Spoiler Warning

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

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Crossing Guard

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

"The Crossing Guard" is a film about great loss, and the way our personal problems color our ideas, about who we are, and about redemption. The centerpiece of the film is a terrible tragedy, a little girl killed, affecting everyone in this story.We see its effects most visibly via Freddy Gale. We only meet Freddy on the day that John Booth, the drunk driver who killed his daughter Emily, is released. It's clear that this is a day he's waited a long time for.

While it's common for people to say "If anyone ever did something to my family, I'd kill them myself" it's not so common for people to actually do so, but Freddy isn't most people, and this is something he takes very seriously, although he isn't quite sure why. As Booth tells us "he's a serious man." Certainly there's the straightforward appeal of retribution, but Freddy isn't planning to commit the act for it's own sake. We can understand a grieving father not making distinctions between murder and an accident. His daughter isn't here anymore and someone caused this. He hasn't made it past that part of the reasoning, although he's years to do so. It's interesting that in this film the character is a drunk driver, the offense right on the line of responsibility. He didn't mean to murder anyone, but he should certainly have known that drunk driving is reckless and makes many such possibilities possible. If he hadn't been drunk, would it have happened the same way? We don't know, but his drunken state makes it impossible to see him as blameless. You could call it murder and if you loved the victim you most certainly would. He chose to drink too much, and afterwards, he ran. Freddy isn't without good reason for his anger.

Freddy feels he has to tell his ex-wife, Mary. He assures her that when she sees it's happened, she'll feel "Pride and relief." She assures him that despite what he thinks, he isn't doing anything for her sake. Freddy's never even been to Emily's grave, although he won't admit it. Mary equates this with a lack of courage and she may be right. Visiting Emily's grave would make it difficult for Freddy to maintain the fog he lives in.

We come to understand that in the time since Emily's death, Freddy has come completely apart. As he tells John Booth on his first visit, "being a jeweler" is all he's got. We see that the other things "he has" are a lot of drinking, and his associates at his favorite strip club. He sleeps with the girls there, trying to avoid any attachment, but can't even leave it at that. He has to get up in the middle of the night and look for prostitutes. He tells his strip club friends, he hears a sound building in his head, "like a vacuum cleaner." and we get that Freddy just has no idea what to do with himself. He imagines killing John Booth as the solution to everything, but we see that his problems are a lot bigger than that. He has no friends, just the guys that laugh and look at women with him. He has no romantic relationships, ruining even the most casual arrangements. After years, he still calls his ex wife when he sees a happy family meeting in the street. Freddy wants to be the guy he was once, but that guy is gone. As Mary tells him "It's made you so small and weak. I needed you to be big and strong." Clearly she strikes a chord with him, and when she reveals that she pities him, he tells her "I hope you die." The person that he wants is big and strong, and a guy to be proud of. He knows as well as she does that he hasn't been that guy for a long time. Killing Booth is the grand gesture in his mind that will make him that again.

Freddy has the will to do it. He pulls the trigger without hesitation when he first sees John. Of course it can't be as easy as the thought. His gun won't work. John gives him no trouble, practically volunteering himself, asking only for a couple days. Booth is as much of a mess as Freddy is. Neither is sure if they want to lie or die. We see Freddy, when Booth has a gun on him, practically telling Booth to shoot him, announcing he's going to pull his gun. As complications come up, the simplicity of Freddy's idea, kill Booth and be big again" gets complicated, as if he's being urged to question it. The second time he meets John, he's also a drunk driver and someone who endangered another family's little girl by hiding in her room to evade police. These things happen to Freddy, but he doesn't see them. His quest was never based on any logic anyway. Freddy is trying to put a fairy tale back together after everything in the story is gone. He hasn't accepted the fact that he's not with his family anymore, although they have moved on.

It's common for the death of a child to destroy a marriage, and in this marriage we have two very different methods of dealing with the loss. We see Mary attending support groups and visiting Emily's grave with her other kids. She remarries and tries to keep herself together. Freddy on the other hand, does everything he can to ensure that his life doesn't improve, and drinks enough to ensure it. He tells Booth that all he has is "being a jeweler" but he doesn't even apply himself to that, letting his employee run the business while he stays up in his office and drinks. The only thing he sees clearly is that he must kill Booth, everything else is just passing time. His quest is bigger to him than any consequences, as we see when he grabs his gun and runs from the police, knowing that once he's arrested, he won't have a chance anymore. He may assume for a moment that he's succeeded, when he shoots Booth and he doesn't move for a moment, but it doesn't give him any comfort. When he sees John get up, he raises his hands to assure him he won't shoot. Still, he has to follow him and the revelation that booth knows the way to his daughter's grave when he, her father, has never been there, is too much for him to take. He already knows the similarities between him and Booth, as he reveals telling Mary his dream, where Booth is the crossing guard and he is the driver. They're not very different at all, the Booth that killed his daughter, and the Freddy that exists now. It isn't entirely Booth's fault that Freddy let his life fall apart, although he certainly caused some great pain. Freddy's response to loss was to destroy himself, which is his prerogative I suppose, but killing someone else would change nothing for the better. Like Mary, Freddy must arrive at the place where he realizes that people die, very often the wrong people, very easily and all he really has, is how he deals with that and lives his life.

This role is Nicholson at his best, without many of the trademarks he's known for. He's not the sarcastic guy raising famous eyebrows. Freddy Gale is way past that. We meet him just before he hits the bottom he's been circling around. Nicholson gives us a compelling picture of a man always just a step away from breakdown, suspending himself there, with booze and anger. As uncomfortable as it is to watch, we can imagine how uncomfortable it is to be this person. Angelica Huston is just as believable, seeing her and Nicholson together, we can believe they have a shared history. Mary gives us another side of the story. She still keeps her grief, but chooses to live on, as she knows that nothing will fix the situation. She tells us how angry she was and how much she hated Freddy, and glimpses of that come through, but the difference is she works hard not to live there perpetually.

