~The Departed, The Queen, & Infamous
October 24, 2006 by JAN ALBERT
Film Lovers rejoice! The great movie drought of 2006 is finally over!
Now, there are so many good films flooding the theatres it’s hard to keep up.
Here are some pick hits in no particular order:
MATT DAMON and LEONARDO DiCAPRIO in THE DEPARTED
THE DEPARTED: A pure blast of testosterone! This is what you go to
the movies for – a cracking good story which picks you up and doesn’t let you go – the
big screen filled with nail biting tension and handsome guys behaving badly and nobly.
You’ve got Matt Damon playing a bad cop posing as a good guy and Leo DiCaprio,
(wound so tight he looks like he’ll shatter) playing a good cop burrowed deep in the
dastardly gang of a Boston mob boss, played by Jack Nicholson.
The three leads are surrounded by a truly awesome cast of supporting players who make
the most of William Monaghan’s blistering bravura dialogue, including Alec Baldwin,
Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, and Mark Wahlberg (yes, Marky Mark!), who all but
steals the picture from under the noses of all these pros in just a handful of scenes, as
a grandstanding bully boy, who nonetheless is on the side of the angels in this
Shakespearean tale that illuminates the large grey area that life really is.
Martin Scorcese masterfully orchestrates the action and keeps you at the edge of
your seat, waiting to see which of these good/bad boys will win the day. One
quibble: for a film that so masterfully observes the shades of good and evil in every
man, how come this excellent director and screenwriter settled for giving the female
police shrink torn between the two main characters, such a one note role to play?
This terrific film would have been even better if the woman’s part had been
as subtle and complex as the male characters! Still, all in all, let’s hear it for the BOYS!
Can’t wait to see it again.
HELEN MIRREN and JAMES CROMWELL in THE QUEEN
HELEN MIRREN RULES AS THE QUEEN: Well, here’s a movie with a
great part for a woman, and actress Helen Mirren exceeds even this devoted fan’s
expectations. She gives a restrained and truly riveting performance as Queen Elizabeth
during the tumultuous week following Princess Diana’s fatal car crash in 1997.
I saw this flick a few weeks ago and still haven’t been able to get it completely out of my mind,
which is always a good sign in an age where movie plots vanish from your brain cells
before you even leave the movie theater.
Screenwriter/playwright Peter Morgan has made a bit of a parlor trick of filling in
the imagined scenes and conversations behind the real world news we see in sound bites
on TV. Previously, he crafted a teleplay called THE DEAL, based on
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s relationship with his political mentor-turned bitter rival,
Gordon Brown. He is also the brain behind another current film,
THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, (now playing in theaters – review to follow),
which takes us behind the palace walls of dictator, Idi Amin, as seen through the eyes of the
young Scottish doctor who became his private physician. FROST-NIXON, the
forthcoming 2007 film, (written by Morgan & directed by Ron Howard) builds on the
famous series of interviews David Frost conducted with the American President.
In THE QUEEN, Morgan weaves in much of the real news footage we saw
again and again and again of Diana bemoaning “the 3 people” in her show marriage to
Prince Charles and the scenes of the British people arriving at the palace with tons of flowers
following Di’s untimely death, waiting with increasing fury for the royal family to appear
and show some emotion! Then the writer makes a great leap away from the facts as we know
them, to present a fully imagined portrait of the royal family under seige; a ruler who has
been carefully groomed to keep her feelings to herself since she ascended the throne as a
teenager and the modern young Prime Minister who helps bring her up to speed with
some 20th century spin control.
I have always admired Helen Mirren’s fearlessness as an actress, tackling everything from
Tennessee Williams to tough cop, Inspector Jane Tennyson, but this is an especially fine
moment. Somehow, she abandons all vanity and becoms the matronly, bad hat-wearing,
big black pocket-book-carrying queen. Without letting down the stiff upper lip altogether,
she conveys the confusion, stubborn pride, humility and pain, Elizabeth must have felt
at not being the crowd favorite at this strange turning point. She makes the Queen a
One of my all-time favorite actors, James Cromwell (Babe’s farmer dad, as well as the evil
bad guy in LA Confidential), is infuriatingly convincing as Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s
prig of a husband and Michael Gleason is fine as Tony Blair, shaking his head at the
complete cluelessness of the royals in the face of the public’s grief and scoring his first big
political points when he steps into the breach to hail Diana as “the people’s princess.”
