The Morning After: Sep. 15, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Insider

Based on the true story of whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) who helped to bring down Big Tobacco with testimony certifying that the industry knew and exacerbated the addictive qualities of cigarette smoking. Directed by noted director Michael Mann, the film also stars Al Pacino as former 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, Christopher Plummer as legendary newsman Mike Wallace, Philip Baker Hall as news director Don Hewitt and Diane Venora as Wigand’s wife Liane.

Through legal wrangling, threats of violence and journalistic ethics, Mann’s film takes the audience behind the scenes to explore what happened when a prominent physician who worked for numerous large corporations found reason to leave his position at prominent tobacco company Brown & Williamson and turn that knowledge into a weapon to bring down one of the most corrupt and dangerous industry in U.S. history.

Crowe is superb as the tortured Wigand, a once proud doctor forced to question his own ethics in the face of a crumbling family life as the result of threats and coercion by his former employers. Pacino turns on the fireworks with aplomb as the idealistic news producer who sees journalism as a way to expose corruption, not entertain the masses. Plummer does remarkably with a light impersonation of Wallace, giving him humanity even when he caves to the best interests of his own program. The rest of the cast is strong as well, though special recognition goes to Venora whose fearful performance as Wigand’s wife acts as a sort of emotional wedge in the film’s explosive veneer; and Bruce McGill as the lead attorney in the courtroom fight in Mississippi. His fiery take down of a Brown & Williams lawyer is one of the best scenes in the entire film and showcases why character actors deserve more recognition than they often receive.

The Giver

Based on Lois Lowery’s acclaimed dystopian novel about a futuristic society where individuality and emotion have been stripped from the populace in order to protect them from choices and actions that led their ancestors down a deadly and tumultuous path. A young man named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) has been selected as Receiver. From The Giver (Jeff Bridges), he will receive information that will help him guide the elders of the future in governing their utopian society.

Those who’ve read the novel will almost immediately find themselves noticing differences between the Lowry story and the film version. Pepped up to give the story more action and excitement, screenwriters Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide attempt to convey a simple, yet complex story to audiences who may not be familiar with the source material, deconstructing and improperly rebuilding the resultant narrative into a passable, but ordinary tween-targeted misfire.

Bridges maintains the gravelly voice that has characterized many of his recent performances. It adds a gruff, unnecessary quality to the performance that turns him from the kindhearted, weary man of the novel into the fractured, tormented, misanthrope of the film. Meryl Streep, as the leader of the elders is wasted in a role over-written specifically for her, one which barely exists in the novel. Thwaites has potential, but the material doesn’t give him much to work with. More disagreeable are Odeya Rush and Cameron Monaghan as his childhood buds who don’t seem to understand what kind of film they’re in. Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes as Jonas’ parental units are barely better, Emma Tremblay as his sister Lilly shines in a limited capacity.

Director Phillip Noyce has a colorful array of films to look back on. Focused mostly on political and action thrillers, Noyce takes a page out of Gary Ross’ Pleasantville playbook by framing the entire film in black-and-white except for strands of color that emerge as Jonas discovers the truth about the world around him. It’s a fitting style for the film and does well accentuating the novel’s descriptive sameness, but with so little to work with and an unnecessary flood of action at the end of the film, the movie loses a lot of the narrative resonance the novel generates.

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