The Escapist, 2008

Frank Perry (Brian Cox) is a long-time convict in an Irish prison where he is ultimately meant to live out the remainder of his life. Things for him change when he learns that his daughter is having problems with drugs and he decides he must escape from prison and try to mend his relationship with her, hoping that in the process he will be able to help her stop her drug abuse. To allow this escape he enlists help from a variety of other convicts, each bringing some skill, knowledge, or other asset to help achieve their common goal of escape.

What appears at first glance to a simple movie with an almost cookie cutter plot delves into ever deeper levels of meaning, symbolism and mental states, depending heavily upon the great skill of the supporting cast.

Aside from the guards, Frank must respect the political arrangements within the prison, which revolve around a drug trade, managed by Viv Batista (Seu Jorge) and overseen by the main power within the prison, a flatly menacing inmate played exceptionally well by the now A-list actor Damian Lewis. Others join the group as the plot becomes more and more complicated, culminating in a race through the underground structures sitting beneath the prison.

So much can be said about the quality of the acting and the depth that is developed by writer/director Rupert Wyatt; from the initially simple story unfolds what can best be described as an exceptionally elegant film. The web of characters is woven with impressive skill and the movie takes on complexity and levels of meaning that are not expected from the initial framing of the plot.

Any viewer who likes good, character-driven stories will likely appreciate this movie and it is highly regarded and recommended by this reviewer.

The Man from Earth, 2007

The Man From Earthis a 2007 masterpiece, directed by Richard Schenkman and written by Jerome Bixby, about the possibilities that would exist if a man never aged and had existed on Earth for 14,000 years.

The film opens with a simple professor packing up his things and getting ready for a small gathering of his associates from the college where he has taught for ten years. During the party he decides to make a confession to his friends: that he is such a man and has lived for more than 14,000 years, moving every ten years or so, once people begin to notice he isn’t aging. His decision to open up to the group results in profound questions, answers and compelling stories that pour from the man (David Lee Smith).

The film has absolutely minimal sets, feeling closer to a play than a film and relies on its underrated and relatively unknown supporting cast and writing to bring about an epic story that is absolutely gripping for the viewer. The highs are just as extreme as the lows as emotions are wrung out of the friends with such skill that the story, along with the questions and concerns of the group become almost too realistic.

The movie can’t be recommended highly enough. It’s remarkable how little attention it has garnered given its quality, skilled acting, precise direction and a killer script from Bixby. While the movie’s themes and stories are intense, it is also totally engrossing for the audience and a terribly enjoyable movie to watch anytime.

Trance, 2013

Trance by Danny Boyle is a remarkable film with few flaws, it contains a mind-bending series of twists that leave the viewer guessing throughout, guesses that are only answered in the final scene.  James McAvoy stars as Simon, an auctioneer in London, that is robbed by a gang lead by Franck (Vincent Cassel), secretly aided from inside the auction house by Simon. It later emerges that for reasons unknown to him Simon has removed the stolen painting and forgotten where it is hidden.

Franck’s gang decides to try hypnotherapy to aid Simon’s memory using a therapist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) and from there the movie quickly picks up momentum. Boyle’s usual visual appeal is present, especially during the sequences taking place only in peoples’ minds. The effects are so effective they are nearly unnoticeable by the viewer, which is always a good sign.

Throughout her sessions with Simon, Elizabeth probes his mind and a series of memories best described as Inception-esque is uncovered with many levels that are, at first confusing, but simultaneously thrilling and enticing. The frequent sessions and resulting exploration of the memories cover many levels, leaving viewers guessing about the root the memories and thus, the truth of the matter about the painting and Simon himself.

McAvoy, Dawson, and Cassel are phenomenal in their roles and the supporting actors leave nothing to be desired. The movie only suffers when compared with Inception and from some subtle pacing problems in the middle – aside from that, it is a delightful, action-filled romp through the memories and minds of the characters, leading to a fantastic conclusion, – one which perfectly resolves the film by the time the credits roll. Trance can be recommended in the strongest possible terms for virtually any audience.

