Set in 1984 Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) returns to her ice-cold hometown in Northern Minnesota after fleeing from an abusive husband. In order to care for her two young kids she needs a job--and for most of the townsfolk including her distant dad (Richard Jenkins) that means working in the local iron mines. Problem is not too many women work there and those who do are subjected to continual harassment by their male coworkers. Josey lands a job anyway and starts to get her fair share of sexual innuendos. One day her former high-school sweetheart also a mine employee takes it way too far with her. Although met with strong resistance of course a lawsuit ensues that results in a groundbreaking decision for women’s rights in the workplace. Ah what an Oscar can do for a career. It wasn't that long ago Theron wouldn’t even have been considered for such a dramatic role. But with deserved recognition she gets to strut her stuff in North Country. She's no Monster but she's no supermodel either--and while it's impossible to erase her beauty its glare has been reduced. A second-consecutive Oscar win? Maybe not but a nomination wouldn't be out of the place. Co-star Frances McDormand might also be in line for a nod of her own. She plays Glory a woman who gets Josey the job and encourages her to fight the good fight something that seems visceral for McDormand. Woody Harrelson is also solid as Josey's attorney though his Midwest-stoner drawl gets in the way of the northern accent he's supposed to be selling. New Zealand director Niki Caro mightily impressed us with Whale Rider a poignant mixture of grief and vigor and with North Country she continues to impress. As more an observer than anything else Caro lets the true story tell itself--of what happened in this small town with its frigid denizens and sexist behavior. And the film is definitely a period piece á la Norma Rae in that it's from a specific period albeit a recent one and pertains to a specific region. But it's kind of slow going. There’s a lot of weeping and dramatic speeches. Still Caro makes up for it by including several Bob Dylan songs who rarely grants the use of his songs in films. Perhaps he felt a certain a kinship to this film since it takes place in the desolate cold Northern Minnesota where he comes from--and so resents.
January 15, 2004 1:22pm EST
As Torque opens we learn that biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson) skipped town six months before without any explanation leaving behind bewildered friends and a heartbroken girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur) who owns a local bike shop. "Heard you were in Indochina " people ask when they see Ford who came back to "make things right." Before his disappearing act Ford hid away a collection of motorcycles left in Shane's shop that belong to Henry (Matt Schulze) a drug dealer and leader of the Hellions biker gang who wants his merchandise back--not surprising since he had stashed about $1 million worth of crystal meth in the gas tanks. Henry devises a plan to get the goods: He brutally kills a rival gang leader's younger brother and frames Ford for the murder then promises an exchange--he'll get Ford off the hook if Ford tells him where the bikes are. This doesn't fly with our protagonist who sees the drug-spiked bikes as his only insurance against Henry killing him outright. Now Ford has to prove his innocence while staying a step ahead of the gangs--and the cops--who are hot on his trail. This ridiculous film fails to answer glaring questions such as why Ford split in the first place and why he stashed the bikes for six months. But the nonsensical storyline is accompanied by even lamer dialogue: The only thing worse than the constant references to Indochina (does anyone still use that term?) is Ford's correction that he was actually in Thailand.
If anything positive can be said about Torque it's that the bad guys in the cast manage to go out of their way to overdo their characters delivering the memorably bad dialogue with the utmost passion and conviction. As rival gang leader Trey Ice Cube never laughs or cracks a smile; he snarls his way through the entire film. But the best performance in terms of facial expressions has to be Jaime Pressly's China (no not Indochina)--Henry's woman. China doesn't say a word until halfway through the film but Pressly maximizes her character's screen presence by making her sadistically raunchy: She seductively licks her pierced vixen-red lips every time violence breaks out be it a fight or better yet a murder. When she finally utters a line (something like "You messed with the wrong chick") during a wheelie showdown with Shane we at least know she means it. In contrast heroes Mazur and Henderson are positively bland. Mazur's portrayal of Shane is a straight-up tough-but-pretty girl who skids into one scene after another on her crotch rocket asking "Need a ride?" and although Henderson's stringy longhaired Ford looks the part of a biker boy the actor doesn't give his character any quirky attributes the way Ice Cube and Pressly do--he isn't having fun in the role and it shows. But the cast's biggest obstacle--besides again the awful dialogue--is the absurd leather getups they're forced to wear.
