WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Writer/director Woody Allen chose to remain behind the camera for Whatever Works employing Larry David as his muse. The Curb Your Enthusiasm star plays a cranky pessimist who becomes the initially unwilling husband to a much MUCH younger Southern girl with a father fixation. But when her conservative mother arrives all hell breaks loose as Mom tries to drive her daughter away from the old guy and toward a much younger model. But New York City has a strange effect on everyone and soon everyone in this very disparate group learns the best things in life are really “whatever works.”
WHO’S IN IT?
Forgoing the umpteenth opportunity to play the May/December romance bit again Allen turns over the starring role to David in an inspired bit of casting about which it’s simply impossible to curb your enthusiasm. David given hilarious monologues that riff on life and border on a constant stream of doomsday analysis is perfect casting in Allen’s peculiar New York world. What’s most surprising is he actually creates a three-dimensional character we grow to care about even though the flow of one-liners rarely stops. As the super-conservative Southern yokel mother-in-law Patricia Clarkson is equally at home in Allen’s universe and takes the stereotypical role into unexpected places. As the innocent ex-beauty queen who bounces into David’s life Evan Rachel Wood practically channels a backwoods Tammy persona but somehow it works well enough for us to believe she could actually fall for such a cranky old man. Also of note is Ed Begley Jr.’s terrific turn as her pious father and estranged hubby of Clarkson who shows up near the end and defies all convention.
After a sojourn abroad first to England for his expert thriller Match Point and the less successful Scoop then to Spain for last year’s delightful Vicky Cristina Barcelona Allen returns triumphantly to his New York roots for the first time since 2004’s Melinda and Melinda. Despite the absence he hasn’t lost a beat when it comes to his very singular view of the Big Apple and its inhabitants. Casting David was the masterstroke that makes this one stand out as one of the prolific Allen’s (he turns out a film a year) most consistently amusing works in some time.
Whatever Works is very slight and feels more like one of the comedian’s New Yorker short stories than a fully fleshed-out motion picture. But when you’ve got this kind of sharp dialogue and these performers it’s hard to quibble about substance.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Whatever works for you but if you’re a Woody Allen or Larry David fan it’s a must wherever you see it.
We’ve seen movies about news correspondents struggling in the world’s hottest war zones before but The Hunting Party inspired by a true story gives a unique point of view on war and its aftermath as seen through the eyes of TV news reporter Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) and his loyal cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard). These two have been through it all doing their jobs and winning Emmys. But things get deeply personal one terrible day in a Bosnian village and during a live broadcast on national television Simon has a meltdown; he is sent packing disgraced. Five years later a promoted Duck returns to Sarajevo with rookie reporter Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg) to cover the fifth anniversary of the end of the war. Now desperate for work Simon shows up with the promise of a world exclusive convincing Duck he knows the whereabouts of Bosnia’s most wanted war criminal "The Fox" (Ljubomir Kerekes). As they bluff con and blunder their way through to get the scoop Simon Duck and the hapless Benjamin head into dark and dangerous waters. And the further they go the uglier the truth becomes. Is an interview with The Fox all Simon wants? Or does he have another motive for finding--and ultimately exposing--this man responsible for unspeakable crimes? Gere has really stepped things up lately. Earlier this year he gave an excellent performance in The Hoax and now does the same in The Hunting Party. In both films Gere brilliantly embodies men on the edge desperate for their next big break but does so in that same slick charismatic style we’ve come to love in the actor. Gere’s Simon is also a tormented soul the sadness of what he has experienced oozing from him--as well as a need for retribution. It would be a nice coup for the veteran actor if he got some Oscar notice out of this. As Duck the always terrific Howard (Hustle & Flow) exudes the same empathy and also does a fine job of showing how guilty Duck feels for selling out to take the cushy network job. And together the actors display a very genuine comradeship making it entirely believable that these men have bonded from years of being in the trenches. Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) is basically the newbie to explain the backstory to but he’s very capable as the film’s comic relief. Writer/director Richard Shepard--best known for giving us The Matador a bird's-eye view of how intimate and dysfunctional an assassin’s life can be--broadens his scope a bit with The Hunting Party. Based on an Esquire magazine article titled “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” by Scott Anderson Shepard edits and embellishes The Hunting Party ever so cleverly. He uses a classic three-prong character setup: the disgraced but hardened reporter looking for his way back in; the cameraman who's gone corporate but misses the action; and the rookie who has to be taught. Then he hands us a refreshing perspective on war--one in which a reporter crosses the line of journalistic conduct and makes things personal. And while Shepard’s strengths obviously lie more with the words than with the camera there are no glaring missteps in The Hunting Party’s execution. The film is simply a compelling sometimes darkly comic look at the horrors of war.