The Films of Edward Zwick
Having It All
About Last Night...
Legends of the Fall
Courage Under Fire
The Siege (May 23/16)
The Siege details the chaos and violence that ensues after terrorists essentially wage war on New York City, with the narrative following a handful of characters as they attempt to stop the carnage by any means necessary. It's clear immediately that The Siege, which is far more relevant today than it was in 1998, benefits substantially from star Denzel Washington's electrifying and downright commanding turn as Anthony Hubbard, with the actor's electrifying turn initially drawing one into the proceedings and, eventually, preventing the viewer from tuning out completely. Filmmaker Edward Zwick does a nice job of initially drawing the viewer into the proceedings, and the narrative, in the movie's first half, moves along at a steady clip and boasts a handful of admittedly enthralling sequences (including a gripping hostage situation aboard a city bus). It's the ongoing introduction of less-than-compelling elements that slowly-but-surely cements The Siege's downfall, with, for example, the growing emphasis on Annette Bening's almost unconscionably annoying Elise Kraft certainly contributing heavily to the overall atmosphere of tedium. (It doesn't help, certainly, that Bening delivers as broadly incompetent a performance as one can easily recall.) The increasingly erratic momentum is compounded by scripter Lawrence Wright's decision to dwell on Hubbard's seriously tedious investigation, and it goes without saying that's one's efforts at sustaining interest in the narrative grow more and more fruitless as time progresses - which ultimately confirms The Siege's place as a solid concept in search of a consistent (and engaging) execution.
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.
Directed by Edward Zwick, Blood Diamond follows mercenary smuggler Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he teams up with an African fisherman (Djimon Hounsou's Solomon Vandy) to track down a diamond worth millions of dollars. It's clear that Blood Diamond takes quite a while to wholeheartedly get going, as the film's opening hour, which progresses at an almost excessively deliberate pace, suffers from an absence of momentum that's often palpable - with Charles Leavitt's episodic screenplay placing a consistent emphasis on intriguing yet entirely superfluous digressions (eg Danny and Solomon come across a refugee camp full of children). Blood Diamond's overlong running time certainly plays a key role in perpetuating the erratic atmosphere, with, in its early stages, the movie benefiting substantially from star DiCaprio's magnetic turn as the captivating central character. There's little doubt, then, that the film grows more and more engrossing as it progresses, as Zwick peppers the narrative with a handful of engaging, exciting sequences that pave the way for an unexpectedly mesmerizing final stretch. (It's difficult, for example, to deny the emotional impact of a stirring climactic sequence involving Hounsou's increasingly compelling figure.) And although the almost comical lack of subtlety within Leavitt's script remains a problem, Blood Diamond ultimately manages to establish itself as an old-fashioned yarn that's often far more entertaining than one might've initially anticipated.
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).
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (November 21/16)
Tom Cruise's title character returns in a thriller that follows Reacher as he attempts to clear the name of a dedicated army major (Cobie Smulders' Susan Turner) accused of espionage, with the character's efforts complicated by the continued presence of a bratty teenager (Danika Yarosh's Samantha) who may or may not be his daughter. It's in that possible-offspring subplot that ultimately cements Jack Reacher: Never Go Back's place as a watchable yet disappointing sequel (particularly given the effectiveness of the original), as screenwriters Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz, and Edward Zwick, the latter of whom also directs, make the decision to devote much of the movie's midsection to this middling, almost completely worthless subplot. (It's clear, by the time the film's edited, that everything involving Yarosh's nails-on-a-chalkboard character could've seamlessly been removed from the proceedings.) There is, as a result, little doubt that Jack Reacher: Never Go Back avoids all-out mediocrity thanks to Cruise's typically strong work and a smattering of exciting suspense-oriented sequences, with, in terms of the latter, the film's well-paced opening stretch boasting an exciting prison break and a brutal hand-to-hand fight in a kitchen (in addition to a strong setup for the movie's central mystery). But the viewer's interest in Reacher's exploits dwindle steadily as the picture marches into its fairly uninvolving second act, and although there are some interesting interludes sprinkled throughout, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back builds to a somewhat endless climax that doesn't pack the visceral punch Zwick has presumably intended (and yet, to be fair, Reacher's final battle with the movie's slimy villain is quite satisfying) - thus confirming the film's place as an underwhelming followup that could (and should) have been so much better.