Monday, November 21, 2011

Another Year

 On the surface this is a movie about the day to day life of an elderly, happily married couple (Tom and Gerri), their son and friends, among them Mary and Ken. All seems well in suburban London until that very last shot of the film, a most disturbing scene, the climax of the movie.
We see Mary at the kitchen table of her friends and as the conversation passes her by she realizes she doesn't matter to them any more. Worse, we see it dawning on her that she may never have mattered to them at all in their relationship of 20 years. The comparison with her car is inevitable, a vehicle that should have brought her a sense of freedom, but turned out to be a lemon if ever there was one. As another commenter wrote, it is a scene of exceptional cruelty. (Can I nominate Ms Manville for an Oscar, please?)
How could this insincerity, this not-so-mild form of wickedness persist over such a long time ? Perhaps it has something to do with the British fondness of manners, but I think it has to do with work, more specifically in Tom and Gerri's case with having a profession, being a professional.
A professional is someone who is applying a set of rules, an algorithm to a standard input to produce a standard output. (What distinguishes a professional from a craftsman is that the input, rules and output are so complex that they defy supervision.) Tom and Gerri are professionals and what they are doing is extending their professional attitude to their personal lives. Their relationship with Mary is professional. Their marriage is dealt with professionally. Their marital bliss is ultimately based on their contentment with the standardized output it produces. Tomatoes anyone ?
Contrast this with Ken and Mary. Ken is an alcoholic in bad physical shape. He was once handsome however and has a good heart. His problem is that he questions the meaning of his job, which in his case seems to amount to questioning the meaning of his life. And then there is Mary. Her goal in life is Love, not work, thereby committing the ultimate sin (not making work your life goal that is).
Two scenes illustrate the stranglehold work has on our lives (and the importance of it for the movie's theme, I think). In the first an Asian couple is visiting Joe, an old man threatened with eviction and a young woman acting as his interpreter, her ability to help the old man, however, limited to the duration of her lunch break. In the second Carl arrives too late for his mother's funeral, having been stuck in a traffic jam. The funeral couldn't be postponed however, another one was already waiting.
So are Tom and Gerri right ? At the dinner table Tom is telling of how he and Gerri met, by chance on their first day in university. This detail hints at the internal inconsistency of their way of life. And of course right at the beginning of the movie there is this session of Gerri with the sleepless patient, an Everywoman. It shows her utterly failing in her role of counselor, her very profession.
Mary is indeed looking for love in all the wrong places. At the end of the film you realize that, despite all appearances Tom & Gerri's was such a place.

Kill the Irishman

America loves the tough guy. The guy who faces the impossible odds and beats them to a bloody pulp. Examples - Rocky, Dirty Harry or Dalton ("Road House"). America also loves the bad guy. The guy that we really shouldn't support but we do anyhow. Examples - The Godfather, Scarface and Henry Hill ("Goodfellas"). In "Kill the Irishman" we are now given a new underdog, bad guy to cheer for, Danny Greene (played by Ray Stevenson). All-American tough guy.
In Jonathan Hensleigh's latest movie based on Danny Greene's life in the 1970s, we see the tough guy who works his way up from the docks in Cleveland, Ohio. Greene has it rough from the beginning, an orphan raised on Cleveland's mean streets. He takes a job on the docks shoveling grain and is soon given the opportunity to become a union leader because he is one of the only guys that reads books. So, he is also a tough guy with some intellect. He literally fights his way into his position of Union Boss. From there he leads a corrupt life assisting the local Italian mafia in robbing the docks where he works.
Does this sound like any kind of movie hero? Why are we intrigued to continue watching? Maybe it's because some of us (mainly us guys) secretly want to be Greene. The guy that doesn't take nonsense from anyone. If someone gets in your way, break his jaw, beat him down and don't worry about consequences.
Things are going well for Greene until his arrest; his bad deeds finally catch up to him. He cuts a deal with the FBI to become an informant and is back home with his wife and kids. He now needs to find work. He soon becomes a debt collector for Shondor Birns (played by Christopher Walken). Although Greene is Irish and Birns is Italian they don't let that stand in the way of their friendship, especially since there is money to be made.
Again things are going well for Greene, he patrols Cleveland with his crew collecting past due balances for the mafia. Being a tough guy he usually lets his fist or hand gun do the talking. Things soon go south for Greene and Birns due to a lost $70,000. Immediately there is a price on Greene's head.
In 1976 there were 36 explosions that rocked Cleveland therefore dubbing it as Bomb City, USA. This is all due in part to the Italian mob trying to kill the Irishman, Greene. He dodges bullets like Superman and survives explosions like John McClain ("Die Hard") then walks away with an indifferent attitude.
How does he survive all of these assassination attempts? He is an Irish Catholic with the grace of God. Greene doesn't show fear; he keeps himself believing his intent is to be a modern day Robin Hood for the community. Even after losing his children and wife, he sticks it out because tough guys never give up. Especially Irish Catholic tough guys.
Should you see this movie? Sure, if you like tough guys and if you like cheering for the bad guy. Greene's take-no-guff attitude kept his character interesting when the story seemed to lag or when there weren't any cars blowing up. He is supported by a cast of strong veterans, Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio and Paul Sorvino. The film also has an authentic documentary feel to it since Hensleigh incorporates actual footage from newscasts covering Greene's life as a local legend.