David Morse is fantastic here in a very difficult role. John Booth can never be a sympathetic character, as we know what he did. But, he's not a character who denies what he did either. Prison seems to be a minor thing for him, his most difficult punishment is that he must live with himself. Certainly no amount of time served can make him right. He doesn't argue with Freddy's verdict, even when it's clear that Freddy's gun won't work and he could gain the upper hand in a confrontation. He tells him to come back in a couple days. Jojo tells him she can't compete with John's guilt, and of course she's right, and that's as it should be. It's nice to think of someone living with this weight, rather than trying to deny it. She tells him to come see her when he's ready for life, and that's the biggest connection between him and Freddy, neither of them are ready for life anymore. Also like Freddy, Booth isn't the same guy he was those years ago, both of them have lived every day with Booth's crime and the impossible task of finding peace with the irreconcilable. "It was an accident" Jojo points out, but it isn't so simple. Booth saw the girl he killed, apologizing for not looking both ways before crossing. He wants to die, and it's hard to argue with him or Freddie. But, he's still alive and as a result, he can't help the urge to stay that way. The solid support of his parents likely hurts him as much as helps, as he knows he doesn't deserve people that love him so much after what he's done. On their second visit, his urge to live surfaces, he turns the tables on Freddy, but ultimately, his guilt wins out. He can't stay Freddy's hand, he knows that between the two of them, Freddy has the right.

In the end, it's fitting that John leads Freddy to Emily's grave. "It's pink" he says, as if a revelation. Freddy takes his hand while sobbing, and it doesn't absolve Booth, as much as admit, that while this death can't be fixed, they're alive and they have to go on, at least if they want to live. "Here comes your Daddy. He needs your help." Booth tells Emily's grave, and he's right. The problem of killing Booth is not the only one. Freddy has never been to the grave, he hasn't mourned his daughter, but transferred his grief into the way he lives his life. They share a moment, and nobody says "It's ok." because it's not and never can be, but Freddy has seen how close he's come to what Booth was, a reckless drunk driver, and once he puts aside the task of killing Booth, the piece of Emily he was hanging onto, he realizes he needs to mourn and he wants to live.While there are certainly some difficulties ahead for the both of them, it's a fitting place to leave them, with a little more understanding than they started with. Freddy will never be the guy he used to be, and neither will Booth, and Emily is still gone. That's where they have to start over from.

Written and directed by Sean Penn, the Crossing Guard isn't a perfect film, but it is a powerful one. Penn seems unconcerned with logic at times, as he's more concerned with getting to the emotion he wants to explore. Watching the film in that light, you can enjoy some deep and talented performances. While it may be tough to accept that Freddy's gun wouldn't fire, or that the police wouldn't shoot Freddy the second he grabbed his gun during a traffic stop, then everything works fine. He's clearly looking for emotional logic more than anything else, and he delivers it, not giving us an easy answer to these questions, or even a solution, as much as a long way travelled to achieve a little progress. In light of what happened, that's a reasonable request, and even that little progress is something to see. Emily's gone, and they're still here. It'll always hurt and will never be fair, but that's the only place to pick up from.

What Happens?

The film opens with Mary (Anjelica Huston) sitting in a support group while her ex husband Freddy Gale (Jack Nicholson) is at a strip club. Mary listens to other women tell stories about how they lost loved ones. We see that Freddy is a regular and knows a number of men at the club. Scenes cut back and forth until we cut back to Freddy and the screen tells us "The Father." and then back to Mary, "The Mother" We see her crying at a man's story about missing the self he used to be before his brother died.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Christopher Nolan's Anti Heroes

Everyone's aware of Christopher Nolan these days. He's managed to become one of the most successful directors going. The remarkable thing is that he's seemed to do this on his own terms. While capable of astounding visuals, the most striking thing about him is that he always keeps a focus on story and is usually heavily involved in the writing of his movies. His stories always focus on leading characters who live in the grey areas. Nolan was well regarded from his first film, "Following" and increased his following every time out. His next feature "Memento" left many amazed at his story telling techniques. With "Inception" he accomplished something astounding, developing a big budget blockbuster based on an original story, rather than a proven property (and having that film make a lot of money.) His Batman trilogy would indicate that he isn't afraid to be mainstream either, but it's obvious that even so he'll tell the story his way, giving us a vision of Batman on a scope never seen before on film. Anti heroes have always been his fascination, perhaps because their struggle has the most story potential. They play out the dilemmas most of us face on an exaggerated scale. We don't know that they'll do the "right thing" and many times, they don't even know what that is, as they are usually caught up in their own obsessions. Nolan seems obsessed with obsession, fortunately for us, as we can count on this giving us an engrossing story.

(full review)

Nolan's first film, a black and white neo noir story about a harmless loser, Bill (Jeremy Theobald) who imagines himself a writer. Without gainful employment, he makes a game of following people on the street, for no reason but his own amusement. While this is creepy, it doesn't really break any laws. He's presented with a moral dilemma when he's befriended by a far more sophisticated con man, Cobb (Alex Haw) who sees him as the perfect patsy. Taken in by the excitement of burglarly, particularly the voyeuristic aspects of it (they move items just to let their victims know they were looking at them) and of course the easy money, it doesn't take long before he becomes a whole new person, complete with haircut and nice new wardrobe. Once a woman becomes involved, it becomes clear that he's in way over his head.
"You're developing a taste for it - the violating, the voyeurism... it's definitely you."

(full review)

Leonard (Guy Pearce) is out to avenge his wife's murder. The problem is he can't form new long term memories. He was prepared for his condition however, by one of his cases as an insurance investigator, Sammy Jankis, a man who had a similar condition. Using a system of writing notes to himself, tattooing the most important bits on his body, he devotes himself to finding his wife's killer. Assisted by Officer Teddy Gammell (Joe Pantoliano) and crossing paths with Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) it becomes clear that those aware of Leonard's condition make full use of it to achieve their ends, and Leonard is not above fooling himself in order to find and kill the man named John G.

"Do I lie to myself to be happy?"

(full review)

Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is a legendary homicide detective under investigation by Internal Affairs.His partner, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan)is under scrutiny as well and considering talking to IA, causing friction between the partners. Dormer asserts that I.A.'s findings could let many convicted criminals free.Dormer and Eckhart are sent to Alaska to help investigate the murder of a young girl. Local cop, Ellie Burr (Hillary Swank) who idolizes Dormer helps with the homicide case although she's usually sees no more than misdemeanors. Dormer tells her, "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." In the search for the killer, Eckhart is killed in a manner which Dormer covers up. Before long he finds their homicide suspect, local author Walter Finch (Robin Williams.) The trouble is that Walter knows one of Dormer's secrets. Dormer's stress is compounded by the perpetual daylight of the town, and being unable to sleep as a result. Dormer has to figure out what how to bring in the murderer without sabotaging himself, hoping he hasn't made any of the mistakes that he told Ellie about.
A good cop can't sleep because he's missing a piece of the puzzle. And a bad cop can't sleep because his conscience won't let him.

The Prestige:

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are rival magicians who out together working for the experienced Cutter (Michael Caine) When Borden ties a knot which ends up killing Angier's wife, who can't get free for a water escape trick, the two start a path of enmity. Angier is a gifted showman while Borden is a better technician. The two sabotage each other's acts, but it all changes when Borden introduces a new trick, "The Transported Man" seemingly vanishing and reappearing on stage an impossible distance away for one person to travel. Angier becomes obsessed with the trick, and turns to Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) to build him a device to perform it. He builds a device but advises Angier "I add only one suggestion on using the machine: destroy it. Drop it to the bottom of the deepest ocean. Such a thing will bring you only misery." Their games of oneupmanship costs both of them more than they could've imagined. For a man to be in two places at once it seems, there must be quite a sacrifice.
If you understand an obsession then you know you won't change my mind.

(full review)

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a professional thief. He doesn't steal material things, but the secrets hidden in your dreams, a talent called "extraction." He's the best extractor there is able to manipulate scenarios in dreams within dreams. However, he is unable to return to the US and can't return to see his children, until a man, Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers to get him cleared to return to the US, if he can perform an "Inception," which rather than his usual extraction, is planting an idea in someone's head so that they believe they thought of it. Although believed impossible, Cobb knows it can be done. He assembles the best team possible to do it, including his assistant Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt,) a gifted "architect" Ariadne (Ellen Page) to build the dream worlds they'll need, a forger, Eames (Tom Hardy,) who can duplicate appearances in dreams, and Yusuf, (Dileep Rao) a chemist who can ensure people stay asleep long enough for it to work. Cobb's ex wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard) starts appearing and sabotaging his plans, prompting questions about Cobb's past, and how he knows that Inception can work. Ultimately, the difference between dream worlds and the real world becomes nearly impossible tell and we have to wonder if Cobb himself can always tell the difference.
Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate.

Batman Begins/The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises

Batman is the most popular superhero who most straddles the anti-hero line. Although he's been portrayed in many ways over the years, from the cheesiness of the TV Series and "Batman Forever" to Tim Burton's dark vision, Nolan's treatment starts it all over. He takes an in depth look at the darker side of the super hero. Batman is a "super hero" who is only "super" due to his bank account, intelligence, and obsession, which started the night he saw his parents murdered in the street. In Nolan's trilogy, we see the obsession with go from beginning to end, from the start of his training, in "Batman Begins" which seemed to be less about Batman than the guy who would become Batman, to "becoming a villain" in "The Dark Knight" in order to leave the city some hope, and then back again in "The Dark Knight Rises." While well done super hero movies are not the exception they once were, Nolan's Batman trilogy proves that more can be done with the genre, than fast paced fighting and impressive special effects (not that he skimps on either.) Even for superheroes, the best stories are human stories, and here's a tremendous one, Batman, flaws and all. 
You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Crow

What About It?

"The Crow" is on the surface a very simple story, a straight ahead revenge tale, with supernatural elements. We're told in the beginning that "sometimes, something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can't rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right." The simple story is a very old, personal and powerful one. Certainly we're all familiar with things that happen that are so wrong, it would seem that nothing could ever make it right, hopefully just because we've heard about them. Here, we're dealing with the rape and murder of Eric Draven's fiance, and of course, to a lesser extent, his own murder. Obviously in reality, we don't get this opportunity. And "The Crow" is very honest about what it wants. We're not steered toward a happy ending. Nothing can be erased. This young couple suffered and were killed and that can't be undone.

In the world of The Crow, we have only the knowledge that at least the wrongdoers will pay for what they've done. It's like a possible answer to the question asked many times, as far back as the Biblical book of Jeremiah, which asks "Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?" There's never been a good answer to this question unless answering with the hereafter works for you. Any help of that sort must be limited, because if you're asking the question, you're in this world. Certainly grief is not lessened by talk of mysterious ways or a reminder of the randomness in of the universe. If someone who was everything to you was lost due to cruelty, there's nothing that could make it ok.
But if we could do something, what would we do? Where would we start? Revenge is one answer, and one of the oldest stories in the world, because these dilemmas are just as old. The well known saying about digging two graves, is avoided here, because that already happened. And this isn't just any revenge, this is a man brought back from the dead just to kill the people who so greatly wronged him. For most of the film, we know that the people who committed the crimes, don't have a chance. As Eric tells Gideon "Tell them, death is coming." We can sit secure in the knowledge that an inescapable death is surely on its way to each of these men. We don't have to wrestle with moral quandaries, as we do when the government executes people. These are the guilty parties. They're all monsters and they're going to get what they gave. Eric Draven doesn't need to feel any guilt, this job is the only reason he exists. His actions are so justified that the universe brought him back to life to accomplish them.

But even so, the world of the film makes us ask other questions. The city where the events occur is beyond bleak. The world is perpetual rain and darkness. We meet one policeman who cares about his job, and he's demoted for asking questions.Half of the city is always in flames and no one can do anything about it. Top Dollar pulls the strings behind everything. The surprising thing is that any goodness can exist in this world at all, as it's so overwhelming. "It can't rain all the time." Eric tells, Sarah, but it sure seems to. Set against this landscape, a little goodness is forced to go a long way. And it does. As T-Bird liked to quote "Abashed the devil stood and beheld how awful goodness is." Evil is confronted using its own methods. While good is typically passive, the tables are turned and good is out to actively pursue it's own vendetta, so much so, that it doesn't look like "goodness" anymore, although perhaps it is. An effective element of the story is the surprise that the murderers feel that this could happen. They are comfortable in the knowledge that no one can touch them, but now they're being eliminated by someone who is more untouchable than them. They know it's coming but they must wait in terror. Still this isn't punishment equal to the crime, for that to happen we'd have to make the murderers innocent and then punish them unfairly. That, or make them feel remorse, which they don't seem capable of understanding. At best, it's a start. It's something, when previously there was nothing at all.

While it's clear that Eric is driven by what happened to Shelly, what happened to him bears mentioning. He comes back to life, not even knowing what he is. We see him stumbling out of the grave as he figures out how to walk again. He isn't invulnerable, he can be hurt, but it heals immediately. Certainly he isn't the same guy coming out of the grave as the one who went in. He knows his identity, but knows that he's dead. We see that he tries to avoid Sarah knowing he's there. Although he cares about her welfare, he tells her they can't really be friends because he's dead.  He retains much of his humanity,as we see in interactions with Albrecht and Sarah, but his movements and speech are all off. The delight he feels in doling out punishment is certainly contrary to the guy he once was. He was brought back by his own "terrible sadness." and feels no urge at all, to stick around. He wants nothing more than to reunite with Shelly and be able to tell her that he did something about what happened t them. But here, it isn't even as simple as he thinks it is. He executes the men directly involved, but still can't rest, not until he faces Top Dollar, the man behind the actions. Top Dollar and Myca are a good illustration of the mismatch between good and evil. Even brought back from the dead, Eric's supernatural gifts don't seem enough to deal with them. His invulnerability is taken from him and in the end it's only the purest gesture that evens things out. Where the murderers were murdered because that's the closest thing to justice that was available, it isn't enough for the man behind it. The only thing that stops him is Eric giving him back thirty hours of the pain he caused in one second. That's really Eric's quest, to give back that pain. He must fall back to something more in the realm of good, not a weapon, but a "gift."

Alex Proyas, does a wonderful job creating this nightmare landscape. You won't find any blues and greens in this world, because it's too dark for that. This is where you live, when there's no hope at all and your onlyidea of an angel has arrived to murder people. The soundtrack feeds into it well all hard rock and metal music, to reinforce the lack of softness. Everything is hard edges here, crumbling walls and rooftops. We get that Eric is relieved to return to the grave, because even under the best of circumstances, it isn't easy to live in this city. The world of "The Crow" was based on James O'Barr's graphic novel, although there were certainly changes made for the sake of the screen. Still, for its time it was an outstanding example of a comic book brought to film well. This was long before the explosion of quality comic book movies. It still stands  apart as it isn't really a super hero story, but the spirit of it comes through. It's telling that O'Barr, speaking of the story, departs from the conventional school of catharsis. It didn't help in that way, he's said, there was only anger in the story. That comes through, although the film softens things a bit. But in the end, we can't escape the conclusion that nothing living or dead can even the scales and make what happened acceptable. This is simply an attempt to imagine, what could "goodness" do?

Of course, the film is also well known for being the film in which the lead actor, Brandon Lee was accidentally killed while making. It was very nearly never released due to the tragedy. I recall reading interviews with Lee before it came out, and he was very proud of his work and excited to show it to everyone. His excitement is justified, as the part he plays here is a strong one and he manages to make all the contradictions of the character believable. He's an unstoppable force of vengeance, as well as in some ways, very vulnerable, and neither makes the other less believable. Although he was an accomplished martial artist, he tailored his movements here, to the character, not showing any martial arts, but the clumsy grace of a man who isn't afraid to get hurt. A perfect example is when he bats away Tin Tin's knife as if it were a baseball. He falls backwards from a rooftop and laughs landing on his back. This isn't a martial artist, although he clearly has his own way of moving. The film was dedicated to Brandon Lee and his fiance, Eliza, and it's a better memorial than most get. An actor in his greatest role. Like the story, it doesn't make anything ok, but it's something, and Lee lives on in a way, for anyone watching his work here.

The supporting cast is solid as well. I really enjoyed Ernie Hudson's performance. His Albrecht is a good contrast for Eric Draven, a lawman whose hands are tied, and has dealt with the system enough to know there's little he can do. His conversations with Eric are the most humanizing moments in the film and it helps to think that at least one person would try to help Eric with his quest, although he ultimately just ends up getting hurt. Albrecht is more of a conventional representation of "goodness" His biggest contributions are passive ones. He sat with Shelly while she died which ends up being instrumental. He looks out for Sarah. He doesn't avenge anything, just tries to help where he can.

Michael Wincott is great as Top Dollar. His raspy pirate like presence, makes him a fitting counterpart for Eric Draven. The bizarre bits of his background tell us that he's more twisted than we could likely know, given a cemetery snowglobe by his father when he was five, his too loving relationship with his half sister, and their shared fascination with eye balls among other things. He's an agent of chaos, and his biggest fear is simply boredom. He's an apex predator without conscience, and Eric's gift of pain is likely very alien to him.

T-Bird's crew are all effective in their parts, each facing their deaths in their own ways, according to their characters. Rochelle Davis is a good choice for Sarah, and her character provides the only lasting hope in the film when Eric "awakens" her mother Darla, who returns home to cook breakfast for the first time in ages. Even so, we see that she is unsure about her own fitness as a mother. Sarah must intervene and encourage her, and despite her own hurt and anger, she does. This was not part of Eric's quest, but it's perhaps the most significant and enduring "goodness" that occurs. Men like T-Bird and Top Dollar are not going to be changed (except in death here) but Sarah may have a chance, although it's much less without a mother "the word for God." So, we end up where we started in a world with very little hope. A dead man rises to settle a score and then returns to death, but Sarah is where the story would continue. It's a very small hope for the future, but it can stretch a long way due to contrast. And like most of what happens in the film, it isn't enough, but it's something, a meditation on pain put back where it belongs.

What Happens?

The film opens with an overhead view of a dark city, that's partly burning. We're told it's "October 30th - Devil's Night" We zoom in for a closer look at the run down buildings and fires. A young girl tells us in voice over,  "People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can't rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right."

Friday, July 13, 2012


The folks over at Awesome B Movies were kind enough to invite me to do a guest post over at their site. Take a look over there, as I look at Mike Hodges' 1998 Gambling/Crime film, "Croupier" starring Clive Owen before he was everywhere. Click on the picture to go there:

I should also point out that Criminal Movies is now on Tumblr as well. If you like pictures and animated .gifs from the films I look at here, by all means keep an eye out over there. Click on the picture below to check that out:

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Top Ten Preacher Anti Heroes

Faith is a subject best left to the individual. While I don't have any religious inclination, I don't have any desire to interfere with anyone else's views. Kurt Vonnegut speaking of a friend who lost his faith, said, 
"I thought that was too much to lose. I had never had faith like that, because I had been raised by interesting and moral people who, like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were nonetheless skeptics about what preachers said was going on. But I knew Bernie had lost something important and honorable. Again, I did not like that, did not like it because I liked him so much." Personally, I  love that statement, because it illustrates the individual nature of things. "Faith" can be a good thing to a good man, and it goes the other way too. I don't need to have it to respect it in someone else, but by the same token, I reserve my own right to decide what I believe or not.

There's no doubt that many find faith useful, and it certainly does more to help people in need than any private industry I can think of. Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization few would malign, uses faith as a key component. There's also no doubt that many have used faith for less than noble ends. Belief can give a manipulator an obscene amount of power over followers. There have been many of scandals involving famous evangelists over the years, as if to remind us that power corrupts. And on the other side, it would seem that the more holy you proclaim yourself, the more people will look to prove you wrong. I don't doubt that there many sincere preachers trying to do something good. They don't make the news as often as it's not as popular a story. Every one of them is as human as I am and prone to character flaws. I don't see it as about the faith, as much as it is about the person. People aren't good or bad typically, but contain the potential for both and everything in between. When this is demonstrated in an influential preacher though, a lot of people can suffer.

The story of a bad preacher, is almost always about abuse of power. Abuse of power is always terrifying, whether from cops, politicians, doctors, or preachers. I wonder about anyone who would ask me to shut off my critical thinking so they can take over. These stories are relevant to any time period. Many debates of our time are still religious in nature. Just look at the news, you won't have to look for too long, whether it's abortion, stem cell research, or school curriculum. In film though, there is typically a tighter focus on what makes the most interesting story.

Sometimes in these films, faith is "the act." (Elmer Gantry, Leap of Faith) It's more frightening however, when it's not an act but a delusional sense of entitlement that allows them to harm others. (Red State, Night of the Hunter) Sometimes it's just someone trying to be better or understand the world in their chosen way, (The Apostle, Wise Blood) or dealing with the loss of Faith (From Dusk Till Dawn, Night of the Iguana) and sometimes it's someone's chosen way to help (Sleepers, Pale Rider) It always comes down to the individual and it usually results in an interesting struggle.

10. Father Bobby, (Robert DeNiro) Sleepers

A group of four boys grow up in Hell's Kitchen, NY; Lorenzo (Jason Patric,) Michael (Brad Pitt,) Tommy (Billy Cruddup,) and John (Ron Eldard.) They have difficult backgrounds and a habit of getting into trouble, although they're given some stability by their status as altar boys, supervised by Father Bobby (Robert DeNiro) an ex con turned priest, who tries to look out for them. They're fond of pranks, and one particular prank goes horribly wrong, killing a man. They're sent to The Wilkinson Home for Boys, where they are abused by the guards, most notably Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon) who rapes and beats them on a regular basis. Tears later, Tommy and John shoot Nokes dead in a bar. Lorenzo is now a newspaper columnist. Michael is an Assistant District Attorney who takes the Nokes case, planning to lose it. He also gives Lorenzo years of research on all the corrupt guards at the Boy's Home hoping to make everything that happened public. In order to successfully throw the case, however they need Father Bobby to testify giving Tommy and John an alibi. Although he is against "swearing to God" and then lying on the stand, he agrees, once he finds out what Nokes did.
"And you won't need a doctor when I'm done, you'll need a priest - to pray over your body."

9.  Abin Cooper, (Michael Parks) Red State

Abin Cooper leads a fanatical church with a vendetta against homosexuals. Their definition is a broad one which they're willing to stretch if it means they can find new victims. Not happy with waiting to randomly run into gay people, Cooper's church posts a classified ad posing as a woman looking for group sex. Before anything sexual occurs, three high school boys who responded to the ad wake up in captivity and must watch as another captive is executed in full approving view of the church. The boys try to escape, while ATF agent Keenan (John Goodman) is planning a raid on the church compound. After the stand off results in some casualties, the ATF proves to be as merciless as the church when they're given the order to leave no witnesses. Cooper is a detestable and frightening character, but the performance is top notch.
"I hate the wickedness in America. Rampant fornication, adultery, abortion, flagrant sexuality everywhere, and it's up to the righteous to to curb the spread of this disease."

8. Hazel Motes, (Brad Dourif) Wise Blood

Hazel Motes leaves the Army and returns to his old home angry. His family is gone and he has a chip on his shoulder about his religious upbringing. He rejects the idea of Christ, although everyone he encounters asks him if he's a preacher. Moving into the city, Hazel tries to make a statement, quickly hiring a prostitute and telling anyone who will listen that they don't need "Christ crucified." He runs into a con artist preacher, Asa Hawks (Harry Dean Stanton) who pretends he's blind, and his daughter, Sabbath Lilly (Amy Wright) who's determined to sleep with Hazel and become part of his "act." Soon Hazel gets the idea to start the "Church of Christ without Christ" and his preaching is noticed Hoover Shoates (Ned Beatty) who sees Hazel as a good vehicle to make a buck. Hazel rejects Shoates, who undeterred, creates himself an imitation of Hazel, paying another man to act the part. All of the fraudulent influences get to Hazel and he is less and less able to deal with them, finally making a drastic gesture with big consequences, perhaps doom or redemption.
"...the Church of Christ Without Christ. Where the blind can't see, the lame don't walk, and the dead stay that way."

7. Rev. Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon, (Richard Burton) The Night of the Iguana
(full review)
Rev. Shannon, after a sex scandal in his former congregation, is defrocked and takes a job as a tour guide in Mexico, showing groups sites of religious significance. However, another scandal seems imminent when a young girl in the tour group, Charlotte, (Sue Lyon) attempts to seduce him. Charlotte's guardian, Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall)  is eager to see Shannon punished at the very suspicion of such behavior. Attempting to keep Judith from calling his superiors, Shannon disables the bus, forcing them to stay at an old friends bed and breakfast. His friend has passed on and it's now run by his widow, Maxine Faulk, (Ava Gardner) an outspoken, sexually uninhibited woman, who Shannon sees as an ally against Judith. They're soon joined by an elderly poet and his niece, Hannah (Deborah Kerr) who add to the already tense situation. Shannon seeks to find relief in alcohol, but the situation gets far out of hand although unexpected turns lead all the major players to some sort of resolution.
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 conditons are like two countries facing each other in unstable conditons. The, eh, destructive potential, eh, could blow the whole world to bits!

6. Jacob Fuller, (Harvey Keitel) From Dusk Till Dawn

Pastor Jacob Fuller is driving his two kids, Kate (Juliette Lewis,) and Scott (Ernest Liu) in an R.V. They're soon hijacked by the Gecko brothers, Seth (George Clooney,) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino) armed criminals on the way to Mexico. Forced to accompany the Gecko's to their destination "The Titty Twister" The bar turns out to be a haven for vampires and the Geckos and Fullers are badly outmatched. Seth realizes that Jacob being a Pastor can be useful, but Jacob has lost his faith angry at his wife's death and the suffering she endured being trapped in a wreck for hours waiting to die. At Seth's urging and for the sake of his family,  Jacob has to find his faith again, if they ever hope to leave the bar alive.
"Yes I do believe in Jesus. Yes I do believe in God. But, do I love them? No."

5. Preacher, (Clint Eastwood) Pale Rider

A small village in the west is formed by people prospecting for gold. Although they have staked their claim, a ruthless mining company owned by Cory LaHood, is determined to run them off and take the land for themselves. After LaHood's men attack their camp, a girl, Megan, whose dog was killed, says a prayer for "one more miracle." as the camp is hopelessly outmatched. Soon a stranger rides into town and ends up helping one of the prospectors, Hull (Michael Moriarty) as LaHood's men attack him. The Stranger fends them off easily, leading Hull to offer him a place to stay. The stranger introduces himself as "Preacher" and helps the prospectors hold off the mining company. It becomes clear that he's more than a match for LaHood and his crew, and is something more than human.
"Well, there's a lotta sinners hereabouts. You wouldn't want me to leave before finishin' my work, would ya?"

