Edge of Tomorrow

All you need is [to] kill [your script]

bluntedgeIs it still a ripoff of Source Code if it’s based on a Japanese light novel?  I’ll leave that to experts on things that don’t matter.  What Edge of Tomorrow does well is the blending of self-conscious humor into a run-of-the-mill doom/gloom alien invasion movie, complete with the characters becoming exhausted at the very mechanics of the sci-fi world they inhabit.  What’s exhausting to the audience, however, is its way of simply taking names of things from a book with a rich background, then providing none of that background, centering on two protagonists who should be starring in their own very different movies, and balling it all up with generic American military values and expecting everyone to care.  When Bill Paxton’s jokey, mustachioed Sergeant Farell character pontificates that “battle is the great redeemer” for the hundredth time, I start to suspect that the filmmakers and I have different thoughts on what constitutes parody.

An alien race known as Mimics (a name never explained in the film) are taking over Europe, and an incredibly badass soldier named Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), has had recent success in battling them.  Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is ordered by British General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to cover Operation Downfall, supposedly the humans’ endgame against the Mimics, on the beaches of France, to which Cage declines, citing no real combat experience.  Brigham, however, has Cage railroaded, and he awakens on an operating base at Heathrow Airport.  There, he is pressed into service with “J Squad,” a group of rejects that makes egregious use of the No Girls Allowed Clause.  He’s introduced as a deserter, and J Squad plans to make him their resident redshirt.  However, once the assault begins, it becomes apparent that the Mimics knew about the attack, and the entire force is decimated, including Cage after he attacks an abnormal “Alpha Mimic.”  But the movie can’t end after twenty minutes.  Cage wakes up back at Heathrow, and the day repeats exactly the same way.  We start to think maybe we should have paid attention to little things that happened the first time around.

From here, the film takes on the structure of a video game, from the constant “respawning” whenever Cage dies, to the “leveling up” he must do while learning to operate his futuristic mobile suit.  On the second loop, the version of Rita on the battlefield instructs Cage to “Find [her] when [he] wakes up,” and the next time the day begins, he approaches Rita herself, something everyone else knows better than to attempt.  But she knows exactly what’s happening to Cage, because up until recently, it was happening to her.  She and brainiac Carter (Noah Taylor) have spent plenty of time studying the Mimics, and have learned that the aliens obey the Omega Mimic, a gigantic Charybdis-like creature that hides underwater and has the power to restart the day whenever it wants to, explaining how the Mimics just happen to have the jump on the humans every time.  Due to the Law of the Inevitable Coincidence that governs most movies like this, the Omega has inadvertently passed this power on to Rita and Cage, and is hunting for them.

You know the plot from here.  The heroes figure out how to defeat the aliens, the plan doesn’t go exactly right, Cage loses the gift at a critical moment, and they improvise a solution.  There are predictably sweet/funny/gooey moments in between.  The only thing setting Edge apart from anything else Tom Cruise has done is characterization: at the outset, the female character is the renowned warrior, and Cruise’s character is a coward and a greenhorn.  A great start, but the film’s issues lie within that very characterization.

If this were a movie about a respected female warrior guiding a reluctant male sidekick along, that would be admirable, especially for a pre-summer blockbuster.  However, Cage is the main character, and Rita is not so much the star of her own story as she is an exotic creature whose job is to move Cage through the motions until he learns to become the hero (and thus achieve the male wish fulfillment that catalyzes virtually every single dude-centric action movie ever made).  On top of that, she’s the only female character in the movie (aside from Nance, a member of J-Squad, played by Charlotte Riley with an enormous hole in her sock).  She’s known in the military as the “Angel of Verdun” and the “Full Metal Bitch,” both gender-centric nicknames, neither of which are very complimentary.  And even her heroics at Verdun are essentially taken away from her upon the revelation that the Mimics have simply allowed the human military their biggest victories so that they’ll let their guard down in France.  Perhaps the most unsettling moment is one wherein Cage and Rita are stuck in an abandoned house, planning their next move.  Cage somehow knows how many sugars Rita takes in her coffee and that there is a dry shirt nearby in her exact size.  Rita gradually realizes that this means they’ve not only lived this day countless times, but that on at least one occasion, things became intimate, and she has no memory of it, while Cage does, and discusses it rather casually.  Maybe it’s supposed to be romantic, but it’s uncomfortable, and may be one of the more bizarre ways female characters have been stripped of agency on film this year.  That leads me to a question: if you had sex with someone, and you don’t remember it happening (not even the circumstances under which it happened, and even whether you consented), but the other person remembers everything, where does the situation fall as far as agency?

It’s a shame, because Emily Blunt is an actress who thrives at playing layered characters, and deserves more than one extreme or the other (or, in this case, as with Looper, one extreme and the other, which is also nonsense).  As a whole, Edge of Tomorrow is relatively harmless, but is full of missed opportunities, and tastes particularly sour when one considers all of the fascinating elements of the novel that go unexplored in favor of reliable formula.  O, what could have been.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014); based on the light novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka; written by Christopher McQuarrie; directed by Doug Liman; starring Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise.

 

 

 

The Guard

Well, that’s pretty f*ckin’ rude.

guardThe Guard is the newest film by Irish director John Michael McDonagh, brother of Malcolm McDonagh (director of In Bruges).  It’s a crime comedy in the vein of “Like Guy Ritchie, but…”, though the “but” is in this case indicative of the fact that it isn’t much like a Guy Ritchie film at all.  It has Mark Strong, as did Ritchie’s RocknRolla, but aside from that, the well-timed black humor, and the fact that there are nearly zero prominent female characters, it’s McDonagh’s creature through and through.