Director Stephen Frears’ attention to visual detail and subtle ‘fly on the wall’ camera eye
keeps the viewer locked into this intriguing glimpse behind the throne, but the show rests
squarely on the shoulders of The Queen and Helen Mirren more than earns her crown
(and maybe the Oscar?? at award time).
GWYNETH PALTROW in INFAMOUS
TOBY JONES and ISABELLA ROSSELLINI in INFAMOUS
HAVE A MARTINI AND DON’T MISS INFAMOUS, even if you think you’ve
seen it all before: There’s a saying in the wonderful world of journalism from whence I come,
‘Give 5 writers (or producers or directors) the same story to tell and you’ll end up with five
completely different stories’. That’s what makes INFAMOUS, aka “the other
Truman Capote movie”, especially fascinating in my view. It comes just a year after CAPOTE
won Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar for his extraordinary performance in the title role.
Both films (which cover the exact same period in Truman Capote’s life – when he researched
and wrote his masterpiece, In Cold Blood were actually in production at the
same time. One can only imagine the groans and gasps this strange timing must have induced
in both camps and yet, after seeing INFAMOUS, I can report: there’s definitely
room in this world for two different takes on this incomparable character.
The two films are completely different in tone, CAPOTE was more explicit about
the way the nakedly ambitious Truman sold his soul for success – a deal with the Devil
he never stopped paying for. It touches on how a journalist manipulates the truth in order
to tell ‘his’ story, and how Truman came face to face with his “evil twin/dark brother”
when he met murderer Perry Smith in Kansas.
INFAMOUS is more taken with Truman’s legendary charm – how a
flamboyant Southern gay man with a strange and unforgettable voice used his formidable
wit and sensitivity to become the pet of Manhattan’s upper crust. He remarks to Babe or
Slim or another one of his “swans” (as he called the society ladies who took him to lunch),
– “I can alchemize my pain into art, but at what cost?” (and it cost him plenty when he later
betrayed their trust by using their life stories to propel his fiction.)
This is the Truman I remember seeing during my childhood on the Tonight Show with
Johnny Carson and thinking how great it was that there was room on this planet for such
kooky, unusual people who stood out from the crowd.
Both films spend a lot of time at the scene of the crime and it is fun to compare the
actors’ and directors’ choices. First of all, British actor Toby Jones, (he’s the voice of
Dobby in the Harry Potter films) is tiny, like Truman was. Personality-wise, I have no
idea if the role required the kind of stretch we saw Philip Seymour Hoffman make,
but Jones is quite wonderful in his own right. I thought Sandra Bullock was a
revelation as Harper Lee, (Truman’s childhood friend, who used his persona for the
character of Scout’s neighbor boy in To Kill A Mocking Bird) lovely and grave.
Likewise, Jeff Daniels (as the Kansas prosecutor Truman must woo to get access to his
story) and Daniel Craig as Perry Smith play their parts all together differently than their
counterparts in CAPOTE. INFAMOUS stresses the romance that
developed between the writer and the prisoner.
The way CAPOTE’s director, Bennet Miller, painted the stark, lonely landscape
got under your skin. INFAMOUS director/writer Douglas McGrath captures
the social scene of Christmastime in small town Kansas; the living rooms of the residents
who finally invite Truman into their homes to hear him tell how he beat Humphrey Bogart
at arm wrestling. McGrath and his production designer, Judy Becker, and costume designer,
Ruth Meyers, revel in Diane Vreeland’s famous red room, Manhattan’s chichi dining spots
and Truman’s satin sheets and velvet dressing gown.
Much of the characters’ dialogue is taken from their own mouths – as quoted in
George Plimpton’s 1998 oral history: Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends,
Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall his Turbulent Career. It would be
hard to improve on this stuff and Doug McGrath includes some of the best of it here.
Lastly, (really firstly!) INFAMOUS has one of the most stunning opening scenes
of any film in recent memory. Truman and Babe are at El Morocco, cocktails in hand,
enjoying a swinging number by a beautiful chanteuse (played to perfection by Gwyneth Paltrow,
who never reppears in the film after this scene!). She has the crowd in the palm of her hand,
then suddenly seems to lose her place in the song and stops for the longest moment, as the
audience holds its breath, wondering if the star has crashed to earth or will shine again.
That is the tightrope walk Truman Capote took and it is something to behold while it
thoughts on: THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and RUNNING WITH SCISSORS to follow shortly.