Spoiler Warning

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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Night of the Iguana

Rev Shannon (Richard Burton) has problems of the flesh. This is made clear by the sermon he gives at the opening of the movie, centered around a verse from Proverbs, that "a man who can't control his own spirit is like a house without walls." Shannon is tense already, but the whispering of the congregation is too much for him, and he has an outburst, which sends his congregation running for the door. He follows them out preaching the whole time telling them "you've turned your backs on the God of love and compassion and invented for yourselves this cruel, senile delinquent who blames the world and all that he created for his own faults."You can imagine he's dealing with the aftermath of a sex scandal, and it appears that it has cost him his church.

Shannon appears some time later as a tour guide for Blake's bus tours in Mexico. He's guiding a group of elderly church ladies on a tour of religious sites. The group also contains one attractive, too young lady, Charlotte Goodall (Sue Lyon) who hangs all over him. Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall) the leader of the church ladies group is watching Charlotte, and is keeping an eye on Shannon, warning him not to try anything. Whether she's protective or jealous of Charlotte's attention is a matter of debate, but it's clear that she doesn't like Shannon or trust him. Fellowes reminds Shannon that Charlotte is underage and refers to a scandal in Tierra Caliente, which she doesn't want to know the details of, because if she did she'd "have to take steps." Shannon claims there was nothing to it, but hotel room keys getting mixed up. The church ladies notice young boys on the roadside catching iguanas and are shocked when Shannon explains that they eat them.

While Shannon seems to know better than to entertain Charlotte's advances, he isn't able to completely disinterest himself. While he advises her against getting involved with him, he hardly pushes her away. The bus soon has a blowout, while Hank, the driver, attends to it, Charlotte joins Shannon for a swim, telling him she admires his profession and how he's interested in people's souls. Shannon again tries to humor her without being over interested but she is very persistent. She explains that her father sent her out of the country due to an incident with a boy and insisted that she have a chaperon, Fellowes. While they swim and chat Ms. Fellowes calls Charlotte relentlessly from the beach. They don't appear to hear her, but whether that's by choice is not clear. Charlotte convinces Shannon to take her hand in the water. Ms. Fellowes appears on the verge of a breakdown, when they get to shore, slapping Charlotte, and calling Shannon a beast.

Once they settle down in a hotel for the night, it becomes clear that Charlotte isn't going to take no for an answer. She sneaks out of the room she shares with Fellowes and into Shannon's room. Shannon tells her to leave, but has difficulty being convincing. She reveals that she plans to slip away the next day and catch a plane home, where she'll wait for Shannon. The purpose of her visit is to "say goodbye" Once she starts kissing him, he loses his will to resist. Fellowes has woken up in the next room and is begging Charlotte's forgiveness until she realizes Charlotte isn't in the room. She rightly suspects where Charlotte is and pulls her back to her proper bedroom, threatening Shannon, before going back to bed. The next morning, Shannon acts like nothing happened, but nobody will take to him. The driver tells Shannon that Fellowes had asked him to send a telegraph, looking into Shannon's background. He insisted that it wasn't a driver's job, and she said she would send one herself.

Shannon, at that point takes over the bus and starts driving recklessly, scaring all his passengers. He stops, takes his bags and the distributor head from the bus, telling everyone to follow him up the hill with their things. He's greeted by the proprietor, Maxine (Ava Gardner) who recognizes him and seems delighted to see him. She informs him that her husband Fred has passed away, which distresses Shannon as he was hoping Fred would save him. She has two younger Mexican boys get Shannon's bags and bring them inside. She agrees to help him. When Hank confronts Shannon, he explains that his plan is to keep them there so Fellowes can't get the answer to her telegram, which is being sent to the last hotel, and thus can't use the information against him. During that time he can get back in the good graces of the rest of the group. Hank seems upset about Charlotte and reveals that she's made up her own version of events, stating that Shannon made her go into his room because he couldn't stand the idea of her catching a plane to go home. Hank clearly believes she's an innocent girl being preyed on by Shannon. Maxine gets a kick out of the situation, laughing at the thought of Shannon's predicament:
Maxine: So you appropriated the young chick and the old hens are squawking, huh?
Shannon: It's very serious. The child is emotionally precocious.
Maxine: Bully for her.
Shannon: Also, she is traveling under the wing of a military escort of a butch vocal teacher.
He explains that Fellowes plans to charge him with statutory rape. Maxine tells him she doesn't know what that means, and Shannon tells her: "That's when a man is seduced by a girl under twenty."

The group makes their way, with difficulty, up the hill. Fellowes and Charlotte are fighting. Charlotte insists on her own room, and Fellowes, says, fine, telling her she's a free agent until they get back. Of course none of the group is happy with Shannon, as he's the one who has stranded them. Fellowes wastes no time putting in a call for the telegram except that the "circuits are busy"  Shannon confronts her, explaining that he's at the end of his rope asking for her understanding. Fellowes isn't interested in the least, citing many peroblems with the tour and Shannon personally. Maxine gives Shannon a shave and he explains that "the spook" has moved in (his term for his own panic) "Just panic?" Maxine asks, and Shannon responds, "Don't say just panic like you'd say 'just leprosy.' Panic is serious. She asks him about going back to the church and Shannon says he's written to the bishop. Maxine tells him "You know, people to go to church to hear atheistic sermons."

Two more visitors show up out of the blue a young woman and a very elderly man. While Shannon eagerly helps the old man up the hill to the hotel, Maxine gives them a rather chilly reception. The woman introduces herself as Hannah Jenkes, and explains that they need a room. Maxine tells her they're closed but Shannon persuades her to give them a break. Hannah brags about her grandfather being "the oldest living and practicing poet." When Maxine runs off to grab the phone, Hannah changes her tone, telling Shannon, she doesn't think Maxine will take them in. Shannon reassures her that she will. Maxine tells Shannon that she informed the caller (for Fellowes) that the guests had checked out and he's ecstatic. When Maxine asks for $6.00 from Hannah, she informs her that they operate on a "special basis" paying their way by her grandfather's recitations, and her own sale of sketches. While not initially impressed, Hannah's pleading gets Maxine to allow them one night. Maxine's Mexican boys are chasing iguanas, Maxine explains to Hannah that they're planning to eat them.

Shannon helps Hannah get "Nono" to a bed so he can lay down as he isn't looking well. Nono recites lines of poetry to himself. Shannon lays down in a hammock, finding Fred's shoes in it and setting them aside. Fellowes, meanwhile has discovered that her call was cut off, and calls again determined to hold on the phone until she gets the information. She soon storms outside to Shannon calling him "Seducer" over and over and accuses him of posing as a minister Even Charlotte is shocked. Fellowes goes on to explain that her brother has contacted Blake's Tours, and they have promised to take action. She suggests that he has made a career of seducing young girls, and tells him that her brother is a judge who has advised Blake's that they don't need to hold to their contract, given Shannon's past. Fellowes is beaming with the destructive information, happy for the first time. Shannon refutes her accusations and excuses himself. Maxine makes a couple of digs at Fellowes before checking the kitchen. Hannah has watched the whole scene from her room and follows Maxine to the kitchen, offering to help. Maxine accuses her of trying to make herself useful in order to extend their stay. Hannah counters by suggesting that she thinks a good meal could soothe Fellowes animosity towards Shannon. At that, Maxine says "You're a hustler, a fantastic, cool hustler." The two women share a moment, Hannah admitting that she's completely broke and Maxine revealing a native term, neaning "No Sweat." which Fred thought contained all the wisdom of the east. She reveals to Hannah that the marriage was unconventional. Fred was out fishing all the time and they never slept together. When she started going "Night swimming" with the Mexican boys, Fred didn't care and just stayed out fishing. Apparently Fred was a good listener and knew what bothered you before you told him. She reveals that she went "on the make" for Shannon, but Shannon wouldn't allow it because of his feelings for Fred.

Shannon is a wreck in his own room, when Charlotte lets herself in, She surprises him making him break a glass. He's so frantic that he starts walking through the glass without even noticing. Charlotte tells him she doesn't care what they think, and wants to stay there with him and get married. Shannon explains:
"Nothing could be worse for a girl in your unstable condition, to be mixed up with a man in, in my unstable condition because two people in unstable conditions are like two countries facing each other in unstable conditions. The, eh, destructive potential, eh, could blow the whole world to bits!" He continues walking through the glass and insisting that she leave. She is persistent and finally he has to physically remove her. Hannah hears her yelling and shows up and notices his feet, helping him clean and bandage them. He then assists her putting Nono back in bed, when they hear he's fallen out of it. Hannah and Shannon start to understand each other a bit, Shannon revealing the incident with a Sunday School teacher which got him in trouble and how he ended up doing bus tours. Hannah asks what he'll do if Ms. Fellowes has him fired. He says he'll either go back to the church or "the long swim to China"

Maxine finds the two of them together and jealous of the vibe between them has an outburst, getting into a shoving match Shannon using the drink cart. She sees the sketch that Hannah has drawn of Shannon and when Hannah offers it to her, Maxine says "No thanks honey, one of him's enough." Hannah and Maxine face off, Hannah stating she's going to walk into town with her grandfather, rather than stay where she's not wanted. Maxine calms down, revealing that she is upset because of the vibrations between her and Shannon and she really shouldn't be. When Maxine remarks on how wretched Shannon is, Hannah reminds her "Those are his circumstances, not the man himself." Ms. Fellowes is at the time looking everywhere for Charlotte, who is drinking on the beach dancing with the Mexican boys. When the older man running a bar on the beach side tell her to leave, having the boys pick her up and remove her, Hank steps in. The boys beat him up very easily, but Charlotte is still impressed and becomes taken with Hank.

