The Films of Andrew Niccol
Lord of War (January 17/06)
It's hard not to feel a little disappointed by Lord of War, given filmmaker Andrew Niccol's superb track record as both a director (Gattaca) and a screenwriter (The Truman Show). Niccol seems to have bitten off more than he can chew here, substituting feverishness for character development, which ultimately results in a film that's kind of entertaining but mostly just exhausting. Nicolas Cage stars as Yuri Orlov, a Ukranian immigrant who - along with his brother, Vitaly (Jared Leto) - climbs the ranks within the gunrunning community to become one of the most infamous arms dealers in the world. While his success brings him fame and a beautiful wife, Yuri must also contend with increasingly dangerous customers (including a ruthless African dictator and his psychotic son). Niccol has clearly been inspired by films such as Goodfellas and Boogie Nights, and initially infuses Lord of War with a similar sensibility - complete with period-appropriate rock songs on the soundtrack (ie Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" plays during a drug-heavy sequence). But as impressive as the film is stylistically, it's essentially empty in terms of its characters - a problem that's exacerbated by a mind-numbingly dense flow of information. The end result is a movie that's informative but only sporadically engaging - which is, obviously, not quite what one would've hoped from a new Niccol effort.
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, In Time transpires in a futuristic landscape where everyone has been genetically altered to stop aging at 25 - with the hitch being that time has replaced money as a form of currency (ie if you run out of time, you die). Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is an affable blue-collar type who receives more than a century worth of time from a suicidal figure (Matt Bomer's Henry Hamilton), with Will ultimately forced to go on the run after a dogged time cop (Cillian Murphy's Raymond Leon) becomes convinced that Will murdered said suicidal figure. Before it morphs into a disappointingly interminable chase picture, In Time comes off as a sporadically baffling yet persistently watchable sci-fi thriller that often feels like a companion piece to Niccol's (far superior) debut, Gattaca. There is, as such, little doubt that the less-than-believable nature of the movie's premise isn't quite as problematic as one might've feared, as Niccol does an effective job of both transforming Timberlake's character into a likeable, compelling protagonist and peppering the proceedings with sequences of an unexpectedly engrossing variety (eg Will frantically attempts to reach his mother before she runs out of time). And although the movie admittedly does grow more and more entertaining as Will makes his way to a posh, exclusive part of town, In Time is, in its second half, saddled with an increasingly stagnant vibe that's compounded by an emphasis on underwhelming subplots (eg the continuing exploits of several time thieves). It's consequently not surprising to note that the whole thing peters out to a progressively dismaying extent, with the movie's failure especially disappointing given the enduring success of 1997's Gattaca.
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Anon (May 7/18)
Set in a future where everything we see is taped, Anon follows Detective Sal Frieland (Clive Owen) as he sets out to stop a murder who forces his victims to watch their own deaths - with the case eventually leading Sal to a hacker (Amanda Seyfried) responsible for erasing illicit data recorded by criminals. Filmmaker Andrew Niccol, working from his own screenplay, does an absolutely astonishing job of initially establishing the futuristic landscape wherein the plot transpires, with the movie's striking atmosphere, which bears more than a passing resemblance to 1997's Gattaca in terms of appearance, heightened by a mysterious storyline that's been peppered with intriguing, sporadically electrifying elements (eg Niccol's use of different aspect ratios to separate the narrative from footage seen and shot by the characters). It's clear, however (and unfortunately), that the promising opening stretch slowly-but-surely gives way to a comparatively underwhelming midsection, as Niccol's decidedly lackadaisical approach is compounded by an increased emphasis on less-than-innovative plot twists (eg the picture's final third goes in a few fairly tedious and overly familiar directions). It is, in the end, impossible not to wish that Anon's storyline were as innovative and intriguing as the environment in which it transpires, and yet the picture's mostly watchable vibe, perpetuated by a memorable visual sensibility, ensures that it's ultimately worth a look.