4. Jonas Nightingale, (Steve Martin) Leap of Faith
(full review)
Jonas Nightingale is an entertainer with a travelling revival show. He's well organized and popular, with a show that astounds most who see it. This is accomplished through con games using the latest technology and assisted by his crew. Nightingale has no religious belief at all, but doesn't admit that he's a con man. He asserts that his show makes people feel better about themselves and is worth whatever the audience pays for it. After his bus has mechanical problems, he and his crew make an unplanned stop in a town with a skeptical Sheriff Will Braverman (Liam Neeson) and a waitress, Marva (Lolita Davidovich) that catches Nightingale's attention. Marva doesn't like travelling preachers either, as others have disappointed her younger brother who can't walk. Braverman attempts to run Nightingale out of town, but he's too clever. The only thing Nightingale fears is "the genuine article"
"Look, I run a show here. It's a lot of smoke and noise and it's strictly for the suckers. I've been pulling one kind of scam or another since I was your age, and if there's one thing I know it's how to spot the genuine article because that's what you've got to watch out for. Not the cops, you can always get around the cops. But the one thing you can never, ever get around is the genuine article, and you, kid, are the genuine article." 

3. Elmer Gantry, (Burt Lancaster) Elmer Gantry

Elmer Gantry is a slick salesman, who happens upon Sister Sharon Falconer, a preacher with a successful
road show. Having some knowledge of the Bible along with his charismatic delivery, he inserts himself into her show with his popularity, their following grows. Gantry cares little about the religious aspects of his performance, only seeing another product which is a great money maker. Sharon believes in what she preaches, but taken by Gantry, she becomes his lover. Before long, Gantry's bitter ex lover, Lulu, crosses paths with the show, and frames Gantry for a crime and blackmails him. Sharon stands by him as he tries to escape the plot, but there are consequences for all involved.
"When I was a child, I spake as a child. I understood as a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things." 

2. Sonny, (Robert Duvall) The Apostle
(full review)
Sonny is not an outright con man, but he is a guy with some serious issues and a temper. Enraged, he kills the man sleeping with his wife and goes on the run with a new identity to start over again. He isn't out to steal people's money, but genuinely enjoys helping them. In his new community he starts a new church and gains their respect and welcome. That doesn't keep him from his own character flaws however, and inevitably his alias is called into question. However sincere he may be, Sony has to discover that he can't escape paying for his actions.
I don't know who's been fooling with me, you or the Devil.I don't know! I won't even bring the human into this. He's just a mutt, so I won't bring him into this, but I'm confused, I'm mad. I love you Lord, but I am mad at you! I AM MAD AT YOU!" 

1. Harry Powell, (Robert Mitchum) Night of the Hunter
(full review)
The most terrifying preacher ever put on screen and certainly a unique film. Mitchum's performance is the centerpiece that this surreal nightmare hinges on. Powell poses as a man of the cloth to conceal his murderous habits. Determined to get his hands on a large sum of money that his former cellmate stole and hid, he cons the man's widow into marriage. She knows nothing about the money, but her young kids, John and Pearl do. After Harry kills their mother, they're on their own escaping him as the whole town accepts Harry as a man of the cloth. Harry is cruel, relentless and almost supernaturally efficient, making this a terrifying and cat and mouse game.
Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I'll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t'other. Now watch 'em! Old brother left hand, left hand he's a fighting, and it looks like love's a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan

Paul Tanter, most recently involved with the "Jack" trilogy of films (Jack Says, Jack Said, Jack Falls) is back with another British crime drama, although this time, it's more firmly based in real world events.

The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan, just out of UK theaters, is now available on DVD and on demand. I greatly appreciate Tanter's devotion to crime films and based on his previous writing and directing efforts, I would suggest that fans of the genre have a look, as original crime films, particularly independent ones need our support.

The film centers on Mike Jacobs (Nick Nevern,) an unemployed "hooligan," (participates in sports based brawls) who bumps into an old  friend, Eddie Hill, (Simon Phillips,) who proposes a business opportunity. Eddie's opportunity isn't drugs, or your typical crime story fare, but a credit card scam, meaning, depending on your viewpoint, that the banks take the hit. He fails to mention his connections to certain gangsters, however, although Mike is certain to discover that. I'm sure it's easy to paint it as a "victimless" crime, particularly when the money comes in, all without the risk of the more "blue collar" criminal activities. Of course, anything too good to be true, probably is, and it's only a matter of time before the gangsters appear to take their cut. Can Mike get himself out, or are the perks that come with lots of easy money too enticing to ignore? If crime movies of the past are any indicator, extricating himself won't be as easy as deciding to stop.

Based on true events, the subject matter is certainly topical. "White collar" crimes seem all too common in recent years, with many egregious activities happening and often going unpunished.  Mike isn't a banker or mortgage officer though, more an entry level white collar criminal. It reminds me of the stories of very famous gangsters such as John Dillinger who saw his share of glorification for stealing from the banks, and supposedly tearing up mortgages. He also conflicted with gangsters looking to get their cut.

I don't know that Mike Jacobs is a Dillinger, but maybe a step in that direction, even if only as his own justification. In our current economic climate, with "the 1%" now a buzzword, are there more "Robin Hoods" in the making? It's an interesting dilemma. I'm sure some would say he's long overdue, yet I doubt anyone would lend him a credit card. Take a look at The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan and see what you think. I'll update here once I get the chance to see it!

Nick Nevern as Mike Jacobs

Simon Phillips as Eddie Hill

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On the Waterfront

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

Terry Malloy is a bum and everybody knows it, including himself. He even has a pan handler, the traditional "bum" call him a bum. The pan handler was injured, cheated by the union and can't work, but Terry seems to have no excuse. Everybody has his number, he hears it all the time. In this film, a bum would seem to be someone without character, unremarkable, easily pushed around, and not standing for anything. Basically he's a low level lackey.

It's obvious that Terry is a mess, and gradually we discover how he got that way. It's revealed that Terry has had a tough life, father killed under mysterious circumstances, which he isn't even willing to discuss, and then a long time spent in a children's home. His brother Charlie, the thinker of the two, became his father figure, along with Johnny Friendly who apparently "took him to ball games." Terry isn't as valuable as Charlie, but he's kind of a plus one. Charlie is the brains behind Johnny Friendly and Terry is a guy who threw a fight and got them a big payday. He's the tagalong little brother. For all practical purposes, Friendly's outfit is the closest thing to a family Terry has. As in many families, there are things you don't like, but to get along, they're not mentioned. Terry just assumes that everything is normal because it's somewhat better than where he comes from. We know that at one point things were going to be better, Terry would have a title shot and been a respectable boxer, but it all took a left turn, and Terry rolled with it because he wasn't calling the shots. Perhaps he accepts that his brother is smarter, or the money is tempting, we know that Terry isn't any kind of a planner, but that's the end of his chances. There are no more fights afterwards, just work at the docks. Terry doesn't forget but what's the point to being upset about it? As he might say, it would just get him in trouble.

Naturally, he grows bitter. As he tells Edie, his philosophy is "Do it to him before he does it to you." But for all the edge that Terry claims, he's remarkably passive. Edie observes "He tries to act tough but there's a look in his eye." In many ways Terry is little more than a child who's hurt and doesn't want to be bothered. His status as a competent boxer gets him no respect, because everyone knows him, he doesn't cause trouble or fight back, he just does what he's told. The nickname "Slugger" comes across as almost an insult half the time, as it fits him so poorly now. We begin the movie with him doing Johhny Friendly a "favor." He's upset when his favor gets the well liked Joey killed. He doesn't complain about the action to Johnny Friendly, he complains because it doesn't seem right that he wasn't told. Would Terry still have lured Joey outside? We don't know and neither does Terry, but it bothers him. Just like his resentment over his boxing failure, it builds inside him but he doesn't know what to do with it, so he carries it around. He's used to being disappointed so it doesn't make him angry anymore. Yet, Terry does have talents, and ones that johnny Friendly could use and he's certainly a man that doesn't like his resources wasted. It's possible that Friendly is breaking Johnny in to "real" work on the crime side of the waterfront. Calling Joey to come to the roof would seem a natural first step in breaking him in. As he soon afterwards is asked to infiltrate the church labor meeting it would seem this is the case. Start small and build him up.

Terry could likely submerge any bad feelings for a long long time, if not for some outside influence. He's a long way from being the "contender" when we meet him. But Edie and Father Barry slowly chip away at his languor and he begins to question the place he's in, because his expectations change. He's never met someone like Edie before, a girl who takes in his abrasiveness and selfishness and suggests that the harsh nuns of his youth could've done better by him. "With a little more patience and kindness. That's what makes people mean and difficult. People don't care enough about them." she says, and it makes a lot of sense to Terry, although he can't quite admit it. He makes a point of appearing difficult to Edie, but tells Father Barry "She's the first nice thing that's ever happened to me." From Terry, this isn't hyperbole, he means exactly that, which is why her ideas about everyone caring about everyone else are so hard for him to process. He'd love for things to be that way, but knows that they're not. We get a glimpse of Terry as he'd like to be when he's up on the roof taking care of pigeons, something he does because he wants to do it and not because he has to. He understands that there are hawks watching for pigeons all the time, and while it's a small thing he tries to help with that and goes a step further teaching local kids to do the same. Terry's not very bright but he knows about pigeons because they interest him. He likes the idea of protecting them, and similarly wants to protect Edie, although not in a way she can accept.

Father Barry and Edie both tell Terry that they won't tell him what to do, but they'll leave him to his conscience. The "conscience talk" starts to get on his nerves, because he knows all along what he needs to do, but he's in between states. He has the life he knows, and the idea introduced by Father Barry and Edie, that he wants but is afraid to accept. Terry doesn't make an instant turn around. It's actually remarkable how much pushing is needed to get him to act. The change begins when he's confronted by the biggest disappointment he can imagine, the thought of his own brother thinking of having killed. Charlie gives him the opportunity to finally confront the disappointments he's been shouldering. He wanted to be a contender and a more difficult truth than that, his older brother totally failed him. In this exchange we see the dynamic of their whole relationship, Charlie's easy deflection of responsibility and Terry's usual acceptance of this. Terry isn't angry, he's more hurt than he's been in his whole life. His very slight reaction to the gun, gently pushing it away, tells us that a gun pointed on him is minor compared to how this betrayal hurts. "Oh, Charlie." he says, and we get that this is everything. he's disappointed not only for himself but for Charlie too and everything between them. The life he "knows" has been as illusory as the one that Edie represents. At this point, Terry might be capable of anything, but as if to make sure, he has to see Edie in danger and Charlie killed. Although it takes a lot his killer instinct comes out. If not for Father Barry, we believe he would kill Johnny Friendly, although it's far more likely that Terry would be killed himself as Friendly would most certainly have anticipated the action. For a moment though, we see the pleasure Terry takes in making Tillio sit down and wait for what's coming and telling the well respected priest to "go to hell."

Luckily Father Barry is able to get to him, using boxing friendly patter. "You want to hurt him? You want to finish him?" Terry accepts that his testimony would hurt Friendly more, and based on the reaction Friendly gives when discussing stool pigeons, it's not much of a stretch to believe this. It does appear to be what would hurt him. A change of heart doesn't automatically fix anything though, and although Terry's testimony is assumed to have some impending affect, it doesn't seem to hurt him right away. Right in the courtroom Friendly threatens Terry. Terry resents having police guarding him. When the only good thing in his life before Edie is destroyed (his pigeons) he knows that what he did is not enough. Terry has by then givien up his passivity. He'll go "get his rights," he tells Edie, and shows up at the dock, where the D and D act is unchanged. Nobody admires him for what the did and they're all still on Friendly's payroll, even Pops. The injured homeless pan handler is given work and still there's nothing for Terry. It isn't until he approaches Friendly directly that anything changes, as this is a spectacle worth missing work over. Despite a few tricks, Terry is easily able to best Friendly in a fight, but that isn't worth as much as he might have thought, since Friendly's thugs are eager to jump in. This action also doesn't help Friendly as much as he thinks and the workers, too late to help Terry can refuse to work in solidarity with Terry, unless Terry leads them in. Power is finally out of Friendly's hands as the freight owner needs the work done and he clearly can't accomplish this. Father Barry shows up again for coaching, and as usual he helps in a way you might not expect. he encourages Terry, and then keeps anyone from helping him walk in the door to get to work. He knows that if this is to be a victory at all, Terry has to do it himself, and he does. What comes next, who knows, but if nothing else, Terry is living on his own terms for the first time since he can recall.

Marlon Brando is amazing in this role, giving a performance that stands out in film history. His Terry Malloy was a turning point for the film anti hero. He wasn't a good guy. He wasn't even good at being a bad one. Terry was a guy who really had no idea about anything other than his habits. Brando gave us a tough leading man living in a state of perpetual hurt. We're showed this more than told, by his mannerisms and how he carries himself. This guy was once a fighter, but every movement tells us that it was a long time ago. "Doing the right thing" is not a familiar concept to him and he needs to be given motivation before it even makes sense. We see the fog he lives in and its gradual clearing.

Rod Steiger is terrific here as well. For his small amount of screen time, we get a remarkably full character. Whereas Terry lives on the fringes, Charlie has bought into Friendly deep, as the right hand man. Charlie has his own delusions though, different than Terry's, bigger. Charlie sees dollar signs and suits. Charlie could well be the source of Terry's "philosophy." Yet, for everything that's happened, he still loves his brother, and once forced to look at how he's failed him, we can see it break his heart. He gives Terry his gun, knowing he won't see him again and asks the driver to bring him to the Garden, to relive a time when he still could've done right by Terry and the future could've still been a good one. Their "contender" conversation in the cab is one of the most remembered for a reason. It's rare to see so much history packed into such a small amount of screen time, but Brando and Steiger show us a whole relationship from start to brutal finish in a matter of minutes.

Eva Marie Saint is wonderful too. The lightness and goodness of her Edie being the perfect complement to Terry. Where Terry lives in a fog of denial and delusion, Edie truly believes that people are good. She's naive and he's simple and so they connect easily, both of them presenting the other something they haven't seen before. Even when she knows Terry had a part in her brother's death, she still finds him compelling, knowing there's more to him than the path of least resistance persona he tries to project.

Lee J. Cobb is a perfect choice for Johnny Friendly. His character towers over everyone, giving us a credible menace, believable as the force that keeps everyone living in fear for their lives. Able to be your best buddy one moment, and suggest you kill your brother in the next one, he's really the glue that holds everything together. Everybody hates him but no one wants to be on his bad side. His small army of thugs are a secondary menace to his own deep seated malice.

Karl Malden gives a passionate performance as Father Barry, the cheerleader/ trainer/ coach who has a knack for showing up at just the right time. We see a man consumed with his desire to clean up the waterfront to the point of mania. Being a priest, his addresses typically hinge on Christ references, but his personal commitment and outrage come through. He's willing to risk his own life, yet he's not above feeling frustration, which often happens when he tries to get anyone to share any information. His speeches to the workers, despite their passion, show us more than anything else that the workers fear is all but impenetrable. He's most useful in one on one scenarios, as we see when he makes his pact with Dugan, and in his interactions with Terry.

On The Waterfront is a great and powerful film, and aside from that, has significance from its place in Hollywood history. Elia Kazan presented it as a defense of his own "naming names" before HUAC and a condemnation of the Communist party. While this certainly lost him a few friends and colored the film a certain way, it doesn't change the fact that his motivation inspired him to create a great work of art. It's a beautiful film and a moving one. To me, the story behind the story doesn't take away from it's power. It's message could be applied to many situations even today, there are many who feel betrayed by a system that's larger than them but seems impossible to take down. It could probably use a few less references to "ratting" and "D and D." but it's not enough of a fault to really damage it. To enjoy the film, it's only necessary to believe that Johnny Friendly's outfit is totally corrupt, and this is illustrated well in the film. The viewer has no obligation to accept as a result that HUAC or their actions are acceptable or that Communists real or imagined fit the profile of Johnny Friendly. Is a strong case made for Terry Malloy to testify? Despite the inspiration, Terry Malloy is not Elia Kazan, so it's very easy to view the film on it's own merits.

I find it curious that even with Kazan's stated motivations, Terry's testimony lacked the impact you might expect at least from a film. Terry testified but Johnny didn't go away. Dugan testified and he got killed, as did Joey. It would be very easy to make an argument against talking from this film and certainly Father Barry's enthusiasm could stand a little scrutiny as he's essentially urging people to get themselves killed. But as he tells us, Father Barry is familiar with the idea of crucifixion. That here would be a heavy cost to do "the right thing." is perhaps more comfortable an idea to him than most. The idea of fighting the mob with religious faith seems like an odd choice of weapon, but then Father Barry's only function is to urge others on, so his sermons need only show a bigger picture than the insular world of the waterfront. Edie gives a more sensible suggestion, telling Terry they should leave. This would make sense, but not to Terry's pride and anger. Johnny killed his brother after all, and he feels like a fighter again. To not show up would be a loss.

Another inspiration for the story was a true account of a dock worker who with a priest's urging set out to take down a corrupt water front union. In the true account, the dock worker failed and in this film, except for the obligatory happy ending, we could as easily have ended up there. Terry's victory isn't knocking out Johnny Friendly, but managing a short walk after he's been worked over. Friendly isn't gone, and Terry's coworkers will in all likelihood do what they're told as they always have, especially if their lives or work are in jeopardy, which Friendly still has the power to do. Terry tells Friendly "You take the good goods away and the kickbacks, the shakedown cabbage and the pistoleros, and you're nothing!" Unfortunately, no one is taking those things away, except perhaps the Crime Commission, and their power seems severely limited. Short of killing everyone in Friendly's outfit, anything Terry can do would seem destined to fail.

But, since this is a film, Kazan can certainly pick a high moment for the ending and we can feel good for Terry and Edie and Father Barry and maybe even believe that things will be better at the waterfront. In the end it's not about the waterfront as much as it is about Terry trying to find himself a better way for himself. Personally I'd rather cheer from him trying to walk, than think of him hiding himself away from every disappointment he's learned to expect from his life. Even if it isn't realistic, it's good to see him finally win one and since it's a film I can hope his streak continues. At least he's not a bum anymore, even if his friends don't talk to him. And the viewers win too,because we get to see some of the best acting in history.

What Happens?

The film opens with Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), and a group of men exiting a meeting with Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) the head of the dockworker's union on the NY City waterfront. Of the group, everyone is wearing a suit except Terry, who's dressed in casual clothes. Friendly gets into his car with his men and he tells Terry, "You take it from here, slugger."

Terry leaves on foot and stops at an apartment building. He yells "Joey!" up at one of the windows until Joey appears. Terry shows Joey a pigeon and says it's one of his, but he found it in his coop. Joey tells Terry "I gotta watch myself these days. Know what I mean?" Terry offers to bring the pigeon up to the roof and Joey agrees to meet him there. Once Joey leaves the window to go up, we see Johnny Friendly's men on the rooftop waiting. Terry lets the pigeon go and walks away meeting up with his brother Charlie (Rod Steiger,) and a couple of Friendly's men on the ground.