Saturday, April 19, 2008

Gone Baby Gone: A Good Thriller


For his directorial debut, Ben Affleck offers us a movie that stays in our mind for quite a while. Indeed, Gone Baby Gone is far to be a type of film that you watch just to leave your grey matters at rest! In short, rent this movie if you enjoy watching sombre movies with strong performance

In the poor neighbourhood of Dorchester (Boston, MA), young Amanda McCready is apparently abducted. Obviously, two of her relatives will hire Patrick Kenzie and Angie Genarro, two private detectives, to "augment the investigation". However, when Patrick and Angie discover the whole truth, they'll wonder if it has to be accepted.

Gone Baby Gone is unforgettable, for it tries to make us think. While investigating, Patrick and Angie are plunged in a world that looks black and white. However, as the investigation progresses, the movie pits us against tough moral questions: when does an act, even one fraught with good intentions, become a sheer crime? Without condoning the abduction of children, Gone Baby Gone shows us that what is good for some people might be bad for others.

On the surface, Ben Affleck has a killer premise to deal with the complexity of human nature in both situations of sanity and insanity. Nonetheless, while the characters are well rendered and easy to understand, most of the dialogues barely show the visible depth of their inner thoughts.

Since we're not reading the novel, Affleck should have seen that viewers don't have the book's narration to show the characters' inner thoughts. With that said, he should have taken the freedom to further elaborate the main characters' exchanges (especially at the end) on what's a crime and what's not while facing the whole truth.

As a result of that, viewers wouldn't get to see the characters develop their thoughts with ethical arguments that often look childish in their form. In the end, even though the dialogues are a little bit flawed, our final interpretation about the characters' own psyche does compensate for the dialogue's lack of flesh in some parts of the movie.

Still you can rest reassured that the well chosen cast's performance will elate you. Casey Affleck (Ocean's Twelve), Michelle Monaghan (North Country) and Morgan Freeman (Unleashed), respectively showing up as Patrick, Angie and captain Jack Doyle, display a solid and sober performance. However, it is definitely Ed Harris (A History of Violence) and Amy Ryan (Capote) who turn the spotlight on their side even though their characters are a little bit one-dimensional. In addition to that, we can also mention the movie's accent of neo-realism that reminds us of Zhang Yimou's Not One Less, which means hiring real locals to play some supporting characters.

Finally, it's unfortunate that the dialogues needed to be elaborated and that the storyline develops the characters often way too quickly. However, while we discover unknown faces of Hollywood (Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan and Amy Ryan), Ben Affleck (who seems to have a good control on the movie) casts a good observation on today's societies and by extension, the people who inhabit them. You'll not forget this movie once it's over, because it pushes you to wonder how far some people are ready to go just to show their love for children...

Rating: 4/5

***


Gone Baby Gone
USA (2007)
Genre: Dramatic thriller
Length: 114 minutes
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Screenplay: Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan and John Ashton

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

China Needs a Reality Check

Wherever the Olympic torch has gone, it has sparked protests about China's contempt for human rights. The world has probably given to China the Olympics for summer, but the country itself doesn't seem to be willing to improve its political image.

A caricature explaining the logo of the Olympics in Beijing.
As the country economically grows, it certainly will show us that it has the material capacity to host international events. In such a situation, the whole world has its eyes on China.

Nonetheless, Chinese authorities really don't seem to care that the whole world is watching them. To rephrase the previous thought, the Chinese government does know that its country is being watched, but it doesn't seem to be willing to impress us, in the broad sense of the term.

With the whole world watching it, China could have taken the occasion to show us that it's a more mature country and to make some advances (albeit small ones) in human rights. Obviously, it's definitely not in a few years that China will go through a sort of "Quiet Revolution", which means heading slowly but surely toward democracy!

Indeed, it's really sad to see that this Asian country still beats the hell out of its ethnic minorities, especially people from Tibet and Xinjiang. Moreover, Chinese authorities tarnish even more their image considering the fact that they don't want an international investigation about protests in Tibet to be held. As if it wasn't enough, Human Rights Watch also mentioned that "Chinese security forces have violently dispersed [Tibetan] protestors, arbitrarily detained hundreds, and refused to account for their whereabouts or well-being."

