The Films of Jean-Jacques Annaud
Black and White in Color
Coup de tête
Quest for Fire
The Name of the Rose (April 12/16)
Based on the novel by Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose follows monks William of Baskerville (Sean Connery) and Adso of Melk (Christian Slater) as they arrive at a remote abbey and immediately find themselves drawn into a convoluted murder investigation. Eco, along with cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, has infused The Name of the Rose with an incredibly (and impressively) atmospheric feel that's heightened by the gothic, real-life environments in which the story transpires, while the irresistible mentor/mentee relationship between Connery and Slater's respective characters certainly perpetuating the promising vibe. It's not long, however, before the narrative becomes consumed by a central mystery that is, to put it mildly, less-than-interesting, with the almost total lack of forward propulsion ensuring that The Name of the Rose, past a certain point, clumsily lurches from one overlong, entirely tedious sequence to the next. The painfully slow, police-procedural-like vibe ensures that one's interest dwindles on a progressively prominent basis, and it goes without saying that the viewer's desire to see the crime solved becomes virtually non-existent. By the time the needlessly over-the-top (and decidedly anticlimactic) final stretch rolls around, The Name of the Rose has confirmed its place as a misbegotten adaptation that rarely manages to justify its very existence.
Wings of Courage
Seven Years in Tibet
Enemy at the Gates (March 21/01)
The opening sequence of Enemy at the Gates resembles the opening of Saving Private Ryan, which might explain why it's virtually impossible to find a review for this film that doesn't compare it to Spielberg's war epic. The movie details the battle of wills that ensues between two soldiers, one Russian (Jude Law) and one German (Ed Harris), with the movie also following Law's character as he attempts to win the favor of a fiery female soldier (Rachel Weisz) over a fellow Russian soldier (Joseph Fiennes). Enemy at the Gates is a good movie that could have been great, if not for its inflated running time. For the first hour or so, the movie's riveting and exciting, as the mano-e-mano scenes with Harris and Law are suspenseful and tense. But then the movie just sort of goes on and on....and on. Add to that a silly love triangle subplot, and you have an effort that could easily have lost 45 minutes and been great. But before it becomes tedious, there is a lot to like about Enemy at the Gates. First and foremost is Jude Law. The best thing about The Talented Mr. Ripley, Law finally gets a role that showcases his talent. He has to be cocky and tough, while still appearing sympathetic enough to warrant the love story with Weisz, and he pulls it off. Ditto Harris. His steely-eyed gaze is on full display here, and he plays this evil character with humanity. The temptation must have been there to go full-out evil, but Harris plays the character as a guy doing a job and nothing more. Fiennes and Weisz are good, but uninteresting. The focus of the film should have been on Law and Harris, and not the silly love triangle. Some of the sniping scenes are quite exciting, though it did become a little laughable the way soldiers kept accompanying Law on various escapades, only to get shot in the head by Harris. But nevertheless, these scenes are quite good, although many critics have complained that they're not suspenseful, since you know neither of them can die until the end. Well, the same can be said about virtually any action film. No, the suspense comes from wondering what these two crack shots will do next. I particularly enjoyed the look of satisfaction on Harris' face after shooting a piece of string employed by Law to retrieve a rifle. Enemy at the Gates won't be recognized come Oscar time, but had the love story angle of the movie been excised, I have no doubt the film would have been as heralded as Saving Private Ryan.
Two Brothers (June 24/04)
There's something awfully disturbing about Two Brothers: on the one hand, it's well made and features two surprisingly compelling animals in the central roles. But on the other hand, director Jean-Jacques Annaud spends virtually the entire film putting said animals in one hazardous situation after another. It becomes almost impossible to enjoy the film because of that; unlike the experience of watching a Disney cartoon, we're always aware of the mistreatment directed towards these animals. The most remarkable thing about the film, which follows two tiger cubs as they attempt to find their way back together after a forced separation, is the way Annaud has managed to elicit actual performances out of these animals. We can easily sense when they're scared or happy, which is - quite frankly - part of the problem. They've been anthropomorphized to such an extent that it's impossible not to sympathize with them, but there's just something incredibly unappealing about watching real animals in danger (phony or not). In the case of certain sequences - ie the mother tiger attempting to save one of her cubs from captivity - one can't help but wonder just what's supposed to be so entertaining about all of this. Exacerbating Two Brothers' transgressions is Annaud's decision to shoot the film using digital cameras. In doing so, he's given this cinematic tale a decidedly uncinematic feel; despite the widescreen frame and Jean-Marie Dreujou's active camerawork, we're never able to disregard the very specific look afforded by digital photography. Among the human actors, only Guy Pearce manages to make any kind of an impact (not surprisingly). His story arc is incredibly predictable, but that's the least of the film's problems. There comes a point at which the movie could logically end - with a happy ending for the two tigers, no less - but Annaud just can't resist subjecting the animals to more peril. The film does conclude on a positive note, though it's not enough to make us forget all the unpleasantness that preceded it.
His Majesty Minor