Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Double Feature -- two reviews

Steven Spielberg's latest offering, Munich, tells the story of the aftermath following the murders of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games. Eric Bana stars as Anver, an Israeli who is hired to assassinate 11 Palestinian terrorists who allegedly helped plan the murders.

Walking out of the theater, I found the movie hard to shake. While of course, the conflict between Israel/Palestine is central to the film, I think that the thematic issues the movie raises are far larger and more thought-provoking. I found it notable that the book the film is based on is called, Vengeance, for this notion is at the heart of the film. The questions hover around the characters: What will these assassinations really accomplish? Are these killings somehow justified? When will it all end? And in a subtle yet profound performance, Bana's character struggles with these questions as they pass through his character, causing him (and his fellow assassins) great turmoil, anxiety, and fear for his wife and child.

Spielberg takes us all throughout Europe in the 1970s, to Lebannon, to Israel, to the United States. Visually, the film is dark and filled with contrasting moments of high action and powerful drama.

For me, this movie is far more complex than Spielberg's Schindler's List. They are, of course, very different films, but I have a feeling Munich is going to stay in my mind for a long time. Four and a half big stars.

Terrence Howard stars as "DJay" in Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow, the story of a Memphis pimp who attempts to turn his life around and become a successful rap artist.

You probably remember Howard from last year's brilliant Crash, playing a middle-class African-American man who must face the realities of being African-American in modern America, when his wife is molested by a police officer (played by the Golden Globe, SAG, and Critic's Choice nominated Matt Dillion). Seeing Howard's performances side-by-side gives the viewer a stunning glimpse into his range as an actor. His critical recognition for this role is well earned. Howard's DJay is, in many ways, completely unlikeable, but he manages to reach deep inside the character to extract his heart. We may not agree with some of his actions, but we wind up rooting for him to get out of his situation and transform his life. In complex and emotionally raw supporting roles, Taryn Manning as "Nola" and Taraji P. Henson as "Shug" make the viewer ache; we want them to rise above the world they are living in, but we realize the near impossibility to do so.

DJay's music, of course, creates a solid foundation for the film; I'd think that even a non-fan of rap will appreciate the rhythm and tone that music sets for the movie. Seeing the process of how DJay cuts his first demo -- from the words to the recording -- made this viewer understand the music all the more.

A solid character-driven film. Four stars.


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