Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Netflix post is about hitmen.

And two of the hitmen are John Cusack. Yeah, look at that! Themes! Or motifs! Or whatever.

In Bruges: This one does not have John Cusack in it. What it does have is an awful lot of Colin Farrel sitting on benches, which is fine, because the dialogue is quick and snappy and there's a running gag about midgets. The film revolves around two hitmen sent to bide some time in the purgatory that is the town or city or tourist trap of Bruges, until Bad Things Happen. And sure, along the way there's a dwarf and a girl and some cocaine and some violence. I enjoyed the way the movie easily drifted from "dramatic and introspective" to "cleverly silly" and back again, while somehow never seeming like a tonal disaster. The third act posed some trouble for me-- I wasn't a big fan of the ending, and there's a major thematic coincidence, which is a thing lots of people hate (not me), so watch out for that. But it's beautifully shot in the actual, beautiful town of Bruges, and the dialogue flows marvelously-- I see that it's up for Best Screenplay at the Oscars, and I wouldn't mind if it won.

Also: Colin Farrell's eyebrows are capable of forming 45 degree angles, which is odd and fascinating.

And now, the Cusack:

Grosse Point Blank and War, Inc: I find it might be best to review these in tandem, because they're so damn similar and yet so far apart. They share a production company, a screenwriting credit for John Cusack, and three actors-- John and Joan Cusack and Dan Aykroyd. And, of course, they're both about a disillusioned hitman who wanders into a situation that will inevitably topple his currently jaded worldview. It seems War, Inc was deliberately written to echo Grosse Point Blank, without ever actually being a sequel. And hell, Joan Cusack is basically the same character in both. John Cusack usually plays the same character in everything anyway, but here they're very similar-- Brand Hauser may as well be Martin Blank if he never went to that reunion. But where Grosse Point succeeds, War fails. GPB, on the whole, is a pretty clever enterprise filled with entertaining and interesting situations and snappy patter, yet that cleverness is nonchalant; Cusack makes it look easy, as he usually does in his better work. War constantly tries to tell the viewer that it's so damn clever, and here's what society's going to be like in five years, but it sits there like a lump. Most of the things it's supposedly satirizing are old hat by now; it's been done, and better, by many others, so the movie comes off as tired as Cusack's character looks in some scenes.

We get energetic performances from everybody in Grosse Point, from Cusack to Driver to Azaria to Mr. Trick from Buffy to Cusack to Greg's dad from Dharma and Greg to Arkin to Aykroyd to Cusack to Cusack to Piven; War, Inc tries to imitate the same feel, but the characters come off less "energetic" and more "bipolar;" we've got Hilary Duff as a Middle Eastern Britney Spears/Lindsay Lohan/etc. media whore who craves attention but really just wants to be loved or something (yawn); Marisa Tomei as Lois Lane (this wasn't so bad); and Ben Kingsley as... hell, this guy isn't even trying anymore. John C. is again a hitman who needs a therapist, but instead of turning to Alan Arkin like in Grosse Point Blank, he turns to his car's OnStar device. (Do you see? It's so damn clever!) The character dynamics never feel true, nor does anybody consistently change-- things just happen and get weird, or "twists" pop in for the sake of spicing up the plot.

Like In Bruges, Grosse Point Blank has a major coincidence at the end and doesn't ring true in the final few minutes, but the ride is a fun one throughout the film. War, Inc never rings true at all. Well, except for Cusack's badass fight scene. In Grosse Point Blank, we still had the lithe, young, whippersnapper of a Cusack; War, Inc leaves us with the puffier, jaded version, still trying to deliver lines like he did in Say Anything.... I know he's still capable of good work, and he's watchable in just about anything (I love America's Sweethearts. There, I said it), but I sense some lack of caring in this production. Surely, I'm wrong, but in the end, War, Inc comes off as an overstuffed, undersouled production, and Grosse Point Blank is the exact opposite.

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