The Films of Phillip Noyce
Echoes of Paradise
Sliver (April 1/06)
Released in 1993, Sliver marked the beginning of the end of Joe Eszterhas' screenwriting career. The film, a financial disaster, was followed by high-profile bombs such as Showgirls and Jade, and though it might not be quite as bad as either of those efforts, Sliver generally comes off as a slick but ultimately empty and surprisingly dull piece of work. Sharon Stone stars as Carly Norris, a successful book editor who moves into a modern high-rise and promptly finds herself embroiled in a steamy relationship with a mysterious game developer named Zeke (William Baldwin). Carly must also contend with a series of suspicious deaths, of which both Zeke and a local author (Tom Berenger) are the primary suspects. With its salacious plot twists and unmistakable vibe of trashiness, Sliver is sporadically watchable - though the emphasis on Carly and Zeke's illicit relationship becomes tiresome almost immediately (stripped of its thriller elements, the movie is really just a subpar 9 1/2 Weeks clone).
Clear and Present Danger
The Bone Collector
Rabbit-Proof Fence (December 7/02)
Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on the shocking true-life story of how, starting in the '30s, young Australian children who were half Aboriginal and half white were taken from their families and sent to camps to be trained as domestic staff. But as compelling as the subject matter is, the film comes off as weak and even dull - due mostly to some poor acting and questionable directorial choices. Everlyn Sampi stars as Molly Craig, one of three sisters dragged from her home kicking and screaming and sent to a crowded training camp. Molly refuses to accept her fate, and plots an escape for her two sisters and herself. Meanwhile, the man heading the program, Mr. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), realizes that public knowledge of the Craig escape would spell disaster for his enterprise, and assigns two men to track down the girls - one of whom is an Aboriginal himself.
Rabbit-Proof Fence contains what is undeniably a fascinating story, but the film never manages to express that extreme feeling of risk that the real-life girls must have felt. The whole thing just comes off as curiously flat, despite some stunning locales and a fine performance from Branagh. The heart of the problem lies with the casting of the three girls and their family members, as the various actresses exude a palpable vibe of amateurishness that effectively dulls the impact of the subject matter. Branagh, however, does a fine job of ensuring that Mr. Neville never turns into a one-dimensional villain, which is no small feat given that this is a character who, at one point, notes that "in spite of himself, the native must be helped." It's a shame, really, that Rabbit-Proof Fence ultimately comes off as such a mediocre piece of work, as this is an important topic that deserves a better presentation.
The Quiet American
Based on the novel by Graham Greene, The Quiet American - which follows a British reporter (Michael Caine) as he attempts to navigate the murky waters of 1952-era Vietnam - is surprisingly involving, and although it deals heavily with the politics of the time, the film is clear enough that even a viewer with the most minimal knowledge of the conflict will be able to follow along. Director Phillip Noyce does an astounding job of bringing us this dank and dirty world; Fowler's apartment alone is a masterpiece of set design. Noyce makes great use of the widescreen format, taking his camera in and around the smallest sections of Vietnam. The Quiet American is a marked improvement over Rabbit-Proof Fence, Noyce's other 2002 film, which was over-the-top in virtually every aspect. Here, he creates a world that is absolutely intriguing, from the hotel cafe where Fowler drinks his coffee every morning to the headquarters of an up-and-coming military leader. But the look of the film would mean nothing without good performances to accompany it, and The Quiet American certainly has that going for it. Caine, as the world-weary reporter, gives one of his best performances in years. He is completely convincing as this guy who's been there, done that - and who just wants to enjoy the rest of his life with a local girl (Do Hai Yen's Phoung). And Brendan Fraser, finally returning to a dramatic role after years of essentially playing living cartoons, proves that he's got what it takes to act opposite a master like Caine. As for Yen, she's a surprisingly adept actress - though her heavy accent occasionally makes it a little tough to understand what she's saying. While The Quiet American does take a little while to really get going, it's nevertheless quite an enjoyable piece of work (and worth checking out if only for Caine's amazing performance).
Catch a Fire
Salt (July 25/10)
Easily the best action film not directed by Christopher Nolan to come around in quite some time, Salt follows the title character (Angelina Jolie's Evelyn Salt) as she's forced to go on the run after she's accused of being a Russian spy - with the movie subsequently (and primarily) revolving around Salt's ongoing efforts at evading several dogged agents (including Liev Schreiber's Ted Winter and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Peabody). Director Phillip Noyce does a fantastic job of initially drawing the viewer into the unabashedly ridiculous narrative, as the filmmaker, working from a script by Kurt Wimmer, effectively elevates the material with a series of superbly conceived and executed action sequences. The entertainingly mindless atmosphere is hindered only by the presence of a few plot holes that are, admittedly, rendered moot once certain third act revelations kick in, while Jolie's expectedly distant performance sporadically prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting with her character's plight (which does seem to be Wimmer's goal, however, as Salt's true nature isn't entirely revealed until the finale). By the time the propulsive, unexpectedly captivating final half hour rolls around, Salt has established itself as more than just another run-of-the-mill actioner designed to placate indiscriminate summer audiences - as the movie is often as thrilling dramatically as it is viscerally.
Mary and Martha
The Giver (September 2/14)
Based on Lois Lowry's acclaimed novel, The Giver transpires in a futuristic landscape that's been drained of individuality and free will - with the narrative following a young man (Brenton Thwaites' Jonas) as he forms a life-changing relationship with a man known only as the Giver (Jeff Bridges). Filmmaker Phillip Noyce, working from a script by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, does an impressive job of capturing the feel and tone of Lowry's book at the movie's outset, with the director's decision to initially suffuse the proceedings in black-and-white cinematography effectively capturing the drab, colorless atmosphere inhabited by the characters. It's worth noting, too, that the film benefits substantially from the efforts of a thoroughly capable cast, with Bridges' perpetually mesmerizing turn as the title figure matched by a roster of periphery performers that includes Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, and Meryl Streep. Noyce's use of languid pacing ensures that The Giver struggles to retain the viewer's attention through the movie's midsection, although it's clear that the film doesn't completely go off the rails until it enters its action-packed final stretch - with this portion of the proceedings bearing few similarities to the source material. The incongruous third act, which ultimately feels somewhat endless, confirms The Giver's place as an underwhelming adaptation that could (and should) have been so much better, which is especially disappointing, surely, given the strength of the performances and the film's first half.