Obviously, aside from ethnic and religious repressions, we certainly don't need to talk about China's worldwide known repression of freedom of speech on its citizens, journalists and also on foreign journalists...

This makes us wonder why did China accept to organize the Olympics by promising us to make some advances in the issues of human rights. Making such promises is like taking people for fools. In fact, as criticism on China's contempt for human rights become louder, the country just doesn't want to look at its own reality as it is. Hence, its obvious incapacity to fulfil its promise to improve its political and social environment for its citizens, above all.

Overall, while the Chinese government made a few promises here and there to be warmer to human rights while receiving the responsibility to organize the next Olympic games, it has ridiculed itself by not doing anything concrete.

Finally, boycotting the Olympic Games is not really a good idea. Of course, Western athletes do have opinions on Chinese politics. However, since sports are just a mean to celebrate the joy of physically and mentally going further, it is not the job of athletes to determine the West's relation with China. Moreover, many of them will not wait another four years to live the moment of their life. In the end, is boycotting the opening and closing ceremony of the Olympics a good idea? In my opinion, it is a fair way to separate politics from sports.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Atonement

Atonement may magnetically attract lovers of romantic movies. However, the movie might make some people cringe mostly because of its storyline's structure. Still, Atonement (2007) is a marvellous gem driven by characters that sustain our interest.

Based on a best-seller of British novelist Ian McEwan, Atonement's story starts a few years before the beginning of the Second World War (1939-1945) at the mansion of the Tallis family. A girl of 13 years old named Briony Tallis accuses Robbie Turner (the family's gardener) of raping her older sister, Cecilia, although he didn't even do it, in the first place. However, the truth is that Robbie is the lover of Cecilia. Moreover, what Briony did will have an impact on their whole life.

The movie's main problem is mostly at the beginning which progresses as slowly as a novel. In other words, the pace is slow because the story takes too much time to introduce us to the characters and what they intend to do. With that said, you could tell that the envy to push the "fast forward" button can be seen as an option since the beginning really lacks concision in its attempt to set the story's tone.

However, when the action does begin, director Joe Hampton (Pride & Prejudice) hopefully manages to use Atonement's slow pace at his advantage. The approach used to develop the characters is based on showing a specific scene through different point of views, namely that of either Cecilia, Robbie and Briony. It might be odd and slow as an approach, but it certainly has an obvious advantage: it allows us to have closer look on each of the three main characters' (Cecilia, Robbie and Briony) feelings and inner thoughts. As a result of that, Atonement is one of those movie that you won't forget because of its larger-than-life characters that give a good playground for the actors who play them.

With that said, Atonement also relies on implicit suggestions to make the story progress. If we look at the brilliant way the characters are psychologically depicted (i.e. through some silence and the expression of their eyes), it reminds us of some Asian movies, just like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In short, the amazing ambiguity of the characters gives us an interesting dramatic twist and we always want to know more about them.

Nevertheless, leaving so much ambiguity in a movie is a double-edged knife, in a manner of speaking. While the story is relatively easy to understand, Atonement unfortunately ends (I'm not talking about the final scene, mind you) with some unanswered questions about the characters' own evolution. For instance, what really motivates Briony to accuse Robbie of doing a crime that he didn't commit (we only have a part of the answer)? How should we understand the relation between Paul and Lola? These are questions that are the result of a lack of hints that could have helped anybody to truly have their questions answered.

Despite having an irksome ambiguity that doesn't do any service to it, Atonement is obviously close to be a masterpiece because. This is because director Joe Wright is brilliant when it comes to explicitly render the characters' feelings through implicit suggestions. Obviously, Atonement is definitely a movie beautifully rendered by the performance of James MacAvoy (The Last King of Scotland), as Robbie, and Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice), as Cecilia, in particular. In addition to that, lovers of romantic movies will be elated to see how good is the chemistry between these two actors.

Rating: 4.5/5

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