February 26, 2009 2:42pm EST
Clearly influenced by the 2005 Oscar-winning Crash writer/director Wayne Kramer’s multi-character segmented story focuses on the hot button issue of immigration -- illegal and otherwise -- told from several vantage points. A teenager (Summer Bishil) is targeted as a potential terrorist because of an essay she wrote; a young mother (Alice Braga) fights to keep her child after being deported; an Australian actress (Alice Eve) prostitutes herself to get a green card. We also meet a Korean teen a British musician a Mexican worker and others whose lives and dreams of American citizenship intersect with a group of people working for and closely with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in L.A. Chief among them is Max Brogan (Harrison Ford) a veteran but burnt-out agent not beyond bending the law to uphold the fading ideals that brought him to the job in the first place. Ford is terrific in a low-key but touching portrayal of a man struggling to keep up with a changing world of immigration law clinging to the moral compass that originally got him started. It’s not the kind of starring role we normally see him do but he blends nicely into a superb ensemble of international actors. Ray Liotta is rather effective as a hapless applications manager willing to risk his career and marriage to an immigration defense attorney (an understated Ashley Judd) for a sordid affair with an Australian actress played by the sultry Eve. This aggressive bimbo is cheating on her likeable British boyfriend sweetly played by Jim Sturgess (21) as both try desperately to get a green card in equally unethical ways. Other standouts in the large cast include Bishil as a young suspected terrorist and the wonderful Braga as an illegal Mexican factory worker trying to hang on to her son. Kramer’s in-your-face vivid directorial style has served him well in the critically acclaimed The Cooler and even his over-the-top but entertaining second film Running Scared. With Crossing Over he generally tones it down to tell a tricky multi-level story in which he tries to juggle several characters constantly merging in and out of the film. If it’s not ultimately as successful as Crash this storytelling technique is in many ways just as effective due to the subject matter. Kramer a South African became a naturalized American citizen himself in 2000 and knows this scenario all too well. He paints us a picture people caught up in this fast changing world of immigration and using any means to keep their dreams alive against long odds.
February 24, 2006 5:45am EST
Running Scared is a few plots shy of being well-thought out. It starts with Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) a low-level employee of an Italian mob family who over the course of 18 hours has one hell of a time. First he has to get rid of a gun that killed a crooked cop in a drug deal gone bad. Instead of disposing of it however Joey goes home and hides it in a panel in the basement as future collateral only to have his 10 year-old son’s best friend Oleg (Cameron Bright) discover and abscond with the weapon so he can shoot his abusive Russian stepfather (Karel Rodan) who is also mob connected. Then we get to follow young Oleg now on the run as he encounters all manner of nocturnal miscreants. I mean seriously this is the kind of night that should permanently screw the kid up. Meanwhile Joey--aided by both his wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga) and son--is trying desperately to get to the boy and the gun before the mob factions find out. Not one of your more stellar evenings. What is cutie-pie Paul Walker doing shooting people having sex on a dryer and saying the f-word over and over after he just saved a pack of Huskies from freezing to death in the Antarctic? Kind of bad timing for Walker to have his feel-good family movie Eight Below released a week before this R-rated bloodbath. Running Scared definitely shows an edgier Walker but the outdoorsy movies just work better for him. The young Bright on the other hand has made a short career of playing creepy sullen kids. First he disturbed us out as a cloned child in Godsend; then he made us really uncomfortable as a kid who claims he’s Nicole Kidman’s reincarnated husband in Birth. So playing a boy who goes through one of the more nightmarish evenings ever isn’t really a stretch. As a side note Farmiga (The Manchurian Candidate) does a nice job as Joey’s wife who has just as much chutzpah as any of those testosterone-pumped mob guys. This is how writer/director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) describes Running Scared “It’s like a Grimm’s Fairy tale nightmare but taking place in the Mob world…” Well no kidding. Kramer uses familiar gritty crime drama techniques such as framing the film in that grainy washed out look and doing slo-mos of people getting plastered by shotguns. You know the drill. It’s effective but the problem is while Kramer bombards the audience with one Grimm situation after another--from pedophiles to crazed pimps to ear-biting gangsters--he forgets to create a cohesive film. Of course the director nearly redeems himself with a clever twist near the end but it’s just not enough to make up for the many times you’re sitting there cringing and thinking “What the…?”
January 22, 2004 10:50am EST
Monster chronicles a year in the life of one Aileen Wournos for whom the description "downtrodden" is an understatement of the 'nth degree. Wournos is infamous for being the first recognized female serial killer in recent U.S. history and was executed in 2002 for killing seven men between 1989-90 (self-defense she said). Unwanted unloved and largely abandoned by her family in her early teens Wournos became a drifter turning to prostitution along Florida's highways first for acceptance then for sustenance. As this movie tells it with a lifelong history of receiving only abuse and contempt at the hands of nearly every male with whom she came into contact it's clear the very least little thing could push her already unstable mental state right over the edge. That little thing came in the form of one Selby Wall. Wall (a lesbian) comes on to Wournos (not one) at a bar one night with a few kind words: "You're so beautiful you must have men falling all over you " at which point you wonder what planet she's on. An awkwardly fumbling sex scene or two later and off they go on a bizarrely codependent road to ruin that takes them on the run--Wall from her conservative family Wournos from the law as she discovers after one particularly brutal encounter that killing men for their money is quicker easier safer and more profitable than screwing them for it.
Much is being made about Charlize Theron's transformation into Wournos and with good reason. To say she looks like a cross between Jon Voight and William H. Macy is being too hard--on the guys. With her baby blues turned into bottomless brown pools; baby face into pocked sagging jowls; even white teeth into grayish tombstones; and flaxen bob into dishwater blonde '70s-era feathered crop Theron so wholly transforms from bombshell Hollywood star to white-trash hooker it's a more frightening sight than Paris Hilton's night-vision humpathon. Well OK not that frightening. It isn't just Theron's looks that are Wournos from head to toe however; it's as if Theron was channeling the killer her performance (barring a few instances of exaggeration) is that eerie. On some level you're always conscious you're watching Charlize Theron model-turned-actress underneath all the makeup and one wonders if the entire film would have worked better starring a complete unknown . But by the time the credits roll even if you've never heard of or seen Wournos before you'll feel like you knew her personally after watching Theron swagger cuss fight and kill her way through the Sunshine State. In a weird yet rewarding casting choice Christina Ricci effortlessly embraces her role as the lonely and innocent yet ultimately whiny and manipulative galpal Wall.
Had Theron's performance and ungodly appearance not packed such a wallop this movie about a year in the life of a serial killer could have come and gone--truth be told it's an unredeeming look at the tragic end of a completely wasted life from the viewpoint of the loser who wasted it. From the victimizing encounters Wournos has with almost every male she runs across to the calculating machinations of her treacherous girlfriend director Patty Jenkins practically screams "Poor me!" for Wournos from the grave. Though the movie's title refers to the main character it might as well apply to everyone else as the killer comes off more sympathetic than most of her hapless victims who didn't deserve to die just for picking her up on the highway. Opinions about cause and effect aside the moviemaking itself is not up to par. Very little is given to explain Wournos' character other than a few flashback scenes that seem more cursory than anything and are punctuated with a distracting voiceover that tries to replace missing pieces of story--such as why for chrissakes Selby is so attracted to Aileen. For a movie in which the lesbian factor is so important Jenkins ultimately lacks the courage to "go there " pulling back on the whole sex thing and spending far too much time on a weak love story that never really makes much sense.