While they have lunch, Shannon gets a call from Mr. Blake, his employer. Shannon tells of Blake, and afterwards Hank holds Shannon while Charlotte gets the Distributor cap from his pocket. They start heading to the bus and Shannon takes the opportunity to piss on Fellowes' suitcase, shocking the group. Fellowes is still out for blood and confronts Shannon again, threatening viciously that she'll have him blacklisted and charged with numerous things. Shannon jokes it off, but Maxine is bothered and starts putting Ms. Fellowes in her place. She suggests that Fellowes real problem is that Charlotte likes men. Ms. Fellowes drops her viciousness and asks sincerely, "What is she talking about." Shannon however demands that Maxine stop, telling Ms. Fellowes "Let it go now, Ms. Fellowes, the party's over. Right now I'm no longer in a position to discharge my responsibility to protect you, a responsibility from which you discharged me. Just go Ms. Fellowes." Maxine doesn't understand why Shannon stopped her and asks Shannon why. He explains:

"Miss Fellowes is a highly moral person. If she ever recognized the truth about herself it would destroy her."
Maxine: "Well she's done a pretty good job of destroying you!"
Shannon: "Maxine, don't rob me of my own small accomplishments."

With everyone gone, Shannon starts choking himself trying to break the chain of his cross necklace. Hannah stops him helping him get it off his neck and then he announces he's going to take "the long swim to China"  Maxine however, has her Mexican boys chase him and tie him up in the hammock. Hannah asks Maxine to make some opium tea to calm him down. Shannon screams to be let go, but Hannah sternly refuses.
Shannon: I'm panicking!
Hannah: I know that.
Shannon: A man can die of panic!
Hannah: Not when he enjoys it as much as you do, Dr. Shannon.
Shannon is extremely angry, telling Hannah that she is no longer asexual, because enjoying having him tied up proves she's a woman. He then attacks Maxine, because the tea is too hot. He nastily suggest that she go "bathing with the beachboys" as his presence shouldn't stop her anymore than Fred's did. Hurt, she calls the boys to go for a swim after telling Shannon off. Hannah discusses panic and loneliness with him and he seems to calm down and listen to her. Maxine meanwhile loses interest in the beach boys, and heads towards the hotel. Hannah reveals some details about her love life at Shannon's urging. She has had two experiences both very unconventional. Shannon seems to gain respect for her after her admission. He's surprised that one encounter didn't disgust her, and she remarks:
"Nothing human disgusts me, Mr. Shannon, unless it's unkind, violent"
She then tells Shannon about her own "spook" which she called "the blue devil" and when Shannon wants to know how she beat her blue devil. She tells him it's just endurance. She has let Shannon free now and they notice the iguana tied up and Hannah takes pity on it. Maxine comes up in time to see Shannon cutting it loose.
Maxine: What the hell are you doing, Shannon?
Shannon: I just cut loose one of God's creatures at the end of his rope.
Maxine: What for?
Shannon: So that one of God's creatures could be free from panic, and scamper home safe and free. A little act of grace, Maxine.

Nono then wakes and finishes the poem he's been working on, Hannah writes it down as he recites, assuring him that it's beautiful. He says a prayer looking at the moon in his chair and passes on. Maxine assumes that Hannah and Shannon are taking off together, and graciously offers Hannah the job of managing the hotel saying that she wants to take off herself as she's tired of it. After Maxine has another outburst, Hannah and Shannon realize that he belongs with Maxine, and Hannah takes off leaving Shannon to tell Maxine he's staying with her.

The Night of the Iguana is a movie about broken people "at the end of their rope" For me it's Richard Burton's performance that makes it most remarkable. He's utterly convincing as a man of such range that he can chase his congregation out of a church screaming that he's a man of God, steal a part from a bus to give himself time to plan his way out of trouble. He pisses on luggage to show his contempt but then prevents the destruction of the luggage's owner. What makes the character work is that the character, retains a dignity and empathy beyond question. He doesn't assign blame for his own mess, just tries to deal with his panic. Even with every reason to hate Miss Fellowes, he won't allow Maxine to hurt her more than she could bear. Fellowes likely doesn't know the difference, but he does and knows that's the important thing.

Of course this kind of character depth is only possible due to Tennessee Williams story, and John Huston's particular vision of it. The environment is a character itself, the hotel cementing the feeling of a place of isolation where the issues facing these characters can be confronted without the outside world intruding. While definitely melodramatic, it's melodrama done right, examining concerns that warrant the treatment. It never gives the feeling of being unbelievable. The characters address huge ideas and sentiments sincerely, which if not for the top class acting would never have been possible.

We don't question that Shannon is broken, neither do we question that he's worth something. As Hannah says "those are the circumstances, not the man." The supporting cast is also terrific, Ava Gardner's Maxine is fiery and so full of life, it's easy to see why Shannon thinks of her as indestructible. But like Shannon she has a remarkable range, while capable of being quite fierce, she often takes the opportunity to be kind. She presents herself as a worthy match for Shannon throughout. Deborah Kerr's part is a departure from them, an outsider to everyone, she's enigmatic and almost sexless, although she establishes that this isn't truly so. She is proud, and kind and resourceful, yet always somehow distant. Other than her grandfather, she seems to need no attachment, yet delights in helping others find their way to their own. Grayson Hall's repressed Miss Fellowes, is also pitch perfect, the self perceived, holiest of them all, also being the only character who seems to be without any human kindness and the most hopeless of them all, unable to even look at many basic facts about herself.

A truly brilliant performance from Richard Burton, as a man  who carries the best and worst of the human condition between his sense of humor and his panic, and he has to go quite a ways to reconcile the parts. Burton is as trapped as the Iguana tied with the rope. By recognizing the plight's of Hannah, Maxine, and even Miss Fellowes, he sees himself more clearly and can finally believe in a small act of grace and hope to endure his panic.


Friday, August 27, 2010

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Sometimes not blending in is more than enough of an offense to get you ruined. Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) doesn't blend in at all, and more than that, doesn't want to, he's loud, belligerent and only happy when making a scene.

The movie opens outside and brings us into a mental institution, along with Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) It seems to be a very quiet and orderly place full of orderlies with sparkling white uniforms, and the inmates all sleeping. Pills are soon sorted and handed out single file.

The environment is interrupted by McMurphy's arrival. He can't help smirking to himself, laughing, even kissing on of the cops escorting him. He's very happy to be there. While his personal things are catalogued, Murphy gets acquainted with the inmates. He's amused that Chief, (Will Sampson) an enormous Native American, is deaf and dumb. Chief just stares while Murphy whoops loudly to test his hearing. McMurphy then interrupts a quiet poker game and is called to a meeting with Dr. Spivey.(Dean R. Brooks)

Dr. Spivey  asks him why he thinks he's been sent to the institution. McMurphy throws it back to Dr, Spivey asking what the report says. Spivey says,
"It says you've been belligerent, talked when unauthorized, been resentful in attitude towards work in general, that you're lazy..."
McMurphy:  "Chewing gum in Class?"
Dr. Spivey tells him that they want him to be evaluated to see if he's mentally ill, and asks why they would want him evaluated. McMurphy tells him "Near as I can figure, it's because I fight and fuck too much."
Spivey reveals that McMurphy has been sent to the institution from a prison work farm and that they suspect he was faking being crazy to get out of work. He points out that McMurphy has been arrested five times for fighting, McMurphy points out that Rocky Marciano's had forty fights and that makes him a millionare. It turns out McMurphy was in prison for statutory rape. Dr. Spivey tells McMurphy that they'll be studying him in detail for some time to make an evaluation.

Nurse Ratched, soon afterwards leads exercises, followed by group therapy. She reads a problem in Harding's (William Redfield) file about his suspicions towards his wife and then opens the comment up to discussion. After no one will volunteer, she turns back to Harding, who reveals that he can only speculate, and that he is not talking about only his wife but relationships in general as they relate to all existence. His explanation is heckled by Taber (Christopher Lloyd) who doesn't understand Harding's intellectual concerns. McMurphy chuckles as the two bicker about it. Cheswick (Sydney Lassick) starts trying to defend Harding, and gets himself exasperated. Harding attempts to calm Cheswick down. He calls the room out for accusing him of being gay, because they called him "peculiar" Nurse Ratched smiles slightly at the chaos all around her.

McMurphy gets out in the yard and immediately starts eyeying the fence, and a bus leaving with some of the inmates. He starts trying to teach Chief to play basketball. One of the orderlies gives him a hard time, pointing out that the chief can't hear a word he says. McMurphy continues regardless, climbing onto Mancini's back to simulate the Chief's height and show him how to dunk the ball in the basket. Although he's unsuccessful Nurse Ratched watches from the window with interest.

McMurphy starts running a poker game. He has to keep explaining the procedure's to Martini (Danny Devito) and starts getting frustrated when nobody understands what they're doing. He alarms a nurse by entering the nurse's station and Nurse Ratched quickly comes to eject him. He goes up to the medication counter and asks Nurse Ratched to turn the music down, shouting to illustrate the difficulty they have talking. She doesn't bend on it and points out that his hand is staining her window. Another nurse hands him medication, and when he asks what it is says "It's just medicine, It's good for you." He refuses to take it because he doesn't know what it is and Nurse Ratched tells him that if he won't take it orally, they'll give it to him another way. He acts as if he swallows it, but when Harding asks "why he didn't tell her to go fuck herself," he shows Harding that he didn't swallow it, spitting it out. He bets the men $1.00 each that  "In one week, I can put a bug so far up her ass, she don't know whether to shit or wind her wristwatch."