Prolific music video helmer Joseph Kahn makes his directorial debut with Torque and his roots are showing--the film looks like a barrage of stylish music videos strung together. When Ford's pal is getting it on with a biker skank in a hotel room for example N.E.R.D.'s "Lap Dance" song blares in the background ("Oooh baby you want me? Well you can get this lap dance here for free..."). But the soundtrack has nothing on Torque's dialogue and lines such as "You got 'til sundown to bring back my bikes" will have audiences laughing rather than shaking in their boots. Scribe Matt Johnson's attempted jibe at The Fast and the Furious is absolutely pathetic; in one scene Ford repeats Vin Diesel's infamous "I live my life a quarter mile at a time " and Shane sneers something about that being the dumbest line she's ever heard. Right because this dialogue is so intelligent it's earned the right to laugh at others'. It's a shame Kahn didn't look to Furious helmer Rob Cohen for tips about directing a film about fast things on wheels instead of making fun--he could have learned how to make a cheesy film entertaining. Instead Kahn delivers an action pic whose CGI effects more closely resemble a video game than reality and whose organizing principle is the three-minute music video which doesn't lend itself to fleshed out storylines or interesting characters.
Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) never aspires to become one of the youngest people ever to make the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List--it just kind of turns out that way. His adventures begin in 1967 when he runs away from home at 16 just as his parents are divorcing. He finds himself alone in the Big Apple unsuccessfully trying to cash fake $20 checks. One day Frank notices how much respect is given to two airline pilots and he decides impersonating a Pan Am co-pilot might be just the ticket so to speak. Thus begins his brilliant three-year run as a master of deception. After infiltrating Pan Am he changes careers--he's a pediatrician then a lawyer--all the while perfecting his forgery skills. Cashing fake checks all over the country Abagnale amasses millions and quite literally becomes a kid in a candy store buying sports cars and fancy suits losing his virginity and pretending he is James Bond. Still the fact remains Frank is just a kid. Even after all these adult experiences his main objective is to get his father Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) a down-on-his-luck store owner hounded by the IRS back together with his now-remarried mother (Nathalie Baye). Frank's nefarious activities eventually catch the authorities' attention and Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) a no-nonsense FBI agent in charge of the bank fraud division is soon hot on Frank's tail. But Frank doesn't mind. Part of him wants to get caught and he baits Hanratty to never give up the chase. Hanratty never does and finally brings his man to justice.
Catch Me's acting ensemble shines. Given the fact DiCaprio is in two high-profile movies this holiday season--this one and Gangs of New York--puts the actor back on the radar after a hiatus (perhaps he was licking his wounds after starring in the disastrous 2001 The Beach). Yet if you were to match the performances DiCaprio's stellar turn as Abagnale definitely stands out as the better of the two (the Golden Globes feel the same recently giving DiCaprio a nod for best actor in a drama). He fits the part like a glove--all at once charismatic childish vulnerable and deadly intelligent. DiCaprio easily shows how Frank isn't necessarily a sociopath but more a needy kid looking for acceptance. Say what you will about DiCaprio's movie star qualities he still has the acting chops to make it work. Walken as Frank Sr. also gives one of the better performances of his career playing a sad man who knows the apple doesn't fall from the tree but who is too proud to admit his mistakes--even to his son. Hanks is superb as well (is there anything this man can't do?) playing the by-the-book Hanratty completely devoid of emotion--but making us laugh anyway every time he comes on the screen. He doesn't mean to of course but to see Hanks play something so obviously straight somehow brings out the humor in the situation even more. Just don't ask Hanratty to tell you a joke. TV's Alias honey Jennifer Garner also makes a nice cameo as a prostitute--watch out folks she's heading for the big screen.
Based on the real-life memoirs of Frank W. Abagnale Jr. Catch Me If You Can is a fascinating study of a brilliant mind which isn't by nature criminal--just slightly misguided (ironically the real Abagnale now in his 50s is a legitimate businessman who also acts as an consultant for the FBI's bank fraud division). Under the skillful hands of director Steven Spielberg Catch Me has a great deal of fun going for a very '60s tongue-in-cheek Pink Panther feel from the opening credits to the ease at which Frank goes about his merry way conning everyone including himself. The motto of the film has to be "never deny." Frank accepts everything and things just fall into his lap. Even when Frank tries to tell the truth to the father (played by Martin Sheen) of a woman he wants to marry it works to his advantage. Yet the meat of the film is Frank's inner turmoil at the breakup of his parents of wanting his family back together again and of his need to come clean. Frank secretly wants to be disciplined told what to do and that's why Hanratty becomes so important almost a fatherly figure to him. The film probably plays about a half hour too long especially in explaining what happens to Abagnale after he gets caught but otherwise it totally engages you.