It All Ends Badly
 
Nights In Rodanthe” is every bit the middle-aged romance it’s billed to be, but the novel by Nicholas Sparks provides the narrative edge to prevent it from getting too syrupy.  Richard Gere plays Dr. Paul Flanner, an otherwise skillful plastic surgeon who lost a patient on the operating table and forgot to be apologetic and remorseful to her husband afterwards.  His doctor-son then left the partnership for Ecuador to do a clinic there, his wife just plain left, and now Flanner holes up in a remote beach resort where a hurricane is about to strike.  The only employee there, Adrienne ( Diane Lane ) is actually just filling in for a friend.  Adrienne’s husband has left her for another woman, he has the kids this weekend, so while the storm moves in, guess what happens to our two lonely hearts?  Well, of course, they find each other, but fortunately, that’s not all there is to the plot.  Sometimes falling in love with someone else can help you discover who you are.  Yeah, it sounds like trite pop psychology, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth there.
            The Lucky Ones” is refreshingly devoid of pop psychology, or easy answers, but it also leaves a gnawing, aching, longing for an American experience different from that of these earnest, bewildered soldiers.  Cheever (Tim Robbins), Colee (Rachel McAdams), and TK (Michael Pena) are all on a 30-day leave from the Army.  They were all wounded in Iraq .  Through a series of schedule foul-ups, they wind up driving across the countryside together, each in search of a kind of coming home, and all unable to connect in the way they envisioned.  When Cheever arrives at his house in St. Louis , he finds a wife who has emotionally moved on, and a son who needs money for Stanford.  Colee, determined to locate the family of her late Army boyfriend, so she can give them his guitar, finds more family than he told her about, and discovers that much of the rest of what he told her is in doubt, as well.  TK, anxious about the after effects of a groin wound, says he wants to hook up with his fiancé in Vegas, but that relationship may have been more imagined than real, as well.  What’s difficult for the viewer is to find these fragile hopes dashed, for lack of a strong emotional center.  So, they’re just left to their own devices, and not surprisingly, develop a kind of survivor’s affection for one another.&nb sp; It’s a small-scoped character study, but unexpectedly powerful, perhaps especially because it shuffles aimlessly around the lives of very real people, who are themselves shuffling aimlessly around their very sense of calling, identity, and purpose.
            Bangkok Dangerous,” by contrast, seems to be very purpose-driven.   A hit man named Joe (Nicolas Cage) is going to do “one more job,” and then get out of the business.  Right.  In the voiceover, he claims the work is regular and the money is good, but it’s important to ask no questions, have no personal contact with anyone, and leave no trace.  But this new job in Bangkok , which actually involves four “hits,” somehow leads him to break his own rules.  He winds up developing a local protégé, who inconveniently befriends his contact with the underworld, and then Joe himself becomes interested in a counter girl at the local pharmacy, who not only can’t speak English, she’s a deaf-mute who can’t speak at all.  This seems to suit Joe’s stunted sense of emotional attachment, and blunted relational abilities, but of course the violence comes to visit them all, as the uninvited guest who will never leave.  Cage has never looked so haunted and hunted, even though he’s supposed to be the killer.  Don’t expect anything uplifting.  In fact, the whole point of Cage’s character is to not feel anything.  The problem is, achieving that only makes us shells of ourselves, dead to sin and alive only to our trespasses.
            “Eagle Eye” begins with seemingly ordinary people (played by Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan) suddenly coerced into a maelstrom of violent events, orchestrated by a mysterious female voice on a cell phone.  It all seems too incredibly orchestrated to be possible, but their panic is real, even if their forced relationship seems, well, forced.  As it turns out, we have the prescient premise of the 1968 film, “2001:  A Space Odyssey,” where the computer is so smart and powerful that it decides that certain humans represent obstacles to be removed.  The 21st-century twist is the implication of terrorist activity unleashed on an unsuspecting public.  “Eagle Eye” is smart and snappy, if you don’t think about it too much, and don’t mind a sappy ending.
 
Questions For Discussion:
1)      Could a computer develop into a threat to humans?
2)      Are the returnees from the War in Iraq likely to have more or less difficulty re-entering society than returnees from other wars?
3)      Could a one-weekend liaison change your life permanently?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas