Three Thrillers from Lionsgate
Frailty (October 25/11)
Directed by Bill Paxton, Frailty follows a religious fanatic (Paxton) as he begins murdering people he suspects of being demons - with the film detailing the impact that said murders have on the character's two young sons (Matt O'Leary's Fenton and Jeremy Sumpter's Adam). (There's also a wraparound story involving Matthew McConaughey's adult Fenton and his efforts at telling the story to Powers Boothe's skeptical FBI agent.) Paxton has infused Frailty with a deliberately-paced sensibility that proves an ideal complement to Brent Hanley's subdued screenplay, and there's little doubt that the film's slow-moving atmosphere is alleviated, in its early stages, by the cast's uniformly stellar efforts - with Paxton's expectedly engrossing performance matched by his young, inexperienced costars. (And this is to say nothing of the striking work from both McConaughey and Boothe.) Heightening Frailty's engrossing vibe is the periodic inclusion of impressively tense interludes, as Paxton infuses the movie's more violent sequences with a gritty and downright disturbing feel that proves impossible to resist. And although the film grows more and more stagnant as it passes the one-hour mark, Frailty admittedly does recover for a stirring finale that's as gripping as it is surprising - which ultimately cements the movie's place as a solid thriller from a promising first-time director.
The Lincoln Lawyer
Based on the book by Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer follows slick attorney Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) as he agrees to defend a wealthy playboy (Ryan Phillippe's Louis Roulet) accused of battery - with complications inevitably ensuing as Mickey makes a series of shocking discoveries. Though basically entertaining from start to finish, The Lincoln Lawyer, for the most part, comes off as a prototypical legal thriller that seems to have emerged directly from a template for films of this ilk - as scripter John Romano offers up a surprise-free narrative that generally goes exactly where one might've anticipated (eg as soon as a certain supporting character first arrives onscreen, there's almost no doubt that he/she is destined to meet a grisly end). Director Brad Furman's decidedly deliberate sensibilities are exacerbated by his reliance on needless subplots, with the movie's ongoing emphasis on Mickey's on-again-off-again relationship with Marisa Tomei's Maggie McPherson undoubtedly standing as the most obvious example of this. There's little doubt, however, that The Lincoln Lawyer does improve steadily as it progresses, as the stellar (and unexpectedly riveting) courtroom scenes that crop up in the film's third act compensate for the otherwise stale atmosphere. (It's also impossible not to get a kick out of the movie's impressively populated supporting cast, which includes, among others, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, and Bryan Cranston.) The end result is a perfectly serviceable legal thriller that passes the time and gets the job done, but it's hard to envision the movie ever being ranked among the best that the genre has to offer.
Nemesis Game (December 17/11)
Nemesis Game follows plucky college student Sara Novak (Carly Pope) as she attempts to gain entrance into a secret society based on complicated riddles and puzzles, with Sara's life inevitably threatened by her ongoing efforts at cracking the far-reaching conspiracy. Filmmaker Jesse Warn has infused Nemesis Game with a convoluted, slow-moving sensibility that holds the viewer at arms length right from the get-go, with the hands-off atmosphere preventing one from working up any interest in or enthusiasm for Sara's continuing exploits (ie there's just nothing real at stake here). Far more problematic is Warn's decision to devote much of the movie's midsection to the mystery of the riddles, as the writer/director proves unable (or unwilling) to wholeheartedly explain exactly what any of this means or why it's important - which ultimately does ensure that Sara's investigation is, for the most part, absolutely mind-numbing in its meaninglessness. The inclusion of a time-wasting, hopelessly dull subplot involving a psychotic member (Rena Owen's Emily Gray) of the aforementioned cult serves no purpose other than to pad out the already interminable running time, while the criminally abrupt ending guarantees that the film ends on as anti-climactic and underwhelming a note as one could possibly envision - thus confirming Nemesis Game's place as a sporadically intriguing yet seriously tedious piece of work.