Jennifer Aniston gets serious in this dour, depressing story of a woman struggling with depression and chronic pain after a devastating accident. There is a missed opportunity with the script however, that could have examined issues facing the debilitating emotional and physical aspects of chronic pain sufferers in a much richer and informative way. Instead we have Claire, a character that is hard to like and have any sympathy for as she alienates everyone around her. Besides her constant physical pain, Claire is deeply troubled by emotional issues that are not revealed until midway through the film. Once exposed, the intention is to see the character in a different light but the opportunity misses the mark. The film co-stars Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Chris Messina, Sam Worthington and Felicity Huffman. But this is clearly a showpiece for Ms. Aniston. She does an admirable job in a difficult role delivering a understated performance that is unlike anything she has done before. Ms. Barraza is also excellent as Claire's Mexican housekeeper/aide who remains faithful to a woman who clearly doesn't deserve it. Credit the film for exploring difficult subject matter. Unfortunately it is crushed beneath the weight of it's heavy handed presentation.
My how the mighty have fallen. Director Michael Mann (The Insider, Heat, Miami Vice) has made an absolute waste of time (probably why it was released in the movie graveyard they call January). I can't begin to count the ways this movie fails. The star is Chris Hemsworth as a convicted "Blackhat", known for his computer hacking skills. He is released from prison to help stop an international hacker who's intentions aren't very clear until late in the film. Mr. Hemsworth is a terrific action star but is miscast here as a cerebral computer expert. Making matters worth, the ridiculous script puts him front and center of the police action so he can fight and shoot the various bad guys protecting the hacker. Co-starring is Viola Davis, who tries to add some serious credibility to the story and Wei Tang, an Asian actress in her first English starring role. Besides the fact her English is not very good, her character exists solely to fall in love at first sight with Mr. Hemsworth and not very much else. Leehom Wang, another Asian star does add authenticity to his role as does John Ortiz in a small role as Ms. Davis's superior. The sound mix is poor and the cinematography is dark so it's not always easy to hear or see what's happening clearly. The soundtrack and overall atmosphere seems lifted from an old episode of Miami Vice. While there are a few (and I mean few) of the old Michael Mann flourishes, the film is a major letdown in what could have been a solid cyber thriller.
Writer/director J.C. Chandor evokes the gritty '70's style of New York films so brilliantly done by Sidney Lumet, with this new crime drama. This is Mr. Chandor's third film and each has been completely different, except for a common theme of what is the measure of a man? The violent year referred to in the title is 1981 in New York City. A year on record as the most violent in the city's history. The fictional story revolves around Abel Morales, an oil company owner trying to run his business legally without succumbing to all the illegal activity around him. The film is brilliantly acted by Oscar Isaac as Abel and Jessica Chastain as his wife Anna. They have great chemistry between them and Mr. Isaac, in particular, is riveting. Ms. Chastain never fails to disappoint and her role here as a modern day Lady Macbeth is chilling at times. Co-starring is Albert Brooks as Abel's lawyer and he is finding a great new career as a character actor (although he is saddled here with a terrible hairpiece). David Oyelowo also co-stars as the DA investigating Mr. Morales and his company. The cinematography sets a perfect tone for the story with natural light and muted colors. At times, it is a bit too dark but it serves the story well. The dialog is terrific with many a memorable line. The songs and score also help to set the tone as well as some terrific period costumes and makeup. Mr. Isaac's coat is almost a character by itself. January is not usually known for quality films so "Violent Year" is quite the surprise.
Writer/director Mike Leigh has crafted a beautiful period drama abut the later years of famed British artist J.M.W.Turner. Timothy Spall, who has worked before with Mr. Leigh, gives an extraordinary performance as Turner. The film is as visually enthralling as one of Mr. Turner's landscapes. Mr. Leigh and his cinematographer, Dick Pope paint a visual masterpiece in almost every scene. The landscapes of England and Wales provide a gorgeous backdrop for the story. The film co-stars Dorothy Atkinson as his love lorn housekeeper, Hanna Danby. It is a raw and heartbreaking performance. Marion Bailey is also excellent as his last companion and love, Sophia Booth. Leslie Manville and Paul Jesson also lead a fine supporting cast of British actors and actresses. The story is episodic and not fluid as it moves through Mr. Turner's life. It's as though you are walking through a gallery and observing all the art even though the pieces may not be connected. Nothing of consequence really happens but you can still appreciate the acting and the visuals. I did leave the film eager to learn more about Turner and his art so I can genuinely say it's an affecting work and one of Mr. Leigh's best.