The Films of Scott Hicks
Sebastian and the Sparrow
Call Me Mr. Brown
Snow Falling on Cedars (April 3/01)
It's really too bad about Snow Falling on Cedars, as the film boasts consistently impressive visuals and Max von Sydow's best performance in years - yet the movie is, for the most part, just unreasonably dull. Ethan Hawke stars as Ishmael Chambers, a one-armed reporter following the trial of a Japanese man accused of killing a local fisherman. It becomes a little too personal for Ishmael, though, because the accused is married to his childhood sweetheart. Meanwhile, there are flashbacks a-plenty as we see everything from what happened the night that fisherman was killed to how Ishmael lost his arm to his childhood infatuation with a young Japanese girl. It's the flashbacks that diminish Snow Falling on Cedars' overall impact. Every time the viewer starts getting into the story and following along with the characters, the movie jumps right into another in an increasingly long line of flashbacks. (And some flashbacks have flashbacks of their own!) Having said that, the film is admittedly worth a look if only for the its visuals (which are unquestionably quite impressive). The actors are all game, particularly von Sydow, who plays the lawyer of the accused. His summation scene is worth the price of the rental alone. In fact, all of the courtroom scenes were quite interesting; it's just when the movie shifted to the past that Snow Falling on Cedars' lost its way.
Hearts in Atlantis
No Reservations (July 26/07)
Based on the 2001 German film Mostly Martha, No Reservations casts Catherine Zeta-Jones as Kate - a fussy chef whose orderly life is turned upside down after she's forced to take in her dead sister's young daughter (Abigail Breslin's Zoe). Aaron Eckhart co-stars as Kate's rival/love interest, while Patricia Clarkson and Bob Balaban play, respectively, Kate's boss and therapist. There are few surprises to be had within No Reservations - ie if you've seen the trailer, you've pretty much seen the entire film - and yet the movie remains entertaining enough to warrant a mild recommendation. The lack of expected cliches - aside from the dreaded and entirely needless third-act break-up - proves to be refreshing, with Carol Fuchs' screenplay generally eschewing the sort of elements viewers have come to associate with such a premise (ie Zoe isn't portrayed as an obnoxious, resentful brat). The film's episodic structure initially lends the proceedings a light-hearted, breezy vibe, although there does come a point at which the free-wheeling shenanigans take on oppressive qualities - as the viewer starts to long for anything even resembling dramatic conflict. And while it's clear that the movie would've been better off with a more charismatic star in the central role (Zeta-Jones is as stiff and unconvincing as one might've expected), No Reservations is ultimately an amiable piece of work that benefits substantially from Scott Hicks' fluid direction and Eckhart's thoroughly engaging performance.
Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts
The Boys Are Back (October 23/11)
Based on a book by Simon Carr, The Boys Are Back follows sports writer Joe Warr (Clive Owen) as he attempts to raise his young son (Nicholas McAnulty's Artie) after his wife (Laura Fraser's Katy) dies of cancer - with complications ensuing as Joe's older son, Harry (George MacKay), arrives from boarding school to stay for a while. It's a fairly standard premise that is, for the most part, employed to middling effect by filmmaker Scott Hicks, as the director, working from Allan Cubitt's screenplay, has infused the movie with an excessively deliberate pace that effectively exacerbates the familiarity of the narrative. There's little doubt, however, that Owen's engrossing performance proves instrumental in initially compensating for the otherwise stale vibe, with the actor's emotionally-charged work ensuring that Joe does become a wholeheartedly sympathetic figure. The relatively watchable atmosphere persists right up until around the halfway mark, after which point Hicks' egregiously laid-back sensibilities and Cubitt's reliance on hackneyed elements become increasingly difficult to overlook. It is, as such, not surprising to note that The Boys Are Back's latter half, which has been suffused with sequences of a decidedly needless variety (eg Harry is overwhelmed while taking care of Artie alone), slowly-but-surely drains the viewer's interest, and it's ultimately clear that the movie's good intentions (and good performances) are rendered moot by its aggressively conventional execution.
The Lucky One (April 20/12)
Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, The Lucky One follows soldier Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) as he tracks down and befriends the woman (Taylor Schilling's Beth) that he believes kept him alive in Iraq - with the film, for the most part, detailing the romantic relationship that inevitably blossoms between Logan and Beth. It's ultimately neither the familiarity of the premise nor the presence of eye-rollingly hackneyed elements that sinks The Lucky One, as such attributes are, generally speaking, par for the course with movies of this ilk. It's instead the narrative's extreme deliberateness that stands as a consistent impediment to one's ongoing enjoyment of the film, with the excessively, oppressively languid pace highlighting the various deficincies within Will Fetters' screenplay (eg the almost comically over-the-top portrayal of Beth's evil ex-husband, an unusual and distracting emphasis on montages, etc, etc). There is, as such, little doubt that it becomes more and more difficult to work up any interest in or sympathy for the central characters' continuing exploits, which is a shame, certainly, given the strength of the palpable chemistry between Efron and Schilling. (It doesn't hurt, either, that both actors are quite good in their respective roles, though Efron can't entirely pull off the whole "grizzled veteran" thing.) The end result is the most disappointing Sparks adaptation since 2002's A Walk to Remember, and it seems highly unlikely that even the author's staunchest fans will find much here worth getting excited about.