Although yet to be connected with the kind of box-office hit that establishes a director as a household-word, Richard Loncraine has demonstrated a wide versatility, directing comedy, poignant dramas,...
As a disposable Harrison Ford vehicle Firewall is part Hostage part Catwoman. Physical violence is pervasive as Ford and his family (including Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen) are taken hostage by a band of thugs. Silver-haired Ford plays Jack Stanfield a computer-programming expert whose bank account accrues an unexplained $95 000 debt. Before he investigates a trio of men invade his house and rough up Jack’s wife (Madsen) daughter (Carly Schroeder) and son (Jimmy Bennett). At the same time a businessman (Paul Bettany) shows up at Jack’s office unannounced. A whole bunch of confusing stuff follows in which Jack must get his family back keep a low profile and not tell the police. After extorting $100 million from his company for ransom Jack tracks the bad guys down by finding the family dog’s whereabouts via Internet satellite dog collar. Bettany a real S.O.B. poisons the young son with a chocolate bar with nuts. It’s not clear why Ford and company chose to do Firewall. The script seems quite vacuous on the page and the actors’ onscreen excitement (or lack of) is palpable. Ford is brooding and frigid in the lead role. Madsen in her first role since Sideways is marginalized in the mother-hen role her earthiness underplayed. Bettany who starred in Firewall director Richard Loncraine’s previous Wimbledon is cartoon-like as a menacing hit man. Bettany reels off lines reminiscent of Sharon Stone in Catwoman. Ten-year-old Jimmy Bennett has become the go-to Hollywood kid for being pushed around in a mainstream movie (Amityville Horror Hostage). In Firewall he’s shoved poisoned and has his mouth is taped. Just another day’s work. Loncraine’s 30 plus-year directing résumé doesn’t have a whole lot of good films on it. He’s a British director with touches of aristocratic long-windedness whose best movies include Richard III with Ian McKellen and the 2002 HBO Winston Churchill biopic The Gathering Storm. Firewall is a Hollywood product stylized around action sequences bad dialogue and a persistent background soundtrack. None of Firewall's characters make an audience connection. Ford is prone to muddled logic and aloofness. Bettany as the lovably nefarious villain should have been a lot more lovable. I’m going to shift the blame of these two proven actors’ performances to Loncraine’s direction which given his history likely deserves it. References to Internet technology though presumably sound come off as jargon and white noise. The ensuing mess is a computer-code chase that doesn’t add up to much--and doesn’t whet an appetite for Harrison Ford’s upcoming Indiana Jones 4.
Love means never having to say you're sorry; it's a many splendored thing; it's all you need. But in tennis love means zero; it means you lose. Or does it? For Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) a British pro tennis player seeded near the bottom of the world tennis ranks love actually inspires him. After scoring a wild card to play in the prestigious Wimbledon tournament he meets and falls for the rising and highly competitive American tennis star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst) fueling a winning streak he hasn't had since he began his career. For Lizzie however the love thing doesn't necessarily work out as well. Her feelings for Peter become a distraction throwing her off her game. Hmmm. Can these two crazy kids keep it together long enough so Peter can fulfill his lifelong dream of winning the men's singles title even if it means his muse might have to sacrifice her first Wimbledon title?
Kirsten Dunst may be what draws you in but Paul Bettany is the reason you don't walk out. The British actor who made an impression with American audiences playing the oh-so-witty Chaucer in A Knight's Tale and then wowed them in Oscar winners such as A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander doesn't disappoint in his first lead role. Bettany's Peter embodies all that charm we've come to love and expect in our British actors--although thankfully not as floppy as Hugh Grant--he stumbles about and apologizes profusely. It's so cute. And he makes a pretty darn believable tennis player to boot (one would hope so after the intense training session the actors apparently had to go through to prepare for the movie). Unfortunately Dunst does not fare as well. Her Lizzie is appealing and she adequately handles the tennis stuff--but she ultimately fails to connect with her male lead making their relationship seem forced. Their beginning sparks are fun but when there's suppose to be a real flame igniting between them you're left scratching your head wondering just when where and why they fell in love so hard so fast. Yep that's a big red flag.
I've said sports movies usually work (see the Mr. 3000 review). To clarify: That is team sports. Sport movies where the action revolves around a single competitor are harder to pull off. It's just not as exciting watching an underdog struggle with himself in order to win. Luckily director Richard Loncraine (HBO's My House in Umbria) seems to know this fact. Even though Peter takes Centre Court (that's the British way of spelling it) Loncraine tries to at least create a more complete picture giving us a glimpse into the world of tennis as well as delving into the traditions of Wimbledon and how the Brits feel about the prestigious tournament where British champions are few and far between. Loncraine also utilizes real-life tennis pros such as John McEnroe and Chris Evert who appear as announcers to liven up the proceedings. Even the action on the court with close-up shots of the ball whizzing over the net gets the blood pumping a little--wish there was a lot more of that. But then of course one could just turn on the TV and watch the real Wimbledon instead watching a silly run-of-the-mill romantic comedy set there.
