As a director, Clint Eastwood is known for, among other things, subtlety and measured pacing--all the better to explore the shades of grey in which his serious dramas often wallow. And so there's a fundamental sensibility disconnect in his latest, which is ultimately old-school black-and-white melodrama. There is possibly a more subtle and shaded angle that can be taken with the true story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother in 1930s L.A. whose son disappears and then is "found" by the LAPD in the form of a completely different child. However, that's not the approach J. Michael Straczynski's script takes, but rather one of the melodramas of that era, with the beleaguered heroine put through many a perilous wringer as nearly-frothing-from-the-mouth Evil Cops stop just short of cackling with malicious glee. Eastwood executes but doesn't seem to really own these histrionics, for he and Jolie take their time trying to draw a realistic and complex character sketch, which runs at odds with the hyped-up surroundings and circumstances. Jolie is good in a shamelessly awards-baiting role, but her work cannot hold the film together when the script splinters off into about three or four different, drawn-out directions in the final act.
Pride and Glory (R)
It is rather unfortunate that Gavin O'Connor's gritty, Sidney Lumet-esque police drama is one of the clear victims of the upheaval at New Line Cinema, as it deserves better than to serve as an underpublicized sacrificial lamb against more easily sold competition. Admittedly, there is not too much originality here--after all, James Gray's We Own the Night mined the same territory exactly a year ago, to say nothing of countless other films and TV shows the last couple of decades--but this tale of corruption in the New York Police Department, particularly within a multigenerational cop family, is elevated by superb performances, led by Edward Norton and a very chilling Colin Farrell. The final stretch feels a bit gratuitously overblown to give the film a Big Hollywood Finish (bar fight fisticuffs and angry mob beatings, anyone?), but the cast has sold the characters and the drama, however warmed over, so well by that point that such concessions and indulgences can be forgiven.
Saw V (R)
Being the fifth annual go-round for this durable splatter franchise, this film has really no power to change any minds: existing fans will more than likely enjoy, while non-fans won't come any closer to being converted. Being squarely in the latter camp, I was again unimpressed and unmoved in any way though I give the crew behind this series a sliver of credit in trying to maintain some type of consistent narrative "mythology" continuity running through the series--and, ironically, it's that point more or less explains why this particular installment really does not work. This series has so much become the plot-heavy, retcon-prone saga of the late Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and his ongoing influence beyond the grave that the funhouse torture games that were the series' initial trademark are now a bit of an afterthought. Borrowing a page from Saw II, the death trap games are sprung on a group of people (including Julie Benz and Meagan Good) who must pass various tests to escape their closed quarters, but this time that action is so disconnected to what is the focal plot concern--the hunt for Jigsaw's apprentice, who is furiously trying to cover his tracks--as to be tangential and all the more old hat, however much blood is spewed.
Flash of Genius (PG-13)
How fitting that one of the most milquetoast casts ever assembled (Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, and Alan Alda) is employed for the riveting real-life story I'm sure everyone was waiting to see on-screen: that of Dr. Robert Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, and his decades-long fight for recognition from Ford. Making this such a numbing experience is not so much that it hits the expected notes (and does it ever, down to the climactic courtroom speech designed to give Kinnear awards glory he will never see) but does so with such lack of conviction and laziness (director Marc Abraham never even once says what year it is, making all the "months/years later" time jumps hard to keep up with). Kinnear is a decent character actor and ensemble player, but as in all films that make the questionable move of placing him front and center, he just blends in with the wallpaper.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (PG-13)
With the right touches of casting and chemistry, even the thinnest of premises can become weighty in sheer charm, and such is the case with Peter Sollett's agreeably lightweight teen rom-com. Heartbroken Nick (Michael Cera) and spunky Norah (Kat Dennings) meet cute at a New York City music bar and during the course of one drama- and gag-filled night discover true love. There's nothing really new here as far as youth comedies, from the indie-rock hipster soundtrack and sensibility to the generous dollops of gross-out humor (largely centering around one well-traveled piece of chewing gum), but the winning duo of actors playing the title pair make the proceedings freshly appealing. Cera has never run into a line of dialogue he couldn't spin into dry, deadpan comic gold; Dennings is warm, funny, and attractive in a real girl way; and together they make a vibrant, loveable, rootable couple--all the more because, with a lean 89-minute run time, they far from outstay their welcome.
Rachel Getting Married (R)
This title coupled with the presence of Anne Hathaway conjures up images of something horrifyingly akin to The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, but this is a Jonathan Demme picture, so needless to say it's not close to that. Hathaway doesn't even play the title character but her black sheep sister Kym, out on a weekend pass from a rehab facility for the blessed event--which, of course, dredges up its fair share of family demons. This is dark, heavy, and all-too-real stuff, reminiscent of Robert Altman and especially--with the all-handheld camera work, lack of traditional score, and both technical and emotional rawness--the oeuvre created the old Dogme 95 mainfesto. Hathaway, an actress whom I've had much difficulty warming up to in the past, has made me a bona fide fan with her absolutely revelatory performance, which is remarkably expressive in silences and, most crucially, unafraid to let her character's more unflattering qualities come through. Many will complain that she and the rest of her family (Rosemarie DeWitt is also terrific as the alternately sympathetic and aggravating title character, as are Bill Irwin as the father and Debra Winger as the estranged mother) are an unpleasant sort with whom to spend two hours; but the messiness that goes with genuinely flawed and complex people is what makes the film ring so true and cut so deep.