Review- Fast Five

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in Fast Five (Universal)

As I first discussed in my review of Rio I bring quite a bit of baggage to any American-made film dealing with Brazil and I will be analyzing certain aspects that escape the notice of the common viewer. Obviously, some of these things also come into play when discussing Fast Five and I will attempt to address those as swiftly as possible and address the film as a whole.

However, with this particular film the Brazilian-ness of it and how accurately that is portrayed is a more pervasive concern as it touches many aspects of the film from dialogue, plot, believability, characters, plot points, acting and the like more so than in the aforementioned film.

Some examples: Firstly, I applaud this film for its attempt to be sneaky foreign (like Hanna) and actually include a bit of dialogue in Portuguese and even subtitling certain scenes. Most of the acting in the film as a whole is just fine, however, the noticeable sore spots are created by those portraying Brazilians who are clearly not. Joaquim de Almeida plays a drug kingpin and the mark of the major heist in this film, he does a fine job but as I suspected when I looked up the cast he’s Portuguese not Brazilian. Very noticeably a fish out of water is American Michael Irby as his second hand man. Spaniard Elsa Pataky and Israeli Elsa Godot are quite convincing, the latter not so much in one particular scene due to her look more so than her interpretation. The best Portuguese is spoken by Jordana Brewster who speaks it rarely and I wasn’t even sure she knew any despite being born in Brazil.

Issues with the story with regards to it being set in Brazil are most prevalent in two incidents that I take issue with. So far as having a druglord who has the Military Police in his pocket and corruption, I can take that. It’s an acknowledged issue that’s been long combated, however, if you want to see a film about the PM and how a good man can go bad and see a rather realistic rendition thereof watch Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite). The issues are the first scene where the American forces lead by Dwayne Johnson go up into a favela, in very cinamtically clichéd fashion all the runners and criminals brandish their guns like a territorial pissing then Johnson shows his gun and they all back away. The problem there is that that would either lead to a standoff or a firefight, which is not infrequent. It’s a movie device that really doesn’t apply here. There’s a more realistic scene where he’s baited out into the open and surrounded.

The worst scene of the film is the apparent defeat. Here for some reason the American forces decide they should drive, seemingly unnecessarily, through the elevated and undulating streets of a favela and it sets up a ridiculous confrontation.

There is enough action to carry this film along and make it a decent ride. The villain although broadly drawn does have some decent moments. The characters in the film are many so not many are developed in all that much detail but you do get a sense of them and there is a good amount of comedy mixed in which keeps things light in spite of the bickering minorities device that is employed twice.

To give this film its just desserts there is a hand-to-hand combat scene between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel that trumps anything that occurred in The Expendables and no uncomfortable undertones to boot.

Despite being incredibly outlandish in terms of what the heist is, how it’s pulled off and what the reactions of law enforcement are to it at several stages of the film it’s still an enjoyable enough flick. It’s a decent popcorn flick that actually got me in the theatre by adding the heist element to a franchise that had never interested me before. Also, plan your health break carefully and stay through the end credits for a tag teases a sequel.

As a coda, bear in mind that with the financial success of Rio and Fast Five, Brazil will likely be the go to international transplant destination for franchises everywhere. I think James Bond needs a vacation, don’t you?

6/10

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Review- Unknown

Liam Neeson in Unknown (Warner Bros.)

OK, so here comes another one. Unknown is a film that to review properly, in my estimation, requires a few disclaimers:

1) SPOILER ALERT. I feel it’s important to get this one out of the way as soon as possible. I try to avoid it as much as I can but on occasion there will be a film that will leave you with little to no choice in the matter. I haven’t compelled to spill as much of the beans to make my point since I saw Orphan.

2) This is a hazardous film for me to review as a filmmaker. We are all guilty of armchair direction. Meaning we sit there and debate how we might’ve handled shots or the story. Part of my delay in writing this was to get past all the “I would’ve changed that” moments. I think it’s true in any form of criticism. Most notably food, I hate when a critic on a food shows alters the dish so greatly as to change it. Then it’s totally different and you’re not judging what’s on the plate. There are plenty of issues with “what is on the plate” in this story so I’ll leave it at that.

Without much further ado, Unknown.

This is another in a long line of films to have a pretty big twist due to either the fallibility of its protagonists memory or perception of reality. Unlike, say Shutter Island, the film doesn’t hinge entirely on the twist but the twist illuminates other issues.

The twist that Liam Neeson’s character is an assassin who after an accident has started to believe his cover story is his reality. In and of itself that’s a pretty darn good premise, however, in bringing that to fore there are many issues. Now one case of I wish that I will employ in this review is that while the coil is wound tightly you’re not necessarily expecting the criminal underworld to play into it and it’s a more effective story there.

The problem with the execution of the concept is that once the cat is out of the bag there is ample time for you to think back and realize how inconceivably unbelievable some of this film is.

Example: Neeson’s would-be wife, and actual assassin, is dumb enough to let his bag get lost which sets up the inciting incident. If there are crucial documents and information in their luggage why not handle it whenever possible? Secondly, the doctor immediately assumes that he is confused and misremembering things rather than coming to that conclusion in a reasonable amount of time. Memory and the functions of the brain are still so mysterious such that it’s difficult to believe that someone’s adverse reaction to trauma can be that easily guessed.

Then there’s this lovely little cliché: everyone Neeson runs into, practically, is in some way involved in this plot and trying to stifle his paranoid rantings. He happens across more people by chance who are involved than those who are not and it’s annoying and hard to swallow.

As a viewer I am one who tends to suspend disbelief rather easily so bear this in mind before I describe the next “I just didn’t buy it” moment. When Neeson is knocked out of the equation he is quickly replaced by his back-up. The problem here is that he is supposedly a noted scientist and no one notices his photo changing on a website, no one has ever seen this man just talked to him and over the course of a single year he’s developed a big reputation as a botanist.

It’s all a bit much. Neeson for the most part does a fine job in this film. He does manage to stick with his American persona without too many chinks in the armor but he’s also not given a great deal to work with. He said “I am Doctor Martin Harris” so many times it was a punchline amongst viewers both during and after the screening.

The bottom line is this: too many films are overly concerned with “fooling the audience” because they fear being too predictable, however, more often than not this has lead to films which are so ridiculously far-fetched they border on being laughable. For an example see the film Shutter. Yes, it’s horror and it’s difficult to be “believable” and original there but there’s a motif revealed at the end which fooled me, yes but also made me laugh when I saw it.

People have no problem with predictability believe it or not. We just want good. If you find me a person who walked in to The King’s Speech who having read the synopsis didn’t know what to expect I have a bridge I need to sell. It’s somewhat predictable nature doesn’t stop it from being a damn fine film. It’s just good we want, not tricks, which are after all for kids.

4/10