I'm a little behind on my reviews. Hurricane Katrina and all its ramifications has slowed down my movie going and it has kept me from writing my reviews. But here is my review of three movies that are unrelated in style and genre. They are only related in that all three movies have been in the top ten in the box office. The three movies, I saw recently, are Four Brothers, out for 6 weeks at number 14 this week, The Brothers Grimm, out for 4 weeks at number 13, and The Constant Gardener, out for 3 weeks at number 6. None of them is a runaway hit although Four Brothers is doing OK at $71 million. The other two will probably be considered bombs. The Brothers Grimm is at $36 million and The Constant Gardener is at $25 million. These movies all have good directors, John Singleton, Terry Gilliam and Fernando Meirelles. Despite this, the three movies are very good (The Constant Gardener), good (Four Brothers), and not so good (The Brothers Grimm).
Four Brothers :
This is one of those movies that I couldn't decide whether I wanted to see it or not. But Mike was visiting me so a Chick Flick was out of the question. Four Brothers tells the story of, wait for it, four brothers. The hook is that the brothers are all adopted, two white (Mark Wahlberg, Garrett Hedlund) and two black (Tyrese Gibson, André Benjamin). Their sainted mother (Fionnula Flanagan) is murdered in a convenience store hold-up and the brothers reunite for their mother's funeral after leading lives as various flavors of bad boys. Two cops (Terence Dashon Howard, Josh Charles) are investigating the murder, but needless to say, the boys start up an investigation of their own. The murder, the brothers, the mother and the cops are all mysteriously linked to a local hoodlum (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
In a lot of ways, Four Brothers was a pleasant surprise. The best thing, by far, was the relationship of the four brothers. It was dead-on perfect. Their performances and the script make you believe that they really are brothers despite their disparate appearances. With the exception of Marky Mark, who has been making some nice movies (Boogie Nights, Three Kings, The Perfect Storm), the guys playing the other brothers were basically unknown to me. The rest of the cast is very strong with some familiar faces like Flanagan (Waking Ned Devine), Charles (Dead Poets Society) and Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things). Howard is the star of this year's Indie hit, Hustle & Flow. John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) can definitely direct and this movie moves right along as it also fills out the backstory with flashbacks. But the story is so outlandish and, I have to say, incomprehensible that after a while, you just throw up your hands. I still don't know why the mother was murdered.
The Constant Gardener :
John Le Carré is one of my favorite writers. I buy all his books when they come out. So I have read The Constant Gardener, natch. So, it was hilarious for me when I saw the trailer for this movie, trying to sell it as a spy thriller. Le Carré's books are all about spies but they are not thrillers. They are character studies. Le Carré was at his best with the ambiguities of the cold war, but he is still great, and The Constant Gardener has a great plot. It starts in Kenya where a mid-level diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) and his wife (Rachel Weisz) are posted. Fiennes is very much the British diplomat, one of the grey suits, quiet and boring. His wife is the opposite, young, vivacious and an activist. While working with the poor in Kenya, she discovers that big pharmaceutical companies are testing drugs that they can't test in the developed countries. The British government is in cahoots with these companies. British diplomats (Bill Nighy, Danny Huston) are helping to cover up for the doctor running the tests (Pete Postlethwaite). Meanwhile out in the bush,Weisz is murdered. (This is in the trailer so it's not a spoiler). Fiennes wakes up as if from a dream, and decides to find out who killed his wife and why. And like so many characters in Le Carré stories, Fiennes, the former milquetoast, goes off the reservation.
I have great respect for anyone who tries to bring a John Le Carré book to the screen. They are not very cinematic. The stories all take place in the interior lives of the characters. But Le Carré's stories are so great that he has had eleven of them made for film or TV, starting with his classic, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in 1965 to the more recent, The Russia House and The Tailor of Panama. The Russia House is one of my favorite movies, probably because it is also a chick flick. The Constant Gardener is very well done and has a great cast. Ralph Fiennes was born to play the title role in this movie. He is very good at playing these repressed British guys who eventually explode (The English Patient, The End of the Affair). Rachel Weisz is one of the most under appreciated actors around. She is always great but usually is stuck in a supporting role (Enemy at the Gates, About a Boy, Runaway Jury). In The Constant Gardener, she is amazing and seems to have a lock on a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the Oscars. Danny Huston (The Aviator, Silver City) does a great job as a smarmy diplomat who is supposedly Fiennes friend. And Bill Nighy is great as the senior diplomat at the back of the plot. After his great roles as a aging rocker in Love Actually and an aging Vampire in Underworld, and of course, Slartibartfast in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I think he can play anything. The Constant Gardener was made by the Brazilian director, Fernando Meirelles, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for City of God. Even though they put in a ludicrous car chase to spice things up, The Constant Gardener didn't need it. Go see it or rent it when it comes out on DVD.
The Brothers Grimm :
Only Terry Gilliam would or could make a movie like this. He is a genius but he is a mad genius. Go see the documentary, Lost in La Mancha, about his disastrous attempt to make Don Quixote to get an idea of what he's all about. But this is the American guy who was in Monty Python, who directed Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and my personal favorite, Time Bandits. So why would he make a mess of a movie like The Brothers Grimm. For one thing, it's not at all clear that this is the movie he wanted to make, since the released version is the result of a year-long pissing contest between Gilliam and Harvey Weinstein, the monster of Miramax. But having seen it, it's hard to see how it could have been rearranged into an intelligible story. The Brothers Grimm purports to tell the story of the famous brothers (Matt Damon & Heath Ledger) who are con artists traveling around Europe, saving towns from various ghosts and goblins, all for a hefty fee. Meanwhile, one of the brothers is writing down all the stories in a notebook. See where this is going? Anyway, how they went from conning innocent peasants to becoming famous story tellers is the point of this silly, pointless movie.
What can I say? What a waste. Terry Gilliam is one of those guys that you want to just give some money to and then let him make a movie. Half the time it's great and half the time it isn't. This one isn't. Obviously, Matt Damon and Heath Ledger wanted to make a movie with Gilliam. Who can blame them? They are both good actors and are doing very well, especially, Damon. But this is a real clunker. They are joined by Monica Bellucci, best known on this side of the pond, as the wife of the Merovingian in the Matrix movies. Brothers Grimm was written by Ehren Kruger, who is very hot having done the scripts for The Ring and The Ring 2. This may cool him down a bit.