Saturday, June 16, 2018

Movie Reviews: Gringo, Fourteen Hours

directed by Nash Edgerton
Uneven film with plenty of stereotypes. It has its moments but the cast was better than the writing.
I expected a little more from this film based on the cast. Most of the top listed cast actors/actresses have been a lead actor or actress in other successful films. So I knew they could act. I can't remember the exact quote which came to mind after I watched this movie. It could be apocryphal but I believe it was football star turned black action movie star Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, who in response to sixties and seventies Hollywood racial stereotypes insisted that if he were going to star in a film at least one of and preferably all of three things would have to happen. (1) He survives until the end (2) He wins the fights (3) He gets the girl. All of things are still uncommon for unambiguously Black male actors in large budget mainstream American films. Those plot points are the obvious indication that the lead actor is the hero, someone with whom the viewer should identify.

I'm not sure Gringo would satisfy all of Williamson's criteria. This is a very uneven sardonic black comedy showcasing people with few redeeming qualities. Maybe the better way to look at this film isn't necessarily through a lens of heroism but of confusion. Why, if there is a perfect, all knowing, and all powerful God, is there evil in the world? Why does it seem that many people who have the moral impulses of a hungry shark flourish in life while moral people suffer. People have asked these questions for years and do so explicitly in this film. Harold (David Oyelowo) is a devout Christian Nigerian immigrant to America. Harold wears his optimism and faith on his sleeve, something that makes people-particularly his bosses- think that he's not really that bright. 

Harold's wife (Thandie Newton) also lacks respect for Harold though she has no problem spending all of his money and then some. Harold is a middle manager in charge of logistics and inventory for an American pharmaceutical company which is run by Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine (Charlize Theron). 

Richard wants Harold to believe that Richard is his friend, even as Richard is condescending and insulting. Richard has a lot of secrets. Elaine makes sure that Harold knows that she thinks of him as less than the dirt on her heel. Harold, David, and Elaine take a trip to their Mexican factory. Harold is worried that there is some problem they intend to blame on him. When Elaine and Richard return to the US, Harold, remaining in Mexico, is kidnapped by certain hostile business interests. Elaine and Richard bicker about their next moves together, professionally and personally. As anyone who is at a lower level in corporate America knows, when things go wrong at the top, s*** rolls down hill. It's a question of competence and luck as to who avoids the s***storm.

A small time drug dealer takes his naive and disaffected girlfriend Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) to Mexico where they will cross paths with Harold. A mercenary with a newfound strict if less than Christian set of morals (Sharlto Copley) is called in to deal with the situation. There are plenty of misunderstandings. Most people, even the most guileless seeming, have something else going on beneath the surface. Numerous plans crash into each other.

Theron turns up the va-va-voom for her role as Elaine, spending her time onscreen in clingy unbuttoned blouses, black lace bras, hot pants, or pencil skirts. Her character has weaponized sex appeal. Most men are not able to see thru it or resist it. Elaine is just as big a sociopath as her partner. Elaine has contempt for most people. She has no respect for the powerful men she manipulates via sex or the less powerful men she ignores as unworthy of her attention. For Elaine, other women are either rivals or doorstops. I once knew a woman like that at my workplace. Bad business.

Harold spends much of the film being dumped on and mocked. The viewer is teased to think that Harold was a Crouching Moron Hidden Bada$$ all along. Harold is savvy in some ways. But Harold spends a lot of time rolling his eyes and doing pretty dumb things.  There's a thin line between being a loser and a clown. Harold may have tiptoed into the clown category just one time too many for me. But YMMV. Harold is also an Everyman. This film does have comedic moments but they are dark ones. The writing is just this side of schizophrenic. Check this movie out if there's nothing else you want to do, but despite the big name cast, it's not a must see.

Fourteen Hours
directed by Henry Hathaway
Extended mostly entertaining meditation on the meaning and purpose of life
This 1951 movie, filmed in glorious black-and-white, runs a little long at just over ninety minutes. However it feels very real, perhaps because it was all shot on location in NYC. It was based on a real life incident.  Robert Cosick (Richard Baseheart) has just eaten breakfast in a NYC hotel. He's also decided to kill himself, stepping out on to the ledge of the fifteenth floor. As people notice this a crowd starts to gather on the street below the hotel ledge. 

Some people are upset that their morning commute is slowed. Others just want to watch a suicide in real time. Some are taking bets on when Cosick will jump.  One person who doesn't want to see Robert kill himself is the officer who is first to the scene, gregarious, rumpled and friendly traffic cop Charlie Dunnigan (Paul Douglas) who embodies a Saint Bernard in human form. Dunnigan will be the first to tell you that he's not so smart and doesn't know all the right things to say. But his heart is in the right place. He doesn't want to see anyone kill himself, let alone someone he views as a young kid with his whole life ahead of him. Dunnigan tries to win Cosick's trust. 

But this interaction is interrupted almost immediately as ranking police officers, detectives and medical experts arrive on the scene. They are aghast that a lowly traffic cop is handling a suicide intervention. They peremptorily dismiss Dunnigan back to the street and install a more credentialed person in his place. Cosick's impending suicide has brought some people together and made others reconsider some of their life choices. I mean if we could die any day maybe it's time to get up the courage to ask out that cutie you just met. The Captain Obvious experts discover that Cosick has many familial and romantic issues. The only person who might have a chance of talking him out of suicide is Dunnigan. Dunnigan has a wonderful speech extolling the realistic costs and benefits of true love and family which makes this film worthwhile viewing. It's difficult to imagine such a speech being written or delivered in a non-cynical manner today. 

Douglas is perfectly cast as an older man who keeps punching away at life no matter what disappointments arise. Agnes Moorehead and Robert Keith play Cosick's feuding parents while Barbara Bel Geddes is his distraught fiancee. Grace Kelly appears in her first film role. Ossie Davis shows up as a taxi driver. This reminded me of later films like Dog Day Afternoon.
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