is slightly pixellated and transmitted. Also crossing the line between news coverage and withholding evidence from the police, We know we shouldn’t cross into a crime-scene, Bloom allows us to do just that, like a video game brought to our screens. The line between reality is being blurred, no longer are we kept behind the police tape, we can breakthrough that to see all the gruesome detail we are hungry to see.

It’s an incredible film in terms of the lengths that the characters go to, none of them get away scot-free from the world of sleazy journalism is brought to life here. My experience of American news is pretty slim, I’m reminded of the poor coverage of Fox News when their expert of Muslims believed that there were no go areas for non-Muslims in Birmingham, all nonsense, but enough to engage the audience, playing their primal fears, getting them hooked and ultimately boost their ratings. Here we see the other side of the news world, as it gathers local stories, satirised by Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) that saw car crashes becoming leading stories. All part of cinemas comment of news media today. I was left shocked at what I had seen as it goes steadily worse, I was more gripped. Was I being pulled into that world, wanting to see the events unfold hungry for the story to appear on the news? I really don’t know and that what makes this film so compelling, the characters mostly immoral which allow us to question them and our own desire for stories, are we as desperate those in the media for stories or are we just programmed in a way now that want them, like a baby wants feeding?

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Cop Land (1997)


Cop Land (1997)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.


Heat (1995) Revisited


Heat (1995)It’s about time that I took the time to re-evaluate the epic crime drama that finally brought together two of the biggest actors of the last twenty years together. You can’t really count The Godfather Part II (1974) as the first time that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro were on-screen together. As I write this I have watched just under half of Heat (1995) which was first brought to my attention in a lecture at university, where I saw that famous scene where see  the two actors finally meet on-screen. You have to realise that its more than an opportunity for these two to clash on-screen. WE have a view of Los Angeles that we don’t usually see. Of course there are hundreds of films that involve the infamous LAPD, just as famous as the NYPD.

The point I’m trying to make just under half way into the film is that we don’t see any of he glamour of the great city that is easily accessible to Hollywood, the epicentre of the American dream, where here anything can go wrong. As criminals lead by Neil McCauley (De Niro) are living the life of luxury, carefully planning robberies whilst the police are living a life of misery. It’s a complete reversal of fortunes so far.

The good life versus the bad life juxtaposed against the bright lights of LA that never seem to switch off. Emphasise by the lighting on the film by Dante Spinotti who maintains that sunny glow of the day through the night. From the opening titles we are bathed in light, little is left in the shadows, no where to hide. It’s as if the city is too big and vast to even need to hide. As McCauley and his gang are almost asking for it. Getting away so far based on technology and bribes, power goes along way up from the bottom. And on both sides too as we find with Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) who uses his connections to get what he wants. Knowing all the time that McCauley is one step ahead. So far they have looked down the barrel of a camera lens twice before they finally do meet.

We are looking at not just an investigation into a gang, but the lives on both sides and how it affects their private lives. As one is fighting to keep hold of his lover whilst he is torn between his messed up job. Another is discovering someone and enjoying the fortune that comes with that. I do feel that things are played more in the favour of the criminals who we spend slightly (I say that lightly) more time with, looking in Val Kilmer‘s direction who’s own marriage is breaking down. With that one criticism, I am looking forward to completing the film and my re-assessment that was once just a few paragraphs previously about a film that has more to offer than the cops chasing the bad guys, the emphasis of character reversed, the city of LA becomes a character itself, not just a backdrop. What else will I discover?

The first think was the wealth of camera glare that you just cannot shake. Most film-makers try and avoid such mistakes. Here they are embraced, using them as part of the fabric of the film, a city filled with light its part of the environment that can’t be ignored, dancing around the screen, the only element that cannot be controlled beyond an understanding of movement and angling. Before switch back to the reality of the film where we finally bring both Hanna and McCauley for that coffee, a scene that only lasts a few minutes and feels like an hour as they both say their piece, each with their jobs to do, not willing to give them up. Theres a mutual respect which you don’t find in crime dramas. Respecting the enemy in order to understand them, getting closer to them,

Both of their worlds are crumbling down, modern life in the city is not what most film make it out to be. As the last bank-robbery gets under way we are treated to an onslaught on violence that begins to numb you to the sound of bullets as they go back and forth at an incredible rate. Blurring who the good guys and cops are. Each taking casualties it’s a costly battle that cannot be given up as the gang are have to split and go their own ways, it seems all is lost for Lt Hanna and his team who invested so much time.

We have to wait longer before the finale which we thought was never coming. Its tense and momentous as both men are brought together in a final shoot-out after all the mayhem they leave at a hotel as a standard diversion. On the airfield we find promises being kept, to break them would to not be true to yourself. I had completely forgotten this final scene that has aged well with the passing of time. If we were to have two younger leads this would be a completely different beast, it wouldn’t be a beast at all, just another standard cop film.

You have a wealth of film history  on-the screen that culminates in this post modern film that has all the hallmarks of the cop-genre which has grown up if only for a moment. Modern life creeps into the private lives far deeper than other films making Heat stand out and up amongst the others. I decided to re-watch Heat as it had been a while, my first review only scratched the surface, here I have made a deeper cut that has given me a better understanding and another chance to see the film for what it really is.

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Drive (2011)


Drive (2011)I have probably viewed one of the best films of recent times the other night, short in length yet make up for it in volume for what you get on-screen with Ryan Gosling who is indeed on fire in Drive (2011). Which sees a by day stunt driver and mechanic single handedly take on the world around him in Los Angles.

From the get go, we know we are in for a thrill-ride that like a race around town and many twist and turns, never looking back, always forward with the action. Pulling in for a few pit stops to take in an o-off romance with Irene (Carey Mulligan) who lives conveniently next door. We only know Goslings character by his job description, driver, opening up all kinds of possibilities for the audience who see man different men in combined into the lone man who wants to do what is right.

We first see Driver going about his night job as a getaway driver, staying impartial and cool under the pressure of the police pursuit that could draw the curtains on his night-time activities. He does it more for the thrill, knowing he has the upperhand, the skill to outsmart them, He treats it like a game or a science, with a radio tuned into the police frequency, whilst also listening to a game. One to distract him, the other to stay on top of it all , whilst he moves his car with great precision around night time L.A. Before we see the next day, him making a few bucks with his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) on film set. A man who means well to all he meets, throughout his life getting in over his head and paying the concequences all the time. It seems that Cranston is in a period of great success, from the early 2000s with Malcolm in the Middle to more recent a cult success Breaking Bad. He can do no wrong. Here he is the champion of the lone man who drives the streets, Much like Robert De Niro‘s Travis  years before in Taxi Driver (1973). Everyone needs someone to root for.

What could be seen as just another possible romance between neighbours Driver and single mother Irene with her son, whilst her husband is in jail, is something more than just another screen romance, complete with sexual tension that goes untapped until one other tense scene in a lift that is destroyed in seconds. He wants to be there for a woman who wants the company of a man, whilst feeling obligated to her husband Standard (Oscar Issac) who is soon released from jail. The final element that brings everything that has been building to the epic second half. All the strands which could have been passing character start to come together. From the racing car syndicate owned by Shannon and Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his gang ties with Nino (Ron Pearlman).

It’s Goslings presence as a macho driver complete with racing jacket of the scorpion that makes this all worth while, biting back in brutal fashion against all those who cross him. Wanting to get his neighbours out of an awful situation. Wearing it with pride, like a suit of armour that brings him more than just protection, it transforms him into a street fighter who can take on the world and all that it throws at him. Fighting for good, wanting to be fair to those who deserve it, which is reversed to the criminals who want to destroy the lives of innocent people.

Complete with heavy eighties tones of style and soundtrack that transports us to a world of speed and danger, the thrills of live on the edge whilst want to skirt away from it. A tender and techno soundtrack that emphasises the lone driver and the heroine who doesn’t know she’s being saved. Gosling becomes a Brando-esque figure who wants to save Mulligan’s princess from the thieves below her castle tower.

The sparse dialogue is made up in volumes by the beautiful driving scenes that just happen and drift us through the film, gliding through the city with purpose in grand style of youth and living on the edge. A film that is rare these days, Gosling is lucky for now to work in mainly independent films that are benefiting his career, a turn at Batman in the next few years may change all that, unless he keeps his eyes open to the fresh scripts that can go unnoticed and forgotten. Thank god for Gosling.


The Deer Hunter (1978)


The Deer Hunter (1978)From one of the last director who was really let loose with a vision, ignoring costs in favor of the what Michael Cimino wants on-screen. Something that he got right when it came to The Deer Hunter (1978) a film that sometimes doesn’t need words to explain is going on visually, Thank god for Stanley Myers tender score that fills in the sensitive gaps of the brutal film that sees a group of men torn apart and brought back together again in ways they had not first imagined.

What begins as a group of friends in an industrial town in Pennsylvania who are celebrating the marriage of Steven (John Savage) to Angela (Rutanya Alda) is the beginning of the end of an era for a group of friends that they will never be able to return to. We see at the wedding so much hope and future in this strong group of men who regularly go off deer hunting together. Something which we see twice over the course of the film. Each hunt is quite different. First there is a real rivalry between the men, able to play-fight and boast, It’s your average chance of male bonding over a male activity to prove your manliness. Before three of them head over to fight in Vietnam  going with Steven into a world of horror that will change them all are Michael (Robert De Niro) who really looses himself in the moment, flying off the handle, a spell in the army would do him good. Whilst the more level-headed of the three Nick (Christopher Walken) is quietly confident, not really knowing what awaits him in the tropical hell created by his own country. And so ends the first third of what seems like a drawn out film to develop these men which we will see change.

The tone of the film dramatically alters in the blink of an eye to a lush green landscape of Vietnam which finds Michael clearly in his element, embracing the war, whilst he doesn’t know it could push him over the edge to somewhere he can’t return. Surrounded by rebels who are fighting for their freedom from the American invaders we see another side of what they were capable of. If Apocalypse Now (1979) painted a surreal image of the conflict where the soldiers escaped to, The Deer Hunter depicts the enemies infiltrating the mind of the soldier. A version of Russian Roulette is the rebels game of choice, spinning the gun around a table for the prisoners to play with their own lives. An extreme form of mental torture for both natives and Americans who are at the mercy of others who become god.

Every time the game’s played the audience’s sent into a state of dread, at any moment someone could shoot themselves cold dead, just by pulling the trigger, hoping that the barrel of the gun was empty. The stakes are raised and the game of chance becomes hope of surviving. This game is the catalyst in the three mens short lives on this earth, Before taking their chance to escape, the suffering is far from over. A glimmer of hope from their comrades is short-lived, if only giving the audience a moment of relief.

The real damage is starting to make itself known to us and them. Whilst Michael the one we believe will become unstable is the level-headed soldier who makes it back home. Where he finds the woman Linda (Meryl Streep) both he and Nick have fought over. A Woman who knows she has the attention of two men who hope to return and love her. One to marry (Nick) whilst the other (Michael) to have an affair. There’s real sexual tension between Michael and Linda and at the same time respect for Nick who has yet to return. Throwing into that, Michael is still adjusting to civilian life, something that takes real-time happen. The film gives him that time, we see a changed man, no longer a reckless man who will flip, more thoughtful, but still there is moment when you can see the damage his time in Vietnam have done to him.

There’s a need to reunite the gang who have now been apart for so long, with a maturer Michael he seeks out Steven who appears to have no returned from the war. Only his wife knows where he is, leaving her in a state of constant shock, no longer the happy bride we saw early, now with a child left in the care of the larger family. WE later find him in a veterans home, we are shocked to see he has become one of the many wounded to come home, hiding his shame, unable to the man who Angela may have wanted, we don’t know for sure.

The mission is not complete until Nick is safely back at home, return to Vietnam to find the awol man in what has become one of the most iconic scenes in cinema, and one of the most dramatic changes in characters, transformed from the level headed to the disturbed, now adapted to live on the edge of live on a nightly basis, a form of survival, it could even be said it was an addiction, needing the thrill of being on the edge of life every night, relying on luck to save you.

A tender film that sees a group of friends who are torn apart and brought back together again in ways they did not imagine. Filled with breathtaking scenes and imagery, the world can be a beautiful place, yet within it there are dark places where you can return with new perspectives on life. Even those back home who never went out there feel the pain from those who return. An incredible that shocks you to your core, and brings you to your knees at times. It could be seen as another great film for just De Niro, yet the supporting cast have so much to give, no one is left behind. Something not to be missed.


Taxi Driver (1976)


Taxi Driver (1976)The 1970’s really did produce some real gems of cinema that just aren’t quite matched today, at least in quantity. When looking at Taxi Driver (1976) I knew I was in for something special, seen partly as Martin Scorsese’s The Searchers (1956) that sees a Vietnam war veteran adjusts to life on the streets of New York, something he has a hard time doing.

Unable to sleep during the nights he decides to take up a job as a New York taxi driver, something that allows him to earn a living and take his mind of being alone, picking up and dropping all walks of life which take him all over the vast city. He begins to detest the “scum” that walks the streets, something he didn’t fight for. Wanting to clean up the streets he later develops his own personal method that we see much later on.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) our lone man of the streets constantly writes to his parents, announcing that he has found a girl who he hopes to protect. A woman who we learn is more confident and assured than we were first lead to believe as Travis creates his own ideas about Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) work at the campaign office a presidential candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris). Travis is not the usual type that we believe she would be attracted to, surrounded by men such as Tom (Albert Brooks) more intelligent but not as confident in front of the lone soldier on a one man mission to clean up the streets of New York.

His time as a taxi driver starts to wear him down, especially after having an angry husband who boasts about killing his philandering wife who is only two floors above. Finding solace in his fellow drivers who have armed themselves with guns. Turning also to a wise man of the yellow cab; The Wizard (Peter Boyle) who has seen it all in the world of a taxi driver. Needing to feel save he later invests in not one but for guns to arm and protect himself. They become a suit of armour which he crafts to his body in the event he may need to use them. When he is unable to hold down a relationship with Betsy his energy of romance turns to revenge,wanting to take it out on the presidential candidate which he builds up-towards, un-nerving the audience as to when he will carry out this assassination, to right the wrong of not having Betsy in his life.

There is however a glimmer of hope and shred of humanity in him, wanting to find once more the young prostitute that he nearly took away from her life on the streets. When he finally tracks her down we discover her Iris (Jodie Foster) a confident 12 1/2 years old girl who has adapted to a life of prostitution. Travis sees the innocence in the young girl wanting to restore what is left and return her to her parents. Something that she doesn’t want. Already having had to grow-up faster yet with a lot still to learn. Portrayed by the amazingly talented and young Jodie Foster. 

We are seeing two sides to this man, one who arms himself to the teeth and the kind man who wants to save a young girl/woman from a terrible life on the streets. channelling his energy he once had for Betsy into this young girl who doesn’t know she needs to be saved. This is at the end of a long and disturbing journey from freshly released onto the streets veteran of the Marine Corps to wannabe assassin who transforms himself into a dangerous man with a heart. Living by the trigger of a gun to keep him safe on the streets that he wants to clean up, having lost faith in the politicians who have failed his country and damaged the man who returned from war.

An incredible film that doesn’t put a foot wrong, like many of the period, I want to re-watch this with the same passion I have for the near-perfect Chinatown (1974). With one of the last scored by the great composer Bernard Herrmann create a subdued jazzy atmosphere of the streets if New York. I’m not even bothered by the cheeky cameo by Scorsese which builds up his relationship with the De Niro that has worked so well over 30-plus years. We see a troubled man return to civilian life, struggle to adjust and finding hope in a real damsel in distress. The modern cowboy who great and dangerous feats, a man who has all but lost faith in humanity in a dirty world that he fought to protect.

 

 


Sleepers (1996)


Sleepers (1996)Known as one of the over looked in the year of release, yet boasting a stellar cast of actors who fight to get revenge over terrible acts of child abuse in a juvenile prison. The subject matter sadly maybe the reason why it was overlooked at the box office, still too hard to really deal with it for an audience.

Sleepers (1996) was a hard film to watch, dealing sensitively with such raw material. The film is structured in three parts, with one of the boys/men Lorenzo ‘Shakes’ Carcaterra (Jason Patric) narrating the film to give a personal touch to the traumatic journey they go on together from the streets of Hells Kitchen to juvenile prison with the boys after committing a stupidly dangerous crime that could have been averted, for a number of reasons. The film relies a lot of learning from the past, what could have happened through to what is morally right in their four situations.

The time on the streets really sets the tone of the film, four boys who like all lads mess about, get into trouble sometimes, sadly this goes too far one day, resulting in them going to Juvenile prison. They have a champion in the church in the form of Father Bobby (Robert De Niro) who is there for them throughout, being a reformed man, and showing that no one person. Who is later called upon to put his own ethics on the line for the freedom of these boys.

But no-one deserves what they endured whilst inside at the hands of four prison guards who were there to protect them, making sure they were safe, breaking up fights. Lead by power-driven Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon) who sees them as easy targets, using the pathetic excuse of toughening them up. Instead they spend their time there living in fear for what could happen when they sleep, when a guard comes around the corner. Life was easier on the outside where justice could be dealt with far easier.

Back on the streets 15 years or so later justice finally is coming their way. But not before we see the psychological damage has done to them. Leaving two of them into a world of crime, murders and addiction. When by chance Tommy Marcano (Billy Crudup) and John Reilly (Ron Eldard) bump into the waste of space who ruined their lives happily eating a meal, that becomes his last. Setting the ball in motion for real justice to begin with the other two men Shakes (Patric) and Michael Sullivan (Brad Pitt) can bring their past cleverly to light, through the court case that Sullivan takes as district attorney takes the case and uses it to his advantage whilst an old friend from Hells Kitchen King Benny (Vittorio Gassman) hires washed up lawyer Danny Snyder (Dustin Hoffman) to do his best for the defence, pulling holes in the prosecution that has it’s on motives and aims, which all are in the favour of the two washed up men who sadly are lost at the end of the film, two more victims of child abuse, whilst the other two men have found the strength to move on as best they can after the events, choosing not to talk about it.

Hard choices are made through out this gritty film that doesn;t shy away from what it’s saying. Thankfully we never see any acts, being distasteful, the power of suggestion, as in Delores Claiborne (1995) which pulls away when anything is going to happen. Why depict such horrific acts on-screen if we don’t want to even see them in life, for those who have suffered themselves it would be a step to far. The film gives hope, and also talks of the reality of what can really be done, when child abuse is committed, who does the victim turn to, who can they trust, will others believe them? They have to have the strength which can take years to see the light.