Director/Time: Eugene Jarecki, 105 min.
Headline: Where’s the rest of him?
Indie type: Slick bio-doc
Report: A couple of years ago, I read a fascinating book about Ronald Reagan’s evolution as a Cold Warrior, from his kill ‘em all hawkishness of the ‘70s and early ‘80s to an arms-reductions mission that had the same right-wingers who now idolize Reagan calling him a traitor to their cause. James Mann’s The Rebellion Of Ronald Reagan is full of vivid and astonishing detail about off-the-record backroom deals and soul-searching, and overall paints Reagan as a far more nuanced figure than the stubborn platitudineer I’d pegged him as in my angry teenage years (back when I wore homemade buttons that read “American Glasnost Now!”). I know it’s unrealistic to expect an under-two-hour documentary that covers Reagan’s entire life to be as rich as a 400-page book about one aspect of that life, but still, Eugene Jarecki’s Reagan offers little information about or analysis of its subject that couldn’t be gleaned from 15 minutes on Wikipedia. It’s put together well, with lots of footage from Reagan’s acting and political careers, and Jarecki hears from an impressive slate of interviewees, including Reagan’s sons and several of his speechwriters, advisers and critics. In a way though, that’s the problem with the movie: it gathers too many voices, with no clear perspective. Reagan perks up late, when Jarecki compares the “what Ronald Reagan stood for” myths of contemporary conservatives with Reagan’s actual policies and speeches. But otherwise, this is pretty much “Reagan’s Greatest Hits”—the Goldwater speech, Iran-Contra, the Berlin Wall speech, et cetera—with not enough deep cuts.
Director/Time: John Michael McDonagh, 96 min.
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong
Headline: Irish cop may be naughty, but he’s not dirty
Indie type: Comic policier (with a side of fish-out-of-water)
Report: Of all the potential comic pairings in the world of thespiandom, who would’ve guessed that Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle would be such a winning combination? In writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, Gleeson plays a small-town Irish police sergeant who’s been known to sample the drugs he confiscates, and to dally with prostitutes that he brings up from Dublin. Cheadle plays an FBI agent who arrives in pursuit of four international druglords, one of whom has just turned up dead near Galway, in Gleeson’s little burg. In classic buddy-cop fashion, Cheadle gets irritated by Gleeson’s slack police-work and casual racism, while Gleeson is bemused at the problems Cheadle has getting any info from the locals. First-time feature-director McDonagh doesn’t have much of an idea about where to put the camera—he frequently isolates actors in scenes that might play better if people were reacting to each other in the same shot—but his script is funny and well-plotted, and his stars play off each other superbly, as they try to protect their respective territories. The Guard doesn’t try to do anything unusual or special, but McDonagh does create a strikingly exhausted world, in which even the bad guys play out their roles with a sense of begrudging obligation.
Director/Time: George Ratliff, 95 min.
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Greg Kinnear, Marisa Tomei
Headline: Religious people can be hypocrites sometimes... Who knew?
Indie type: “Satire”
Report: Well, I suppose you can’t end a Sundance film festival without seeing at least one painfully unfunny, needlessly star-studded comedy that traffics in broad stereotypes about people who live between the coasts. Writer-director George Ratliff’s flip adaptation of Larry Beinhart’s mystery-thriller Salvation Boulevard is a misfire of the first order, starting with the way that Ratliff and his co-writer Doug Max Stone turn what by all accounts is a provocative and gripping novel into an over-the-top laffer. Greg Kinnear plays a born again Christian (and former Deadhead) who has his faith tested when he witnesses his pastor Pierce Brosnan “accidentally” shooting a famous atheist professor. Brosnan wants Kinnear to take the fall, since no one—not even Kinnear’s wife Jennifer Connelly—would be willing to believe a one-time druggie over a popular preacher. I’m not sure what’s worst about Salvation Boulevard: the broad, movie-ish conception of what a “Christian” is (or “Deadhead,” for that matter), or the excessively muggy performances that Ratliff fails to blend into a unified tone. So I’ll go off-menu, and complain that Ratliff’s decision to go wacky squanders an opportunity to take on the whole megachurch phenomenon, which is plenty bizarre even without all the hi-larious attempted murder.
And that wraps up Sundance 2011, which wasn’t as strong as last year’s, but still offered a lot for non-attending film buffs to look forward to in the months ahead. (Plus there were a few much-liked movies that both Nathan and I missed, including Azazel Jacobs’ teen-outcast dramedy Terri, and Drake Doremus’ long-distance romance Like Crazy.) Here, divided by grade and then ranked in rough order of preference, is a list of every Sundance ‘11 movie I saw.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
The Catechism Cataclysm
Shut Up Little Man!: An Audio Misadventure
I Saw The Devil
Hobo With A Shotgun
Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times
Life In A Day
The Nine Muses
The Cinema Hold-Up
The Troll Hunter