Posts Tagged ‘Ray Liotta’

An Interminable Battle

Marriage Story

Director: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda, Julie Hagerty, Lucas Neff, Merritt Wever, Azhy Robertson

Please note Marriage Story is only available on Netflix and did not receive a comprehensive theatrical release.

The Squid and the Whale director Noah Baumbach brings an incisive story of a contemporary marriage disintegrating in his Netflix’s released film Marriage Story starring Oscar nominated actor Adam Driver (BlackKklansman) as Charlie the husband and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) as Nicole who make up a trendy young New York couple.

Nicole is an aspiring stage and screen actress who falls in love and marries Charlie an off-Broadway theatre director. The couple have an eight year old son Henry played by Azhy Robertson (Juliet, Naked). Very rapidly and much to Charlie’s shock and surprise, their marriage starts disintegrating when Nicole discovers that her husband had a brief affair with a theatre intern.

Expertly played by Scarlett Johansson, Nicole moves back to Los Angeles where she stays with her mother Sandra played by Julie Hagerty (Flying High). There, she enlists the assistance of a hard as nails California divorce attorney Nora Fanshaw superbly played by Oscar nominee Laura Dern (Rambling Rose, Wild).

When the hard reality of divorcing Charlie comes into focus, Nicole has to grapple with all sorts of issues such as child custody and marital finances especially since Charlie has just received a massive Arts Grant to direct a Broadway production with a group of theatre actors back in New York.

Charlie, featuring an outstanding performance by Adam Driver, is suddenly forced to go to Los Angeles to also enlist a divorce lawyer, a cut-throat shark named Jay Marotta wonderfully played by Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, Kill the Messenger).

Writer and director Noah Baumbach incisively dissects the dissolution of a marriage as Charlie and Nicole become embroiled in a bitter divorce battle which is overshadowed by the vicious divorce lawyers as each of their lives becomes an incriminating portrait of how a marriage, a partnership shatters into a million pieces with their son Henry caught in the middle.

In Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach perfectly examines the emotional effects of a divorce on a couple who really haven’t considered all the ramifications of a traumatic separation. Adam Driver expertly portrays the emotional toll a father has as he uproots his career in New York to try and sort out a divorce which is being sued for in a Californian courtroom.

Adam Driver is terrific as Charlie and is really a brilliant actor, whose talent was exceptionally displayed in director Spike Lee’s masterful dissection of race relations in 1970’s Colorado in his Oscar winning film BlackKKlansman.

Set between New York and Los Angeles, Marriage Story is the 21st century version of the Oscar winning 1979 film Kramer vs Kramer and is recommended viewing for those that have the Netflix streaming service. The performances are brilliant.

Marriage Story gets a film rating of 8 out of 10.

The Veracity of the Story

Kill the Messenger

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Director: Michael Cuesta

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Robert Patric, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Paz Vega, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Gil Bellows, Dan Futterman

Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker and The Town, Jeremy Renner plays the real life investigative journalist Gary Webb, who while working for the San Jose Mercury News uncovers a complex story involving the CIA, crack cocaine, money laundering and the funding of the Nicaraguan Contra Rebels to topple the Sandinista lead government in a dirty war in the Central American nation – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaragua.

Gary Webb http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Webb expertly played by Renner was best known for his Dark Alliance series of articles which gained international media attention before the days of Wikileaks, which uncovered the origins of crack cocaine on the streets of South Central Los Angeles and allegedly traces its roots and funding back to the CIA which was using the profits of the drug sales to fund the Contra Rebels in Nicaragua in the mid 1980’s to the 1990’s.

Whilst the crux of director Michael Cuesta’s film Kill The Messenger is about media ethics it also delves deeper into the murky world of career and character assignation when the established media houses included The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post claimed that Webb’s explosive articles could not be substantiated by credible sources as most of those were shady drug runners, secretive government operatives and vanishing Swiss bankers in Panama City.

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The revelations sparked outrage in many of the African American communities of America’s major cities especially Los Angeles. The drug ring helped escalate a crack cocaine epidemic on the streets of many of these cities and more shockingly the profits were being used by the CIA and also paved the way for the Colombian drug cartels to enter the American market.

Webb’s Dark Alliance series focused on the links between three men, Danilo Blandon; Ricky Ross played by Michael Kenneth Williams and a more elusive Norwin Menezes played by Andy Garcia.

What Kill the Messenger shows is that in the days before instant online information leaks which have characterised the 21st century that the American Intelligence community did anything to discredit the author of the story and in this case Webb’s own career and life suffers tremendously when he directly names the CIA in a complex tale of money-laundering, drug running and political interference.