The film is carried by the lovable Brendan Gleeson (who may be on his way to becoming the Irish John Candy).  Gleeson plays Sgt. Gerry Boyle, an unorthodox member of the “garda” (Irish cops in Gaelic-speaking Galway).  He’s not a bad person, he just doesn’t take his job seriously.  When he’s not taking hits of acid from drug-dealers’ corpses and keeping them for himself, Boyle spends time with his dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan) at a retirement home.  In these scenes, which are equal parts madcap and surprisingly tender, we see where Boyle gets some of his traits (his language, for one).  When Boyle’s new partner (in whom he has no interest) is whacked for almost no reason by a trio of infamous drug-runners (Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot), Boyle’s unit is visited by FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle, the one Yank in the film).  Through one thing and another, Boyle and Everett are partnered up in order to solve a series of crimes involving these villains.  The scenes between Gleeson and Cheadle feature the classic Odd Couple character development, but McDonagh allows the characters to retain multiple lines of tension with one another and also to spend time by themselves.  From their second scene onward, we can tell they sort of like each other, but have fundamental issues with the other – Everett’s issues with Boyle’s erratic on-the-job behavior and his sheer laziness, and Boyle’s seemingly innocent ignorance about black people, the FBI, and pretty much anything but Galway.  The latter leads to some wonderful scenes between the two, during which we hope with all our hearts that Boyle won’t say something that completely ruins the already strained friendship.  (“I thought black people couldn’t ski.  Or is that swimming?”)  Cheadle’s reactions to Boyle’s comments are priceless, both in facial expression and dialogue.

Cunningham, Strong and Wilmot play the villains as people who know they’re the bad guys in a movie.  They stand perfectly still in immaculately-framed shots of beautiful scenery and talk about being bad.  Strong, also a fish out of water character, plays the film’s sole Englishman, and behaves so harshly that his partners must warn other characters, “Eh, he’s English.”  Cunningham plays the de facto boss of the three, and comes close to the fourth wall a few times.  Wilmot gets a great one-on-one scene with Gleeson, during which McDonagh employs the Fallacy of the Talking Killer (the old movie ploy in which the bad guy, about to kill the hero and need only pull the trigger, foolishly explains all of his plans, giving the hero time to plan and execute an escape).

EDIT (2014): I wasn’t happy with the rest of what I typed here, so I deleted it.  Just watch the film.

The Guard (2011); written and directed by John Michael McDonagh; starring Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Fionnula Flanagan and Mark Strong.

Perrier’s Bounty

Is he doomed to remain the dude he always was?

We’ve reached an era of uniform head-nodding when it comes to European “gangster underworld” films, in large part due to Guy Ritchie’s success in the genre (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla, etc).  His success has also spoiled this genre a little bit – “This is like one of those Guy Ritchie films.”  You will only hear that phrase uttered by Americans, for in reality, these types of films have been going on forever, albeit not receiving theatrical release in the oh-so-spoiled States, where we only skim the very top of the foreign film bucket.

Perrier’s Bounty is a Dublin (that’s in Ireland!) underworld film written by Mark O’Rowe, who mostly works in stageplay, but who is also responsible for the excellent Irish film Intermission from 2003.  PB stars Cillian Murphy as Michael, a young, near-destitute loner in modern-day Dublin, who owes a good deal of money to infamous gangster Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson).  His downstairs neighbor and secret crush Brenda (Jodie Whittaker) becomes involved when she guns down one of Perrier’s gangsters in a confused combination of concern for Michael and manic distress at being dumped by her loser boyfriend.  The duo make a run for it, along with Michael’s father Jim (Jim Broadbent) who appears out of nowhere, claiming that he received a visit from the Reaper, who told Jim he would die the next time he fell asleep.  The film also features appearances from Liam Cunningham as “The Mutt,” a man said to help those in debt; and Gabriel Byrne as the mysterious, deep-voiced narrator, whose identity you can probably guess just from what I’ve written so far.  If not, you’ll find out in the final ten seconds of the film, so don’t fret.

PB is a mixture of crime thriller, dark-ish comedy, and formula romance.  Where it stands out from other “like Guy Ritchie but…” films is its heart.  Is it fully expected that Michael and Brenda will be a couple in the end?  Of course.  But is it still immensely satisfying if they do?  Absolutely.  Murphy, Gleeson and Broadbent get to use their real accents, which makes you appreciate the work that goes into their phony American and British ones even more.  Whittaker, known for her appearances in St. Trinian’s and Venus, is the only woman among the principal cast, and serves mainly as the romantic interest for Michael and the fuel for some of his decisions (a problem for women in a great many films lately; see Christopher Nolan’s lady issues), but even so, she plays the role with convincing passion.  Broadbent, as usual, is lovable and hilarious, and the inclusion of Byrne, whose voice looms over the film like a cloud of vultures, is spirited.

The twists, while involving, are relatively easy to see coming, but the characters move through them convincingly enough.  There’s a near-progressive moment when one of Perrier’s lead henchmen reveals his homosexuality, but this detail is used mostly for humor (Gleeson: “Love is love, no matter how queer”).

All in all, the mixed drink of comedy, thriller, “like Guy Ritchie but…” and cute romance (in Ireland!) is a delicious one.  The father-son conflict is well-performed (and occasionally quite touching), and the quirky characters all have their place.  Just note that if you needed the Pikey subtitles for Brad Pitt in Snatch, you’ll be reading a hell of a lot during Perrier’s Bounty.

Perrier’s Bounty (2009); written by Mark O’Rowe; directed by Ian Fitzgibbon; starring Cillian Murphy, Jodie Whittaker, Jim Broadbent and Brendan Gleeson.