Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Top Ten Hit Man Movies

There are a lot of movies about hit men, and not because everybody wants to kill people, or even that everyone likes those that do. The Hollywood hit man is a different animal than the real thing (I would guess) much like the Hollywood PI doesn't often resemble the actual one. But, exaggerated movie devices such as, devotion to personal codes of honor, stoic resolve, and surgeon like efficiency, don't need to be realistic, as much as tell a story well.
The occupation itself, a man who sets himself up as a professional judge of life and death is naturally perfect for delving into certain existential dilemmas, most often; disconnection, the bonds that exist in and out of society, the nature and weight of loneliness, and guilt and consequence catching up with you. These are themes we can all relate to, but the hit man shows them in a black and white that most of us don't have, even as he tries to ignore such definition and live in his own grey area.

Other characters, such as cops, mob bosses, freelance psychopaths and even average people out for revenge or self defense, may have to deal with killing, but not in the same way. The Hollywood hit man is typically, the "blue collar" judge, a working man not above his own rules. Even the most skilled often end up dead themselves as a known risk of the occupation. These characters at the edge of life and death naturally present a unique viewpoint to look at life.

These movies usually deal with "the last job." The job doesn't have to be a "job" either, many times it's the fact that the last kill is personal, that signals the hit man's unravelling. In these worlds, any emotion is the enemy, necessary to have any depth of life, but fatal to someone using emotional distance to survive. Usually the guilt of many years of taking lives catches up to the killer and he changes before he dies (or fails to change.) Change is almost always featured and although it most certainly means death, the hit man, like many of us can't help but wrestle with thoughts of the life he doesn't have. He eventually takes the risk, often accepting, fatalistically, that at least death is a change that can happen.
So here are my top ten at this moment. There are many others that could have made my list. Feel free to point out your own favorites in the comments.

10: Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) The Road to Perdition
Full Review

A fierce and efficient killer, and also a family man, most notably a father. Michael Sullivan is a loyal employee, happy to be a "breadwinner." When an act of stupidity from his boss's son kills his family however, he can't let it go, even if he has to anger Al Capone's whole organization to get his revenge. Going on the run, he has a unique opportunity to bond with the son he has left, hopefully teaching him in the process not to go the same way he did. He was a great hit man but he was also more than that as his son relates:
"I saw then that my father's only fear was that his son would follow the same road. And that was the last time I ever held a gun. People always thought I grew up on a farm. And I guess, in a way, I did. But I lived a lifetime before that, in those six weeks on the road in the winter of 1931. When people ask me if Michael Sullivan was a good man, or if there was just no good in him at all, I always give the same answer. I just tell them... he was my father. "

9. Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) The Mechanic
Full Review

Arthur Bishop approaches contract killing like a science, examining all the factors in his head and on his planning board until he comes up with the perfect method. He lives by his own code and sees nothing more important than to consider himself as someone who "stands outside" the law, society, the whole world. Yet, this philosophy and the loneliness that goes along with it takes it toll on him. Wrestling with his subconscious has effects on his health and leads to his decision to mentor the son of a victim, and more importantly doing so without permission of the organization he works for, which is against the rules. No one knows better than him the consequences for breaking the rules, so we have to wonder if he's just trying to "stand outside" or he's just really tired.

8. Jules Winnfield: (Samuel L. Jackson)Pulp Fiction

One of many colorful characters in Tarantino's brilliant ensemble cast. He paraphrases scripture before killing his victims, "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you." He's as concerned with sounding cool and terrifying (and he does a good job of it) as he is with the actual hit. When he and his partner are miraculously unharmed by a hail of bullets, he examines himself and realizes that he's a part of the tyranny, he's been referencing and resolves to help others get free of it.

7. Frankie Bono: (Allen Baron) Blast of Silence

Frankie Bono is an orphan who grew into a hired killer so disconnected from the world he doesn't remember how to deal with social situations anymore. His latest hit is set in New York during the Christmas season, the worst time of year for the lonely. Frankie is so silent, we need narration to get into his head. Frankie makes some mistakes,  has to deal with an attempted blackmailing by a gun dealer and even more difficult, seeing a woman he used to know and attending a Christmas Party, breaking his own rules about attachment only to get shut down. Once his loneliness is let out we know it can't go well for Frankie. And we wonder if he could ever have what he feels he's missing. The narrator says of Frankie in the closing:
"God moves in mysterious ways," they said. Maybe he is on your side, the way it all worked out. Remembering other Christmases, wishing for something, something important, something special. And this is it, baby boy Frankie Bono. You're alone now. All alone. The scream is dead. There's no pain. You're home again, back in the cold, black silence. "

6. Joey Cusack/Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen): A History of Violence
Full Review

Once a gifted killer, but tired of the life, Joey Cusack "kills" his own identity and starts over in a small town as Tom Stall, complete with a respectable business and a seemingly perfect family. When his natural talents come to light, foiling a robbery of his diner, it's clear that people from his past have not forgotten him. He quickly finds that not only have his old skills not left him, but they also show up in his family. Ultimately Tom has to face who he was and figure out who he really is, and whether or not his family can adjust to the knowledge. Certainly not an easy or comfortable question, but an interesting journey.

5. O. ( Takshi Sorimachi) Full Time Killer
Full Review

O is a legendary figure and a true professional. He gets the job done quickly and quietly when no one else can. He's been at it a long time though and when he meets a girl he starts pondering retirement. A competitor, Tok, has no interest in O retiring however, seeing O as the perfect chance to make his reputation. Tok is nothing like O, however except for his gift a killing. Tok is preoccupied with flash and acting like a movie star. Of course the two killers are headed for a showdown and we get to see the limits of O's talents, which pay off in an interesting way, his lack of concern for flash and spectacle allowing him a way out of the life, while in a way also giving Tok what he wanted.

4. Ghost Dog (Forrest Whitaker) Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Ghost Dog is an extreme introvert, who has taken it on himself to follow the way of the Samurai. His self chosen master is a mob boss who may have saved his life years ago. His only friends are a man with an ice cream stand who he can't really speak to due to different languages, and his pigeons. The fact that he can't understand a word his best friend says doesn't bother him any more than the fact that the ancient Samurai code has little compatibility with his situation.While a capable hit man, his adherence to the Samurai code is troubling, particularly when no one else including his "master" have any sense of it at all, and his life is in danger due to complications from a recent hit. We know the master doesn't deserve the loyalty, but if the code must be observed, that leaves Ghost Dog, a man who is more than capable of defending himself, surprisingly defenseless.

3.Charlie Strom (Lee Marvin) The Killers

We see right away that Charlie Strom is a cold blooded killer capable of anything when he has a job to do. He thinks nothing of intimidating the principal at a school for the blind to get the whereabouts of his target Johnny North (John Cassavetes) What he doesn't count on is Johnny accepting his fate without any fuss, even covering for Charlie and his partner so they can get him alone in his room to kill him. While not sympathetic, Charlie is puzzled and needs to know more. They investigate and get Johnny's life story, revealing a love triangle hinging on a girl, Sheila (Angie Dickinson) which put Johnny up against a mob boss, Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan) and a million dollars floating around somewhere. Charlie doesn't mind beating Sheila and dangling her from seven stories up to get the truth. Finding that Sheila and Jack Browning viciously double crossed Johnny, Charlie realizes that the Johnny North didn't fight his death because he was already dead in his own mind. Deciding that Johnny deserves some payback, Charlie assigns himself a job, and knowing that Charlie is Lee Marvin, you can bet it isn't good for Sheila or Jack Browning.

2. Jef Costello (Alain Delon)  Le Samourai

Jef Costello covers all the angles, establishing solid alibis and never forgetting a detail that might incriminate him. He lives meticulously in a small apartment uncluttered with everything arranged in its perfect place. His only notable possession is a bird in a birdcage. Despite his careful methods, he is seen by witnesses, shooting a nightclub owner. The police know it's him but have no proof, as his alibi (his girlfriend Jane) holds up and a witness, Valerie, the piano player at the night club, won't incriminate him. His employer, perhaps upset with the attention, tries to kill him, which means Jef has trouble on all sides. Jef is soon  surprised to be offered a new job by the man who tried to kill him on behalf of his employer earlier. He finds out who sent the man, and for some reason kills his potential employer, realizing he lives in the same house as Valerie the piano player, who Jef is a bit fond of by now.Heading to the nightclub, Valerie sees him approaching with a gun, not realizing that Jef has a different final gesture in mind than you might think.

1. Leon (Jean Reno) Leon: The Professional
Full Review

Leon is so skilled in his craft that no one ever sees him and lives. He lives a solitary existence except for visits to his manager to get his next job. He sees killing as strictly commerce, although he isn't terribly concerned about money, happy to live in a run down apartment building in a cramped apartment. However even his solitude is not perfect, as he often encounters the little girl Mathilde (Natalie Portman) from a neighboring apartment. He notices her bruises without much comment other than a kind greeting. When Mathilde's family is killed by psychotic DEA agent Stansfield (Gary Oldman) and she knocks on Leon's door to avoid being killed herself, he opens it and starts a very real bond, ultimately reconnecting him with humanity and affirming that love is stronger than death.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Falling Down

What Happens?

A man (Michael Douglas) sits in LA traffic trying to keep his cool although it appears nothing is moving for miles leaving everyone sitting in record heat. We hear and see the tension building in the cars around him, horns honking, people swearing and fighting. His air conditioning is broken and a persistent fly won't leave him alone. His frustration reaches it's boiling point and the man just gets out of his car. When asked by the man in the car behind him, where he's going, he replies, "I'm going home." and heads off through the woods on the side of the road.

A police officer soon arrives to see the abandoned car.  Officer Prendergast (Robert Duvall) approaches to take a look as well, suggesting  they push the car out of the way to help get traffic moving. The officer on the scene declines, claiming it's too dangerous due to vehicles moving at high speeds. Prendergast looks around at the unmoving cars. When Prendergast identifies himself as a cop, the officer agrees to push it out of the way.

