Movies

Love in the Time of Cholera & Redacted & Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Love in the Time of Cholera & Redacted & Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead featured image

By Marc Glassman

Love in the Time of Cholera. Mike Newell, director; Ronald Harwood, script based on the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Starring: Javier Bardem (Florentino Ariza), Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Fermina Daza Urbino), Benjamin Bratt (Dr. Juvenal Urbino), Fernanda Montenegro (Transito Ariza), John Leguizamo (Lorenzo Daza), Umax Ugaide (Young Florentino), Liev Schreiber (Lotario Thugut)

Redacted. Brian De Palma, director & script. Mark Cuban, executive producer. Jennifer Weiss & Simone Urdl, co-producers (with others). Starring: Rob Devaney (Lawyer McCoy), Izzy Diaz (Angel Salazar), Patrick Carroll (Reno Flake), Daniel Stewart Sherman (B.B. Rush), Ty Jones (Msgt. Jim Sweet), Kel O’Neil (Gabe Blx).

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Sidney Lumet, director. Kelly Masterson, script. Carter Burwell, music. Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Andy Hanson), Ethan Hawke (Hank Hanson), Albert Finney (Charles, their father), Marisa Tomei (Gina, Andy’s wife), Rosemary Harris (Nanette Hanson).

Love in the Time of Cholera.

Let us now praise Javier Bardem. The rugged Spanish actor possesses the versatility of a Depp, the athleticism of a Lancaster and the romantic strength of a young Clark Gable. Over the past 15 years, he has wowed international audiences and critics with his Golden Globe winning performance as doomed poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls, excited them as the crazy lover in the Goya winning Jamon Jamon and moved them to tears as the paralyzed patient in the European Film Award winner The Sea Inside. This man is special–truly one of the great talents working today.

Last week saw the release of the Coen Brothers noir thriller No Country for Old Men, which featured Bardem as a cold-blooded psychopathic killer. He was utterly convincing in that role. This week, he’s back, starring as the ultimate romantic, Florentino Ariza, a man who waits half a century to consummate the love of his life. This being Bardem, he is just as authentic as a starry eyed optimist in Love in the Time of Cholera as he was as the Coen Brothers’ hired gun. Both roles should win him awards worldwide.

Starting with the huge advantage of having Bardem as their lead and a brilliant novel by the incomparable Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and scriptwriter Ronald Harwood (The Dresser) have fashioned a safe film, beautifully organized but sadly lacking in true depth and passion.

Part of the problem is that the film has been made in English, hardly the language of romance. Casting mainly Hispanic leads and shooting in Cartegena, Colombia, where Garcia Marquez set the novel, only compounds the problem. We see the film at a remove, never completely comfortable with the action or the characters. It all feels calculated, which it is, thanks to a decision by producers who were afraid to let the Spanish language speak for itself.

Garcia Marquez, the author most associated with the term “magical realism” is a mesmerizing, poetic novelist. He entangles you in his tales, shifting time and characters effortlessly. Newell and Harwood can’t do that—and really, they don’t even try. The film feels pretentious, rather than airy and emotional.

It may be that the tale of Florentino and his passion for Fermina over the five decades of her marriage to Juvenal is too difficult to translate to the screen. While Newell and Harwood are faithful to the book’s plot, they don’t “get” the complexity of Marquez’ subtexts, which deal with the conflict between urbanism and romanticism and the sad lack of middle-class engagement in politics, which will eventually doom Colombia and most of South America to civil wars and dictatorships.

This film is an elegant miss—but it’s still worth seeing thanks to the great Javier Bardem.

Redacted.

The Iraq occupation has caused many tragedies but few can match the rape, killing and burning of a 14 year-old girl, Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi, and the murder of her parents and sister by American soldiers in the spring of 2006. Brian De Palma, whose tough Vietnam drama Casualties of War dramatized a similar story a generation ago, once again asserts his political cred with Redacted, an intense low-budget film about that terrible Iraq episode.

To redact means to sanitize or censor material. Blacking out words and images from sensitive government documents is a standard practice for FBI and CIA agents. Ironically, this film has become a victim of redaction. Executive producer Mark Cuban, the controversial owner of the basketball team The Dallas Mavericks, redacted the mainly documentary photographs assembled by De Palma in the concluding section of the film, which is entitled “Collateral Damage.” Shots of dead and tortured Iraqis will be seen in the film’s commercial release with their eyes and identifiable parts of their bodies blacked out for legal reasons. Cuban is afraid of being sued—and De Palma has reluctantly gone along with the man who financed the film.

Redacted is shot on HD (high definition) video. It’s meant to have the feel of reality TV as a couple of American soldiers, Salazar and McCoy, shoot competing video diaries of their lives as members of the occupying force in Iraq. One night, they accompany racist American soldiers Flake and Rust who perpetrate a crime that is remarkably similar to the Abeer Qasim case. Ultimately, the American military identifies and arrests the murderers but not until other tragedies occur.

Redacted should be a brilliant political film. Regrettably, it’s not. De Palma, ever the technician, seems to have gotten hung-up on the process of creating a video diary and working with imagery from the Internet. The filmmaker of Scarface and Mission Impossible can’t seem to leave well enough alone anymore. Redacted is confused not confrontational, interesting instead of involving.

One great thing: Toronto film producers Jennifer Weiss and Simone Urdl got to work on a prestigious American film. It can do the producers of Guy Maddin, Sarah Polley and Atom Egoyan no harm to have worked on Redacted. And cheers to that.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.

Octogenarian director Sidney Lumet has worked with Katharine Hepburn, Sean Connery, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Anna Magnani, Jane Fonda, Henry Fonda…well, you get the drift. The man knows how to direct actors.

In Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, he has assembled a brilliant ensemble cast including Oscar winners Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei as well as such talents as Rosemary Harris, Ethan Hawke and, above all, Albert Finney. It’s a treat to see these actors plying their craft as the Hansons, a truly Gothic family. Particularly impressive are Hoffman, as an addicted businessman and Finney as his angry father. While the others are fine, the sparks truly fly when these two dark, melancholy figures clash on the screen.

The story is a classic noir. Hoffman and Hawke are brothers at the end of their rope, desperate for money. Hoffman, the elder, concocts a scheme to rob their parents’ jewelry store. Naturally, everything goes wrong. The robbery fails and their mother is killed.

From there, everything unfolds, as it must in this genre. Betrayals follow betrayals. The Hanson family comes apart in frightful and shattering ways. Everyone gets a big scene or two—and they all score well with the showy, tragic material. The film’s title comes from the Irish expression, “May you be in Heaven half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.” Somehow, one doubts that fate awaits the Hanson clan.

Sidney Lumet shot this film on HD, as did De Palma. Are we witnessing the end of celluloid? It may well be—but strong narratives and wonderful acting will survive the change.

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