Mini Reviews (May, June 2006)
Poseidon, Wolf Creek, The Road to Guantanamo
Poseidon (May 11/06)
Stripped of pesky elements such as exposition and character development, Poseidon is generally propelled forward by an almost relentless emphasis on larger-than-life action set pieces and an overall sense of spectacle. Like its forebearer, 1972's The Poseidon Adventure, the film follows a group of passengers as they attempt to make their way to safety aboard a capsized luxury liner - including a former mayor (Kurt Russell), a suicidal architect (Richard Dreyfuss), and a jaded card shark (Josh Lucas). Director Wolfgang Petersen - working from Mark Protosevich's screenplay - effectively transforms the film into a mindlessly diverting piece of summer entertainment, and although the viewer doesn't have a whole lot invested in the fate of these characters, the brisk pace and uniformly strong cast ensure that the movie is (at the very least) rarely boring. In terms of the latter, as good as folks like Russell and Lucas are, it's Dreyfuss who winds up stealing every single one of his admittedly scant scenes. It seems fairly obvious that Poseidon wouldn't come off nearly as well as it does were it not for the efforts of Dreyfuss and his fellow actors, though Petersen once again proves that he's a master at this sort of thing.
Before it takes a disastrous turn sometime around the one-hour mark, Wolf Creek comes off as an effective and thoroughly tense horror flick that's stylish without being obtrusive. Writer/director Greg McLean, making his debut, infuses the movie with an undeniably creepy vibe, eschewing the slickness that generally seems to accompany most contemporary horror movies in favor of a distinctly old-school sort of feel. Evidently based on a true story, Wolf Creek follows a trio of hapless backpackers as they're unwittingly lured into the den of a maniacal serial killer - where the three are summarily tortured and taunted by said psychopath. McLean smartly avoids the temptation to turn these characters into generic horror-movie archetypes, although - unfortunately - the filmmaker falls back on increasingly hoary cliches as the film progresses (ie there's a scene in which one of the backpackers manages to knock her assailant unconscious, but inexplicably fails to finish him off). The inclusion of several other similarly ludicrous sequences ultimately transforms Wolf Creek into a run-of-the-mill slasher picture, which is undoubtedly a real shame given the strength of the film's opening hour.
The Road to Guantanamo (June 20/06)
Though Michael Winterbottom is undeniably one of the most prolific filmmakers of his generation - The Road to Guantanamo marks his seventh effort in six years - his output is generally as uneven as it is plentiful. And while the director has never quite made a flat-out bad movie, his filmography is chock full of maddeningly erratic works such as The Claim and Code 46. With The Road to Guantanamo, Winterbottom - working for the first time with a co-director - delivers a disturbing, often unpleasant film that certainly succeeds in provoking an emotional response from the viewer. Based on a true story, The Road to Guantanamo follows four British friends as they travel to Pakistan to attend the wedding of one of their own. While there, they inexplicably decide to take a day trip into neighboring Afghanistan and arrive just as the United States has begun bombing the country. After being rounded up as suspected Taliban fighters by the Northern Alliance, the three survivors (the fourth disappears and is never seen again) are taken into custody by American soldiers and shipped off to Guantanamo - where they are systematically tortured and beaten for over two years. Co-directors Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross employ the same sort of cinema verite, shot-on-digital vibe that was prevalent in Winterbottom's In This World, though The Road to Guantanamo instantly establishes itself as a far more urgent and engaging piece of work. This is despite the fact that none of the characters are developed beyond their most superficial attributes, as Winterbottom and Whitecross waste little time in thrusting the four hapless victims right into the thick of their perilous situation. That a good portion of the dialogue is rendered intelligible due to some seriously heavy accents certainly doesn't help matters, nor does the confusion surrounding several early plot points (ie why are the guys even in Afghanistan?) That being said, there's no denying the effectiveness of Winterbottom and Whitecross' harsh portrayal of life within the Gitmo prison camp. The methods employed by the trio's captors certainly fall under the category of cruel and unusual punishment, as the prisoners are forced to endure various forms of torture (ie they're chained to the floor of a tiny room while death metal blares). The Road to Guantanamo is far from an easy watch - the movie is often depressing and thoroughly unpleasant - but one suspects that that is precisely the point.