Nurse Ratched reopens the conversation about Harding's wife. But McMurphy chimes in before she can look for volunteers, suggesting that they change the schedule so they can watch the World Series.  She clearly dislikes the suggestion and counters that this change could be disruptive to some men on the ward and
tells McMurphy they can put it to a vote. Nurse Ratched appears pleased when despite his rallying for them to raise their hands they don't respond, no doubt fearing retaliation.

Harding starts planning an escape to watch the world series in a bar downtown, and starts taking bets that he can do it by lifting a heavy marble sink and putting it through the wall. He strains to lift it over and over but doesn't budge it in the least. Walking off he tells the watching men

"But I tried, didn't I, goddamn it? At least I did that."

Nurse Ratched has another session going, this time focusing on Billy (Brad Dourif) Billy is very timid and has a stuttering problem. Nurse Ratched asks if he told a girl how he felt about her. He claims that he did, but everyone laughs at him. She hammers at him that his mother had told her, that he never said a word to the girl. (and she also mentions his suicide attempt) Billy is obviously uncomfortable. Cheswick interrupts pointing out that if Billy isn't comfortable they should talk about something else, he then says that watching the world series would also be good therapy and requests another vote. Nurse Ratched, perturbed agrees to have a new vote.

This time everyone in the group raises their hands, but Nurse Ratched tells them that they need a majority vote and since there are eighteen patients in the ward (nine who aren't there) they don't have the votes to change policy. McMurphy runs to all the patients who aren''t in the meeting but can't get through to any of the others before Nurse Ratched ends the meeting. He finally gets the chief to raise his hand, but this time, nurse Ratched refuses to acknowlede it since the meeting was over and the vote was closed. McMurphy screams at Nurse Ratched to turn the TV on, but she just closes the window. McMurphy then sits at the TV, narrating the game, even though the set isn't on. Everyone catches his enthusiasm, and they start acting as if the game was occurring. Nurse Ratched loses her cool and demands they stop immediately

The scene results in McMurphy getting another appt. with Dr. Spivey. He complains about Nurse Spivey, tellign him that "she ain't honest" Spivey tells McMurphy that they've seen no evidence that he's crazy, and asks him to explain why he's been putting them on. Two other psychologists are in the room, and one of them asks him how he feels about the incident yesterday. McMurphy laughs it off.

McMurphy convinces Chief to help him over the fence and he steals the institute's bus, along with the inmates.  He goes to pick up Candy (Marya Small) and brings the guys to see a boat. When someone questions him about the boat he's taking, he claims they're all doctors and that they chartered it earlier. Candy warns him about going back to jail, but he brags that they'll just send them back to the institution. He tells Cheswick to drive and instructs the rest of them on how to fish, before taking Candy into the cabin alone. Their interest in fishing disappears once McMurphy is gone, they try to see what he's doing and Cheswick panics and leaves the steering. Jack rights the situation and they bring the boat back to find the authorities waiting.

At the institution, the high level staff is having a conference. They conclude that he isn't crazy, but he is dangerous. Dr. Spivey wants to send him back to prison, but when Nurse Ratched is asked for her opinion she tells them that not helping him would be passing their problem to someone else.

The inmates are playing basketball against the orderlies, who can't do well because McMurphy has Chief just dropping the ball into the basket for them. During an argument with an orderly, McMurphy realizes that they can hold him indefinitely, and his prison term (68 days) doesn't apply. At a therapy meeting, he confronts Nurse Ratched about it and learns that most of the men are in there voluntarily. Nurse Ratched smiles watching him struggle to grasp why they don't just walk out. He tells them:
"What do you think you are, for Chrissake, crazy or somethin'? Well you're not! You're not! You're no crazier than the average asshole out walkin' around on the streets and that's it."

Nurse Ratched opens the floor to inmates responses. They all have different questions, but Cheswick stands up asserting himself about getting his cigarettes. Nurse Ratched orders him to sit down, which he does, but only for a few minutes, getting up again, this time with an orderly arriving to keep him seated. McMurphy asks the guys to give Cheswick a cigarette, and one of them grabs the lit one from Harding's mouth, which they throw back and forth until he loses it when it ends up in Taber's pant cuff.
Cheswick can't control himself and starts demanding an answer from Nurse Ratched. She tells them that due to McMurphy winning away all their cigarettes, their tub room (where they play poker) are suspended and their cigarettes are to be rationed. Cheswick gets more angry and takes her on directly saying :Rules? PISS ON YOUR FUCKING RULES! I AIN'T NO LITTLE KID!

Taber stands up and starts screaming (the cigarette is burning him) McMurphy realizes Ratched is about to go ballistic and tries to convince Cheswick to sit down. Unable to calm him, McMurphy punches through the glass medication table window and grabs a carton to give to Cheswick. Things soon get completely out of hand when McMurphy punches an orderly trying to confront him. The orderly pins him to the ground and threatens him, when Chief notices and runs over, picking up the orderly as if he was nothing. Many others rush down the hall and restrain them.Cheswick, Chief, an McMurphy are then bound and brought to another are of the institution where the halls are filled with mindless seeming inmates. Chief and McMurphy are given medication but they bring Cheswick somewhere else, which starts him in a panic again. When Chief and McMurphy are alone, Chief says "Thank You." to McMurphy for a piece of gum. Chief reveals that he can talk and hear. McMurphy is ecstatic to find that the Chief fooled them, and tells him they should leave together. They call McMurphy next and strap him to a table and administer electroshock therapy.

McMurphy returns to therapy appearing docile and having difficulty even walking. Everyone holds their breath, stunned, but he winks at Chief, before breaking into his old self to their amusement. Nurse Ratched asks him if he'd like to join the group or rest and he says he'll join. He calls her Mildred and says about his shock therapy "They was giving me ten thousand watts a day, you know, and I'm hot to trot! The next woman takes me on's gonna light up like a pinball machine and pay off in silver dollars!" He politely consents when Ratched retakes control of the meeting.

McMurphy sneaks into the nurses station after Nurse Ratched leaves and calls Candy, to tell her to bring some booze and meet him. He sneaks over to Chief's bed to tell him he's leaving.
McMurphy: I can't take it no more. I gotta get outta here.

Chief Bromden: I can't. I just can't.
McMurphy: It's easier than you think, Chief.
Chief Bromden: For you, maybe. You're a lot bigger than me.
McMurphy: Well Chief, you're about as big as a goddamn tree trunk.

Chief Bromden: My pop was real big. He did like he pleased. That's why everybody worked on him. The last time I seen my father, he was blind and diseased from drinking. And every time he put the bottle to his mouth, he don't suck out of it, it sucks out of him until he shrunk so wrinkled and yellow even the dogs didn't know him.
McMurphy: Killed him, huh?
Chief Bromden: I'm not saying they killed him. They just worked on him. The way they're working on you.
He sees the girls outside, but the night attendant catches him waving at them and tells him to get to bed. He tries to bribe Turkle,(Scatman Crothers) the night orderly, who won't settle for twenty dollars and booze, but insists on some time with one of the girls also. Rather than leaving, the girls come in. McMurphy flickers the light from the nurses station, takes over the loud speaker and announces he's leaving, inviting everyone to party with him. Turkle realizes something's wrong and starts shutting everything down afraid of losing his job. A nurse from another area comes over to check things out. Turkle plays it off like he had snuck a girl in and rushes everyone to bed, however things are too far out of hand at this point, and the inmates drink and party, trashing the ward.

Billy dances with Candy, and McMurphy grabs the keys from Turkle who is passed out drunk. He unlocks a window and says goodbye. Billy seems upset, and tells McMurphy he'll miss him very much but isn't ready to go with him. He tells Billy he'll send a postcard so he'll know where to go when he is. Billy can't help but ask questions about Candy. McMurphy offers him a date with Candy, but insists that it happen right now. He convinces Candy to sleep with Billy and waits for them to finish. He falls asleep in front of the open window and The orderlies and Nurse Ratched find the destroyed ward. She locks everything down,and does a headcount finding Billy missing.

Ratched demands to know if Billy left the grounds but no one answers. They find Billy and Candy lying naked in bed. They all clap as he rushes out of the room putting his pants on, which has Billy grinning from ear to ear. He tells Nurse Ratched that he can explain everything. She asks if he's ashamed, and when he says no, she then threatens to tell his mother. When she keeps pressuring him, Billy claims that McMurphy forced him into the room with Candy, and continues begging her not to tell his mother. She has Billy restrained to wait for a doctor. Mcmurphy scrambles to unlock the window again decking an orderly who tries to stop him. He gets it open and is about to leave when a nurse runs in screaming covered with blood. Everyone rushes over to find Billy has killed himself unable to bear the thought of his mother finding out about Candy. Nurse Ratched, comes in and tells everyone to leave but Mcmurphy completely loses his head and tries to choke her to death, nearly succedding until an orderly hits him from behind.

Soon after, Nurse Ratched is in a neck brace, smiling and checking on the inmates with the intercom. One of them claims that McMurphy escaped, while another claims he's upstairs, meek as a lamb. The Chief  listens in, very interested and later watches them walk McMurphy to bed. He approaches McMurphy's bedside and tells him they can escape now but soon realizes that McMurphy's been lobotomized. Chief smothers McMurphy with a pillow, then picks up the marble sink that McMurphy couldn't lift, smashes it through the barred windows and escapes. Taber wakes from the noise and realizing what's happened, starts cheering as Chief runs into the distance.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, is a great film, there aren't many that will dispute that. Milos Forman, Louise Fletcher, and Jack Nicholson all have their Oscars to show for it. Personally, I think it's a more  important movie now than ever. It has many interesting things to say, and despite the fact that it's set in a mental institution, none of them are about mental illness. You couldn't ask for a better supporting cast, the inmates are odd, but they're not crazy, simply weak willed and confused. The real mentally ill live in the unseen parts of the institution, unseen except when we visit for an adjustment. In order to appreciate the message, we need to forget the mental illness and see this as what it is, a struggle between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. Nicholson is tremendous pouring all of his wicked charm into the character, who as Dr. Spivey suggests, isn't crazy but is dangerous. McMurphy is hardly an ideal role model by anyone's standards, reckless and  irresponsible at the least. And don't forget he admits to statutory rape of  a fifteen year old girl. He's a free spirit to a dangerous degree.

