FILMS GONE WILD: 2012 SUNDANCE #3; MITT ROMNEY’S WORST NIGHTMARE

THE RAID (Serbuan Maut)

ARBITRAGE

I didn’t even get out of the Dallas House until the afternoon, so let’s just get right to the first review….

THE RAID (Serbuan Maut)
Directed by Gareth Huw Evans, THE RAID can be summed up simply enough: An elite SWAT team descends on a large rundown apartment building (it’s way too beaten up to characterize it as a complex) in Jakarta to take down a lethally ruthless crime lord that runs it and harbors the majority of the criminals, degenerates and dangerous inhabitants of the city within its walls. The drug lord also has two right hand men. Correction. Let’s make that a right hand man and a left hand man. One guy is crazy loyal and even crazier crazy. He just likes to hurt and kill. It’s what he is. Don’t judge. The second guy is the brains of the operation but he’s lethal too so don’t think you can settle things with a civil game of chess with that guy, ‘cause he’ll cut you.

Of course, there is one rookie on this squad that the drug lord should be fearing above all else. We know this because during the opening credits 1) He trains really, really hard. I mean that PX 90 home fitness system has got nothing on this guy. 2) His wife is pretty and pregnant. So, he’s got something to live for. No way he’s getting killed by some bad guy, no matter how bad ass that guy and his henchmen are. And, 3) he promised his father that he’ll bring his brother back from that place. I mean, seriously… That’s a PROMISE. To YOUR DAD. Who happens to be ASIAN. You keep your promises to Asian dads. Because there is honor involved. That is serious shit.

Now, pretend like you’re going to stop me if you heard this one before. The SWAT team soon finds out that they’re not nearly as stealth as they thought they were, and the building is not just chock full of very bad people. No, every one of those bad people have now been turned loose with extreme prejudice (if you know what I mean) by the crime lord guy to kill each member of the SWAT unit. He promises them free rent for life if they kill all the SWAT guys. With the amount of rent that I pay, I’d dust off my machete, limber up the old Krav Maga moves and go to town.

What follows is an orgasmic series of fighting set pieces as the members of the SWAT team fight for their lives and our hero fights to save the mission. I’m almost sure that I kicked someone’s ass during the screening and got my own ass kicked as well. That’s how electrifying, engrossing, thrilling, and mind-boggling the action in this film is. It’s your choice. Go to the gym or just watch THE RAID.

How will it fare in the real world:
I have to believe this film plays everywhere and makes anyone with any kind of “like”, not even “love” for martial arts films or action films very very very (that’s right, baby – THREE “very’s”) satisfied.

Following the screening, there was time for a quick trip to the press office where I ran into SXSW’s PR chick-in-charge, Rebecca Fefferman and then a bus ride which included an unplanned visit with Film Society’s new Managing Director, Lesli Klainberg. (The press release announcing her taking that spot was one of my PressReleaseApaloosa 2012, I wrote about on my first Sundance column.) I first me Lesli as we prepped to announce that Film Society was joining forces with New Fest (New York’s great LGBT film festival) and she instantly (as I’m sure she does with everyone) became one of those fun, cool people that you enjoy working with. So, following her stint on the most recent NYFF, it’s great to have her around all the time. Anyway, we talked about the status of indie film legend Bingham Ray, who had suffered two strokes just as Sundance was beginning. Bingham had come on as a consultant for Film Society’s brand new Film Center this year and while he had recently left for the San Francisco Film Society, we still considered him ours – as everyone I believe that ever met or worked with or negotiated with Bingham did. We talked about our decision to forego putting together a group of people to visit him because he had recently had a large group of friends that had just done so and his wife and kids needed their time with him. Alone. Lesli and I commiserated on that decision to defer to his family at this time. We love him but our needs to show that love in person placed a far second behind family. No brainer there, even as we closely monitored his progress.

Then I arrived at the Eccles Theater for a screening of ARBITRAGE. This was the film I added to my schedule because of Emily Lu’s sales job. The Eccles is the largest of Sundance’s theaters. So the big attention grabbing, star-whoring (and I mean that in the very best way possible) movies play there. It never is a happy experience trying to find a seat and this time it really sucked. As I worked my way around schmooze time visits, bad self entitled group behavior and the like, I kept repeating to myself “Don’t take it out on the movie, don’t take it out on the movie, don’t take it out on the movie, rinse, repeat, Don’t…” Finally, I spied a single seat a few roles up between two little newly formed movie groups and I swear if they hadn’t let me take that seat I woulda cut one of them. But to be fair, I was still coming off of my experience watching THE RAID, so that option seemed entirely reasonable.

 

ARBITRAGE
Directed by Nicholas Jarecki, ARBITRAGE follows the high stakes, hire wire act that an insanely wealthy hedge fund magnate played by Richard Gere must navigate to keep his financial fortune, the fortunes of his family and his personal life safe and secure during a white knuckle situation. ARBITRAGE means buying low and selling high and we are dropped right in the middle of Gere’s character’s world as he attempts to secure a deal to sell his company before he is discovered having committed massive fraud at the same time he balances the relationship with his incredibly hot French artist mistress (Laetitia Casta, proving that once you are anointed as the epitome of hotness – Rolling Stone’s cover girl for their “Hot” list of 1998, you will forever be a symbol as such) and his wife and family (more glamorous hotness on parade in the persons of Susan Sarandon and last year’s indie discovery Brit Marling). These people are so impossibly rich with lives beyond our comprehension that they talk about a $2 million dollar donation to a hospital like its buying Girl Scout cookies.

And that is, not coincidentally, a problem, because how do get an audience to give a damn about what happens to them? As Gere’s character is touched by tragedy that he compounds by attempting to escape culpability and stay ahead of the law (in the person of wily Tim Roth), while he tries to close the big deal worth hundreds of millions and hide the cooked books, why on earth would we care? Yes, he is absolutely living Mitt Romney’s worst nightmare. But there is a reason “Dynasty” isn’t on TV anymore and Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” creed doesn’t even approach being cool or acceptable to the 99% of us. And unlike JC Chandor’s stellar MARGIN CALL, there is no one that represents anyone watching this film that wouldn’t have rented out their own private theater to watch it with their friends as they warm their popcorn with burning $100 dollar bills.

But it works.

Purely as an intricate puzzle piece of maneuvers, bullet dodges, and hardcore negotiation bluffs, ARBITRAGE fascinates. No one is better than Gere at playing characters that will charmingly but coldly do anything to serve the interests of themselves and this film and this part is one of those career victory laps that actors sometimes get. So while the heart of the film would give you frostbite to the touch, it is satisfyingly riveting. I will say that, while it doesn’t markedly hurt the film, Marling is miscast as the daughter in this family. The uniqueness and off-center character she brings to her stunning beauty has no place in this film’s family. Somewhere, her agent must have pulled the same kind of move Gere’s character would have as they stole the role for their client from Blake Lively’s agent.

How will it fare in the real world:
The film should definitely have its day in the sun in multiplexes. Not that I could foresee audiences coming out in droves, but there should be some interest. There was some talk from other writers about this being an Oscar role for Gere, and that kind of profile would obviously give it more of a profile, but as good as he is, I think that’s a reach.




Posted on January 25, 2012 in Features, Films Gone Wild by
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