Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hitchcock, Affleck, and Ford

Lifeboat (1944): written by John Steinbeck and Jo Swerling; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; starring Tallulah Bankhead (Connie), William Bendix (Gus), Walter Slezak (Willi), Mary Anderson (Alice), John Hodiak (John), Henry Hull (Rittenhouse), Heather Angel (Mrs. Higley), Hume Cronyn (Stanley), and Canada Lee (Joe): Hitchcock's 'Bottle Show' movie remains a surprisingly prickly delight to this day, with terrific performances and tense direction. The survivors of a U-Boat attack on a freighter are stuck in a life boat with a survivor from the U-Boat, also sunk during the exchange. The set-up is a lot like the earlier Stagecoach, if you couldn't get off the titular stagecoach without drowning.

Various class issues play out, as do issues of bigotry and vengeance. People die. The dialogue crackles, especially when spoken by Tallulah Bankhead in one of her rare film appearances. She's a quick-talking female reporter who could be played by Rosalind Russell a la His Girl Friday. Lifeboat defies current Hollywood stereotypes and plot points by not killing the black guy first: nope, Lifeboat kills a baby first. A baby! And the black guy turns out to have the warm family life that all the white characters lack! Good old Hitch. If only we had more like him now. Highly recommended.

Presumed Innocent (1990): adapted by Alan Pakula and Frank Pierson from the novel by Scott Turow; starring Harrison Ford (Rusty Sabich), Brian Dennehy (Horgan), Raul Julia (Sandy), Bonnie Bedelia (Barbara Sabich), Paul Winfield (Judge Larren Lyttle), Greta Scacchi (Carolyn Polhemus), John Spencer (Det. Lipranzer), and Bradley Whitford (Kemp): Veteran screenwriter Alan Pakula's turn as a director wowed people in 1990 with this courtroom thriller. The heavyweight list of actors helps a lot, with stand-out turns from Raul Julia, Paul Winfield, and Brian Dennehy. Harrison Ford is fine, though his haircut is weirdly ridiculous.

Presumed Innocent succeeds or fails on the basis of how well it plays 'Whodunnit?' with the audience. Accused of murdering a colleague he'd had an affair with (Greta Scacchi), Harrison Ford's Chicago-based Assistant District Attorney has to survive a wealth of circumstantial evidence. Or did he do it? Scacchi's ADA Carolyn Polhemus is about as distilled a version of a femme fatale/career-bitch as one ever gets, while Bonnie Bedelia gets stuck with the role of the weepy, wronged wife of Ford's ADA.

The movie holds up pretty well, though it would hold up better if the film-makers had kept the novel's coda, which contextualizes the ending in a way that makes logical sense and adds depth to certain performances. Of course, the movie leaves everything in that leads to this coda, so you can just pretend the coda is there once you discover what it is. Recommended

The Accountant (2016): written by Bill Dubuque; directed by Gavin O'Connor; starring Ben Affleck (Christian Wolff), Anna Kendrick (Dana Cummings), J.K. Simmons (Ray King), Jon Bernthal (Brax), Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Agent Medina), and John Lithgow (Blackburn): Ben Affleck plays an autistic accountant who's also a super-assassin philanthropist. Basically, he's BatRainman. The Accountant is a competent, entertaining thriller. Don't ask more of it. Lightly recommended.

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