Directed part of the HBO mini series ""Band of Brothers"
Helmed the comedy film "My One and Only," starring Renée Zellweger
Directed the critically acclaimed "Bellman and True"
Directed HBO's "My House in Umbria," about an unlikely group of people who are thrown together in the wake of a terrorist attack
Directed "The Missionary," written by and starring Michael Palin
Directed "Wide-Eyed and Legless," for the BBC; released theatrically in the US by Miramax as "The Wedding Gift"
Third collaboration with Tom Conti, "Deep Cover"
Acted in "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" for director John Schlesinger
Feature directing debut, "Flame," starring Tom Conti
Directed and co-adapted "Richard III"
Directed Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany in the romantic comedy "Wimbledon"
Directed 75 episodes of BBC's "Tomorrow's World"
Directed HBO's "The Gathering Storm," about the marriage of Winston and Clementine Churchill, starring Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave
Directed more than 420 TV commercials
Directed "Full Circle," with Mia Farrow and Tom Conti
Directed Harrison Ford and Paul Bettany in the thriller, "Firewall"
Although yet to be connected with the kind of box-office hit that establishes a director as a household-word, Richard Loncraine has demonstrated a wide versatility, directing comedy, poignant dramas, thrillers, psychodramas and spy films, leading up to Shakespeare's "Richard III" (1995) starring Sir Ian McKellen. <p>Loncraine originally sought to be a set designer and then an actor. As a kinetic sculptor, he had several exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art. His first commercial success was as a toy designer, with an "executive toy" called "Newton's cradle". Turning to directing, he handled documentaries and educational programming for the BBC, as well as over 400 TV commercials in the first decade of his career. In 1971, director John Schlesinger asked Loncraine to create the toys for Murray Head's character (a toy designer) in "Sunday, Bloody Sunday". Loncraine not only designed the toys but also talked his way into a featured acting role. He made his own feature debut as a director with "Flame" (1975), a behind the scenes study of a rock band, starring Tom Conti, with whom he would collaborate on several other films during the next two decades. It was two years before Loncraine helmed his second feature, "Full Circle/The Haunting of Julia", an atmospheric horror story, with Conti and Mia Farrow in her "Rosemary's Baby" mode. He followed with the hilarious "The Missionary" (1981), written by and starring Michael Palin. Although the story is told in a fragmentary way, the lively cast headed by Palin, Maggie Smith (as a predatory aristocrat), Michael Hordern and Phoebe Nicholls (as Palin's sweetheart) provide the amusement.<p>"Brimstone and Treacle" (1982) was an underrated psychological horror film with little violence but much suspense. Scripted by Dennis Potter, it traced how a charming con man (Sting) ingratiates himself into the lives of a middle class couple with a mentally handicapped daughter. Loncraine followed with a crime drama "Bellman and True" (1987) that centers on a computer analyst who becomes enmeshed in a bank heist that goes awry. "Deep Cover" (1989) reunited Loncraine and Tom Conti in a spy thriller. The director continued to work in TV including the heart-pulling "Wide-Eyed and Legless", starring Julie Walters, which was released theatrically in the US as "The Wedding Gift" (1993). Loncraine joined with Sir Ian McKellen in to adapt Shakespeare's "Richard III" (1995). This was a surprise to some as Loncraine did not have a theatrical background, yet the result yielded rave reviews and a moderate box office. <p> After being tapped to helm the second episode of the Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg-produced 2001 HBO WWII miniseries "Band of Brothers" (for which he was nominated for an Emmy along with the rest of the series' directors), Loncraine directed two highly acclaimed telepics for the pay-cable network: "The Gathering Storm" (2002), an inside look at the tense life of Winston Churchill (Albert Finney); and "My House In Umbria" (2003), an adaptation of the William Trevor novel about a group of myriad people thrown together in the wake of a terrorist attack. The director was nominated an Emmy and a DGA Award for both projects, and as a result returned to the big screen for his first major Hollywood studio offering, the romantic comedy "Wimbledon" (2004), which paired Paul Bettany, as a fading tennis ace, with Kirsten Dunst, as a star on the rise, in a love match set against the background of the sport's most prestigious tournament.