Prendergast tells the officer it's his last day as a cop, although the other officer doesn't seem to care much. Prendergast sees the abandoned cars license plate reads "D-Fens" D-Fens makes a call from a payphone to a woman, Beth (Barbara Hershey) who has her arms full of groceries, while walking a dog, and watching a little girl. The woman rushes inside her house hearing the phone ring from just outside. D-Fens hangs up. He then stops at a convenient store to get change for the pay phone. The shop owner refuses to give change unless he buys something. D-Fens picks up a Coke but gets angry when the shop owner unsympathetically tells him the Coke is 85 cents, which won't leave him enough for a phone call. The shop owner, in poor English, tells him to pay or leave. prompting D-Fens to argue. He gets angry at the man's broken English and smug non cooperative attitude.   When the man corrects D-Fens' assumption that he's Chinese, by stating he's Korean, D-Fens asks him if he knows how much money his country has given Korea, although neither man knows how much, D-Fens stating "It's gotta be a lot." The shop owner gets angry, demanding "You go now. No trouble." D-Fens answers "I stay. What do you think of that?" The shop owner reaches under the counter for a compact baseball bat, but D-Fens fights with him taking it from his hand. The shop owner tells him to "take the money" but this offends D-Fens who says "You think I'm a thief? No. You see, I'm not the thief. I'm not the one charging eight five cents for a stinking soda! You're the thief. I'm standing up for my rights as a consumer." He then tells the shop owner he's rolling back prices to 1965. He asks prices for items in the store and when the shop owner gives him a price that's too high, D-Fens smashes the merchandise. After awhile, D-Fens opens the cash register, outs his dollar in and takes his change, paying fifty cents for the soda and leaving.

We find Prendergast at the police station, finding his desk drawer has been filled with sand as a retirement prank by his fellow officers. They tell him to be careful, reminding him of an officer who was on his way to his car after his last day on the force and got run down in the parking lot.  They diminish the warning by mockingly saying his desk can be really dangerous. One of the officers, Sandra (Rachel Ticotin) claims she tried to talk them out of it, and says they don't have any other pranks planned before confirming that they're still on for lunch.

The woman that D-Fens hung up on is talking to someone on the phone about a birthday party. We see that the little girl with her is her daughter. D-Fens tries to call but finds the line busy. Prendergast takes a call from his wife, (Tuesday Weld) who begs him to come home, saying she got "a little scared."  She mentions a move, and claims concern that he's moving just for her. He doesn't answer her concern only saying "the important thing is that we're together." She gets emotional again, pointing out that he isn't there.  She demands that he say I love you, which he does, and when she still doesn't feel better he sings "London Bridge" with a musical snow globe he holds up to the phone. She laughs and he hangs up. We see that she is packing a picture of a little girl which is identical to a picture that Prendergast was looking at from his desk drawer.

D-Fens is sitting outside a neighborhood on a graffittied concrete step. He takes off one of his shoes, revealing a large hole in the bottom, which he tries to treat with some torn newspaper.  He's approached by two young Latino men, who inform him that he's trespassing as well as loitering. He claims he didn't see any signs. One of the men points to the illegible graffiti, claiming it's a sign that says " This is fucking private property. No fucking trespassing. This means fucking you!"
D-Fens asks, "It says all that?" and when the man says yes, D-Fens responds, "Maybe if you wrote it in fucking English, I could fucking understand it." They don't appreciate the mockery and D-Fens tries to calm the situation saying they "got of on the wrong foot." He asks "This is a gangland thing isn't it? We're having a territorial dispute?" He tells them that he understands their position and he wouldn't want them in his backyard and offers to move on. They think however, that he should pay a toll. D-fens says he's had a rough morning, but they insist he give them his briefcase, one of them pulling a knife to show they're serious. He responds " Okay. Okay. I was willing to mind my own business. I was willing to respect your territory and treat you like you're men, but you couldn't leave it alone, could you? You couldn't let a man sit here for five minutes to take a rest on your precious, piece of shit hill? Okay. You want my briefcase? I'll get it for you."

D-Fens picks up the briefcase which is on the step concealing the bat, he took from the store owner, He attacks the men with it, hitting the man with the knife in the face and sending the other backing up. He hits the other man too and they both take off leaving D-Fens yelling "You forgot the briefcase!" and then "I'm going home. Clear a path motherfucker! I'm going home." He throws the bat at one of the men, but picks up the butterfly knife that one of them dropped.

Meanwhile, the shop owner that D-fens attacked is at the police station and brought to Prendergast to file a report. He claimsthat the man didn't rob him, which they find puzzling. They determine that it isn't a case for Prendergast, who works robbery.  The shop owner says that the man took his baseball bat which he "uses for defense. Defense!" It's still not considered a robbery. The Latino men are driving around looking for D-Fens, who is making another silent phone call. This time the woman picks up and says "Cut the crap. I know it's you."
Beth: You've got to stop calling me.
D-Fens: It's Adele's birthday.
Beth: Yes. I know it's her birthday. What do you want?
D-Fens: I'm coming home.
Beth: What are you talking about?
D-Fens: I just uh, I want to let you know that I'm coming home for her birthday.
Beth: No. You're not coming here.
D-Fens: Listen Beth, I've gotta see you.
Beth: No. No you listen to me. This is my house now. I pay the rent. You don't even pay child support. You just can't walk in and out whenever you feel like it.
D-Fens: Don't talk like that, Beth. I have to come home. I have to bring her present.
Beth: You know you can't come here.
D-Fens: How's Adele?
Beth: This isn't your home anymore.
D-Fens: How is she?
Beth: She's doing just fine without you.
D-Fens: And you?
Beth: Don't. I'll call the police if I have to.
D-Fens: I'm coming home Beth. I'm coming home.
The Latino men, have found him. They park the car and pull out guns they drive by slowly shooting at D-Fens. The bullets break windows and hit several people but D-Fens is unharmed. Speeding off, distracted they get into a car accident. D-fens sees them bloodied from the wreck. He says. "you missed" and takes a bag of guns from them, shooting one of them in the leg to demonstrate that they need shooting lessons.

Prendergast goes to see the chief, who mentions that since he's retiring a little early, he won't be getting his full pension. He asks Prendergast if it's because he was wounded, but he says it has nothing to do with that. It's clear that the Chief intend to try to bully him into reconsidering asking if he "wants to stick with the team." The Chief asks about his kids, and Prendergast corrects him saying that they lost a child. The Chief recovers by saying "Still married though right?" to which Prendergast agrees.

We find D-Fens walking the street. he's blocked by road worker, who rudely tells him he'll have to take another street as the one he's trying for is blocked off. We see that Beth has the police at her house, making a report. She explains that she has a restraining order against her ex husband. She says that he has a horrendous temper and she'd debated whether a restraining order would do more harm than good, but was advised by the judge to "make an example of him." The officer asks if he has a "propensity for violence." She says he does, but then says he never struck her or their daughter, claiming, "There were times when I thought he was going to, but I didn't want to wait until he got around to it." The officer seems unconvinced about the risk and she can only add. "He could. I think."

D-Fens walks through a park and gets approached by a panhandler, who tells him a story about running out of gas. D-Fens demands to see his ID, and registration for his car, but the man determines it's more hassle than it's worth and tells him to forget it. The panhandler says "That's a hell of a way to treat a vet man!" D-Fens asks "You're an animal doctor?" The man claims he was in "Nam" and D-Fens asks "What were you, a drummer boy? You must have been ten years old."  The man says "I meant to say the gulf, and claims he hasn't eaten in three days (although he's eating a sandwich at the time) He demands that D-Fen give him something, and finally he gives the man his briefcase, saying he doesn't need it anymore. The panhandler finds the only thing in the briefcase is a sandwich and some fruit.

The police have taken the girlfriend of one of the Latino men into custody and are asking her about the drive by. Prendergast hears her description of a white man, with a shirt and tie and baseball bat and sees a connection although the interrogating officer won't listen to him. Prendergast starts piecing together a connection.

D-Fens has now walked into a fast food burger place and asks for breakfast items.  When the girl at the counter informs him that breakfast isn't available, he asks to speak to the manager. The manager also tells him they aren't serving breakfast. D-Fens asks "Rick, have you ever heard the expression, the customer is always right?"
Rick: Yeah
D-Fens: Yeah, well, here I am. The customer.
Rick: That's not our policy. You have to order something from the lunch menu.
D-Fens: I don't want lunch. i want breakfast.
Rick: Yeah, well, hey, I'm really sorry.
D-Fens: Yeah? Well hey, I'm really sorry too. [pulling a gun from his bag]
The employees scream and customers start running, until D-Fens insists that everyone sit down and eat their lunch, attempting to calm them down, although he accidentally fires into the roof scaring everyone. Rick now agrees to make breakfast although D-Fens changes his mind and orders a burger instead. He asks the customers how they like the food making one women throw up under the pressure. He gets his order and holds up the burger to Rick.
D-Fens: See this is what I'm talking about. Turn around, look at that. [pointing to the menu on the wall]
you see what I mean? It's plump, it's juicy, it's three inches thick. Now, look at this sorry miserable squashed thing. Could anybody tell me what's wrong with this picture? Anybody? Anybody at all?
A little boy at a table raises his hand.

Prendergast and Sandra are meeting for lunch. The hostess seems excited assuming that they're partners again. Sandra explains that he's moving to Arizona. Sandra questions the move, and when Prendergast says "We like it." Sandra replies "She likes it. What are you gonna do, watch cactus grow?" He explains that his wife isn't handling middle age too well. He explains that his wife was once very beautiful and could have been anything, but settled for being a cop's wife, and she's having a hard time with her beauty fading as that was all she had. Sandra's current partner interrupts their lunch with details about what happened at the burger place. Prendergast is fascinated to hear that the man who held it up also paid for his lunch. He asks Sandra to find out if the man was wearing a white shirt and tie. He also adds that there was something he may never have mentioned about his wife. Sandra asks "What?" and he says "I love her."

D-Fens walks into a downtown area and sees a black man with a sign outside a bank which reads "Not economically viable" He also sees a snow globe with a carousel horse inside and buys it. The man with the sign is arrested while he watches. As the police drive the man off, he looks at D-Fens and says "Don't forget me." At Beth's house the police tell her they're leaving as it looks like he isn't showing up. D-Fens attempts to call her again, but gets a busy signal. Leaving the phone booth, a man berates him that there are other people waiting to use the phone. He questions the statement but the man confirms what he said, adding "that's right you selfish asshole." D-Fens remarks that "that's too bad" and pulls out a gun and destroys the phone.

Prendergast, at the station, gets a call from his wife apologizing about the earlier call. He tells her it's Ok but has to put her on hold to take a call from Sandra who confirms the white shirt and tie. He then puts Sandra on hold, although she has many interviews to do, which annoys her partner. His wife then asks him to come home again. She tries to keep him on the phone, but he gets back to Sandra and tells her that he thinks there have been other incidents with the same guy today. She doesn't seem to believe him, but humors him and insists that he not leave without saying goodbye.