Webb soon resigns from the San Jose Mercury News and takes up a less prolific post in Cupertino, California, while his relationship with his wife and children suffer immensely, as witnessed by his wife Sue played by Rosemarie DeWitt as Sue wife and teenage son Eric played by Matthew Lintz both whom can see that Webb has become a victim of a calculated smear campaign to basically discredit him as an investigative journalist.

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Throughout the entire disownment of the story by established media houses including an internal investigation into the veracity of the sources by Webb’s own newspaper San Jose Mercury News, Webb is convinced that his Dark Alliance series has truth and merit, which besides any investigative flaws did manage to inflame the African American community to demand answers from the Director of the CIA as to the unrelenting flood of crack cocaine in their neighbourhoods.

There is a fundamental shift in Kill the Messenger, which director Cuesta handles intelligently in that the film ceases to be about the story that Webb has uncovered but more about Webb as a person with all his character defects. There is a line in the film which sums this up – “If you put a man under a microscope then all his life’s flaws and discrepancies will come to light”

Renner acts the part of Gary Webb intensely and passionately as he soon realizes that he has become the story and not what his story was about, something not too dissimilar to what has happened to contemporary whistle blowers such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

Kill the Messenger is a fascinating portrait of an investigative journalist who uncovers an international web of corruption, lies and money laundering only to find himself the victim of his own story. Unfortunately the veracity of the story takes its toll on the storyteller.

Cuesta’s film whilst filled with a sprinkling of character actors including a fabulous cameo by Mexican actress Paz Vega and loads of directorial embellishments is not a perfect film, but certainly a provocative story which at least vindicates Gary Webb’s own personal battle to get the truth out there, despite the costs. Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed The Fifth Estate, All the Presidents Men and The Paperboy.

 

 

Victims and Heroes

The Place Beyond the Pines

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Director: Derek Cianfrance

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Greenwood, Mahershala Ali, Emory Cohen

Critically acclaimed Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance’s absorbing and poignant three act family drama, The Place Beyond the Pines is almost Shakespearean in nature as the narrative delves into the psyche of contemporary masculinity and the legacy that men leave behind for their sons. That legacy is naturally shaped by the actions and deeds that a man did whose triumphs or sins will haunt the next generation.

The film opens with a motorbike stunt sequence in a metal ball in which three stunt riders’ ride around in a seeming and noisy symmetry. Ryan Gosling (Drive, Gangster Squad) is introduced as Luke who as a down on his luck, tattooed stunt driver earns money at the local fairs in upstate New York, Schenectady to be exact. After a brief one night stand with a local waitress Romina played by Eva Mendes, the itinerant stunt rider Luke returns to the town a year later to discover that he has fathered a one year old son.

Cash-strapped and desperate, he befriends a local two bit mechanic who says that the quickest way to make some serious cash is to rob a couple of local banks using his unique stunt riding skill set. Desperate to offer some form of financial support to Eva and his newborn baby, Gosling soon goes on a Bank robbing spree. After a serious of successful stints, one last job goes horribly wrong and Gosling’s fate as a man and a father gets inextricably tied in with a young and ambitious local cop Avery Cross, superbly played by Bradley Cooper (who really has excelled in the serious acting stakes since his remarkable Oscar nominated performance in Silver Linings Playbook).

The Place Beyond the Pines is an intimately shot and skilfully directed study of masculinity by Derek Cianfrance and the intricate sprawling story line is both riveting and powerful as the actions of both men, Gosling and Cross reverberate for the next two decades.

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This is a brilliant piece of film noir assisted by a remarkable supporting cast including a wonderfully menacing performance by Ray Liotta as a corrupt cop Deluca and Dane DeHaan as Gosling’s confused but vulnerable teenage son Jason. Whilst the female characters are intentionally underwritten, it really is Mendes who excels in a grittier role as a mother who has to bring up a son whilst keeping a secret about his real father’s criminal past.

The Place Beyond the Pines is about legacy, betrayal, corruption, aggression and ambition in a small town American community which sees two men from opposite social spectrums both portrayed alternatively as victim and hero in the narrative who make the wrong choices for all the supposedly right reasons, only to have those choices impact their own son’s destinies.

Cianfrance deserves an Oscar nomination for his gripping direction as he deftly captures the intensity and brooding atmosphere of small town America where every man is angling for a better life despite the consequences and their own circumstances. The Place Beyond the Pines is a highly recommended film which will firmly elevate Oscar Nominees Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper as two of the most promising actors of their generation. This gripping crime drama also stars Rose Byrne as Avery Cross’s wife Jennifer and Bruce Greenwood as District Attorney Bill Kilcullen.

Film Directors & Festivals
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