Movie REviews REviews by scripture reviews by alphabet
About the CRitic links
     
                                    Gangsters, Amateurs, & Victims
 
“American Gangster”:  The cinema has had a long-running love affair with gangsters.  Perhaps it’s a corollary of “good girls go to heaven, bad girls go anywhere”:  gangsters can say anything, do anything, and get away with it.  Until they can’t any more.  And that idea of unlimited, unchecked, unfettered personal freedom appeals to the Id in all of us.  Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas, a 1960’s Harlem thug who builds a drug empire using his own family members as underlings.  He can be smooth and sophisticated one moment, and brutally violent the next.  And everyone around him marches to his tune.  Russell Crowe plays Richie Roberts, the unkempt but determined law man going to law school who finally brings down the kingpin, and then becomes his defense attorney.  It’s long and rough and seedy, but features great performances, especially by the two unrelenting protagonists.
 
“The Amateurs” (aka “The Moguls”):  Jeff Bridges is Andy Sargentee, a small-town guy down on his luck:  out of a job, his wife has left him (with their son), and he’s broke.  But what he has is a bunch of loyal friends, also with time on their hands, ready to follow his lead for what they all need to be doing together now.  And so Andy comes up with the bright idea of their making a porn movie together.  No, this film isn’t about hard-core pornography so much as it is about friends working together on a project where nobody has any idea what they’re doing, but they’re committed to each other.  This quirky comedy has been on the studio shelf for a while because it’s an odd little duck of a film, and nobody’s sure how to promote it.  It’s not splashy, garish, shocking, or mean-spirited enough to attract a wide audience (see “American Gangster” above).  It’s certainly not for the chick flick set (see “Rails And Ties” below).  Anybody hoping to see a “skin flick” will be very disappointed (the few sex scenes are skillfully unrevealing).  It’s not really funny so much as ironic.  But the characters will remind you of people you know, and the premise is more plausible than it sounds.  It won’t be a blockbuster, but there are some sublime moments, and underdogs to root for, and, believe it or not, even a hint of romance.  A quiet popcorn evening (without kids) could do a lot worse.
 
“Rails and Ties”:  Bring your hankies and Kleenex.  Kevin Bacon plays a railroad engineer named Tom Stark, who is a brooder of the first order.  His relationship with his wife, Megan (Marcia Gay Harden) is painfully strained; she’s childless and miserable about it; he’s been emotionally unavailable, even to himself.  She’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but he can neither accept her acceptance nor bring himself to offer any support.  He just trudges back to work, which he does once too often.  He’s involved in a horrible accident involving a woman who’d parked her car on the tracks to die, while her son Davey (Miles Heizer) barely escapes.  Through a bizarre set of circumstances, Davey and Megan and Tom develop a needy but important relationship, which transforms them all.  She gets to experience the motherhood she’d always longed for, even if briefly.  Davey finds the surrogate parents he needs so desperately, and a male figure who, even if flawed, will at least not run away (though he might disappear for a while with his train set in the garage).  Tom finally quits feeling sorry for himself long enough to realize that being needed by someone else just might bring him some of that elusive personal satisfaction.  Sure, it all sounds a bit hokey, predictable, polite, and strained, like one of those made-for-television family dramas.  But the characters are a bit more edgy than that, and any kind of progress is hard-earned and difficult.  Marcia Gay Harden is particularly authentic as the cancer victim who simply will not be trivialized or overmedicated, nor will she suffer gladly the smarmy over-optimism of well-meaning “caregivers.”  Though the premise feels unreal, the characters are very believable (see “The Amateurs” above).  Though there’s still violence to be dealt with (as in “American Gangster” above), death changes things.  And people can come out on the other side transformed.  Kinda like a resurrection.
 
Questions For Discussion:
1)      Have you ever been offended by the smarmy over-optimism of well-meaning caregivers?  Have you ever been guilty of dispensing pious platitudes yourself?
2)      Have you ever worked on a ridiculous project with willing friends just as inept at it as you?  Did you ever finish?  Was it worth it?
3)      Have you ever found yourself drawn to someone with a dangerous disregard for others?  What was the attraction?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas