Friday, 13 July 2012

Rampart, Contraband and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

James Elroy (LA Confidential, The Black Dahlia) combines with director Oren Moverman (The Messenger) to create Rampart, a film that follows the corrupt, violent cop Dave ‘date rape’ Brown (Woody Harrelson) during the Rampart scandal that plagued the LAPD in the late 90s. 

The story follows Brown throughout this period examining his family and personal life and the way his superiors dealt with his behaviour. Things escalate when Brown is caught beating an African-American suspect on tape. Woody Harrelson is impressive and mostly rather restrained in the lead role, but other than that the film has very little going for it. Rampart feels disjointed and pointlessly over edited (the 'highlight' is one odd scene with Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver) giving off a feeling that the film is rather self indulgent. The film examines Dave Brown’s relationships with his family and two ex-wives (who happen to be sisters, what! Really?) in a manner that is not greatly interesting as Dave’s relationship with his family is full of cliches and one of the movie’s many subplots. We also follow Dave who goes around picking up woman, visiting sex clubs and making table manners seems the thing of the past, as we watch we are never particularly interested in him, neither do we care for him as it feels that the film never gets anywhere let alone kicks into gear. The supporting performances are pushed into the shadows by Harrelson, but so many factors are not quite at the same level as Harrelson’s performance that they almost drag down the overall effect of his role.


Inspired by the original Icelandic film Reykjavík-Rotterdam, Contraband stars Mark Wahlberg as an ex-smuggler who agrees to do one with final job to help out his useless brother in law (Caleb Landry Jones) who has got himself into a spot of bother with the local gangster Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Contraband sets off to its job and never aspires to be anything else other than a run of mill thriller and to an extent it achieves it aim. Marky Mark is fine in the central role and there are serviceable supporting performances, however I had the hardest time placing Ribisi’s rather wayward accent. The film lacks tension as it fails to build any likeable characters and the plot is easily predictable, yet Contraband is a serviceable 110 or so minutes. What the film also lacks is style, a crime film in which a heist is pulled off needs to leave the viewer appreciating how the components of the crime worked, but it simply doesn’t do that. Contraband is fine, but instantly forgettable.


Turkish film director Nuri Bilge Ceylan went on to win his second Grand Prix at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival with this masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Set in the Anatolia steppes a group of law enforcers are attempting find the body of a murdered man. The murderer admits to the crime and agrees to tell the officers of its location (not sure why, we are never told), but he was drunk when he buried the body and can’t remember where, resulting in a long night for all involved. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s superb film is reminiscent of Andrei Tarkovsky’s greatest and most philosophical of works like Stalker and Solaris, in fact the many the shots employed by cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki are similar to those prolonged pondering shots employed in Solaris. At 157 minutes the film has a moderately long running time, but it’s never arduous or tedious but engrossing, intriguing and rewarding in its patient pacing and stunning cinematography. All performances are unanimously restrained and excellent, particularly Muhammet Uzuner (as Dr Cemal), Yılmaz Erdoğan (as Commissar Naci) and Clark Gable look alike Taner Birsel (as Prosecutor Nusret). The long night allows the chance for the characters to look deep within their selves and contemplate their own life and how fragile life can be. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film comments upon Turkish society (its views on woman and its desire to enter the EU) with occasional dark humour and philosophical ponderings demanding much of the viewer and offering great rewards in the process. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is one of the year’s best.


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