I think the exaggeration here is necessary, as the inmates he affects are as dead as he is alive, and to counter Nurse Ratched, being conscientiously free would not be enough. He needs to be dangerous, but not malicious and he lives right on that line. McMurphy is a celebration of our risk taking side, our capability for brave and noble failure and our refusal to accept a rule just because it's backed by power. That's McMurphy's history and the path he continues to follow to it's end.

Nurse Ratched is tougher to understand. We can see that she's repressed and controlling, demanding strict adherence to the rules even in their spirit. But in the same way that McMurphy is a flawed example of freedom, she is a flawed example of oppressive control. Why does she even offer a vote to watch the Superbowl, when she could simply say no? She attempts to appear fair, but then obviously "rigs the game." She's not interested in "the rules" as much as her own rules, the active oppression of the inmates. Their depency ensures the continued need for her. Louise Fletcher is simply amazing in this role, and I doubt I've seen a more effective example of portraying cold malice than she does with her eyes. Her duty is not to help her patients but to maintain the status quo. From the beginning, McMurphy's very presence upsets it. You might think that the option to send McMurphy back to prison, would return things to normal and it likely would, but Ratched needs to be sure, as he has already affected the patients. To eliminate his influence she needs to break him in front of the patients.

He's a free spirit, who all but intentionally seeks imprisonment and she is a nurse with no compassion whatsoever. It's the failure on both their parts to be exactly what they should, that ensures tragedy. McMurphy could have escaped but didn't. Nurse Ratched could have had him released to prison but didn't. Each sees everything they hate in the other, and as a result they each break their own rules. We think of McMurphy as the tragedy (and his fate is tragic) but the real tragedy in Billy, the confused kid unable to decide between them. Billy dabbles in McMurphy's world and wants to be like him, but he isn't prepared to be "worked on" like McMurphy is. He doesn't choose to be free when he listens to McMurphy, he's just following a different leader. Billy doesn't make a choice just allows himself to be convinced. He runs away rather than face Candy, and they really do have to drag him into the room with her.

McMurphy's excesses are necessary to break the system, but his presence is only another system. It's not accidental that Chief is the only one who really goes free. Where the other patients emulate McMurphy, Chief finds inspiration. Of all the patients, Chief is the only one that McMurphy talks to as a peer. He's more of a friend than a follower and the only one in the whole movie who understands McMurphy's predicament, as he saw what happened to his own father. Getting free is harder than it looks and Chief only does so by doing what McMurphy couldn't do, which was in his power all along. The Chief never needed McMurphy to escape, he needed McMurphy to remind him that he wanted to, and that he wasn't really deaf and dumb. It could be argued that McMurphy never wanted freedom, he wanted to fight and he'd finally found a represantation of that which made him want to fight. While arranging sex for Billy was on the one hand a kindness, it was also a stab at Nurse Ratched, which is why he falls asleep beneath the window. He wants to see her face, when she knows he messed up her order. McMurphy doesn't have what it takes to be free, only to stir things up, but without him, the Chief would have stayed a deaf mute.

McMurphy was never the solution, but without him we'd never reach it. For him the fight was his reason for being, and fighting wears everyone down eventually. Yes I would say it was necessary and it breaks me up when he gets beaten, but he was always going to lose eventually. It was in his character. To me, Cuckoo's Nest, is about making a choice for yourself, not for McMurphy or Ratched. That's the only freedom. After all, most of the inmates were voluntary. Chief had to leave McMurphy behind to be free, but all the same, it's doubtful he'd ever forget him.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance

Despite the appearance of a revenge thriller, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a story about helplessness. Ryu (Ha-Kyun Shin) a deaf, dumb and low income factory worker has a sister who desperately needs a kidney transplant. They care for each other very much, being each other's only family. She had taken factory work to support Ryu going to Art School, but once she got sick (possibly due to the work) he left school and took on the factory work himself in order to care for her.

He decides to donate his own kidney, but finds it's not compatible and has no way to secure another. He is also fired from his job to complicate things further. He turns to the black market, and finds an organization that demands his own kidney as well as 10 million won (all the money he has.) They take his money, remove the kidney on the spot and leave him naked in the middle of the city.  He is then told that the hospital has found a legitimate kidney, however the operation will cost 10 million won, which he no longer has.

Ryu spends most of his time with his girlfriend.Cha Young-mi (Doona Bae) an aggressive anarchist who is part of a secret revolutionary group.While temperamentally the opposite to Ryu's always calm nature, she communicates with Ryu almost effortlessly. They are very committed to each other and come across as nearly telepathic.

Distraught over the situation, Ryu takes Cha Young-mi's advice to kidnap his former boss, Park's (Kang-ho Song)daughter, Yossun, for ransom. They  assume that he has plenty of money and perhaps don't mind punishing him for firing Ryu. Cha Young-mi goes so far as to suggest that the kidnapping "won't even be a crime," that Yossun's family will be so happy to see her that they'll grow closer, and that the movement of the money helps their economy. She's very convincing. He agrees to do it, ready to do anything to help his sister. They begin spying on Yossun, trying to find the ideal situation to grab her.

Park meanwhile is confronted by another ex factory employee, who throws himself in front of Park's moving car. The man can't take the loss of his job and after pleading with Park to reconsider, the worker cuts himself in the street, while telling Park about the year's he devoted to the company. He is soon subdued by Park's bodyguards although very likely not surviving long afterwards.

They abduct Yossun and tell her that her Dad asked them to watch her. She stays with Ryu and his sister, who is now at home waiting to be admitted for surgery in five days. Ryu can't tell his sister about the kidnapping so has to coordinate the stories he told Yossun and his sister. They get along very well and they bond quickly, Yossun revealing details about her parent's divorce (Dad was too busy) and how she gets lots of toys but no attention. Much of the time Ryu's sister is also very sick and he takes care of her, but she spends a good amount of time playing with Yossun.

Park has received the ransom note, and Cha Young-mi follows him as he follows instructions for the drop off. The last part of the plan has Ryu tying up Park and putting a bag over his head so he can't follow them. Ryu's sister, meanwhile makes some phone calls and discovers that Ryu's story was a lie. Ryu returns home with the money, to find Yossun watching cartoons alone. She tells him that his sister is washing, but when he doesn't hear any activity for a long time, Ryu checks and finds his sister has cut her own wrists in the bathtub rather than go along with the kidnapping. This of course devastates him.

Park is still tied up after many hours, presumably forgotten. Ryu takes his sister's body to a riverside park to cover it in stones (he can't call the police, thanks to the kidnapping) He brings Yossun along but is distracted hiding his sister's body and leaves Yossun in the car. A mentally disturbed vagrant bothers Ryu and after being shooed off, wakes up Yossun trying to steal her necklace. She runs to find Ryu, but falls into the lake and screams for help right behind him, although he can't hear a thing, being deaf. He sees her floating by in the water but it's already too late. He pulls the body from the water but leaves it to be found.

Park has gotten free and is soon informed about his daughter. When the police ask him if he's provoked anyone, he answers "I thought I'd lived an honest life." The policeman takes a call and reveals that his kid needs an operation which costs 10 million won. Park soon becomes consumed with finding his daughter's killer. He starts seeing vision's of Yossun, and she asks him why he never got her swimming lessons. Park sells his company and house and devotes all his time to getting revenge. He meets with the police detective who helps him investigate. It occurs to Park that it could be an ex employee so they start looking in that direction finding many of his ex workers living in horrible conditions. The detective brings Park to check on his son who is in the hospital and with very little hope, according to the doctor.

Ryu and Cha Young-mi are trying to keep a low profile, Ryu now staying at her place. Park is examining Ryu and his sister's now abandoned place, when he hears a radio show dedication from Ryu to his sister from the radio the tenants next door are playing. The DJ says that Ryu is deaf, which jogs Parks memory. She remembers that he had sent a postcard months ago, saying his sister needed an operation, and she reads a new postcard over the air, in which Ryu claims that he killed her. They then read the address of the radio station. The DJ wants to send him a refrigerator as part of their program and asks the audience to let her know if they can get an address as he didn't provide one. Park visits the radio station and finds the postcards are detailed pictures Ryu painted of the riverside and the accident, including Yossun in the water. He visits the scene again and while skipping stones uncovers Ryu's sister's body. He also encounters the vagrant who is wearing Yossun's necklace and brings him to the police. Questioning him, they get information about the car Ryu was driving and check it out.

Cha Young-mi meets with the organ dealers, which turns out to be a family business, in order to supposedly get a kidney, but really helping Ryu find them, so that he can pay them back for ruining his sister's chance at the operation. Ryu locates them and starts taking revenge killing the sons in front of their junkie mother, who has a scalpel hidden in her palm.

Park has now located Chan Youg-mi. He ties her in a chair and starts torturing her, using violence and shock treatments to get information fron her. She remains defiant, but tells him that killing Yossun was an accident. She also warns him that she's part of a terrorist group whichshe has given Park's picture, so if anything happens to her, "they'll kill him, 100%" and that if he wants to live he should leave. Park doesn't listen, of course and shocks her to death.The police investigating her death, assume that she was the only member of the terrorist organization.

