What We’re Watching – 8/17/11
I’ve become pretty addicted to Rotten Tomatoes of late, and have been surprised by the number of films that I think have undeservedly received the dreaded under-60% or “rotten” score. I know the system is criticized for its many inconsistencies and flaws, but a lot of the low ratings kind of bothered me, so I re-watched the films thinking I’d maybe previously missed the point of them.
Dead Man’s Shoes
Tomatometer Score: 56%
One of the major benefits of independent cinema is that it can still surprise you. Unlike Hollywood features that appear on billboards, TV spots and trailers, allowing you to predict the film in its entirety before even stepping foot in a cinema, indie films sometimes can come out of the blue without an invitation and get right under your skin; this is what Dead Man’s Shoes did to me.
It’s a simple tale of revenge. Richard (Paddy Considine) returns from military service to his rural hometown, where he meets his younger, mentally handicapped brother, Antony (Toby Kebbell). He then subsequently sets about getting even on the small gang of criminals that have abused Antony in his absence.
Dead Man’s Shoes is a revenge film. It’s an uncomplicated premise in an oversaturated genre, but it does have one thing that many modern attempts seem to forget about: an emotional connection. Revenge films for the most part are an easy sell to the audience; you take your main character, usually a male, you have a heinous and unjustified crime happen to them or their loved ones, then you watch the protagonist destroy the villains for the majority of the film and everyone’s happy. Most of the time nobody cares, though; the initial crime isn’t the point, it’s what the protagonist does that keeps us watching and inevitably the villains will pay and the audience receives a cathartic resolution. For instance, I like Taken a lot, but I like it because Liam Neeson punches people in the face. His emotional turmoil isn’t the point of the film. A lot of bad revenge films forget that we should care, that our connection to the protagonist should be the driving force behind our need to see the film’s resolution. Dead Man’s Shoes makes you care. Richard’s journey isn’t particularly easy or even possibly justified, but it’s why it works so well; you don’t watch it to just simply see the villains’ comeuppance, but to understand how messy and ethically confused the entire notion of revenge is in the first place.
I’m not going to add the trailer here, because if you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend you watch it with zero previous knowledge if you can. I think it’s a fantastic genre film that adds much needed heart to what could have been a generic vigilante film.
Tomatometer Score: 40%
About eight years ago, I made a £100 bet that in ten years time Paul Walker would be as bankable a star as Keanu Reeves was when The Matrix Reloaded was released in 2003. Obviously now I’ve only got two years left and Paul Walker’s last film, Fast Five, sounds like a masturbation euphemism, so I’m pretty certain my money is going to be speeding out of my pocket in the not-too-distant future. There was a film released in 2006, though, that I thought would tip the balance in my favor.
Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared has a pretty simple premise: low-level thug Joe Gazelle is told to dispose of a gun that could implicate his boss in the murder of a policeman, but before he gets the chance to ditch it, it’s stolen by Gazelle’s son’s friend Oleg, forcing both Gazelle and Oleg into a fast-paced and dangerous journey throughout the night.
It’s a really solid film. The script is tight, the acting for the most part carries weight, but it’s really Kramer’s direction that’s in charge of the heavy lifting. The film never feels boring. There’s not a scene were Kramer drops the ball; he keeps every action scene fresh and never retreads old ground. He even manages to maintain the film’s straight urban tone while injecting its own unique dark fantastical imagery without it ever feeling out of place.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a popcorn film, it’s not going to the change the world, but on a budget of $15 million, it does a better job at entertaining me than films costing ten times as much.