The Films of Peter Weir
The Cars That Ate Paris
Picnic at Hanging Rock
The Last Wave
The Year of Living Dangerously
Witness (October 2/05)
Inexplicable as it seems, Witness somehow manages to cross a thriller with a romantic comedy with a fish-out-of-water story to unusually entertaining effect. Harrison Ford stars as John Book, a police officer who discovers that the only witness to a brutal murder is a small Amish boy (Lukas Haas). After a couple of corrupt cops - played by Josef Sommer and Danny Glover - figure out what's going on, Book has no choice but to hide out with the boy and his mother (Kelly McGillis) at their farm. Though the film opens and closes with violent sequences, the majority of Witness follows Book's efforts to acclimatize himself to the laid-back, antiquated Amish lifestyle. As a result, the pace of the film slows considerably during this portion - though the combination of Peter Weir's steady direction and Ford's endlessly engrossing performance ensures that it never becomes boring (yet there's no doubt that certain scenes could've used a little trimming, particularly the barn-raising sequence). The movie's conclusion, revolving around Book's confrontation with the dirty cops, is surprisingly gripping and thoroughly exciting, and proves to be a perfect capper to a refreshingly adult story.
The Mosquito Coast
Dead Poets Society
The Truman Show (January 16/09)
Anchored by an admittedly irresistible premise, The Truman Show quickly establishes itself as an engaging drama that benefits substantially from Jim Carrey's unexpectedly layered (and flat-out moving) performance. The film casts Carrey as Truman Burbank, an insurance salesman who is unknowingly the star of an hugely successful reality show revolving entirely around his life - with his various loved ones, including wife Meryl (Laura Linney) and best friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich), portrayed by actors whose every movement is dictated by the series' enigmatic producer (Ed Harris' Christof). It's worth noting that screenwriter Andrew Niccol generally does a superb job of ensuring that The Truman Show's high-concept nature never negates the authenticity of the characters, as the various figures have been infused with a layered sensibility that's slowly-but-surely revealed as the storyline unfolds (ie Truman's impossibly sunny demeanor masks a restless, almost tortured psyche). The deliberate pace employed by filmmaker Peter Weir generally proves an ideal complement to Niccol's contemplative script, yet Carrey's hypnotic turn as the central character does ensure that one's interest flags as Truman temporarily vacates the proceedings during the third act. The loss of momentum that results is relatively easy to overlook, however, and there's certainly no denying the strength of the haunting, downright affecting conclusion - thus cementing The Truman Show's place as an entertainingly prescient piece of work.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (November 12/03)
Based on the historical novels by Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World details the exploits of a 19th century British ship and her crew - with the formidable Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) at the helm. After his vessel is attacked by a French ship, Aubrey makes it his personal mission to go after and capture the perpetrators. Though Aubrey is clearly a stern and disciplined captain, his jovial friendship with the ship's doctor (played by Paul Bettany) proves that there's more than a little humanity in the man. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World kicks off with a battle between the British and French vessels, which is followed by Aubrey's crew attempting to survive severe weather conditions. This is all before the film has bothered to introduce any of the characters to us, so it's essentially akin to watching someone play a war simulator. It's all so overpowering that it really doesn't bode well for the remainder of the movie, but thankfully, director Peter Weir does eventually slow things down. When the film stops being about cannon battles and bad weather, that's when it becomes involving. There are a lot of very talented actors in this cast, but it's not until the movie virtually stops dead in its tracks that we finally get to know the various characters. Though he initially seems to be a tough-as-nails disciplinarian, Aubrey is eventually revealed to be someone that cares a great deal for his men and often puts their safety first. But above all, he's a great captain and Crowe does a fantastic job of getting into Aubrey's skin; this is certainly a much better performance than his Oscar nominated turn in A Beautiful Mind. Even better is Bettany, Crowe's Beautiful Mind co-star, who is absolutely convincing as this 19th century doctor. The film's best sequence finds Bettany's character forced to operate on himself after being shot; Weir smartly keeps the camera tight on Bettany's face, and his expression says so much more than a garish close-up of the wound ever could. Some mention must be given to the astounding production design, which is incredibly detailed and ensures that the film is always interesting to look at. The interior of Aubrey's ship - from the crowded crew's quarters to the ornate senior officers mess hall - almost becomes a character in itself, which isn't all that surprising given how much time the film spends within its walls. Peter Weir proves to be quite adept at directing action sequences, ensuring that we always know what's going on and who's doing what. But his need to start the story off with a bang proves to be the weakest element of the film, and proves to be more distracting than anything else.
The Way Back