D-Fens stops in at a military surplus store. He tells the store owner he needs hiking boots. The owner, Nick, gives him his advice on the merchandise, taking the opportunity to make remarks about using boots for stomping queers, which he says very loudly towards two men who are browsing the store. The customers start to leave, but hearing another remark one of the men confronts nick, asking if he has a problem. Nick tells him "read the sign. I reserve the right." The man tells Nick to "Make him" leave and walks towards him, prompting Nick to pull out a pistol, saying "Make your move, Mary." The gun doesn't appear to intimidate him too badly but they reluctantly leave, knocking over a display on the way out. D-Fens sees Sandra and her partner across the street.

Prendergast finds the Latino man's girlfriend and reveals that she's confessed that it was gang related already. He tells her that he knows it was a white man and asks how many guns they had. he tells him they had "all the guns in the world." Sandra comes into the surplus store looking for D-Fens. Nick tells her he hasn't seen anyone. He asks Sandra why they don't call women "officeresses" D-Fens asks why he didn't turn him in, and Nick says he has some things to show him. He gives D-Fens a look at various Nazi memorabilia, including an empty can of Zyklon B. He gives D-Fens a rocket launcher, telling him "I'm with you."  Nick reveals that he's been following his incidents on the police scanner. He says "We're the same. We're the same you and me!" D-Fens responds "We are not the same. I'm an American. You're a sick asshole." Nick asks "What kind of vigilante are you?" He explains that he's simply trying to get home. D-Fens seeing Nick is troubled points out that Americans have the right to disagree.

Nick, not listening, pulls a gun on him. and starts going through his bag, throwing the snow globe and breaking it. He comes up behind him with handcuffs and points out the similarity between his position and his coming prison experience, ranting the whole time about "faggots" He tells D-Fens to give him his other hand. D-Fens says "I can't" Nick asks why and he replies. "Gravity. I'll fall down" He kicks D-Fens' feet out from under him, and repeats, "Give it to me" while D-Fens scans the room full of Hitler pictures. D-Fens remembers the butterfly knife and stands up and stabs Nick in the shoulder with it, which shocks him. D-Fens picks up a gun while Nick is dazed. Nick babbles into a mirror "Oh my God." D-Fens remarks "Good! Good, Freedom of religion. Now you get the swing of it. Feels good to exercise your rights, doesn't it?" He then shoots at Nick and the mirror several times.

Prendergast has cornered the chief in the men's room and is trying to tell him that D-Fens is heading west. The Chief as well as the officers who questioned the Latino girl don't appreciate his input and make a joke out of his theory. The Chief, takes a minute to tell Prendergast that he's never liked him because he doesn't trust a man that doesn't curse. He tells Prendergast "Get back behind that desk where you belong and don't waste any more of my time pretending you're a cop." Sandra tells him the latest developments, although he doesn't seem interested. Sandra tells him it's his own fault, for not revealing that he came off the street because of his wife. Prendergast tells her that what's between him and his wife is no one's business. he relates an incident where he came home late and she had thought he was a ghost when he came home. He decides to go after D-Fens and Sandra offers to go with him.

D-Fens calls Beth and asks who she was talking to. He tells her he is coming home and that "I've passed the point of no return. Do you know what that is, Beth? That's the point in a journey where it's longer to go back to the beginning. It's like when those astronauts got in trouble. I don't know, somebody messed up, and they had to get them back to Earth. But they had passed the point of no return. They were on the other side of the moon and were out of contact for like hours. Everybody waited to see if a bunch of dead guys in a can would pop out the other side. Well, that's me. I'm on the other side of the moon now and everybody is going to have to wait until I pop out."

She tells him that the police are there and he tells her that in some countries it's legal to kill your wife if she insults you.

Prendergast and Sandra start canvassing the area. He realizes that the man is the guy who abandoned his car earlier and has Sandra call for information on the plate. D-Fens appears walking down the middle of a traffic jam, dressed in a military jacket. He casually punches a guy who's obnoxiously cursing the at car in front of him. He finds a man doing "roadwork" which in this case is laying on the street telling D-Fens he can't pass. He questions the man about the job they're doing saying " Two days ago the street was fine. Are you telling me the street fell apart in two days?" The man mockingly says "Well, I guess so." D-Fens replies "I want to know what's wrong with the street. See, I don't think anything's wrong with the street. i think you just want to justify your inflated budgets." He points out that if they don't spend all their money this year, they'll get less of a budget next year and demands the man admit that there's nothing wrong with the street. "Fuck you pal, huh?" the man says before noticing his gun. He then changes his tone, claiming he's just there so people don't fall in holes, but D-Fens demands to hear it from him, and the man finally admits there's nothing wrong. D-Fens offers to give him something to fix and pulls out his rocket launcher. He can't figure it out but a kid standing nearby helps him figure it out, telling him he's seen it on TV. He fires too early before aiming and sends the rocket underground causing a gas line explosion.

Sandra and Prendergast discover that D-Fens' name is William Foster and they go talk to his mother. D-She lets them into his room and they look through his notebooks. His mother tells Prendergast that her son "built things to keep them safe from the communists." She describes how her son made her nervous sometimes, and Prendergast discovers his wedding ring in his drawer, getting the ex wife's name from the mother. Sandra discovers that D-Fens lost his job a month ago.

D-Fens scales a fence to cut through a country club, walking through a golf game. An older golfer gets upset that he's walking through their course and tries to hit him with a golf ball. This prompts D-Fens to pull out a gun blasting their cart and sending it into a pond. The man has a heart attack and explains that his heart pills are in the cart (which is in the water now) He asks "Aren't you sorry you couldn't just let me pass through. Now you're going to die wearing that funny little hat."
He finds a man having a barbecue with his family on a huge estate and discovers that the man is only the caretaker for the property. He takes the family with him when he hears security looking for him, frightening the man's little girl. He reveals to the family that he lost his job, describing himself as "obsolete" and "not economically viable" D-Fens panics momentarily looking at the little girl's hand which he was holding and now has blood on it. The caretaker points out that it was blood from his hand and she's fine. The caretaker offers to go with D-Fens, if he'll let his family go. D-fens seems offended by the idea, not understanding why he would want to hurt the family. D-Fens describes a fantasy version of his daughter's birthday party, which includes his ex wife holding his hand and all three of them going to sleep together.

The cops again leave Beth alone, reasoning again that he isn't coming or he would've been there by now.
He soon calls her from just outside their house, and Beth and Adelle have just enough time to get out the back door while D-Fens goes in the front. He sits in the living room watching home movies, which show a good amount of his daughter being terrified and him fighting with his wife.

Sandra and Prendergast discover that Nick from the surplus store was killed and stuffed into his own display case. They also find his ex wife's address. D-Fens sits in the house watching home videos. They find out that squad cars have been to the address three times that day and set out to go themselves, when Pendergast's wife calls the station. She gets upset when Sandra picks up the phone, and then complains that the cat scratched her. When Prendergast says something important has come up, she gets more upset claiming the cat scratch is important. He tells her he doesn't know when he's coming home and She starts screaming at him hysterically. He responds, "Amanda, Shut up. I'll get home when I'm finished and not one second before that. Is that clear?" She answers "You don't have to bite my head off!" He adds "And, you have dinner ready and waiting for me." Sandra is amused at the exchange, and as they head off they walk into a surprise party for his retirement, with a cake and even calling out a stripper for him.

Prendergast says he loves it but he has to go. One of the officers is offended and says "whatsamatter afraid of women too?"
Sandra's current partner says "I don't blame him. You ever met his wife?"
Prendergast asks, "What did you say?" and he says "Nothing." Sandra reminds him they don't have time to do this and he says "Yeah, you're right." He then punches Sandra's new partner, knocking him down before leaving.

Prendergast and Sandra find the house and D-Fens sees them pull up. Sandra goes in first and gets shot in the side. He tells someone to call an ambulance and starts chasing D-Fens on foot. D-Fens runs down a pier and his daughter sees him calling out "Daddy! Daddy!" He embraces Beth as if she's still his wife, although she protests. He then talks to his daughter and gives her a hug, while Beth tells him he needs to stop and he's sick and  needs help. Prendergast catches up with them. He tells D-Fens his story, about his wife having a kid because he wanted one, and how his daughter just died in her sleep at two years old. Prendergast gives the little girl some popcorn which she shares with her dead. He puts down the gun to get a handful and Beth kicks it away, while Prendergast pulls his gun and a squad car heads towards them on the pier. He arrests D-Fens while Beth and Adelle run away. Prendergast asks him
"What were you gonna do?"
D-Fens: I don't know. I don't know what I'm gonna do.
Prendergast: Oh, guys like you always say you don't know what you're gonna do until you do it. I think you know exactly what you were gonna do. You were gonna kill your wife and child.
D-Fens: No.
Prendergast: Yeah! And then you know, it'd be too late to turn back. It'd be real easy to turn the gun around on yourself. Now let's go meet some nice policemen. They're good guys. Come on. Let's go.
D-Fens: I'm the bad guy?
Prendergast: Yeah.
D-Fens: How'd that happen? I did everything they told me to. Did you know I build missiles?
Prendergast: Yeah.
D-Fens: I helped protect America. You should be rewarded for that, but then they give it to the plastic surgeons. You know, they lied to me.
Prendergast: Is that what this is about? You're angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner's drying out in the oven? Hey, they lie to everybody. They lie to the fish. But that doesn't give you any special right to do what you did today. The only thing that makes you special is that little girl. Now let's go. Let's go!
D-Fens: It was hot today. Wasn't it? You know I got a gun, in my pocket. I got lots of guns.
Prendergast: Stay there. Don't move.
D-Fens: You wanna draw?
Prendergast: Let's not. Let's call it a day.
D-Fens: Oh come on. It's perfect. Showdown between the sheriff and the bad guy. It's beautiful. On three.
Prendergast: This doesn't have to be the end Bill. You have a choice. See my little girl is dead. I don't have a choice. You have a choice.
D-fens: No, you have two choices. I can kill you or you can kill me and my little girl can get the insurance. One...
Prendergast: Don't you want to see her grow up?
D-Fens: Behind bars? [shakes his head] two...
Prendergast: Don't do this. Please. Let's go!
D-Fens: Three..[reaches into pocket]
Prendergast shoots him and then realizes he only had a water gun. D-fens says "I would've got you." and falls over the edge of the pier into the water.

The press has already moved in and the Chief is now praising Prendergast, saying "one of their own" out everything together. The Chief asks Prendergast to comment. Prendergast says "Fuck you. Fuck you very much." in front of the cameras. Prendergast returns to Beth's house and finds Sandra being wheeled into the ambulance in stable condition. Beth tells him she hasn't told Adelle yet. People are lined up for Adelle's party, and he advises Beth to tell her tomorrow.

