June 12, 2005

The Interpreter and Cinderella Man

This past weekend Em and I escaped the brutal heat and humidity for the refuge of two dark and air-conditioned movie theaters: The Interpreter on Friday June 10 (West Newton) and Cinderella Man on Sunday June 12 (AMC Fenway). Both movies are major Hollywood productions. Both were directed by Academy-Award winning Best Directors (Sydney Pollack won for Out Of Africa, Ron Howard won for A Beautiful Mind). Both movies' leads are both Academy-Award winning actors (Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Russell Crowe, and Renée Zellweger).interpreter

With such a pedigree, The Interpreter sounds like a very safe bet- After all, Pollack directed one of the best white-collar thrillers of the 1990s, The Firm. All he would have to do is repeat that success and I would walk away satisfied. However, The Interpreter did not remind me of The Firm but another John Grisham adaptation- The Pelican Brief. In both films, the leading lady (Nicole Kidman = Julia Roberts) is thrust into a deadly conspiracy with mysterious bad guys and multiple unknown motives. In both films, the woman is forced into a uncomfortable alliance with a stranger (Sean Penn = Denzel Washington). In both films, the woman whispers all her dialogue and acts scared for two-plus hours. In both films, the woman narrowly avoids getting blown up in a car (or bus) bombing. The Interpreter had all the elements in place to be as good as The Firm, or better than The Pelican Brief. Unfortunately, Pollack's pacing was ponderous, the musical score was ineffective, and the performances bloodless. On the other hand, the location shooting inside the United Nations building was very effective!cinderellaman

Cinderella Man is a vast improvement on Ron Howard's last biopic starring Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), and a vast improvement on his last "Irish immigrants struggling to make a life for themselves in America" movie, Far and Away. It would be easy to call Cinderella Man "Seabiscuit Boxing": An underdog beats the odds to win in glory against a bigger and more powerful foe, while inspiring the American spirit during the Great Depression. I found the story moving, if a bit saccharine and manipulative for my taste. Howard's direction of the boxing scenes is strong and evocative. He did a superlative job of conveying to viewers unfamiliar to boxing (besides Rocky movies) how boxing matches are won and lost- strategy, points scored, tactics, endurance. Crowe is right on target once again, Zellweger is strong in a underwritten role, and Paul Giamatti (as Braddock's trainer) is stellar. I have loved his work in two movies already (American Splendor and Sideways). Giamatti did not get nominated for Best Actor for Sideways because Clint Eastwood (in Million Dollar Baby) is beloved by the Academy. This part is custom-crafted to win him a Best Supporting Actor award. Let's hope that the Academy doesn't forget about this June movie six months from now- dark period movies like this and Road To Perdition (released in July 2002) don't usually fare well (with ticket buyers and critics) in the summer months.