Ryu is bleeding, having been cut by the mother before killing her. He finds out that Cha Young-mi is dead and ends up in an elevator with the police and her corpse, trying to hide his bleeding. He manages to hold her hand for a moment before getting off, now having a reason for seeking revenge against Park. The police reveal to Park that not only did Ryu kill the organ dealers, but he took all of their kidneys. They urge him to stop looking for Ryu, convinced that he's far more dangerous than they thought.

Park doesn't listen and sneaks up on Ryu, knocking him out, tying him up and bringing him to the river. He unties Ryu when they are both in the water and explains that he knows he's a good guy, but has to kill him regardless. He clearly he takes no joy in it. Of course things don't end quite so simply as there are other consequences waiting to occur, but everything does get resolved.

Be advised that this movie while not extremely gory by horror movie standards, has its fair share of visceral and graphic bloody injury. Even without that, it succeeds at disturbing. Someone getting shocked with a blanket over them, is in my opinion more unsettling than seeing the action. For a revenge movie, it does an interesting job of making all the major players sympathetic. Park and Ryu are not horrible men who deserve to be killed, but the victims of tragedies that all their best intentions can't resolve. Everything that they do. they do for the sake of their family, both knowing that nothing will make things right. The acting is solid throughout, which is vital in a movie, where our lead character shists halfway through and we're asked to not onlt identify with the new lead, but retain sympathy for the original one. Ha-Kyun Shin does an outstanding job portraying a deaf and dumb character, who is not limited by his lack of hearing (other than at one key point) and maintains our interest with only the way he presents himself physically. Kang-ho Song's Park is also played perfectly despite a challenging character. Although oblivious to the world around him, even when his own actions create sufferring, we nevertheless come to understand that he is not malicious, only ignorant and soon too absorbed in his own hurt to change. Doona Bae plays a great counterpoint to the two more serious characters. While not completely unserious, her character's radical nature, and her ability to embrace lunacy, provides a few needed laughs.

Chan-wook Park uses interesting effects, such as cutting out the sound occasionally to give us Ryu's experience and flashing between two similar conversations that both end the same place. He omits certain details, forcing us to make assumptions based on our knowledge of the characters (and doesn't stray from their logic either) Overall it's shot beautifully and has a sense of fluidity that presents these lives as sad and inevitably ruined by circumstances they didn't create or intend. It's definitely not a movie to encourage revenge seekers, as it's completely unglamorous, nobody ends up well, and the best they can hope for is to be glad that it's over.  While the story is about as far from happy as it gets, it's nonetheless touching in it's own way to see the lengths that they will go to maintain what they love even when the object is gone. These are not caricatures, but people that are seriously broken, by their own depth of feeling, leaving us with not a celebration of violence, but a mournful look at the mess it makes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

True Romance

Clarence (Christian Slater) is a lowly clerk at a comic book store, who happens to love kung fu movies and Elvis. The problem is he's lonely and doesn't understand why a woman won't go see a Sonny Chiba triple feature with him on his birthday.

Going by himself, no doubt his initial plan anyway, he's lucky enough to get popcorn spilled on his lap by Alabama (Patricia Arquette) She not only watches all three kung fu movies with him, but takes him out for pie afterwards. They hit it off wonderfully and before long he has her in bed. Certainly a great birthday, but a little too good to be true.

He soon hears the catch when Alabama reveals that she's a call girl, hired by Clarence's boss as a secret birthday present. She has however, fallen instantly in love with Clarence and just wants to be with him. Clarence takes it all in stride, as he's just as smitten. They waste no time, getting married the next morning, and start their life as couple. Alabama reveals that a guy named Drexl (Gary Oldman) was her pimp, and this knowledge doesn't sit well with Clarence. While considering this, Elvis (Val Kilmer from the neck down) appears behind Clarence in the bathroom mirror and convinces him to get rid of Drexl, also adding "I like you Clarence, Always have, Always will."

Drexl meanwhile establishes himself as a seriously dangerous character. He not only pimps but deals cocaine He casually shoots some thugs he's dealing with without missing a beat, as a punchline to a joke. Oldman creates quite a character in Drexl, a psychopath in dreadlocks, covered with scars who also happens to believe that he's black. When Clarence comes calling he isn't threatened, although Clarence reveals a bit of psychosis himself, not backing down in the slightest. After a bit of a struggle Drexl has Clarence at his mercy and brags to his assistant:
Drexl: He must have thought it was white boy day. It ain't white boy day, is it?
Marty: No man, It ain't white boy day.

Clarence turns the tables on Drexl, and kills him, forgetting that he left his driver's license in his hand. On the way out he takes a large amount of cocaine and heads back to Alabama. They decide to find Clarence's friend Dick (Michael Rappaport) in Hollywood, to get help selling it. They hit the road stopping in to see Clarence's father, Clifford (Dennis Hopper,) who used to be a cop. Clarence wants him to check and see what information the cops have about Drexl's murder. He establishes that they assumed it was drug related, possibly Blue Lou Boyle, a powerful mob figure that Drexl was tied in with. Clarence leaves the number and address for Dick's place with his Dad and they're off.

It turns out, however, that Blue Lou's men aren't far behind. Led by Jimmy Coccotti (Christopher Walken)they pay Clifford a visit. Coccotti makes it clear that things won't be pleasant. introducing himself:
Coccotti: You know who I am, Mr. Worley?
Clifford Worley: I give up. Who are you?
Coccotti: I'm the Anti-Christ. You got me in a vendetta kind of mood. You tell the angels in heaven you never seen evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you. My name is Vincent Coccotti. I work as counsel for Mr. Blue Lou Boyle, the man your son stole from. I hear you were once a cop so I can assume you've heard of us before. Am I correct?
Clifford Worley: I've heard of Blue Lou Boyle.
Coccotti: I'm glad. Hopefully that will clear up the "how full of shit am I?" question you've been asking yourself.

 They soon start working him over, but Clifford doesn't give up anything. Realizing he's not walking away he manages an act of defiance, by asking for a cigarette and telling the Sicilian Coccoti a story about the Sicilian lineage. Coccotti doesn't appreciate this and kills Clifford. They also find Dick's address on the fridge. Despite the outcome, it's a treat to watch Walken and Hopper play off each other.

Clarence and Alabama have reached Dick's place, meeting Dick's roommate Floyd (Brad Pitt,) a pothead who never leaves the couch but listens to everyone's conversations. Dick is amazed at the amount of cocaine, and they conclude they'll need a big money person, as Clarence wants to sell it all at once and fast. Fortunately Dick goes to acting class with Eliot (Bronson Pinchot) who is assistant to super successful producer Lee Donowitz. Donowitz agrees to do the deal but wants a sample before setting up the meeting.
Blue Lou's man, Virgil stops by Dick's and find Floyd is very helpful, giving them Clarence and Alabama's hotel without any coercion at all, muttering under his breath once they're well out of earshot  "Don't condescend me, man. I'll fuckin' kill ya, man"
Elliot has been busted with the sample bag of coke all over his face. The cops pressure him and threaten him with the prospect of prison sex, and he quickly breaks and agrees to wear a wire for the meet, helping them bust Donowitz in exchange for dropping his own charges.
Virgil quickly finds the hotel. Clarence has gone out for food so Alabama is alone. She tries to claim she's someone else, but Virgil doesn't buy it, beating her horrificly. She tries to fight back but Virgil seriously overpowers her. She doesn't tell him anything but he eventually finds the cocaine under the bed. Although Alabama can barely move, she holds a corkscrew up to Virgil. Admiring her spirit, he puts down his gun and toys with her offering a free shot. She surprises him by jamming it into his foot, which allows another struggle  culminating in Alabama hitting him over the head with a toilet lid, lighting him on fire with lit hairspray and finally shooting him. Clarence gets back soon after, and they clean her up and put her in a hooded sweatshirt hoping to downplay the injuries.
Clarence, Alabama and Dick meet up with Elliot and head over to meet Donowitz. Clarence nearly kills Eliot in the elevator because he has a bad feeling. Elliot doesn't handle it well and starts crying and pleading "I wish someone would come take me away." The police laugh at Elliot from a room down the hall from Donowitz, expressing their like for Clarence's crazy wild man behavior. They don't pick up on Elliot's strange pleading, Clarence apologizes and they head for the meet.
They spend some time chatting with Donowitz. Clarence admires his film "Coming Home in a Body bag" He convinces Donowitz that he's on the level, while Elliot tries to stay close enough that the cops can hear everything through the wire. Donowitz has mercenary type bodyguards with automatic weapons protecting him. Clarence visits the bathroom for another conference with Elvis, as the cops storm in unaware that the bodyguards really hate cops. Of course Blue Lou's men are also en route, and there is soon a ridiculous amount of shooting which we hope Clarence and Alabama can get through.
Ultimately. True Romance is a movie which lives up to it's title. Tony Scott delivers an ugly world full of bright colors and copious amounts of blood and action. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino's script and truly top notch acting talent, the dialogue is just as exciting. We end up with a twisted fairytale about Romeo and Juliet, if they'd had no families, and been influenced by Elvis, poverty and pop culture. The character's aren't deep but they don't need to be with as much talent as is assembled here. Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper all turn in vividly memorable performances.
Christian Slater was great here as the low key yet surprisingly competent oddball. Watching him here it's easy to see why he was predicted as a major talent to watch. Patricia Arquette shows the most range, able to convincingly play eager arm candy as well as a woman who can bash a man's head in with a toilet lid. Their morals are a bit flexible, but one thing that we never doubt is that Clarence and Alabama really love each other. That alone lets them navigate through the treacherous, and ugly environment around them. It's surprisingly sweet for such a graphic and dark movie, but that's alright sometimes. As Alabama says,

"I had to come all the way from the highway and byways of Tallahassee, Florida to MotorCity, Detroit to find my true love. If you gave me a million years to ponder, I would never have guessed that true romance and Detroit would ever go together. And til this day, the events that followed all still seems like a distant dream. But the dream was real and was to change our lives forever. I kept asking Clarence why our world seemed to be collapsing and things seemed to be getting so shitty. And he'd say, "that's the way it goes, but don't forget, it goes the other way too." That's the way romance is... Usually, that's the way it goes, but every once in awhile, it goes the other way too.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara) is the proud owner of a strip club.He makes a point of being well dressed and he feels important in his own sleazy environment. It's clear right away that he owes a payment to a criminal organization. He enjoys his work in every detail. He very quickly makes the last payment and gets himself out of the hole. He tells the guy taking his payment that "you're a lowlife, no offense, You have no style and I don't ever want to see you again."
The thug responds "don't push it" but nonetheless Cosmo is off the hook and free to do his own thing.