What About it?

"Falling Down" is a movie that, on different levels, everyone can relate to.  I'd imagine we've all had days when we've "had enough" frustration, rudeness, and the lies we take for granted as part of our lives. We know that a hamburger will never match it's picture on the menu, but we live with it, because, short of pulling out a gun, that's just how it is. We know that the marketing rarely matches the product. Even here, the gun doesn't solve the dilemma, only affords an opportunity to point it out. Is it that far fetched to imagine that sitting in an unmoving car for hours, might cause someone to just leave it and walk wherever they need to go? There are stories all the time about people losing hold of what keeps their lives in order, often with disastrous consequences. How many people are one traffic jam away from "Falling Down?" I think it's a question worth considering.

While it would be easy to show D-Fens as a "hero" a common man, standing up for his rights. I like the fact that they don't do so here. We can identify with D-Fens, even cheer at some of the good points he makes. His position is not without some truth, but we also see that this man is deeply disturbed and his actions are not at all productive. While he points out the ridiculous nature of a fast food experience, he also terrorizes the customers, and workers, who have as little control over it as he does. He's angry because he's been "lied to." but the problem won't be solved by making a point with a gun. He's anger is deeper than that. When he expresses to the caretaker's family his fantasy birthday party that he's heading to, he says that "everything will be the way it was," meaning when he was married and had a job and a house and a family. D-Fens is angry with the idea of the American Dream not working out like he thought it was supposed to. At the end, he says "I did everything they told me." suggesting that he followed the steps, doing what he was "supposed to do" and his life should have worked out as a result.
He imagines that he had that Dream in the past, but when he watches the home movies at Beth's house, we see that even "the way it was." was far from happy. Perhaps he felt lied to, even then, seeing that his daughter had no interest in a hobby horse he'd bought, reasoning that he bought it for her, so she should like it. To him, anything that isn't that black and white is suspect. He's intent on how things should be, rather than what they are, because how things are has failed to make him happy.

We can't totally demonize D-Fens either. He's not a monster out to hurt innocents, but a guy who reaches a point where he believes he has nothing left. At the point where he leaves the car, he has pretended to go to work every day for a month, just to satisfy his mother, and his own self image. He's angry and impulsive, but he's not out to hurt people, only insistent that he won't tolerate being lied to anymore. His first outburst with the Korean shop owner sets the tone for his other outbursts. He simply wants change for a phone call and realizes the shop owner could easily help him, but chooses not to. Does he really care that the man charges 85 cents for soda? Probably not, it's the man's rudeness and indifference that sets him off. He has no hesitation to break merchandise which the shop owner paid for, but he gets offended when the man assumes he's being robbed, insisting on paying for his soda, although the damage he caused certainly makes the payment for the soda irrelevant. He's not interested in putting money in his pocket, he's mostly interested in being treated with respect.

One aspect of the movie, which I found sadly true, was the ease with which he found rudeness on his walk. The people he runs into are as rude as if it were a virtue and common courtesy were a sign of weakness. Everyone is defending their territory, although there is no real challenge to it. Rather than empathize, people say "can't" and "don't" casually.  While we can understand that a fast food place has to switch from breakfast to lunch sometime, the uncaring deference to "the rules" and the treatment of customers as assembly line items is understandably upsetting. A little courtesy or empathy could make a big difference.  However, D-Fens is guilty of the very thing that sets him off, by terrifying the customers at the restaurant, he himself shows a startling lack of empathy, which he doesn't consider, as he's focused on his point.  He's an intelligent man but his obsessive focus blinds him to his own actions. All of his actions have a basis in his idea of justice, but he is unconcerned with consequences. We could look at his altercation with the gang members, could be seen as reasonable, and self defense, but many people end up injured or dead as a result. It's also telling that he shows no concern for the shooting victims, other than to locate the car and prove his point again to the gang members.  D-Fens sees only absolutes, but doesn't imagine that he's a part of the problem as much as anyone else (and many times at this point, more)

We may imagine that standing up in protest, is a solution, but without forethought it not only accomplishes nothing, but harms the cause you seek to further. The audience to his actions learns nothing except that it's not wise to antagonize one who's so unhinged. At the other extreme we have Prendergast, a man who is just as knowledgeable about "being lied to" by the American Dream, but handles it in an entirely different way. Where D-Fens is impulsive, Prendergast is composed and mild. Yet, his way is not presented as a solution either. We see the conversations with his wife, who seemingly browbeats him endlessly. We see the same tendency in his dealings with his fellow officers. He projects mildness and gets riduled and scorned in return. Prendergast does have empathy though, perhaps more than is good for him. He accepts that he's been lied to, but also accepts that this fact doesn't give him "special rights." It's significant that D-Fens leaves a car in the middle of the road and Prendergast helps to push it out of the way. Prendergast endures many insults gracefully, but even he is not without a limit. His responses are however, proportionate to the offenses, and not delivered without regard to audience. He eventually tells his wife to shut up, and punches Sandra's partner for insulting his wife, but we don't see this as his natural mode of behavior, but as an acknowledgement, that there are some boundaries.

D-Fens pushes the boundary further with each altercation. After he kills Nick, he acknowledges that he's crossed the line, referring to "the point of no return." In his instance he again violates the principles he imagines he's trying to uphold. While most of us can see Nick is dangerous, and distubed, D-Fens despises the man so much that he puts aside what he'd told the man about freedom of speech, killing him because the man's interests disgusted him. Certainly this was fueled by anger at Nick's personal assault on him, but D-Fens was in a position to incapacitate the man as easily as kill him and stuff him in his own display case. D-Fens holds his principles so closely that he can't imagine he could violate them himself. But then, this is a man who has abandoned logic and rationality. He may well have passed the "point of no return" the minute he abandoned his car. Even then. he said he was "going home." referring to his ex wife's house as "home" It's quite possible that he was going to kill his wife and child, as an illogical gesture to make things "how they were." We can't know for sure, because he's stopped before he has the opportunity.

This character is in a kind of fog. For all of his talk about principles and rights, he doesn't have a statement to make. All of his incidents are only him reacting to what displeases him, with the exception of what happens when he reaches "home." He asks for consideration, receives rudeness and responds with violence, this is the pattern every time. He's expressing his anger at every outlet that presents himself, which is all the more frightening because he still believes himself an honest and good man.The scene with the care takers family illustrates this well. He doesn't intend to use them as hostages, but they respond to his attitude and his gun. He doesn't perceive himself as a threat and can't understand why they do. He's briefly upset at the thought that he may have hurt their little girl, one of the only displays of an  emotion other than anger.

There's no question that Joel Shumacher presents an ugly, realistic world here. Douglas and Duvall both give tremendous performances and each works well as the other's foil. The easy rudeness, constant barrage of marketing messages, and everyday frustrations is a not at all unrealistic. He presents a picture of a man that would be difficult to praise, but easy to empathize with. D-Fens doesn't have any villain after him, except for life, it's difficulty and his own nature. Prendergast shows us another side, offering not a solution, as I doubt many would aspire to deal with his tribulations. He appears too understanding  and becomes a victim, before making his own stand. Prendergast however, doesn't abandon the laws of civilization however, or appropriateness. But he's not our hero either, just another look at the ways people cope. His idea of "home" has been eradicated as much as that of D-Fens, but rather than retreat into delusion or lash out, he attempts to work with the pieces he has left, however difficult.  But while D-Fens sees his life's difficulty as a personal attack, Prendergast accepts that everyone suffers.

"Is that what this is about? You're angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner's drying out in the oven? Hey, they lie to everybody. They lie to the fish. But that doesn't give you any special right to do what you did today. The only thing that makes you special is that little girl."

He sees D-Fens as someone who has an option that he no longer has, and he empathizes with the man, insisting that he has a choice and hoping that he'll make the "right" one. Both men have big flaws in their approaches to dealing with life, and the only real solution offered is suggested when Nick the Nazi has D-Fens captive and he asks for his other hand. D-Fens of course can't give it to him because his other hand is balancing his weight. As he tells, Nick, he's stopped by "Gravity. I'll fall down" The wreckage of his life is as natural a thing as gravity, and his actions (as well as Prendergast's for most of the movie) are simply those of a man who leans too long on one arm or the other (logic and emotion) and finally gives up the last arm and loses his balance. Both men still have both arms, but the question is whether they've fallen too hard to remember they can use them, and the possibility that sometimes gravity is just too much.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Touch of Evil

What About it?

"Touch of Evil"  is a true masterpiece of film, but with a couple of interesting flaws. The first is that it was drastically re cut by the studio, diluting Welles' original vision. The version presented here is the "reconstructed version, which was pieced together based on a long memo that Welles wrote to the studio after they had taken it out of his hands. Nevertheless it's a great film even if possibly a little short of what Welles originally intended. The other problem I've had with the film is that I never thought Charlton Heston was convincing as a Mexican. I do have to say however that after my most recent viewing I don't have as much of a problem with it. It makes sense when viewed in light of Quinlan's observations that Vargas "doesn't seem Mexican." His performance is good, and this time that was enough for me.

Based on the visual experience alone, this is a beautiful film. It's work with texture and shadows and character placement is brilliant. The congestion of characters and their separations all echoing the plot, giving it visual reinforcement. And yet, every character is caught in the same net. The black and white (which really give us mostly grey) suit the film perfectly as one of the major themes is the impossibility of living in absolutes. Conflict is everywhere, and nobody succeeds in communicating. The film deals with racial issues, sexual issues, authority issues. If there's a way to misunderstand another person it's in this film.

Putting aside the conflict between Vargas and Quinlan, we start with Vargas and his wife. This is a couple just married before the wedding night. While it's understood that Vargas has a position that requires him to possibly be on duty at all times, he's presented with a problem that he could easily wash his hands of and let the American authorities handle (as they would prefer it) It says much of Vargas, that he not only gets involved, but pushes to get involved, although only as an "observer" at first. He not only chooses his work over his wife, but he practically forgets her, sending her off alone in a town foreign to her, where a car bomb was just planted and he clearly has enemies. There is no choice involved for him. Vargas is the character who sees in black and white. He believes that he has the moral high ground, while not seeing the reckless neglect of his wife except as an afterthought. He eventually thinks to check on her, but not with any interest until she is placed in undeniably real danger. Up until then, he gives the bare minimum effort to keep her pacified. Susan sees this in her husband, and in some respects takes pride in his "authority" practically cheer leading for him when faced with "Uncle Joe." Nevertheless, she rightly feels jilted and tells him so quite directly just before Quinlan shows up to interrupt their kissing. Again he gives no thought to how she'll find or reach the hotel. Once he's in the car with Quinlan, proving himself superior takes precedence over his wife's safety. It's Menzies who steps in offering to take her to the Hotel.

Menzies is the closest character to a conscience in the film, and as such he's relatively quiet, content to be a supporting player to the more powerful personalities. He's good natured and honest but easily fooled, requiring absolute certainty before he can think badly of Quinlan. Menzies has seen the best of Quinlan as well as the worst. Quinlan is a man who took a bullet for him and taught him everything he knows. It's in no small part, thanks to Quinlan that Menzies thinks of himself as an honest cop who does things the right way. It's this belief that forces Menzies to help Vargas.

I think it's also quite intentional that Vargas the Mexican authority is the character arguing for "due process" while the American Quinlan makes his own rules, reversing the stereotypical behaviors of each culture, so that we can't dismiss the characters with those stereotypes. This isn't really a question of right and wrong. The only question is how difficult it is for people to agree on what the right thing is. Quinlan never takes Vargas seriously until Vargas becomes a threat to his career.  Unlike the viewers, he can dismiss with the Mexican stereotype although this doesn't work out well for him. Quinlan delights in telling Vargas about procedures, when Vargas demands action on his wife's behalf. It's also the one point where Vargas doesn't care about "going by the book." And yet, the fact remains that Vargas is not required for the investigation and has no authority in it. He could easily attend to his wife himself, and his true interest is determined when he drops the issue with Quinlan.

When he finds his wife is in grave danger, he has himself primarily to blame. By that time he's essentially powerless, and only this bothers him enough to become irrational. He beats on several men at the bar, not because it's necessary to get information, but because he has no choice but to see himself as completely ineffective in his duty as a husband to keep his wife safe. However, even with his wife framed for murder and drugged in a prison cell, he can't abandon his vendetta against Quinlan, reasoning that he's pursuing justice. The Villain in the film "Uncle Joe" turns out to be powerless, except for the temptation he offers Quinlan. He only exists as a go between to accelerate the collision of Quinlan and Vargas. We see that he's terrified of the consequences of Vic throwing acid at Vargas, and Susan is more than capable of putting him in his place in person.

While Vargas appears to be the "hero" of the picture, he only exists to help us look at Quinlan. Welles' performance here is brilliant, the contradictory nature of the character comes through so solidly, that he becomes the character. Quinlan believes in justice as much or more than Vargas does, but he also believes that the system needs a little help to see that justice is done. He couldn't catch his wife's killer, so he has determined that he will catch every killer he can, no matter what. Despite his sloppy, lumbering appearance, he is a great detective. We question his accuracy when we learn about his evidence planting habits, and we question it again when we learn that his hunch about Sanchez was right. As Schwartz and Tanya establish, he's a great detective and a lousy cop. He is also similar to Vargas isn that both men love nothing more than their job. Rather than a wife, Quinlan keeps an addiction, booze first, which he replaces with candy bars. We see the sadness of his character in the brief first reunion with Tanya, their conversation, revealing how he misses who he used to be, before the years took their toll on him. It's well after this moment that Uncle Joe puts a frink in front him, and the man confronted with his reputation (the only thing he has) being ruined, and the reminder of his former self, is ready for  drink, because that's what it takes for him to cross the line and become the thing he hates, a criminal and a murderer. Quinlan is doomed the moment he takes the drink, although it isn't until he finally realizes that Menzies is dead that it hits home. Quinlan calling out to his dead partner and friend is powerful moment. He's killed all that was worthwhile in himself and there's nothing to keep him going anymore.

At the end, we're left wondering what was accomplished, other than the fall of Quinlan. Nobody's hands are clean and everyone is damaged. Menzies, the conscience of the film is dead, the Vargas newlyweds will not enjoy their honeymoon, and Mike Vargas will have to live with his part in Menzies' death as well as Quinlan's, knowing that he was wrong and Sanchez was the murderer. He completely neglected his wife to complicate a situation that he would've been justified in leaving alone. He did catch a cop planting evidence, but was his focus worth what it cost? We get no clear answer, other than a bigger mess than we started with and people who will never be the same again. The world isn't black and white. Sometimes all of our speculation leads us right back where we started. People aren't that easy and neither are the reasons for what they do. As Tanya says in the brilliant closing:
"He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?"

What Happens

An unknown person hastily places a crude bomb in the back of a car, as a man and woman approach it from another direction, getting in and driving down a busy downtown street where competing music blasts from various nightclubs. The car passes Ramon "Mike" Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his new wife Susan (Janet Leigh) The newlyweds pass the car as it parks on the street a moment. The car starts moving again in roughly the same direction as the couple stop for a border crossing checkpoint to enter the US. They speak with the border guard. Susan tells them that she's an American citizen. They recognize Mr. Vargas by name, the guard asking if he's "on the trail of another dope ring." and announcing Vargas' presence to another guard. Vargas explains that he's only "on the trail of a chocolate soda" for his wife. They congratulate him on catching "Grandi" but Vargas downplays it by saying he only caught one member of a large family.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Mechanic

What Happens?
"The Mechanic"is a different twist on the "hit man's last job" movie, presenting Charles Bronson as solitary and stoic as ever, yet forced to realize he's aging and can't do what he once did. Rather than try to retire or get out of the business, he chooses to train someone else to thin his workload. At least that's how it appears on the surface.

Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) is the best hit man or "mechanic" around. We see his meticulous methods right away, opening the movie with Bishop on the job. After learning his target's daily routine and securing an apartment with a window facing his target's window. He takes pictures of the man's apartment and scrutinizes his information at home for the perfect way to kill him. He breaks into the man's apartment and prepares it for the hit by placing a malleable explosive in a book in the man's bedroom rigging the gas oven to leak and drugging his tea. From the facing apartment, he watches the target drink his tea, and get drowsy, He waits until later that night, before shooting the book in the bedroom with a sniper rifle, causing a big and fatal explosion.

Bishop next meets with Harry McKenna, (Keenan Wynn) a longtime friend of his father.  Harry explains the the Organization says that Harry broke "the agreement" and won't take his calls any longer. He would like Bishop to talk to them on his behalf. Bishop doesn't see what difference that will make, but Harry explains that the reverence they had for Bishop's father, might make them more agreeable. Over a drink, Harry reminds Bishop of a story about Harry, Bishop's father and Bishop as a boy on a fishing trip. Bishop had fallen overboard and couldn't swim, which prompted his father to say "he'll learn" not moving a muscle to help him. Harry recalls that he himself had to reach out and pull him back into the boat.
Harry: Your old man, he laughed like hell!
Bishop: That was a long time ago.
Their visit is interrupted by Harry's son Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent) who shows up looking for money. Harry initially gives him a hard time before handing him the $1,000.00 he wants and Steve remarks, "My father gets uptight when I ask him for money he steals from other people." Harry apologizes for his son's manner and asks Bishop to call when he knows something.

Bishop gets a delivery which is the contract on Harry. He pins up all of Harry's personal information and plans out the hit. He scouts a remote beach location and tells Harry the Organization has asked him to meet there. When they arrive, Bishop drives up to a hill overlooking Harry on the beach. He takes shots at Harry from his hidden location and then acts as if he's discovered a sniper and is attempting to help Harry get away. Harry runs to the car, exhausted and Bishop approaches him gun in hand revealing his intention. Bishop then suffocates Harry in the car.

Bishop visits a girl (Jill Ireland) who role plays a rather mundane drama with him, playing his neglected girlfriend, including reading a letter she wrote, requiring him to comfort her.  After they spend the night together, she announces that the letter was difficult and will cost him another hundred. He agrees, remarking that the letter was a good touch, recommending something like it for next time.

Bishop runs into Steve again at Harry's funeral. Steve isn't too bothered by his father's death, describing his father to Bishop as "Harry McKenna, fixer extraordinaire, pusher, pimp, thief, arsonist..." Bishop asks, "You liked him a lot?" Bishop tells Steve that Harry had worked for his father years ago. Steve realizes that this means Bishop's father was in the Organization and he asks Bishop if he's in himself, surmising that he is although Bishop tries to change the subject, reminding him to pay attention to the funeral. When Bishop remarks on Steve being sure of himself he responds "I live in my mind, Mr. Bishop."
Bishop: "Sounds like something I read someplace.
Steve: And so do you.

Bishop leaves the service and Steve asks him for a ride home. Bishop agrees and finds that Harry's (now Steve's) house is full of Steve's friends having a party. Wading through the crowd, Steve tells Bishop, "My father never really liked my friends, and I'm not so sure I do either." Steve gets a phone call from a girlfriend, Louise, threatening to kill herself. He asks Bishop if he'll come along to visit Louise. They find Louise with razor blades, preparing to slit her wrists. Steve makes a show of not caring and Louise cuts one of her wrists to prove she will, still getting no reaction from Steve or Bishop, other than Bishop telling her how long it will take her to die based on her weight. Louise insists that Steve will stop her before she dies, but Steve says "Listen, if you don't care anything about your life, then why should I?"  Steve throws her some car keys and tells her she might live if she heads to the Sheriff's station in Malibu right away.

Discussing the situation, and the idea of watching someone die, Bishop he tells Steve "It just means you have your own rule book."
Steve: I can dig that.
 Bishop: It takes a very special kind of person to pick up the tab for that kind of living. You say you dig it, but you're talking about something you really know nothing about.
Steve: And you do?
Bishop: Do I?

Bishop attends to his routines including martial arts, and knife throwing as well as talking a lot of pills. Visiting an aquarium he passes out, and wakes up in the hospital. The Doctor at the hospital recommends he see his own doctor, and says it sounds like he's experiencing "Acute Anxiety Reaction" adding that if it isn't that, he may want to try a psychiatrist.

