The Films of Wolfgang Petersen
Black and White like Day and Night
The Neverending Story
In the Line of Fire (May 17/16)
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, In the Line of Fire follows aging Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) as he finds himself drawn into a plot to assassinate the president by a lone psychopath (John Malkovich's Mitch Leary). It's clear immediately that In the Line of Fire derives a considerable amount of mileage from the irresistibly antagonistic relationship between the two central characters, with the pair's ongoing phone calls, which easily stand as an obvious highlight within the proceedings, effectively ratcheting up the tension as they grow more and more virulent as time progresses. Filmmaker Petersen, who kicks the film off with as engrossing and attention-grabbing a sequence as one could envision, does a superb job of infusing the movie's action-oriented moments with a palpably exciting and suspenseful feel, while both Eastwood and Malkovich manage to consistently elevate the occasionally flabby narrative with their typically stellar work. (At over two hours, In the Line of Fire probably could've used a few more passes through the editing bay.) And while the romantic subplot between Eastwood and a much younger fellow agent (Rene Russo's Lilly Raines) is questionable (although the chemistry between the actors ultimately redeems it), In the Line of Fire ultimately comes off as a seriously superior thriller that remains, more than 20 years later, one of the best examples of the genre.
Air Force One
The Perfect Storm
Troy (May 13/04)
Troy's narrative, based on Homer's epic poem, is far too complicated to get into here, but the gist of it involves a war that's sparked by an illicit romance between Paris (Orlando Bloom), the Prince of Troy, and Helen (Diane Kruger), the King of Sparta's wife. While the fight sequences aren't nearly as exciting as they're presumably meant to be (due mostly to director Wolfgang Petersen's penchant for quick cuts and dizzying handheld camera moves), there are several one-on-one battles that are far more thrilling than one might've anticipated. And given that these fights come after a fair portion of the movie has progressed, the viewer is able to root for (and against) certain characters. This is not to say that Troy is without its faults; in fact, the film has many. An egregiously overlong running time is the most obvious place to start, as it becomes clear almost immediately that several sequences should've been trimmed or cut entirely. James Horner's oddly intrusive score doesn't add a thing to the proceedings and generally serves only as an unwelcome distraction. And yet the movie remains engaging throughout - despite the lulls and superfluous elements - if only for the pleasure of watching some fantastic actors interact with each other, something that's especially true in the case of Peter O'Toole. Playing Priam, the King of Troy, O'Toole proves that he's still got what it takes and more than holds his own opposite bona fide stars like Bana and Brad Pitt. Troy might not appeal to those with a more thorough knowledge of history - the film barely dwells on what made that society tick - but as an antidote to more serious and "accurate" epics like Gladiator and The Alamo, the movie is certainly a refreshing change of pace.
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.