He finds a bar and goes out to celebrate. he starts out drinking by himself and when a girl at a nearby table asks him what he's looking at, he can't help but tell her that he "has a golden life." and that "he's grateful."

The next day he gets dressed in a tux, and starts making the rounds picking up "his girls" Sherry, Margo and Rachel in a limo, insisting that they get dressed up too, even bringing outfits for them. They accompany him to a private poker game, where he promptly gets himself in debt again, claiming he was promised unlimited credit, which gets everyone laughing. He's detained in order to settle his debt. This lender though, isn't as lenient as his last arrangement, and makes a habit of getting payment immediately. All debtors are called into a room with Mort Weil (Seymour Cassel) the casino owner. They ask for his license and credit cards and inquire how he plans to pay the $23,000.00 he owes them. He explains that he puts all of his money back into his business. He tries to be friendly with them, as if they're colleagues, but they don't return his affability, requiring him to sign some forms. The girls are forced to wait through the process.

He drops off his girls and considers how to get some cash quickly. He runs into a waitress who recognizes him and wants to audition for his club. While the audition starts well, Rachel, one of his regular girls, and possibly his girlfriend, shows up and in a jealous fit, attacks the new prospect, cutting it short and sending her running away. Cosmo isn't angry with Rachel though, comforting her as he explains that "I'm a club owner. I deal in girls." Besides the girls, the club employs Mr. Fascination (Meade Roberts) and odd man who fancies himself artistic. He sings badly and involves the girls in poor sketches. The audience doesn't have much tolerance for him, but tolerates his presence as long as the girls show their skin.

Mort comes to visit the club with an entourage. They ask him about his mortgage. They know he doesn't have the money and start talking about a "punk Chinese Bookie" they can't get to. Cosmo reveals that he fought in Korea and killed some people in the war. They propose that he kill the bookie. He initially declines, bragging about being a club owner and how he built himself up from nothing. He says that he's interested in reducing the debt but not eliminating it. (killing the bookie) After some back and forth, they suggest that he take his girls and use them to draw out the bookie (he likes beautiful girls) go locate him and invite him to his club to reduce the debt by $10,000.00.

He starts to reconsider, when Mort comes by the club and asks him to step outside. He presents it to Mort as "I'm going to do you a favor, I don't want to reduce the debt." Mort is insistent that he come outside and after they hit Cosmo a few times they force him into a car and make it clear that they're willing to kill him. They give him a car, a map, a gun and specific instructions for dealing with the bookie's dogs, guards, and locks. Cosmo heads out to do it, seeing no choice in the matter any longer. He has some difficulty with the car which breaks down on the highway while he's driving, so he finds a gas station and calls a cab. Despite his crisis, he also takes the opportunity to check on the club, getting angry about only having two girls on stage and the music choice. He stops at a bar and orders meat for the dogs and then sets out for the bookie's place.

The guards don't seem to notice him at all and he makes his way into the bookie's quarters to find the old man in a hot tub with a younger woman. He waits for her to leave and confronts him when the bookie returns to the hot tub alone. The girl was close by however, and sees him shoot the bookie. The guards come running and he's forced to kill some of them on his way out, getting shot himself. He catches a passing bus and heads home then switching taxis as they'd planned for him. He collapses once inside, but still insists on getting to the club. Mort and his people hear that the Bookie's dead, and are obviously surprised. Mort appears angry about it and quite surprised.

Cosmo gets back to the club. checking on every detail. He notices Flo one of Mort's guys
waiting for him. Flo insists that Cosmo come along to meet his "friends." Cosmo is wary when Flo brings them to an abandoned building and honks the horn. Flo can't bring himself to kill Cosmo, respecting his guts and what he's accomplished. Cosmo sees him struggling and tells him "Do yourself a favor. You're an amateur. Take a walk." Flo agrees and driving out as Mort drives in, he tells Mort "That's my friend in there. Take care of him. He's your problem." Mort acts as if he's Cosmo's friend, apologizing he tells Cosmo that the bookie was more than a bookie, and was really the heaviest guy on the west coast, so much so that they could never touch him. They set up Cosmo to get him out of the way and to take the heat for it. They could then take over his club and have their competitor out of the way.

While they talk another car pulls in. Cosmo punches Mort, when he realizes someone else is there. He looks around for Cosmo with gun in hand. Cosmo hides playing a cat and mouse game with the thug by making noises in different parts of the warehouse.  We don't see the resolution but Cosmo ends up back at home, suspicious after overhearing Peggy (Rachel's mother) on the phone. She tells him she doesn't want him there anymore as she knows from the bullet wound that he's in trouble, and she doesn't want to know about it.

He runs back to the club to find an empty stage, with the audience calling for a show. He finds everyone in the dressing room and  tells them to give the customers a show.Mr. Sophistication is having problems,because he doesn't feel he's getting his due. He gives them all a speech, telling them that what people think of each other is different than what they really are. He encourages them to go give a show, and make them smile. He then takes the opportunity to address the audience acknowledging everyone in the club for their work and revealing that Rachel isn't coming back. Cosmo is still bleeding and obviously in pain. His jacket, once out of the club and under the streetlights, is visibly soaked in blood as Mr. Sophistication sings badly and the crowd calls for the girls to take their clothes off.

Cassavetes constructs a rough world, gritty and completely unpolished. The only thing beautiful in it are the girls, and they are only spectacle. He doesn't obsess over every detail, leaving many things ambiguous. It doesn't matter exactly how things happen, as much as what does happen and why.It doesn't matter exactly what Mort's guys are doing in the car to intimidate Cosmo, or why the car breaks down. These are minor details which only serve to produce the next action along the course, which is already clearly set. Cosmo determined that himself, at the beginning of the movie. Free and clear after seven years, he doesn't wait one full day before getting himself in debt to the mob again. He's in love with a certain perception of himself and has created a world to support that. He imagines himself as a shady underworld character and when reality is added to his perception and rather than just skirt the underworld, he must participate in it, the consequences are too real for his facade to maintain.

Gazzara's acting is brilliant and his Cosmo is a believable character, pathetic while trying to present himself as grandiose. The depth of his performance is amazing, as we can see that Cosmo's smallest gesture has probably been practiced in the mirror a thousand times, yet still doesn't convince anyone. Add to this a character who can calmly kill a man, and still keep his club his main concern and you have a person with an amazing capacity to self destruct. Seymour Cassel, is great here too, although it's tough to say that, as he does a wonderful job at being impossible to like. The ability to warmly smile and shake your hand while telling you how he set you up is reprehensible and feels completely authentic.

"The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" is a wonderful film, but don't mistake it for an action movie. It's simply the meticulous filming of a man's final steps towards his own destruction.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Albino Alligator

Three small time criminals in New Orleans, have a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This isn't too hard to believe as planning isn't their strong suit. Milo (Gary Sinise), Dova (Matt Dillon) and Law (William Fitchner) start out fleeing the botched robbery of a copper works. They set off an alarm before the robbery even started and need to get a little distance as they are in a stolen car.

Dova is the most well rounded of the three and the closest thing to a leader of the group. That doesn't mean however, that Milo or Law respect his decisions. While they make their getaway, ATF agents are performing a stakeout along the route. Jumping over train tracks while the warning lights are flashing and narrowly missing a train, they accidentally run over an agent in the street without even realizing it. When the agent's colleagues pursue them, the sociopathic Law causes an accident which sends another agent through a windshield and seriously injures Milo.

In order to take a look at Milo's condition and lay low for a bit, they duck into "Dino's Bar" an underground bar that used to be a prohibition era speakeasy, with no windows or back door.  Dova is already frazzled when they get there. He tells the bartender/owner, Dino, (M. Emmett Walsh) that they just need to use the bathroom. When Dino exclaims that he doesn't need a bathroom but an ambulance, Dova pulls his gun and turns it into a hostage situation. Janet (Faye Dunaway) a bar employee, makes her dislike obvious, insulting Dova and setting him more on edge. When he asks her what it will take to make her shut up she responds "If you're not gonna bite, then don't bark." One of the customers, Danny (Skeet Ulrich) attempts to hide behind a pool table until Dova calls him to come out. That leaves two more customers in the bar, Jack (John Spencer) a bar regular, and Guy Foucard(Viggo Mortensen) who sits quietly at a table.

Law attends to Milo in the bathroom at the same time. Milo is bloody and barely conscious, but Law decides to hit him in the face and knock him out.

Dova notices Guy Foucard (Viggo Mortensen) who hasn't said a word since they arrived. Dova tells him that his being quiet, means he's smart, and he's concerned that being smart could cause problems for them. After warning him, the phone starts ringing, which turns out to be Dino's wife calling him to see if he needs a ride home. This angers Dova as Dino had offered to give them his car, now obviously a ploy to get them out of the bar.