He wakes up the next morning to find Steve parked outside his house. Steve is impressed with his place and Bishop explains he inherited a lot. Steve tries to convince him to let him in on his "action" Bishop takes Steve out in a plane, letting go of the controls and forcing Steve to take over, which he quickly does. At a bar later, Bishop explains that his father was a "Judge" who had the final word settling Organization disputes,until someone didn't like a decision and put a contract out on him, when Bishop was sill in school. Steve shares that his father never let him in on anything, although he wanted to know the business. Bishop lets him witness a karate match which turns pretty brutal. Steve remarks "He practically murdered that guy." and Bishop answers "Murder is only killing without a license and everybody kills, governments, the military, the police."
Steve: Do you think Yamato's a killer?
Bishop: He's a killer that doesn't kill. It's funny. No, for him, the rules are important.
Steve: That's your expert opinion?
Bishop: That's my opinion.
Steve points out that Bishop is being evasive about giving real answers. Bishop reminds him that he better be sure he wants the answers he's asking for. He asks Steve what he knows about the term "Mechanic" and Steve tells him it can be used as synonymous with hit man. Bishop reveals that's what he is and tells Steve that sometimes he could use a back up. Steve asks, "You do this for money?"
Bishop: Money is paid, but that's not the motive. It has to do with standing outside of it all, on your own.
He offers to teach Steve all he can, and confirming he's in, Steve says "You've got a partner Mr. Bishop." Bishop corrects him, "Associate."

Steve demonstrates an aptitude for the work and they start training for real. Going through a museum Bishop tells Steve "There are killers and there are killers, to tell you the truth they all have a different book of rules. To get away with it depends on the book of rules you have in your pocket at the time, your own country, somebody else's country, or your own personal book of rules. All this (waves at the museum figures) heroes, half of them are killers. Napoleon was one you know, Pancho Villa, Genghis Khan, and the we have our own domestic brand, like Billy the Kid, Jesse James and John Dillinger. Yeah, they're about as famous as our own honest to goodness heroes."

Bishop gets an assignment to kill three men, who are in the habit of riding around on dirtbikes, but live behind heavy security with constant guards on watch. Bishop includes Steve in the job, including the surveillance. Bishop surprises Steve by watching one of the men in a conversation via binoculars and reading their lips to discover a "Chicken Licken" truck set to arrive at the guarded compound for a delivery. Bishop finds vats of acid at a plating plant to dump the bodies afterwards. Steve and Bishop take the Chicken Licken truck and enter the compound. The hit is messy though and one of the men escapes forcing Bishop to chase the man on a dirtbike. Although the man ends up dead, the chase causes quite a commotion running through backyard parties and causing car accidents.

Bishop is called to meet with one of the Organization heads. He takes a plane to meet a chauffeured car which brings him to the estate. The man (Frank DeKova) is paining a leopard which he has tied in the yard. The man comments that the last job was very messy and asks about Harry McKenna's son and how he's involved in things. Bishop takes exception at the thought of having to ask permission. The man reminds him that there are rules in place which ensure the Organization survives, implying that Bishop has broken a rule.
He gives Bishop a new assignment saying it has to be done fast.
Bishop: I'll handle it the way I always do.
Man: There may not be time enough for that. The word is he's getting ready to talk to some people. The problem is considerable.
Bishop: I'm not some wild Cleveland shooter. I don't cowboy!
Man: If he talks, things could get complicated, sloppy. That would disturb a lot of us. It's not really open to discussion, Mr. Bishop. This business of McKenna's son has upset a few of our associates.
The man tells him that the target is in Naples, where they have him a room already.

Bishop gets home and heads to Steve's place. Finding Steve is out, he looks around and finds that Steve has taken a contract to kill him. He puts the papers back and goes home. When Steve shows up at Bishop's house later, he fills him in on the Naples job, telling him they want it "Cowboyed"  He also tells Steve that he is nevertheless going to do it the way he's always done.

They head to Naples and start watching the target, discovering that the man is very unpredictable, rarely doing the same thing twice, with the exception of returning to his boat. Bishop shares a local wine with Steve, explaining that it doesn't travel well and they don't export it. He reminds Steve to savor it and the time he has. He also gives Steve advice about planning hits, telling him, "You've got to be dead sure, or dead." Bishop tells Steve he'll pick up some scuba gear and they'll use it to get on the boat undetected to kill the target. They succeed and Bishop plans an explosive before they leave. As they get off the boat, some Organization men show up after them in speedboats. They watch as the men get blown up with the boat. Steve asks who the men are and Bishop explains that they're Organization men, after him because he broke a rule by not asking them to start training him. More men show up soon, leading to a car chase. Bishop blows up a car chasing them and then sends an exploding car into a roadblock set for him, and pushes the last pursuing car off the mountain road with a bulldozer he finds on the side of the road.

Back at their room, Steve offers Bishop a glass of the local wine he likes. Steve watches with interest as Bishop has a sip. Bishop insects the glass himself suspiciously before picking up his bag to go, only to double over in pain. Steve says "Brucine! You'll be dead in a few minutes. Listen, you'll really appreciate this. This stuff is absolutely clear when it's in solution. I just coated the inside of the glass with it and let it dry. When the wine hit it it went right back into solution. No trace. Looks just like a heart attack." Bishop keeps struggling on the ground in agony. Steve continues "You said every man has his jelly spot. Yours was you just couldn't cut it alone."
Bishop: Was it because of your father?
Steve: You killed him? I thought he just died. You see? There you are. They told you who to hit. Kept the whole idea from being what we talked about. You needed a license, their license. I'm gonna pick my own mark, hit when I want. Just like you said, standing outside. See Naples and die."

Steve heads to Bishop's place, as if making it his own. He picks up the ball Bishop would squeeze to strengthen his fingers and then gets into his car and finds a note taped to his rear view mirror. We hear Bishop reading it to him " Steve, if you read this it means I didn't make it back. It also means you've broken a filament controlling a thirteen second delay trigger. End of game. Bang, you're dead."

What about it?
While "The Mechanic" could be accurately billed as an action film, it's a very thoughtful one, using the model of the hit man to ask some existential questions such as, what does it mean to "live outside?"The hit man is often used for questions like this. To it's credit the movie doesn't throw these questions at characters until we realize the questions suit them. The sub text is delivered beautifully suggesting the psychological scars of the lead characters, without putting the camera to them directly. Bronson's Bishop has many issues with family, relationships and society in general. We first hear his father mentioned when Harry describes the younger Bishop almost drowning. Harry remembers that the didn't cry or scream, just stared up at his father who didn't move a muscle to help. "That was a long time ago." Bishop answers to dismiss the story, but we wonder if Bishop has really put it behind him. He tells Steve that his father was a "judge." for the organization, and that he didn't talk about the Organization to him. When Steve compares their fathers suggesting that they were cowards, Bishop takes exception, claiming his father was "the best." He works for the Organization that his father helped build and has the same job as the man from Chicago who killed his father. When told he has to "cowboy" a hit, Bishop claims he's not a "wild Cleveland shooter." and we get a possible reason for his meticulous planning and methods, Cleveland not being too far from Chicago and possibly where his father's killer hailed from. Bishop possibly hopes he can be better at his job than the man who killed his father, which would finally give him some power in their relationship, or at least his idea of it. This also affords him the idea that he is "outside the system" to which his father was devoted.

Bishop's justifications for killing echo the question wrestled with by Rasalnikov from Dostoevsky's classic, "Crime and Punishment." which is reinforced when Bishop tells Steve that Napoleon was a killer, the same thought that Dostoevsky's character had and wrestled with. Like Dostoevsky's character, Bishop can't put himself in the same place that Napoleon did, we see it suggested that his physical problems are psychologically based and possibly due to the stress and guilt from making a living killing people. Bishop imagines himself outside the rules, yet must admit that everyone has rules, the distinction he makes is that some people have their own rule book.
"There are killers and there are killers, to tell you the truth they all have a different book of rules. To get away with it depends on the book of rules you have in your pocket at the time, your own country, somebody else's country, or your own personal book of rules. All this (waves at the museum figures) heroes, half of them are killers. Napoleon was one you know, Pancho Villa, Genghis Khan, and the we have our own domestic brand, like Billy the Kid, Jesse James and John Dillinger. Yeah, they're about as famous as our own honest to goodness heroes."

He speaks contemptuously of those who "need a license" to kill, but Steve appears correct when he accuses Bishop of using the Organization to provide a license for him, a fact which we can surmise Bishop himself must have considered, and possibly the reason he "broke the rules." and brought Steve in without asking permission. Despite his challenging tone to "the man" in the Organization, we know that Bishop has spent most of his life enforcing contracts on other's who broke these rules, so ignorance is not believable. This is supported by his lack of surprise, finding Steve has taken his contract. Ultimately, we have a man so lost in his own contradictions, that he is ready and willing to orchestrate his own death.  His disconnection from life is also illustrated in his paying a hooker, to not only have sex with him, but to convincingly act the part of his disappointed girlfriend, as if he can forge human contact by emulating it.

While evaluating Steve, after watching Louise cut her wrist, Bishop tells him "It takes a very special kind of person to pick up the tab for that kind of living. You say you dig it, but you're talking about something you really know nothing about." We know that Bishop himself is wrestling with "the tab." Choosing Steve as his protege is not accidental, having parallels to his own story. We know that Steve's father once saved Bishop's life, and that Steve considers himself outside the rules. It's Steve that points out that they both live "in their minds." While on the surface, we don't see Bishop with any ethical compunctions about killing, we do sense that his disconnectedness is becoming to much to bear and training Steve may be an assertion of his humanity, the chance to let someone into his head. Bishop plays out his death perfectly, not tipping Steve off in any way that he knows he's planning to kill him. Even when after the last hit, the Organization miraculously arrives gunning for him, knowing that only Steve could have tipped them off, he doesn't show the least suspicion.  His own death is in fact, necessary to build Steve's confidence in order for Bishop's hit on Steve to work. Bishop doesn't succeed at living but can succeed in dying "by his own rules."

This is a solid film by Michael Winner, who seemed well suited to bring out the best in Charles Bronson (also notably collaborating in Death Wish.) The opening sequence is brilliant and you become so involved in Bishop planning his hit that you don't realize you've witnessed 16 minutes without any dialogue whatsoever, as close as we can get to living in the character's mind. This paints the character beautifully and is particularly good for Bronson, an actor who acts with his stony face, more than with anything he says. Jan-Michael Vincent is great as Steven, a cocky kid, too full of himself for his own good. And it's also a treat to see Bronson with Jill Ireland, his longtime wife, although her part was small here. The action sequences are exciting and original, and this is as much an action film as it is a dramatic one, which is suitable for the questions it poses.

Bronson is great as a hitman and the term "Mechanic" suits him. his disconnected, technical approach to killing makes the taking of someone else's life an engineering problem, rather than a cruelty. He shows no emotion even when killing Harry, an old family friend who he remembers from childhood. Yet, we do get glimpses of emotion turning behind his eyes. He considers things obsessively, yet his stoic determination and adherence to his own rules puts any qualms at bay, yet, not completely enough that his subconscious lets him off the hook. He does, "live in his mind." but his longing for some sort of connection must be placated somehow.

"Be dead sure or be dead!" Bishop tells Steve, and this observation hits in a couple ways. Bishop is no longer sure about many things, and sees this as a logical choice, accepting the latter. Steve says he'll "Try to remember that" but Bishop tells him "Don't try. Remember." Steve doesn't have time to grasp the full meaning of the advice, and pays for it, his sudden explosive ending the only fitting reminder for not considering all the angles. "The Mechanic" examines the "tab" that must be picked up by those who think to "live outside." presenting it as an inevitable fact, which you will pay eventually, even if you're too skilled to be forced to pay it by anyone but yourself.

*There is a remake coming out shortly, directed by Simon West (Con Air) starring Jason Statham, Ben Foster, and Donald Sutherland. I'll be curious to see how it turns out but can't imagine it will top the original classic.  Jason Stathams a solid action guy, but you can't compete with Bronson.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Road to Perdition

What About It?
(for a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?")

The Road to Perdition is both a great hit man movie and coming of age story. Sam Mendes does a wonderful job maintaining a dark and somber mood and creating a world where gangsters operate as a family business. Everything, including betrayal is handled in order for the business to look out for it's own interests. While the relationship between John Rooney and Michael Sullivan Sr., is more family than business, we see that on higher levels, the same principles apply. Rather than everybody rushing to kill each other, they first attempt to use the proper channels. Undoubtedly already aware that Michael Sullivan will not stop at anything short of killing Connor, attempts are still made to settle things quietly. John Rooney offers him money,  Nitti offers him a reminder of their resources.

Rooney's line that "Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers" is a large theme in the film. We see that Rooney loves Michael like a son, and has open contempt for his own son Connor. Yet, bloodlines are important here, and no matter his feeling Rooney can't choose over his own family no matter how disastrous the decision is. Likewise, when all Michael has left is Michael Jr., his first thought is to take care of his own family. The circumstances force him to be a father in a way he probably never had to before.  Although their bonding experiences are far from conventional, such as teaching his son to drive a get away car, the time and interest are what come through as real. Despite living in the same house for his entire childhood, Michael Jr. knows little about his father, who has been content to keep the bills paid while his wife "manages: the kids.  His father has been a figure rather than a man. The dire circumstances allow them to connect on a human level, each directly interested in the other. Michael Jr., finds that his father is tough and uncompromising but not uncaring. Michael Sr.'s fear that his son will be like him, has never been put into words, but they both come to see it and confront it.

Both John Rooney and Michael spend most of the story acting to protect their sons, although Michael must also avenge the rest of his family. The differences in their backgrounds is another key factor in their struggle. Raised with the surroundings of privilege, Connor sees himself as untouchable and justified in acting out his every whim. The scene early in the movie where he prevents Michael Jr. from retrieving John's jacket, tells us all about his character. Although allowing him to get it would be no more trouble than having the conversation with Michael Jr, already is, he prevents him simply because he can. It's also telling that John passively allows this to occur, only rectifying it later in order to make a point to Michael Jr.  Jr.,on the other hand is raised working class. He has no idea how much money his family has, but he thinks of his life as average.  He has a respect for authority, because he sees his father's respect for his employer, even seeing John as a grandfatherly figure until he realizes what he's really about. He refuses, however to call Connor, "Uncle Connor"  showing that his respect does have a limit.

Michael makes no apologies for what he is or does. He sees his occupation as an honorable way to make a living. He doesn't hesitate to kill people, but neither does he kill anyone or do anything without a practical end in mind. Robbing banks of "only dirty money" shows his practical sense. The money, to him, is only a means to exert pressure having little interest as a thing on it's own. He deduces accurately that Capone's organizations greatest loyalty is to profit, and then to John Rooney, and acts to position himself  so that allowing him to kill Connor doesn't conflict with either motive. The ease with which he kills Connor after the elder Rooney is dead, shows how exact the organization's principles are, Connor's protection even holding open the doors to allow him in.

This is a film where all the parts work perfectly, great direction, a smart script, and a dream cast combine to form an authentic story. The screenplay by David Self, based on a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, is based on true events.While I don't always care for Tom Hanks' choice of roles, there's no doubt he's a great actor and he shines here, while playing against his usual type, but still using his "wholesome" persona on some level to give his character depth. We need to believe that Michael Sullivan is a man of contradiction as suggested in the opening narration. He's a loyal family man, who also kills people for a living. Tyler Hoechlin is great as Michael junior giving us a convincingly young twelve year old, with enough sense and gravity to be taken seriously as a player in the story. Paul Newman's part is small by comparison, but his presence in small scenes is memorable enough that his presence is never absent from the film. We can believe him as the father Michael never had, his sorrow at his own choice, and as a result we feel Michael's regret when he must eliminate him. Daniel Craig is also perfect, his spoiled arrogance is played well, his absurd constant smile giving us this character exactly. Entitled, but fatally shortsighted, playing on loyalty without grasping the responsibility that comes with it.

Jude Law's Harlen is perfect as a foil for Michael Sullivan. We sense that no one is a match for Michael one on one. The way he effortlessly mows down John's men, indicates that. Harlen is the sneaky where Michael is straightforward. Where Michael is used to death he isn't blood thirsty, while Harlen revels in it to the most ridiculous degree imaginable with his dead body pictures. Harlen although completely repulsive, is also very capable and efficient, which Michael sees immediately, taking great pains to avoid Harlen while he has a mission to complete.

We begin with the question was Michael Sullivan a good man? or without any good at all. What we see in the film is that Michael Sullivan contains all kinds of things, but with "he was my father." we grasp the enormity of what family means. Both Michaels understand this. After finding Michael Jr. had witnessed Finn's murder, Connor asks if Jr. can keep a secret and Michael Sr. answers with similar language, not saying yes or no, but only "He's my son."  Questions of good or bad and right or wrong, take a back seat to the idea that this is who you have in the world.  Connor is the only one of the four characters that doesn't appreciate this, though he does realize it, using it in an opportunistic way, without a sense of reciprocity. You could almost say, there's good and bad, and then there's family.

You could spend a long time assigning blame, but as John says to Michael, "There are only murderers in this room." The situation Michael is in is a fact of his lifestyle, always a possible consequence. The same is true of the Rooney's, and John to his credit, doesn't claim otherwise. Michael addresses his son's concerns that it was his fault everything happened due to his sneaking in the car, and although he doesn't say it, we sense that he agrees with John's assessment. What happened was a result of the business he's in. Michael doesn't spend time bemoaning his fate, only attempts to correct it in a way that gives his son a chance to be different than he himself was. His last act is an act of giving Michael Jr. the chance to keep his hands free of the blood, that Sr. is so used to, by killing Harlen, a figure who couldn't be a better symbol for an obsession with murder. So Michael Jr. is "raised on a farm" but he sees the road trip as "a whole life before that." He's seen one road all the way to it's end, and whatever anyone can say of his father, he did succeed in giving his son a chance to "see Heaven."

What Happens?

"There are many stories about Michael Sullivan. Some say he was a decent man. Some say there was no good in him at all. But I once spent six weeks on the road with him, in the winter of 1931. This is our story."
This narration by Michael Sulivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) begins the film and we're quickly brought in to take a look at family life in the Sullivan household.

Young Michael Jr. and his little brother Peter sit quietly at the kitchen table while their mother Annie (Jennifer-Jason Leigh)  oversees. He struggles with his homework until his mother tells him to go get his father. His father is in his bedroom in the process of emptying his pockets, and taking off his jacket, getting ready for dinner. Michael walks quietly up to the room observing as his father takes his gun out of his pocket.  Although fascinated, he doesn't mention it, just waits a moment and tells his Dad that dinner's ready.

We then see the Sullivan's heading to a wake thrown by John Rooney (Paul Newman) who greets the Sullivan kids warmly asking for hugs and even taking them off privately to throw dice. After Michael Jr. comes out ahead, Rooney sends Michael upstairs to get something from his jacket pocket. He's unable to get the jacket though as Rooney's son, Connor (Daniel Craig) is lying down in the room smoking and tells him to come back later. Downstairs the wake is underway and John says a few words about the man saying "lose one of us it hurts us all."  He tells a story about the dead man tackling his own quarterback in the last moments of a game, adding "Mistakes, we all make em." John then calls the dead man's brother, Finn McGovern to say a few words. McGovern says his brother was "loyal, brave,and he never told a lie." However, possibly due to being a little drunk, McGovern says a few words against John Rooney, saying "You rule this town as God rules the Earth, you know, you give and you take away." Michael escorts McGovern out of the room, with Connor following along. John also follows them out. McGovern threatens Connor before Michael puts him into his car. John asks for Connor's thoughts on McGovern's condition. Connor says he probably had too much to drink and he'll be fine. He does say he's going to go "talk to him" John insists that he bring Michael along and that he "just talk to him"

They all rejoin the wake and John and Michael have a moment playing the piano together. Connor looks on grinning. The younger Sullivan brother taps Connor and asks "Why are you always smiling?" Connor stoops down to look him in the eyes and says "because it's all so fucking hysterical." They go home and the kids go to bed. His little brother asks Michael Jr. what their Dad does for work, Michael Jr. says "He goes on missions for Mr. Rooney." The next morning Michael tells Peter that he can't make his concert that evening because he has to work. Michael Jr. asks "working at what?" prompting a stern look from his mother who says "putting food on your plate young man."

We see Michael loading his case in his car and leaving. He stops to pick up Connor. Michael asks "We're just talking to him right?"Connor gives him a flip "Sure." We see that Michael Jr, is hidden beneath the back seat, lifting the seat slightly, trying to sneak a look at the front. Michael and Connor head into a warehouse to meet with Tim McGovern. Michael Jr. sneaks out of the car and peeks in at them pressuring McGovern to come to his senses. McGovern agrees to keep quiet for the sake of his life and job, and leaving, Connor says he's "sorry your brother was such a fucking liar." This prompts McGovern to disagree, which Connor doesn't appreciate. McGovern insists that his brother never stole anything but that he 'knows something is going on" and will find out what it is. When McGovern almost accuses Connor of stealing the money his brother was blamed for, Connor shoots him in the head. Michael shoots McGovern as well to make sure he's dead. He then berates Connor for what he did. Connor notices, movement where Michael Jr. is hiding and watching and they scramble towards him. Michael finds his soon huddled against a fence, he asks if he saw the whole thing and Michael Jr. nods. He tells him not to speak of it to anyone. Connor comes out and sees that it's Michael Jr. and asks if he can keep a secret. Michael says "He's my son." which Connor claims is good enough for him.

