Mixed reviews on the Internet, big cast, multi-angled story, to me it sounded like a few other movies that have treaded the same ground but still very interesting. The talents of Paul Haggis and the exciting casting of Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, et al, attracted me to this movie and I am thankful that I ignored what the critics have said.
The movie is a group of stories of different people that all connect through each other and all relate in some way. It's a strong story, and quite a controversial one. Large in both it's concept and it's cast. I can guess some of their negative reaction has been due to the uncomfortable feeling the movie has throughout and the very strong nature of its content. It's a difficult journey, but well worth going to see.
Straight up, many thanks again to Vue Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh for their help with this review, and congratulations to G on her promotion!
From the opening scene you're pretty much guaranteed to be shocked and uncomfortable, I know we were and we weren't expecting the tirade of abuse, one of the more uncomfortable aspects of this scene is that it's from a white man to a Persian, whom he thinks is actually an Iraqi. A very disturbing scene, and something that the movie is all about. The abuse doesn't just stop at the white American on Persian, it moves to Latino against Chinese, Chinese against black, black against black, black against white, white against Chinese, and so on.
One of the best moments of the movie is at the beginning as two black guys come out of an uptown restaurant in a very white neighbourhood and one begins to rant about how badly they've been treated. "The waitress treated us like dirt, assuming that we're black we wouldn't tip her." he roughly said, and his friend turns to him, "well how much did you tip her?", "That's not the point".
This conversation is so well written and helps to highlight the perpetuation of racism through over political correctness and over analysis. It's both funny and insightful and was one of my favourite scenes. The scene just works, watch it, understand it.
It covers how hard it is for people in L.A. (and indeed any city) to actually get close to someone else and understand them. It seems to be much easier to blame problems on others than to actually face up to them, and if this movie is anything to go by, racism is a very common aspect of this culture.
The movie is telling us that if we take some time to get to know the people around us, perhaps make conversation and don't stereotype them, we may just get along a little better. Lives might even be saved. Don't make the mistake that it's all happy though, it isn't. Even those who think they have made the connections already, haven't done so on anything more than a superficial level.
Couple these aspects together and you have one serious movie. Although it is hard to watch and it does make you feel very uncomfortable, it makes you feel something, and that is what cinema is about for me. I left in debate about the movie, both of us, and that's a great thing. On the lighter side, Jennifer Esposito is gorgeous!
Acting wise I was very surprised. Both Bullock and Brendan Fraser play characters well out of their normal sphere of acting, specifically Bullock and she absolutely excels as the D.A.'s wife who is very much on her own. If you ever thought she was a light actress you should see her performance here, strong with a well written and performed fear and growing racist anger, I can't be vocal about her performance enough. The only sad thing is that it is all too short.
Fraser also acts out of normal character, he plays the D.A. and there's not a hint of comedy in the script, unfortunately there is in his face and actions to camera. For me he just doesn't quite pull this role off and maybe a great deal of this is down to all his previous roles, but the odd movement, face pull and off hand line don't always come through as fully serious.
Cheadle was a surprise too, he was good, but very plain in this role. His character is very important and is a main player in the storyline, but he doesn't dig his teeth into much (apart from Esposito) and plays a character that things just seem to happen to and he accepts without much fight. Perhaps I was expecting too much from him considering the comments of his previous roles, yet this character doesn't seem to give him enough to do.
Thandie Newton actually provides a good performance, although yet again she plays a woman with a chip on her shoulder and huge attitude, just like many of her previous characters. Yet she has more range here I felt, and she shows it well. Her frustration, anger and almost all consuming fear is so obvious on screen, and she really does give the performance a great deal.
For me Newton and Dillon gave two great performances, and the interaction between them on the two different scenes give a very powerful message. Not only about the Police force, but also about race relations in general, and shows a common understanding between both characters. This is one of the most powerful relationships in the movie.
However, the strongest pairing and the best acting in this movie for me goes to two non-lead actors. Michael Pena and Bahar Soomekh as the Hispanic locksmith and the Persian local store owner respectively, give the most heartfelt and strong performances in this movie. They, without a doubt, steal the show from the big names and quite rightly so.
There are some poorer aspects to the movie though, I felt a couple of the scenes were presented in quite a contrived manner, and instead of events leading to them being quite explainable or understandable, they felt strained and stretched. A perfect example of how this could be avoided was with the second Newton-Dillon scene, no explanation, no lead up, the event had just happened and the important thing was the story that unfolded before you and the aftermath. That's real life, often things happen and there's not a need to overly explain the lead up.
The ending, although not all good by a long way, reminded me a lot of Magnolia. Not because of anything more than a moment of plot device, but coupled with the same style of storytelling it was enough to knock me out of the movie and make the connection. Unfortunate, and just ruined a short scene, not the movie.
Overall the messages are strong, uncompromising and often quite bleak. Do not make a mistake, this is real life and not a nice fluffy bunny tale. Despite some moments that are a little contrived, there are a surprising amount of exceptional performances to be seen and the story gives you a real kick in the head about how we really should be as people. Thoroughly recommended.