The Films of Edward Zwick
Having It All
About Last Night...
Legends of the Fall
Courage Under Fire
The Last Samurai (December 2/03)
Set in the late 1800s, The Last Samurai follows Tom Cruise's disillusioned soldier Nathan Algren as he agrees to train Japanese recruits in American fighting techniques - with problems ensuing as Algren inevitably begins to identify with the plight of his newfound countrymen. It's a relatively simple story that's been stretched out to an occasionally excruciating two-and-a-half hours, and although it's never flat-out boring, the film's often far more ponderous and deliberately paced than one might've liked. Director Edward Zwick has infused the proceedings with the air of an endeavor designed to win awards more than entertain, as the majority of scenes and sequences feel as though they've been planned out to such an extent that they've been drained almost entirely of energy and spontaneity. The subsequent lack of compelling characters is hardly surprising, as even Cruise's Nathan Algren remains a sketchily-drawn figure that the viewer is ultimately unable to sympathize with. His arc is a relatively simple one - callous soldier experiences an epiphany and bonds with Samurai warriors - but we're nevertheless forced to endure countless sequences featuring Algren chatting with a rebel leader (Ken Watanabe's Katsumoto) and his family. And while some of that stuff is interesting - helped in great part by Watanabe's fantastic performance - it finally gets to the point where enough is enough; we get it already. Having said that, The Last Samurai remains worth a look thanks primarily to the uniformly strong acting and amazing combat sequences. In terms of the latter, there's a fight between the Samurai warriors and a group of ninjas at around the one-hour mark that rivals anything in Kill Bill in terms of sheer jaw-dropping spectacle. And then there's the final battle between the Japanese army and the Samurai, which is gripping and involving in ways that everything preceding it is not. But the film's denouement is overwrought and far more melodramatic than necessary, as though the filmmakers wanted to ensure we understand how important this story really is. The end result is an endeavor that boasts plenty of positive attributes, yet never quite adds up to a story that's particularly involving.
Defiance (January 2/09)
The latest "important" historical drama from Edward Zwick, Defiance follows three WWII-era Jewish brothers (Daniel Craig's Tuvia, Liev Schreiber's Zus, and Jamie Bell's Asael) as they hide out within a forested clearing and - along with dozens of fellow survivors - eventually stage a rebellion against the Nazis. Zwick - working from a script cowritten with Clayton Frohman - slowly-but-surely squanders the admittedly intriguing premise by offering up a bloated midsection that's almost disastrously uneventful, as the various characters are forced to bide their time by participating in a series of increasingly pointless endeavors (ie weddings, spirited arguments, etc). The frustratingly repetitive structure - the fighters engage in battle, return to the forest for downtime, engage in another battle, etc, etc - leads to a distinctly oppressive atmosphere that's exacerbated by the absurdly overlong running time, with Zwick's sporadically hackneyed directorial choices only compounding the movie's various problems (ie he cuts between a wedding celebration and a Nazi-killing rampage). And while there are admittedly a few compelling interludes sprinkled throughout the proceedings - ie Tuvia avenges his parents' murder by single-handedly taking down a room full of Nazis, in a scene that's admittedly far more thrilling than anything within the latest James Bond adventure - Defiance comes off as a hopelessly transparent bit of Oscar bait that ultimately does a disservice to the real-life figures that inspired this story.
Love & Other Drugs
An above average romantic comedy, Love & Other Drugs follows an ambitious pharmaceutical rep (Jake Gyllenhaal's Jamie Randall) as he starts up a relationship with a free-spirited artist named Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway) - with their coupling inevitably threatened by both Jamie's fast-paced lifestyle and Maggie's increasingly serious health issues. It's a premise that's employed to consistently watchable effect by filmmaker Edward Zwick, as the director, working from a script co-written with Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz, immediately captures the viewer's interest by emphasizing the exploits of Gyllenhaal's character. The film's briskly-paced and unapologetically slick sensibilities are heightened by Gyllenhaal's almost ridiculously charismatic performance, while there's little doubt that the actor's palpable chemistry with his equally affecting co-star smooths over the inclusion of a few needless elements within the narrative (ie recurring appearances by Jamie's comic-relief brother, played with over-the-top glee by Josh Gad). It's subsequently worth noting that by the time it morphs into a full-fledged (and rather standard) romantic comedy/drama (complete with tearjerking elements), Love & Other Drugs has established itself as a perfectly watchable piece of work that ultimately does peter out slightly in its third act (ie the inclusion of such needless romcom clichés like the fake break-up and the race to a loved one wreak havoc on the film's momentum).