On the ride home, Michael tells his son about the house that Mr. Rooney gave them and the life he made possible. Michael Jr. says he understands, but seems upset at home, prompting Michael to tell his wife that Michael had hidden away and seen his work. Michael Jr. is about to take a bike ride and finds John Rooney in the driveway asking about "their secret." Michael Jr. doesn't say a word, but Rooney says "I'm talking about the dice. A man of honor always pays his debts and keeps his word." He hands Michael Jr. a coin and smiles at him, but Michael Jr. just says he's late for school and leaves.

John and Michael have a drink alone discussing the issue. Michael assures John that his son understands. John tells him he sympathizes, telling Michael that "sons are put on this Earth to trouble their fathers." We see a flash of Michael Jr. at school, fighting. We then see a board meeting with all of John's people. John asks Connor if he has anything to say about it. John gets angry with Connor's smirk stating "we lost a good man. Do you think it's funny? Try again." He tries another time angering John for saying he's "like to apologize" and finally at his father's insistence, he stands and directly apologizes. One of John's men mentions a lot of unpaid debt, and Michael says "just give me the names" They all head upstairs to do so except for Connor who sits at the table stewing. When Michael leaves, Connor rushes out to catch him,handing him a note, saying his Father forgot to give it to him and it's a reminder that a Tony Calvino "is light again." Connor apologizes again and Michael accepts before driving off to see Tony Calvino. He heads to a busy nightclub to find Calvino. The doorman clearly knows his name and Michael has to tell the man to frisk him He asks if he can put a good word in to Mr. Rooney for him and escorts him to Calvino. When the doorman announces that Michael is there to see him, Calvino isn't pleased and hides a gun beneath a magazine, before having him sent in. Michael hands Calvino what he says is a letter from Mr. Rooney.   Michael watches Calvino's expression change reading the leader and also realizes there is a gun beneath the magazine. When Calvino attempts to reach for it, Michael grabs it and shoots him and then the doorman. He reads the letter,finding it says "Kill Sullivan and all Debts are Paid"

He attempts to call the house realizing his family is in danger,but the phone is off the hook. Connor is in the house already and kills Michael's wife as well as Peter. Michael Jr. gets home on his bike and hears the shots from outside and sees Connor leaving. Michael Jr. enters the house and sees what's happened. Michael Sr. arrives soon after and wails when he sees what's happened. He tells Jr. that this is no longer their home.

John has been informed about what happened and furiously curses Connor, who tells him the kid would have talked. Michael makes a stop to see someone, telling Michael Jr. to wait in the car. He pleads with his father not to go,but he explains that he has to protect them now as people will be after them. He forces Michael Jr.to take a gun, and tells him if he's not back in ten minutes to go see at Reverend Lynch at First Methodist, and NOT to go see Father Callaway. He enters a building and finds a Mr. Kelly.Michael says he doesn't have business with him, but Mr. Kelly says that he has business with Michael. Mr. Kelly offers Michael a case with $25,000.00 in it and tells Michael that Mr. Rooney has said there's more if he needs it. Mr. Rooney suggests that Michael take Peter and go to Ireland. Michael informs him that he can't take Peter, as he's dead. Michael asks where Connor is and Mr. Kelly tells him he's in hiding, but refusing to tell him more, explaining that if he tells he's a dead man anyway. Mr. Kelly reminds him that he's only the messenger. Michael nods and says "Then give Mr. Rooney a message for me." When Mr. Kelly asks what the message is, Michael shoots him in the head. Michael gets back to the car and takes the gun back from his son. He explains that they have to go to Chicago to see "a man who runs things" and where he stands.

They get to Chicago and Michael has his son wait while he goes to see Mr. Nitti., (Stanley Tucci) one of Al Capone's officers. He offers Mr. Nitti his services in exchange for him turning a blind eye to him killing his family's murderer. Nitti tells him it isn't possible, and Michael concludes that Nitti is already protecting Connor. We then see that John and Connor are also in Chicago and had listened to the whole conversation. Connor tells his father they should get him while he's in the building, but John tells Connor to go upstairs, as if sending him to his room. John struggles to make a decision and Nitti advises him to think objectively, as if Michael were "just some guy." John says "Make it Quick" but tells him not to hurt Michael Jr. Mr. Nitti mentions they have a "gifted" guy who's done work for them in the past that can handle killing Michael.

We then see Harlen Maguire (Jude Law) bringing camera equipment to a crime scene. He's taking photographs of a stabbing victim. The cops give him two minutes to take pictures. When Harlen sees the victim move, he chokes him cloth and then takes his pictures. Harlen takes the call from Mr. Nitti, who agrees to his rate. Maguire tells Mr. Nitti that he knows Michael's work.

Michael Sr, and Jr. talk in the car, about going to Michael Jr's. Aunt Sarah's house in Perdition, as she'll take him in. He tells Jr. that it's by a lake and they all went there together once. Mike Jr. remembers there was a dog there. We see Harlen attending Michael's family's funeral although Michael isn't there. He calls the house and speaks with Sarah telling her that they're heading to her place,if it's alright. Harlen picks up the phone after Sarah hangs up and tells the operator he was cut off and needs to be reconnected.

Michael stops at a diner for food, although Jr. says he isn't hungry and wants to stay in the car and read. Harlen shows up the dinner, and gets a table facing Michael. Michael talks with Harlen about a camera he pulls from his pocket. He tells Mike about his job photographing the dead and his fascination with the look of them. Mike excuses himself to use the restroom and Harlen gets his gun ready only to realize Michael snuck out and is driving away, having popped his tires on the way. Harlen shoots after the car,and when a cop asks him what he's doing, he shoots the cop dead. Michael realizes they can't go to Sarah's as Harlen knew they were headed there. He tells Mike Jr. that they're going to convince Capone to give up Connor by taking their money until they do. He teaches Mike Jr. to drive and they stop at a bank where Michael asks for "dirty money only" demanding everything they're  holding off the books for Capone. When the bank official tells him they'll figure out who he is, he volunteers his name even spelling it. He informs the bank manager that he "won't  be happy" if he reports it or hears about a farmer's savings being wiped out by a bank robber.

They continue robbing banks, Mike Sr.,getting the money while Jr.drives. Over dinner Mike Jr.asks when he can have his share of the money. "How much do you want?" his father asks. He says "$200.00" to which Sr.says "Ok. Deal."   After thinking a minute Mike Jr. asks "Could I have had more?" and his Dad answers"You'll never know."

We see John Rooney in Chicago ignoring a ringing phone looking angry. We then see Connor with the phone in hand, getting angry and throwing furniture when his father won't answer. Nitti gets a call about the stolen money. Connor bursts in on Nitti, yelling that he's not a prisoner and wanting to see his father. Nitti is clearly not pleased with Connor, reminding him that he can't take care of himself or he wouldn't be there. Connor tells him not to talk to him that way again, as he is "the future" his father being an old man.

Michael hits a bank and finds that Chicago took out all their money two days ago. He gets the name of the accountant that withdrew it, Alexander Rance (Dylan Baker) We see that Harlen has a room rented across from Rance's room and is waiting for Michael to show up. Rance knows Sullivan so is immediately frightened when he enters the room, instead of the room service he expected. Rance makes a point of walking past the windows causing Michael to shut the curtains, which makes Harlen grab his gun and head across the street. Mike Jr, sees Harlen heading into the hotel with a gun and starts honking the horn, although Mike Sr. can't hear it. Rance tries to stall Michael acting as if he doesn't know which key will open the trunk with the files Michael wants. When Michael tells Rance he gets one more try, he finds the key, but jumps out of the way as he opens out. Michael avoids the blasts from Harlen entering with his shotgun and manages  to hit Harlan,disfiguring his face. He sees that the blasts hit Rance, killing him, and he takes the files and leaves Harlen in the room,  finding himself shot in the arm. When Michael Sr. passes out in the car, Mike Jr. stops and screams at people on a farm they're passing to help.

They take him in and remove the bullet, letting him recover. Mike Jr. helps them with the work on the farm and they come to really like having him there. They get some time to talk, and Mike Jr. asks if he liked Peter better. His father explains that he was harder on Mike Jr. because he reminded him of himself and he didn't want him to be like him. Going through the files, Mike Sr. realizes that Connor has been stealing money and blaming the men that got killed. Michael drops in on John Rooney at church and tells him they need to meet downstairs. He tells John what Connor's been doing. John asks "Do you think I'd give up my son?" He says he knows that Connor betrayed him and tells him he should leave before it gets worse. Michael points out that when John dies they won't need to bother protecting Connor anymore and will likely want to get him out of the way. John tells him he still can't deliver his own son to be killed. When Michael mentions that Connor killed his wife and son, John says "There are only murderers in this room. Michael,  open your eyes!" John begs him again to leave if only for Michael Jr.'s sake.

That night, Mike Jr. sees his father assembling a gun. When he asks what he's doing he tells him he has one more thing to do and he'll be done, and tells him to go to bed. We see John being escorted to his car in the rain by a group of men only to find that his driver is dead. Michael kills every one of them except for John and then approaches him walking up close. John looks at Michael and says "I'm glad it's you." before Michael shoots him.

Michael calls Nitti for Connor's room. Nitti says that Al Capone wants his assurance that after this, it's over. Michael walks into the hotel, all of the guards move aside for him and allow him in and he shoots Connor while he's sitting in a bath.

With Connor dead, they head for Sarah's house.  Mike Jr. plays on the beach with a dog that runs out to greet them and Mike Sr. goes in the house to look for Sarah. He finds the house immaculate but Sarah isn't there. Standing at the window watching Mike Jr. on the beach we see Mike Sr. get shot from behind by Harlen, who is now getting his camera ready for the death picture. Mike Jr. then comes up behind Harlen pointing a gun. Harlen tells him not to do it and tries to ease up closer to him. We hear a shot and see that his father has shot Harlen so he wouldn't have to do it. He tells his father "I couldn't do it." and he smiles and replies "I know." His father repeats "I'm sorry." several time and dies.  We see Michael Jr. driving to the farm where they had nursed his father to health and we hear him in voice over:

"I saw then that my father's only fear was that his son would follow the same road. And that was the last time I ever held a gun. People always thought I grew up on a farm. And I guess, in a way, I did. But I lived a lifetime before that, in those six weeks on the road in the winter of 1931. When people ask me if Michael Sullivan was a good man, or if there was just no good in him at all, I always give the same answer. I just tell them... he was my father. "