After a terrorist bomb decimates a London Market, the suspect Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), is put on trial, bringing together former lovers, Martin Rose (Eric Bana) and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Golden Globe Award nominee Rebecca Hall), as the defense team. The problem is that since national security is involved, Simmons-Howe is a “Special Advocate” appointed by the Attorney General, played by Jim Broadbent, who is allowed to see classified evidence that will not be allowed in open court. So the trial is a dual phase thing, part in open court, when Rose will be the lead defense counsel, and the other part in closed session in which Simmons-Howe is the only defense attorney allowed. Worse, they are not allowed to communicate with one another.
I go through all this detail because if you see the film it can get a little confusing. This is a suspense tale with unknown evil people trying to get Simmons-Howe and Rose. They must navigate through lots of plots and counter-plots to determine what’s really going on. Frankly, though, it seems like a roman á clef for Obama’s Fast and Furious scandal.
John Crowley directs with a keen eye towards keeping the tension mounting, aided by wonderful music (Joby Talbot). I continue to believe that music is the number one most important aspect in making a thriller thrilling.
Bana and Hall give fine performances. Although Hall was overshadowed by A-list stars Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem, she was the best thing in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and she also shone in Ben Affleck’s The Town. Here she finally gets a primary starring role and she’s worthy of it.
But the supporting actors also give fine performances. Julia Stiles is quite good as an investigating journalist in a role much too small for her talent. Ann Marie-Duff, who gave such a compelling performance as John Lennon’s mother, Julia (for whom The Beatles song, “Julia,” in The White Album was written), in the moving Nowhere Man (2009), shines again Melissa, a government worker who is not what she appears to be.
There’s a lot here that does not meet the eye, so if you can keep up with the arcane British legal process (which is why I explained it at the beginning), it’s an entertaining thriller highlighted by fine acting.
Bullitt is a 1968 Steve McQueen thriller that has become a classic because of its car chase. Without question, it is the best car chase ever filmed. However, it has become a curse to moviegoers because it has inspired every director to want to insert car chases in their thrillers. Each one becomes more and more absurd.
What made the Bullitt car chase memorable was that it was believable. There were no airborne cars, no pipe ramps, no turnovers. It was just one car chasing another through the almost empty streets of San Francisco and there was nothing unrealistic about. It was also enhanced by wonderful sound and Lalo Schifrin’s terrific music.
Getaway (which, ironically, was also the title, actually The Getaway, of a 1972 Steve McQueen movie, that is only memorable because McQueen started an affair with his costar, Ali McGraw, which caused her to divorce her then husband, Robert Evans, who was the studio chief at Paramount who made the movie) makes the entire movie one long car chase.
If the car chases in this movie lacked credibility, the story is worse. Ethan Hawke is a former race driver who is forced to drive a car under the directions of a voice that communicates with him on the telephone (Jon Voight), directing him to do more and more dangerous and unreasonable things or he will kill Hawke’s wife, Rebecca Budig. Hawke is joined by a terribly miscast Selena Gomez. It’s not that Gomez is a bad actress. It’s that she looks like a 12-year-old, so the pairing with Hawke and the things she does in the movie are incongruous with her looks. And, only in Hollywood, SHE is a computer genius, able to hack into a stranger’s computer at a moment’s notice.
But this movie isn’t about the story, it’s about the car stunts. The story is just a McGuffin, an excuse to make a movie about car crashes. Unlike Bullitt, this film has 25 pipe ramps (running a car up a pipe and turning it over) and 40 turnovers. I didn’t count the number of cars that fly through the air.
The person who accompanied me thought it was tense. I didn’t. The car chases are so ridiculous and so derivative that they are simply boring. How many times can you be thrilled by a car running down a totally crowded street, cutting in and out of traffic, running over things, going the wrong way, and spinning out, knowing all the time that our heroes will survive?
Director Peter Yates was smart with Bullitt. How long do you think the car chase in Bullitt lasted? Less than 10 minutes. Yet more than 40 years later everyone who saw the film remembers the movie because of that ten minute car chase. Now we’ve got the ultimate, a 90 minute film consisting of nothing but a car chase, and it will be forgotten by the end of the year, if not sooner.