Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mean Streets and Sidewalks, Preminger's Bleak Vision

In Otto Preminger's 1950 hard boiled crime drama, "Where The Sidewalk Ends" (Script by Ben Hecht), Dana Andrews, as Det. Mark Dixon, lays the groundwork for "Dirty" Harry Callahan.
Much like Clint Eastwood's Fascist-leaning crime fighter, Andrews' Dixon can't play by the rules--he'd just as soon slap around crooks and wiseguys, and can't stomach the thought of honoring their constitutional rights.
Andrews gave a similarly sullen performance in another film also directed by Preminger and co-starring Gene Tierney, 1944's "Laura."
In "Laura," Andrews, as Det. Lt. Mark McPherson, obsesses over the murder victim whose case he's assigned to investigate. When the object of McPherson's obsession, Laura, mysteriously appears, very much alive, a new mystery begins to unfold, as does a potential romance between the detective and the would-be murder victim.
But in "Sidewalk," we see a more driven, haunted figure in Andrews' performance. Near the end of the film, we learn that the detective has a dark past. When it looks like the unlucky Dixon will get off the hook for an accidental killing he commits and tries to cover up, he realizes that his only chance for redemption is to turn himself in and suffer the consequences. By doing so he trashes his career and sacrifices his chance for romance with the woman of his dreams. But for him it's the only way to break from his past and begin a new life.
"Laura" is the hands-down more popular of the two films, but for its existential angst and toughness, "Sidewalk" is head and shoulders above its earlier counterpart.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

HBO's mini series based on James M. Caine novel gets high praise

Salon magazine says:
"Mildred Pierce" is a quiet, heartbreaking masterpiece. Kate Winslet's expert performance anchors a tough, smart portrait of a woman's struggle to master her life. Read the full story.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Aussie Gangster Film Side-Steps Cliches

Few crime dramas are as compelling as last year"s "Animal Kingdom." David Michôd wrote and directed the film about a Melbourne family of bank robbers. We never see them rob a bank, and except for one or two brutal scenes never a crime is committed. How's that for avoiding heist film cliches?
Michôd is after something deeper--the relationship among thieves and the police pursuing them who may be just as corrupt as their prey.
Guy Pearce does a stellar job in his understated role as the policeman who sees the crime family's youngest, J, as the lone hope for justice. The rest of the cast performs with remarkable restraint as well, especially given the subject matter -- opportunities for histrionics are at every corner, but thankfully both Michôd and the cast knew better.