The Films of Gavin O'Connor
Tumbleweeds (June 16/16)
Tumbleweeds follows mother/daughter pair Mary Jo (Janet McTeer) and Ava (Kimberly J. Walker) as they arrive in San Diego to start their lives over after escaping the clutches of Noah Emmerich's abusive Vertis, with the duo's efforts to blend into their new home threatened, for the most part, by Mary Jo's inability to curb her flighty, promiscuous antics (though she eventually does settle with a seemingly steady truck driver named Jack). Filmmaker Gavin O'Connor, who also plays Jack, does an effective job of eliciting top-notch performances out of his various actors - McTeer is especially good here - and yet Tumbleweeds remains mostly uninvolving and interminable for the duration of its meandering running time, with the almost unreasonably familiar premise certainly playing a key role in triggering (and cementing) the movie's palpable downfall. It becomes clear almost immediately that the film's most egregiously underwhelming element is the far-too-familiar dynamic between Mary Jo and Ava, with the two characters ultimately coming off as hoary archetypes that possess few innovative (or even interesting) real-world attributes (ie the weary daughter who must take care of her immature mother is a hackneyed convention that has, to put it mildly, worn out its welcome). The stagnant midsection does the hopelessly tedious atmosphere no favors, to be sure, and although O'Connor offers up a few comparatively enthralling third-act beat (eg Ava runs away), Tumbleweeds has long-since confirmed its place as a fairly endless drama that squanders the fine work of its cast (which also includes Jay O. Sanders, Laurel Holloman, and Michael J. Pollard).
Miracle (January 31/04)
Miracle marks the latest feel-good Disney sports movie - following Remember the Titans and The Rookie - and the unabashedly sentimental nature of the story is somewhat refreshing. Like those two previous flicks, there's an innocence and good-natured quality to Miracle which is often attempted but rarely works (ie last fall's Radio stands as a perfect example of how this sort of thing can go horribly wrong). Anchored by one of Kurt Russell's best performances, the film doesn't require the viewer to have any knowledge of hockey - and considering how much of the sport is in the movie, that's no small feat. Russell stars as Herb Brooks, a tough and dedicated coach who's jockeying for a chance to lead the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and, when he gets the job, he shocks his bosses by refusing to choose the best players in the game. (He instead chooses those he feels will work best together.) Miracle is a blatant crowd pleaser, to be sure, but there's no denying that it's often very effective. Though the film doesn't do a great job of differentiating between the players, it's not a major problem since Russell's Herb is clearly the film's focus. And while Eric Guggenheim's screenplay often threatens to reduce the character to the most simplistic terms, Russell's engrossing, involving performance effectively renders this issue moot. Oddly enough, the least enjoyable aspect of the film is the all-important game that concludes the story - if only because it often seems to transpire in real time. Thankfully, the match arrives at a point wherein the viewer has a lot invested in these characters, so the competition's overlength doesn't affect the movie as detrimentally as it could have. That Miracle is able to turn a thunderously dull sport like hockey into something semi-exciting is a testament to the filmmakers, particularly director Gavin O'Connor - who does a nice job of keeping the game coherent to those viewers with little knowledge of it. Though there's not much of a surprise regarding the film's outcome, Miracle nevertheless remains enjoyable - albeit in the most earnest and sentimental way possible.
Pride and Glory
Pride and Glory follows NYPD detective Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) as he launches an investigation into the deaths of four police officers, with said investigation ultimately revealing corruption among some of the force's top men and women - including Ray's own brother (Noah Emmerich's Francis) and brother-in-law (Colin Farrell's Jimmy). It is, to be frank, well-worn territory that's generally elevated by an above-average, often electrifying execution, as filmmaker Gavin O'Connor does an effective job of elevating his own screenplay (cowritten with Joe Carnahan, of all people) by emphasizing a series of captivating and thoroughly intense performances - with virtually every member of the cast afforded the opportunity to chew the scenery at least once. (There is, for example, a completely riveting sequence in which Farrell's character threatens to harm the baby (!) of a low-level drug dealer.) There's little doubt, however, that Pride and Glory suffers from a palpably padded-out narrative that's compounded by an overlong running time, with O'Connor's meandering modus operandi often draining the proceedings of its urgency and momentum (ie the storyline's familiarity virtually demands a quicker pace to prevent tedium from settling in). The solid, engrossing climax ensures that Pride and Glory ends on a memorably poignant note, which effectively confirms the movie's place as yet another strong drama from a seriously underrated filmmaker.
An uncommonly engrossing sports movie, Warrior follows estranged brothers Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy (Tom Hardy) as they independently (and without the other's knowledge) begin training for the same lucrative MMA competition - with the film detailing the buildup to the big fight and the siblings' ongoing efforts at reconciling. Filmmaker Gavin O'Connor, working from a script cowritten with Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman, does an admittedly fantastic job of luring the viewer into the proceedings right from the get-go, as the director kicks things off with a stirring sequence involving Tommy's unexpected appearance on his father's doorstep - with this interlude heightened by the magnetic work from both Hardy and Nick Nolte. (The latter, cast as the boys' grizzled father, delivers a performance that's as good as anything within his long, storied career.) And although the fighting sequences are, at the outset, not as compelling as one might've hoped, Warrior benefits substantially from a continuing emphasis on the captivatingly low-key, character-based exploits of the three protagonists (ie the movie is, for the most part, one of the most compelling and affecting familial dramas to come around in quite some time) - with the film's high point unquestionably a tense beach encounter between Edgerton and Hardy's respective characters. The slow build ensures that by the time the aforementioned competition rolls around, Brendan and Tommy have both become absolutely enthralling figures that one can't help but root for - which does, in turn, ensure that the climactic fight sequences possess an unexpectedly electrifying quality (and the final brawl between the brothers is nothing short of hypnotic). By the time the emotionally-draining finale rolls around, Warrior has confirmed its place as an instant classic that manages to surpass even the original Rocky in terms of effectiveness - with Edgerton and, especially, Hardy's intense work merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the film's many, many pleasures.
Jane Got A Gun (June 15/16)
A rare misfire within Gavin O'Connor's otherwise solid body of work, Jane Got A Gun follows frontierswoman Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) as she's forced to ask an old flame (Joel Edgerton's Dan Frost) for help after her husband (Noah Emmerich's Bill Hammond) is brutally attacked by a vicious gang (led by Ewan McGregor's John Bishop). It's a solid, old-school premise that's employed to curiously (and consistently) underwhelming effect by O'Connor, as the filmmaker proves unable to even fleetingly capture the viewer's interest for the duration of Jane Got A Gun's plodding runtime - with the hands-off atmosphere perpetuated by a trio of decidedly less-than-developed central characters. The subsequent decision to flesh out said characters through a series of flashbacks is ultimately somewhat disastrous, as the inclusion of such moments wreaks havoc on the movie's already-tenuous momentum and contributes heavily to the flat, uninvolving vibe. There is, as such, never a point at which one is able to wholeheartedly root for or sympathize with Portman's stolid protagonist, and it goes without saying, certainly, that the film's uneventful midsection tests the viewer's patience to an increasingly prominent degree. And although scripters Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, and Edgerton pepper the proceedings with a few standout sequences (eg Frost's tense encounter with one of Bishop's sleazier underlings), Jane Got A Gun brings virtually nothing new to a well-worn genre and, far more damningly, wastes the talents of a thoroughly capable cast (and director!)