Thursday, 19 April 2012

Into the Abyss, The Texas Killing Fields and The Rum Diary

Of late Werner Herzog’s documentaries have been his best and more notable works, his most recent documentaries are fascinating and have provided great insight into subjects such as the life of a bear enthusiast, prehistoric caves and now the death penalty which Herzog’s most recent documentary focuses on. Using the case study of a triple homicide to debate the use of capital punishment Herzog tackles the issue with objectiveness and sensitivity, in the documentary interviews are conducted with a former executioner, the victims’ families and the murderers themselves who all provide a powerful account of the incident in their own unique way.

Into the Abyss makes for some powerful viewing, the opening five minutes with a reverend (whose job is to stay with the convicts for their final few minutes on Earth) is possibly the greatest opening of 2011. Herzog’s innocuous question concerning a squirrel has staggering results, the reverend that the question was posed to responded to the question by looking deep into his very soul and saying what he truly feels, and not the words of a man who kneels. Herzog makes his opinion on the matter perfectly clear, but this never hinders his ability to make an even handed documentary. It is clear that these killers (Jason Burkett and Michael Perry) are not monsters incapable of emotion, but Herzog also makes it perfectly clear that these killers did undertake a monstrous act of murder for nothing more than a car. Herzog also makes it perfectly clear that the effect of these crimes on the victims’ families is devastating and these killers must be punished but not punished with execution because whether it a squirrel or a human being all life is precious. Into the Abyss is one of the finest documentaries of the year. Into the Abyss, like Senna, was shamefully not nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars.


Loosely based on a true story The Texas Killing Fields concerns two cops (Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who investigate a murder of women whose body was left battered and bruised near a gas station, the case leads to another bigger case in which a killer is dumping women's bodies in a field dubbed The Texas Killing Fields. Detective Brian Heigh (Morgan) becomes obsessed in the case and gets more involved than he would have wished too. The Texas Killing Fields is the feature debut of Ami Canaan Mann, daughter the very highly regarded Michael Mann (Heat, Manhunter), and her debut feature film, The Texas Killing Fields, is not a bad debut, but the film has a rather disjointed feel as following scenes do not flow exceptionally well with the previous scene. It makes the film’s pace rather uneven, however Mann does raise a decent level of tension, but no real sense of mystery over the identity of the killer. The performances are decent as the film does contain an impressive range of talent consisting of Jessica Chastain, Chloe Moretz, Worthington and Morgan. The film is dark and gritty, but sometimes overly so as it becomes hard to see what is actually happening. Mann has shown some promise, but a rather uninteresting script, which brings nothing new to the genre and also requires Mike Sounder (Worthington) to say “I’ll shove *insert item here* up your ass” a lot lets Mann’s debut film down somewhat. Don’t even get me started on the tedious melodrama and the wasted talent of Jessica Chastain, overall a mediocre debut from Mann.


Based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name The Rum Diary stars Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp who is a failed author who gets a job as a reporter at a newspaper in Puerto Rico, in Puerto Rico he meets Chenault (Amber Heard), who he immediately takes a strong liking too and Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), Chenault’s boyfriend, who has a proposal for him. The main problem with The Rum Diary is the lack of plot to drive the film forward, while the performances are fine and some of the characters rather engaging, Depp (whose comic timing is impressive) and Michael Rispoli (Bob Sala) are amusing together, there is not enough plot for one to get engaged in. The result of this is an uneven film that has its moments of comedy, but the limited uneven plot gives the film a slightly episodic feel. The Rum Diary looks nice and sounds good, but for all the good performances from much of the cast the film is let down by a lack of a narrative.  Withnail and I director Bruce Robinson returns after nineteen years since directing his last film, and sadly The Rum Diary is not the comeback he would have wanted.


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