The police have already found them at the bar and set up camp outside. Led by Agent Browning (Joe Mantegna,) they wait for back up. Browning, however doesn't know anything about the three thieves and is instead under the impression that the guy they were watching is the killer. Dova talks over strategy with Law, trying to appear in charge without killing anybody. Law doesn't seem to think that's good enough, but agrees to follow Dova's plan for the time being. When Dino surprises Law holding a shotgun to his back to convince Dova to disarm. He gets surprised himself when Law turns the situation around and beats him to death.

Milo wakes up and attempts to help calm things down. He takes a dig at Law for his brutality. Law answers by taunting them but does restrain himself. Milo convinces Dova to talk to the police in order to buy time. Janet keeps asking to go to the bathroom which causes Milo to intervene on her behalf. Dova and Janet butt heads when he asks her about a secret exit, figuring that being a prohibition era bar originally, they would likely have an escape. Danny steps in and volunteers the information bringing Dova and Law into a tunnel to take a look. While they're investigating Milo tries to talk to Janet decently. She attempts to play on his sympathy to convince him to talk his partners into letting them go.  She upsets him by insulting Dova, who he reveals is his brother. In the tunnel, Law questions Dova's commitment to getting drastic if need be. Dova, frustrated and eager not to lose control, insists that he'll do whatever it takes, but insists that he won't hurt Milo and reassures Law that Milo is thinking of a plan to get them out of there.

Realizing the tunnel doesn't lead outside, they return to the bar. Law starts suggesting that they kill people to give the cops a message. Milo insists that they don't hurt anybody. Dova still wants to avoid violence if possible. The three of them argue about it without progress, when the quiet patron, Guy, speaks up telling Dova they have to leave now, suggesting that they release hostages one by one, temselves included, as the cops don't know what they look like. They deliberate and decide that they'll release a hostage with every demand that's met. Guy pockets a dart from the dartboard on his way to the restroom unnoticed by any of them.

Outside, Agent Browning is annoyed that the press is arriving. A reporter asks him if he'll answer some questions. He agree, but makes her interview unusable by cursing profusely in his answers. Everyone in the bar is relaxing for a moment, Dova playing a game of pool with Danny, when Law watching the game, tells Dova he should  "albo gator." Dova has no idea what he means and Law explains that when albino alligators are born they're weak and useless except for use as a sacrifice. The gators will send out the albino to draw out a rival and then surround him, which means the end of the albino, but an advantage for the alligators who then consume the rival's territory. "Deliberate sacrifice for a deliberate gain." he finishes, pointing at the table. He suggests that this technique translates into leaving Danny no shot by placement of the cue ball, but obviously Law has another use in mind. Dova takes the suggestion and parks the cue ball.

Janet takes a moment to apologize to Dova in the restroom, suggesting that she go out with him, as she won't crack under questioning. He hears her out but only agrees to consider it. They catch the news coverage of their stand off in the bar, and realize that they are on the hook for the deaths of three officers. They come up with a list of demands an empty bus with tinted windows and a driver which will take them to a private jet. The reporter outside okays a request to run a picture of the killer, and Guy's face is soon on the television, although only Guy sees it as they have stopped watching the news, and he manages to keep anyone from noticing.

Milo confronts Dova and Law, making Dova swear on their mother's grave that they won't kill anyone. He asks Law to swear, but Law only swears that they won't kill anyone "unless they have to." Agent Browning tells the agents that if there's another gunshot, they're going in. The news repeats the story about Guy and this time they all catch it. Guy pretends he doesn't know anything about it, but Law puts a gun to his head and tells him that Law will break his fingers if he doesn't tell them what's going on. Law is eager to prove he's serious and breaks a finger before he has a chance to answer anything. Law breaks a second one when they catch him in a lie. He admits that the police are looking for him. They lock the hostages in a closet to discuss the situation. Dova thinks that killing Guy and giving him to the cops will let them go free. Milo doesn't think it will work as they have evidence in the car and all the witnesses and doesn't want to see anyone killed.  He doesn't realize that Dova and Law are planning to kill all the witnesses. Milo insists that their only option is to leave as hostages, being released one by one in exchange, as they had planned originally. Milo is getting weaker as they talk, now not even able to stand up for any length of time. He asks Dova for his gun and insists that he'll stop this.

Milo is too weak to fight though, and Dova wrestles the gun away while Law knocks him to the ground. Law reminds Dova that he "promised to see it through to the end no matter what his brother said." Milo is hurt as Dova swore on their mother's grave not to kill anyone. Dova only answers that things have changed. Law and Dova start beating on Guy and Milo starts crawling for the door insisting he doesn't want any part of it and is turning himself in. This prompts Dova to pull a gun on his brother. This is the last straw for Milo. Aware that he's dying already, he takes out a pocket knife and cuts his own wrists.

Outside the cops are preparing to charge in, rigging the door with explosives. In the bar, they bring the hostages out of the closet and Law starts beating on Jack with Dova making no attempt to restrain him. Milo calls Dova's attention to his wrists, calling him "Boss" to halt the beating. Law is preparing to beat the other hostages to death, while Dova sits with his dead brother. Danny reveals that Janet is his mother, which makes Law pause for a moment. She promises that neither of them will say a word if they get out. She begs them, reminding Dova of his brother's wishes. Dova doesn't trust her and proposes that she has to kill the last remaining hostage herself to ensure her silence.

The police rush in blowing the door off. Guy who has been playing more injured than he was pulls the dart from his jacket and stabs Law, grabbing his gun just in time for the cops to see him with it and shoot both he and Law dead. Janet watches as they wheel away Jack's corpse. Dova, Janet and Danny are caught by the press. The reporter asks Dova how it feels to be a hero. He has no answer and Danny interrupts saying he's not a hero. Janet steps in and say "I think he means that none of us are."

Albino Alligator is Kevin Spacey's first film and a strong effort, although not without it's flaws. While certainly shot on a small budget, the rare change of scenery makes it feel more like a play than a film. It lacks a sense of continuity in that each location feels like it's own world rather than everything being a part of the whole. Mantegna's scene's outside the bar, may as well be in a different town as they just don't feel connected strongly enough. I can accept this for the most part as the main interest is watching the three men interact and claw at each other once they're confined. Fichtner is wonderful as a sociopath with a heavy New Orleans accent. He comes across as cold and as eager to kill somebody as he is to escape. Sinise is his opposite, totally without malice, reasoning and unwilling to be part of violence, even if it means he doesn't escape. Dillon is terrific as the conflicted middleman, who has to keep charge at all costs, but has no idea what he's doing. He tells everyone what he thinks they want but without conviction, which is obvious to everyone but him.

The dialogue while mostly smart and intriguing, does have moments of exposition showing through. All in all it ends up an entertaining piece with good acting and a solid story full of tension and uncertain loyalties where anyone may be capable of more or less than you think. The World of "Albino Alligator" is a random and uncaring one, where being smart or brutal isn't enough to save you, your best bet is to avoid taking a firm position and try to please everyone for as long as you can, hope for a little luck, and just buy yourself some time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


"A good cop can't sleep because a piece of the puzzles missing. A bad cop can't sleep because his conscience won't let him"

Insomnia is a movie about a man who makes a mistake and becomes a victim of his own moral code. Al Pacino is Will Dormer, a world renowned police detective. Dormer and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan), two LA cops are "loaned" to the Nightmute Alaska police department to help solve a difficult murder case. They are greeted by Officer Ellie Burr (Hillary Swank) who is a huge fan of Dormer, having studied all of his cases and read all of his books.

It comes to light at the Department that Dormer is under investigation by IA. Dormer dismisses it as something that will "blow over" The department is thrilled to have them anyway and the chief tells his men to help them however they require. He does have to inform Dormer that IA has required updates on their activities.

Dormer checks out Kay's body, concluding that she's the killer's first victim but there will certainly be more to come.
"He crossed the line and didn't blink. You don't come back from that." he says.

They soon visit Kay's home and gather details about her. He finds a designer dress and some jewelry nicer than her high schooler boyfriend could afford and concludes she had an "admirer" of some kind. He asks if they can go right down to the school and find her boyfriend, seeing bright daylight outside, and is surprised when they inform him that it's 10:00 at night and it doesn't get dark.

Dormer and Hap go out for dinner and discuss the IA investigation. Hap tells Dormer that he's agreed to cut a deal. Dormer tries to talk Hap out of it from many different angles, most prominently, not wanting to damage the cases of everyone he's put away. Hap has already made up his mind though, and Dormer is very upset about his decision. Ellie picks them up in the morning and Dormer asks her about the normal police calls she handles. She tells him that she's only allowed to deal with misdemeanors and Dormer encourages her.
Dormer: You shouldn't knock misdemeanors.
Det. Ellie Burr: Oh, but it's small stuff. It gets so boring.
Dormer: It's all about small stuff. You know, small lies, small mistakes. People give themselves away, same in misdemeanors as they do on murder cases. It's just human nature.

They head to the school to question Randy, Kay's boyfriend. Randy presents a rebellious teenager attitude, lighting a cigarette in the middle of the classroom and trying foolishly to intimidate Dormer with an outburst. Dormer breaks him down pretty quickly telling him that he knows he beat her, and reminding him that he doesn't want to be the last person who saw her.Randy reveals that he knew she was seeing someone else, but couldn't get the information from her.

