I got my familiarity with Hugh Laurie through his comedic performance in Blackadder, the odd British sitcom that was set first in the 16th century and then in the trenches of World War I. He also played Bertie on Jeeves and Wooster, a less successful and less funny sitcom. So it was difficult for me to sign on to him in the TV dramatic series House.
He is a terrific actor and he shows it in this very black comedy about two extremely close-knit families that face an incredible moral crisis. Sounds like a good drama, but this had me laughing out loud throughout.
Brilliantly directed by Julian Farino, from a script by Jay Reiss and Ian Helfer, while everyone is funny in this movie the person who really carries the humor is Alia Shawkat, who is Laurie’s daughter and who narrates the film. Some of her lines had me in serious belly laughs.
Laurie was always a terrific reactor and he carries that quality into this film as many of his laughs are caused by his reactions to what’s going on.
The premise, while clearly immoral and upsetting, is realistic. David and Paige Walling (Laurie and Catherine Keener) and Terry and Cathy Ostroff (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney) live next door to each other and are best friends. Their daughters, Vanessa Walling (Shawkat) and Nina Ostroff (Leighton Meester), once best friends, are estranged. Nina breaks up with her fiance, Ethan (Sam Rosen), and comes home and all hell breaks loose.
Told tongue in cheek by Vanessa, the incidents and their reactions to them are hilarious but deep and dark. Meester is especially effective in a role that requires broad range.
Richard Gere returns to the screen a few years after the release of The Double, which is probably the worst film with which he has ever been associated. Here he picked wisely because this is an interesting tale of wrongdoing on Wall Street very loosely influenced by Bernie Madoff.
Written and directed by 33-year-old rookie Nicholas Jarecki, it’s not surprising that the verisimilitude is sorely lacking as to the financial machinations in which Gere becomes involved. But this isn’t really a story of Wall Street, it’s a character study, intended to show that big financiers are morally corrupt. While that is a dubious premise, it probably has more truth in it than many would like to admit (in addition to Madoff, and just as one example of many, Richard Grasso, the head of the New York Stock Exchange, became notorious when it was revealed that he had received a “golden parachute” pay package worth almost $140 million due to the largesse of the hand-picked compensation committee consisting mainly of representatives from NYSE-listed companies over which Grasso had regulatory authority as head of the Exchange). Jarecki backed this up by casting Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, as James Mayfield, the industrialist who is trying to buy Gere’s company. Carter is a journalist who has never been accused of being fair and balanced, although to give him credit he doesn’t try to hide his bias when one reads his editorials. He does give a good performance.
Gere gives a performance consistent with those considered the best of his career, like the one he gave in Unfaithful (2002). Also sparkling are Brit Marling as his daughter who has been bamboozled by his financial tricks, Tim Roth as the detective hot on Richard’s tail, Laetitia Casta as Richard’s mistress, and Nate Parker as the only person to whom Richard feels he can turn when something really terrible happens.
Jarecki directs with an acute perception of pace, which makes this film, which is mostly talk, exceptional.
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