Flickan som lekte med elden, 2009

The Girl Who Played with Fire or The Girl Who Played with Fire, is the second in the Millenium series of movies and continues where its predecessor left off.  Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the editor of Millenium magazine is contacted by a researcher and his fiancee who have been examining the links between the Swedish government and the trafficking of women.

Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) has spent a year traveling with the money she stole during the conclusion of The Girl with the Dragon Tattooand is now trying to settle into Swedish life and some degree of normalcy.  When the researcher and his fiancee are found murdered, Lisbeth is the suspect in the killings and must work with Blomkvist to clear her name and attempt to liberate herself from her complicated legal situation.

Terrible secrets about Salander’s past are brought to light in the process of discovering the real killers; the movie doesn’t so much end as it does leave the viewer anticipating the final installment.

Alfredson’s directorial work is just as outstanding  in this installment as it was in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo;  the result is a movie that nearly surpasses the exceptional quality of the first film.  The story is deeply engrossing for the viewer, and loyal to Stieg Larson’s renowned series, a phenomenon uncommon in a flurry of movies that take excessive liberties with the novels that inspire them.  The acting is again superb, and the details included come across as both expansive and effortless.

Following the success of the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher is returning  to direct the next installment, which is currently in the works. This leaves viewers to wonder what changes he will actually make; given the nearly duplicated plot of the first American adaptation, it seems likely the upcoming remake will follow suit, merely changing Swedish actors for English-speaking versions. Perhaps there will also be minor tweaks in an effort to make the film more accessible to a wider audience, but in a series of already phenomenal films the need for such changes seems minimal. The film series is simply extraordinary and an excellent choice for anyone in search of a great story and an intricate, compelling plot: this film has both.

 

Män som hatar kvinnor, 2009

Män som hatar kvinnor, or, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is the original 2009 Swedish film adaptation of the Stieg Larsson‘s book. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, it tells the story of a disgraced investigative journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the editor of Millenium magazine after his conviction for libel against a massively wealthy and corrupt businessman. His part-time lover and another editor of the magazine Erika Berger (Lena Endre) still supports him, but Blomkvist decides to take some time away from the magazine and is lured into industrialist Henrik Vanger’s (Sven-Bertil Taube) family mystery concerning the disappearance of his niece forty years previous, promising to investigate in exchange for a substantial fee and what Vanger claims is material which will allow Blomkvist to attack his corrupt businessman once again.

This is the first in a trilogy of films that follows the series of books surrounding Millenium magazine and the character to whom the title refers, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). Salander is employed by a large, private security and investigations firm and is responsible for completing the background report on Blomkvist which is used by Vanger to ensure he is hiring the correct person to the investigation into the disappearance of his niece. She is completely unconventional and shocking in many ways to the viewer, having had an extraordinarily disturbing childhood which leaves her unable to legally manage her own private affairs without the guidance of an attorney.

The film follows the life of Salander as she endures shocking levels of abuse at the hands of her caretaker attorney and her vengeance against those who wrong her and other women. She teams up with Blomkvist after he reads the background report she prepared and he decides he needs a research assistant to better investigate the disappearance of the Vanger niece. The relationship is complicated by sexual tension between Blomkvist and Salander, who become lovers as well as partners in the investigation and the film takes on the role of a thriller centering upon a bizarre series of murders which seem to be tied to the disappearance of Henrik Vanger’s niece.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a simply fantastic movie with an engrossing plot, exquisite acting, superb direction and a very nice pace. Oplev’s skill is so impressive that the English-language remake of the film, even with the expert direction of David Fincher, is essentially the same movie, but without the subtitles and Swedish. What better compliment from one director to another than to recognize excellence and not try to outdo it with excessive changes in tone, dialogue, characters or plot?