Dormer dispenses advice to Ellie throughout, the two developing a running joke about Ellie writing what he says down. Dormer and Hap manage to function alright on the job. Kay's bag soon turns up containing her diary and some books. Dormer suggests filling the bag with books and putting it back where it was found while issuing a press release that they're trying to locate it. He plans to catch the killer on his way to recover the bag, presumably aware that it might contain something to implicate him. Dormer and Hap have an argument about following procedure, as Dormer wants to avoid IA interfering in the case afterwards. The chief tells them to do what they have to and not to let IA "cut his balls off."

They replace the bag. Dormer, Hap, Ellie and another officer stake out the cabin and see a man entering. An accidental squawk from the megaphone alerts him that they're there and he runs. They chase after him but the surrounding area is incredibly foggy. One of the officers is shot and injured chasing the killer through the fog. Dormer fires into the fog and shoots Hap. Realizing this, he tries to explain that he couldn't see him, but Hap dies very quickly. Dormer also picks up the killers gun which he find on the ground near Hap. He lets the police believe that the killer shot Hap, and calls Hap's wife who asks him not to arrest the guy, but to kill him.

Ellie is put in charge of investigating Hap's shooting. She asks Dormer to confirm some details about what occurred. Dormer visits the hospital to talk with the Alaskan officer who was shot. He's recovering well, but Dormer really wants to know if he saw what happened. The officer tells him he didn't see anything as he was on the ground in pain. They return to the scene of the chase and find the shell casing from a .38 mm, they also get a call that they found the bullet in Hap, and plan to try to match them up. While watching everyone comb the area, Dormer hallucinates and sees Hap in the search party.

Dormer gets a call at the diner from IA, letting him know that they're very interested in the report on the shooting. He tells them off in front of the waitress. He's tired but unable to sleep, due to the light and his thoughts. This gets complicated when he gets a call in his room from the killer who tells him he saw Dormer shoot his partner.

Dormer finds an alley with a dead animal in it and fires a bullet into it from the killer's discarded gun and pulls it out afterwards, switching it with the autopsy bullet. Dormer is still completely unable to sleep. Ellie keeps asking him about his recollection of the incident as some of the details don't match up. At Kay's funeral, Dormer convinces Kay's best friend to take a ride with him. She's impressed that he's a worldly, older  LA cop. He shuts down her ideas quickly playing chicken with a tractor trailer.  The killer calls him at the police station needling him about his partner's murder while trying to suggest they have a lot in common. Dormer realizes that Kay's favorite author Walter Finch lives very close to the murder scene and investigates, breaking into his apartment (without revealing this to other officers) he grabs a picture of Finch (Robin Williams,) who returns home while Dormer is there, but doesn't enter realizing there's someone inside. Dormer chases him, but Finch escapes by running over logs in a river, piled for a logging company. In his tired condition, he falls between them and nearly drowns.

Dormer runs back to Finch's apartment knowing he won't return. Finch knows he'll do this and addresses Dormer on his answering machine message. With a second call he gets Dormer to pick up.He tells him where the aspirin is and tells him to feel free to take a shower and a nap. They arrange to meet the next day in public. Dormer hides the .38 in the apartment while he's there.

At the station, Ellie has become suspicious of Finch (Robin Williams) on her own, connecting Kay's autographed books and the fact that he lives in the area. Dormer congratulates her, trying to act surprised. Meanwhile Dormer meets Finch on a ferry. Finch tries to make Dormer sympathetic, acting as if they're alike. Dormer isn't interested, telling Finch he's just his job. Finch suggests that they both help each other. Dormer explains that he will be called in for questioning due to the signed copies of Finch's books that Kay had. Finch lets him know that he plans to point them towards Randy. Dormer advises Finch to let the police find Randy themselves, so they'll believe it more. Walking away, Finch shows Dormer a tape recorder he had in his jacket while they talked.

Unable to sleep, Dormer tries to cover his windows, and starts revisiting his memories of the shooting, visualizing a scene where he does see Hap clearly, takes aim and shoots him. Finch interrupts his reverie with a phone call and tells him what happened to Kay. He explains that she came to him looking for comfort after Randy beat her up. He kissed her and she laughed at him, which hurt his feelings enough that he hit her which escalated into a panicked murder.

Ellie picks him up in the morning, and asks him about looking forward to returning to LA. (She had seen in a newspaper that the investigation against Dormer was intensifying) She remarks that he hasn't been sleeping and she wants to know he's okay, quoting one of his own quotes at him
"A good cop can't sleep because a piece of the puzzle's missing. A bad cop can't sleep because his conscience won't let him" Ellie is clearly concerned.

Dormer sits in on Finch's questioning. Finch surprises him by telling the officer's that Randy had a gun, which he hid in a heating vent (Dormer hid Finch's .38 in a vent at Finch's apartment)  They call the judge for a search warrant for Randy's place. Dormer excuses himself early and rushes over to Randy's house searching for the gun but he doesn't find it. They release Finch and before he leaves, Ellie tells him she'll come pick up the letters Kay wrote to him. The police rush into the building forcing Dormer to hide while they search. They recover the gun and arrest Randy. Randy claims he was with Kay's best friend when the murder happened. Dormer says Kay's friend told him the same thing. Dormer meets with Finch again, threatening him this time. He tells Finch he's going to tell them everything. Finch tries to talk him out of it. Dormer is now visibly exhausted and having a hard time focusing on anything.

Ellie, after discovering a 9 mm. shell casing on the beach near Hap's shooting, searches police reports and finds that Dormer carries a 9 mm. back up weapon. She finds Dormer and the other officers at the bar and reveals her discovery, stating that none of them have a 9 mm. duty weapon or back up. "Right?" She asks, which Dormer doesn't respond to. She also asks Dormer to confirm that it's a valid piece of evidence, he tells her the case is closed and not to worry about it. The other officers dismiss her find. 

Dormer is due to leave for LA the next morning, so everyone says their goodbyes at the bar. Ellie reveals that she's going to pick up Finch's letters. Dormer returns to his room to attempt to sleep. The innkeeper/diner waitress comes to his room to check on a noise complaint (Dormer trying to block up the windows) He describes a horrific case of a child murderer, who was going to go free. He admits that he took blood samples from the child's body and planted them at the killer's apartment.
"I could feel it right then. This is gonna catch up with me. i don't do things like that." He explains that Hap cutting a deal would mean the case would be reopened and the killer could go free. He asks her her opinion and she says "I guess it's about what you thought was right at the time, then what you're willing to live with."

Ellie takes off to collect the letters. Dormer breaks into Finch's apartment and finds the address for his lake house. He calls the station and they tell her Ellie is headed to get the letters. He fears she's in danger and heads for the house. Finch meanwhile acts as if he's searching for letters. Ellie notices Kay's clothes in a plastic bag in one of his bureau drawers. She's obviously suspicious, but Finch surprises her and knocks her out. Dormer has a very difficult time driving as he can barely focus.He arrives and confronts Finch who has Ellie hidden in a locked room. He tells Dormer that she knows about Hap, and they have to do something to keep her quiet. Dormer demands to know where Ellie is and when it's clear he won't cooperate, Finch overpowers Dormer. Ellie gets out of the room while they fight. She pulls a gun and Finch runs. Ellie keeps the gun on Dormer, asking if he meant to shoot Hap. Dormer states that he isn't sure anymore, recalling how afraid Hap was when he approached him afterwards.

Finch starts firing at them with a shotgun from another building. Ellie and Dormer work together to get Finch, Ellie shooting through the window while Dormer breaks through the floor and sneaks up on Finch. He shoots Finch but gets shot back with the gun he had stowed. Finch falls into the water beneath the build, dead. Dormer stumbles out and finds Ellie coming for him. He collapses unable to even move. Ellie tells him that nobody needs to know about Hap as she knows he didn't mean to do it, even if he doesn't. Dormer prevents her from throwing the shell casing in the water and says "No. Don't lose your way.Let me sleep." He dies. and Ellie puts the casing back in the evidence bag.

Insomnia is less about a murder investigation, than a story of a man who crosses his own moral line and doesn't know how to repair it. The fact that he has strong beliefs and convictions only make this more difficult. The fact that the shooting happens while he's lost in this grey area causes him to slip further, guided in part by his own good intentions. The trouble is, even as he makes these small decisions, he knows better and can't excuse himself, which finally makes him question things he would normally never doubt. Given the right circumstances it's easy to lose your way.

Watching Pacino in this part, it's amazing how well he plays the increasing exhaustion, at times appearing as if he's forgotten how to move and even walking appears a major effort. Pacino is also great at showing his troubles in his face. You don't doubt that this is a man wrestling with thoughts that could kill him, while at the same time being a super competent detective. He carries the contradiction perfectly.

Robin Williams is also terrific as a soft spoken killer, who asks for sympathy in the same sentence where he describes beating a girl to death. His malice is concealed well and you almost believe that he's more concerned for Dormer's welfare, than the prospect of his own punishment. Hillary Swank does a fine job as the eager admirer, forced to question her would be mentor. Although her part isn't as significant as Pacino and Williams, she works perfectly for the story.

Christopher Nolan creates a tight and compelling picture of a smart man caught in a nightmare he created himself. He did wrong for the right reasons but can't convince himself that the end justifies the means. Framed against an accidental shooting and daylight that never goes away, you wonder if he can ever extricate himself. How far over the line can you go before you can't get back? For Dormer, who lives by his principles, the way back was lost as soon as he crossed the line. Perhaps if left to his usual routine, he could've avoided the realization longer. The drastic departure into a world where everything is exposed to the light of day, and a seemingly mild mannered child killer eager to point out how similar they are leaves him no choice but to confront the line he's crossed and accept that he has lost his way.

I should also point out that "Insomnia" is a remake of a Swedish film of the same name, which is well worth taking a look at. There are some major differences between the two films.