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The Films of Gregory Hoblit

Roe vs. Wade

Class of '61

Primal Fear (May 5/11)

Primal Fear casts Richard Gere as Martin Vail, a hotshot attorney who agrees to represent a teenager (Edward Norton's Aaron Stampler) accused of murdering a priest - with the film subsequently detailing both the trial that ensues and Vail's efforts at discovering the truth about his client. Primal Fear, for the most part, comes off as a fairly typical legal thriller, as director Gregory Hoblit, working from Steve Shagan and Ann Biderman's screenplay, has infused the proceedings with many of the elements that one has come to associate with the genre - including a slick protagonist who is forcefully taken down a notch and a wide-eyed defendant who may not be quite as innocent as he seems. It's due primarily to the efforts of the stellar cast, then, that the movie remains surprisingly watchable from start to finish, with Gere's expectedly commanding turn matched by an eclectic roster of periphery performers that includes, among others, Laura Linney, John Mahoney, and Terry O'Quinn. There's little doubt, however, that it's Edward Norton who establishes himself as the film's most valuable player, as the actor, making his cinematic debut here, does a superb job of stepping into the shoes of an increasingly complicated figure - with the majority of the movie's electrifying moments stemming from Norton's star-making performance (eg Aaron's violent jailhouse confrontation with Gere's character). And although scripters Shagan and Biderman place a continuing emphasis on curiously needless subplots - eg the ongoing problems surrounding a nearby housing project - Primal Fear ultimately lives up to its reputation as a solid drama that's elevated on an all-too-consistent basis by Norton's impressively hypnotic work.

out of

Fallen (November 10/12)

Directed by Gregory Hoblit, Fallen follows homicide detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) as he witnesses the execution of a notorious killer (Elias Koteas' Edgar Reese) and subsequently becomes convinced that the madman's spirit is jumping from body to body with impunity. There's little doubt that Fallen, running a far-from-brisk 124 minutes, suffers from pacing issues that persist virtually from start to finish, with the deliberateness of the movie's opening half hour especially problematic given the fairly underwhelming nature of Hobbes' initial investigation (ie it just becomes a matter of waiting for Washington's character to catch up to what we already know.) It's just as clear, however, that Fallen benefits substantially from Washington's engrossing performance and Hoblit's striking, Se7en-like visual sensibilities, while the inclusion of several impressively conceived and executed sequences (eg Hobbes watches in horror as Reese passes from body to body on a crowded city street) ensures that the movie grows more and more compelling as time progresses. And although there's a palpable lull in the buildup to the climax, Fallen concludes with an absolutely enthralling stretch that confirms its place as an erratic yet rewarding thriller - with the movie's only real deficiency its often severe overlength.

out of

Frequency (August 15/16)

Written by Toby Emmerich, Frequency details the time-travel shenanigans that ensue after a 36-year-old cop (Jim Caviezel's John Sullivan) begins communicating with his long-dead father (Dennis Quaid's Frank) through a CB radio (with the help of mysterious solar flares). It's an appealingly out-there premise that's employed to perpetually captivating effect by filmmaker Gregory Hoblit, as the director does a superb job of establishing Caviezel and Quaid's respective figures and the irresistible father/son bond that slowly begins to develop between the two - with Frequency at its best when focused on the characters' initially-tentative-but-eventually-probing conversations. The time-travel aspect of Emmerich's narrative also contributes heavily to the movie's consistently engrossing vibe, to be sure, and it's difficult not to get a kick out the protagonists' efforts at fixing the problems wrought by their timeline changes. And while the somewhat overlong running time does result in a few lulls in the film's second half (ie there's perhaps a little too much emphasis on Frank and John's investigation into a series of '60s murders), Frequency boasts an undercurrent of agreeable sentimentality that compensates for a sporadically erratic sense of pacing - with, especially, the film building to an emotional and thoroughly affecting final stretch. The end result is a compelling, memorable piece of work that effectively balances its sci-fi and family-drama elements, and it's clear that Frequency belongs in the pantheon of flicks expertly designed to elicit tears from men.

out of

Hart's War

Fracture (April 17/07)

Distinctly uneven yet essentially entertaining, Fracture casts Ryan Gosling as Willy Beachum - a hotshot public defender whose latest case, involving the murder of a wealthy young women (Embeth Davidtz) by her older husband (Anthony Hopkins' Ted Crawford), threatens to make or break his career. Despite outward appearances, Fracture isn't quite the fast-paced legal thriller that one might have expected from the film's promotional materials (there is, in fact, only one courtroom sequence of any real significance); screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers have instead crafted a story that generally has the feel of a low-key drama - with Gosling's character ultimately forced to choose between his ambition and his morals. And while the game of cat-and-mouse that ensues between Willy and Ted is certainly as compelling as one might've hoped, the film suffers from a midsection that's just a little too leisurely for its own good - something that's due primarily to the inclusion of a fairly tedious subplot revolving around Willy's relationship with his new boss (Rosamund Pike's Nikki Gardner). Still, both Gosling and Hopkins are superb - Gosling is particularly strong here, while Hopkins does a chilling job of stepping into the shoes of this Hannibal Lecter-esque figure (his questionable Scottish/Irish accent notwithstanding) - and there's little doubt that the film generally remains an engaging (if somewhat bloated) piece of work.

out of

Untraceable (May 27/08)

Though essentially entertaining, Untraceable ultimately comes off as a generic, garden-variety thriller that's almost entirely lacking in genuine thrills or surprises - with the end result an effort that bears more than a few similarities to such like-minded small-screen endeavors as Law and Order and CSI. The storyline details the increasingly frantic search for a sadistic serial killer who's taken to torturing his victims on an easily-accessible internet broadcast, with the hunt led by intrepid FBI agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) and her various colleagues (including Colin Hanks' Griffin Dowd and Billy Burke's Eric Box). Untraceable's been infused with a by-the-numbers sensibility that's evident virtually from the word go, as screenwriters Robert Fyvolent, Mark Brinker, and Allison Burnett place an almost relentless emphasis on some of the hoariest elements that the genre has to offer (ie the plucky partner that inevitably winds up in the killer's clutches). There's little doubt, however, that the sporadic inclusion of appreciatively grisly kill sequences does assure one's continued interest, although it's just as clear that the movie's overlong running time results in a third act that becomes more and more tedious and flat-out ridiculous as it progresses (that it's eventually topped off by an especially disappointing bad-guy death certainly doesn't help matters). Still, while there's nothing terribly cinematic about it, Untraceable is just the kind of mindless endeavor that'll perfectly fit the bill for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

out of

© David Nusair