Monday, December 31, 2007

Three Great Films: The Cooler, Vor, The Wind That Shakes The Barely

In the doldrums between Christmas and New Years amid the new noisy toys, I have discovered three films that are defiantly worth watching.

The Cooler with William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin and Maria Bello 2003. William H. Macy plays a man, a cooler, so unlucky that his very presence will “cool” a hot streak. Alec Baldwin, a hard case casino owner, employs him to make sure no one leaves the casino a winner. Macy’s character, Bernie meets and falls in love with Maria Bello’s character Natalie, and everything changes.
Performance wise, it’s a pleasure to watch good actors work their chops on a good script and a compelling story. William H. Macy is always awesome, in this role I don’t think anyone could have played it better. With all the nonsense that surrounds Alec Baldwin at times, it’s easy to forget that he too is capable of excellent performances when given a good script, i.e. this movie, The Departed, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Thick as Thieves. The beautiful and believable Maria Bello brings a mix of vulnerability and strength that allow us to believe she can change things for the uber loser Bernie.
Some weird belief systems are at play in this film, none more important than luck, both good and bad. In The Cooler, luck isn’t some notion to be wished for, it’s the elephant dominating the room that most people don’t seem to notice.

Vor or The Thief 1997, with a bunch of fine Russian actors you probably don’t know. In Russian, with subtitles, Vor is about a beautiful young woman with a young son who meets a charming rogue on a train and how they begin their life together. Set in the former Soviet Union just after the Great Patriotic War, this is one of those transporting films that takes you, convincingly, to a different time and place. Sadly the people in this time and place are still all too human, and like a work of great Russian fiction, we see how this unhappy family is unhappy in its own unique way. Sad, somewhat bleak but oddly not depressing, a film that you will remember.

The Wind That Shakes The Barely 2006. Starring Cillian Murphy as a young doctor who becomes an Irish Republican Army soldier in 1920 Ireland. Although this film is very sympathetic to the cause of Irish nationalism, it is by no means simple in it’s depiction of the choices these people had to make, that in a nutshell is what makes me love this film.
There is a scene where the Irish Republicans debate what is to be done in their New Republic. Each has suffered greatly and lost much, each has his or her own hard earned point of view but some are diametrically opposed to their former brothers in arms. The dialogue sounds as if the actors were allowed to argue their character’s position in their own words, while at times the brogues can be hard to understand with my American ears, some of the dialogue in this film is as good as any ever made.

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