Posts Tagged ‘Based on novel’

(Originally published in 2003)

 

Mystic River

by Jonas Cukierman

Clint Eastwood haunts us once again with a hard-bitten drama about the harsh lives of some very tough Irish-Americans in BostonSean Penn leads a cast of such greats as the sorely missed Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden. The film opens with three best friends as young boys, Dave (Robbins), Jimmy (Penn) and Sean (Bacon) playing ball on the street of their working-class neighborhood. Then almost at once, their lives are traumatically changed. Now we jump forward twenty-five years and are led through a series of seemingly unrelated crimes. From the onset, the film’s cinematography and its minimal yet ominous music, are instrumental in depicting a world that is as much forbidding inside, as it is outside the minds of the main players. The relationship of the individuals and those surrounding them is tested to the breaking point when Jimmy’s daughter (Emmy Rossum) is found murdered. This is also when we are given a paced but well calculated inroad into the psyche of these three men, who were once close, but have each taken diametrically opposite paths. From this point, the surface of their outwardly cohesive community begins to break as secrets and past grievances rear their ugly heads. Slowly but surely, we realize that Dave, Sean and Jimmy have histories, which are disturbing in their own design. While there is a seemingly innate tendency towards crime within Jimmy, there is also an ever-present allusion to the power which religion plays in his life and how he relates to his ordeals. Neither the major or minor characters in Mystic River are spared the barrage of violence and misunderstandings, which snowball into a final and very alarming finale.

Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne are mainly left in the sidelines and turn in rather muted performances. This however is not so much a product of the material, as it is the fact that Penn and Robbins deliver the embodiment of two truly unhinged and in many ways defeated men. In my opinion, there are two central themes that prevail in this film, which at times seems to have a murky plot. The first is that people have a dangerous tendency to draw inferences based on certain perceptions rather than on hard evidence. This in itself is most risky, especially when a person’s sanity is at stake, let alone his life. The other is that in the end we answer not to other men, but to our own conscience.

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Contact

by Jonas Cukierman

Based on the book by the late Carl Sagan, this film examines the possibility of life on other planets, and the means to make “contact” with it. However, at the center of it all there is a more profound question. At the forefront of history’s oldest battle are the two contenders of science and religion. The story begins with Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway (Jodie Foster in one of the greatest “strong female” roles I have ever seen) as a young girl. An extraordinarily brilliant child, she shows the makings of a scientist. The death of her mother and her father shortly after (both when is still at a very tender age), only push her to further explore the limitless boundaries of the life/faith dilemma. As the film progresses, the intermingling of science and religion becomes more apparent.

Now an adult and an established astrophysicist,  Arroway receives what is believed to be a signal of life from outer space and she is determined to venture into the unknown (at risk of death) to explore the origin of the extraterrestrial transmission. What follows before her spaceflight is a glut of red tape enough to frustrate God. The religious community, from liberal to fundamentalist, is unwavering to make its voice known to the world by apprehending Arroway and convincing her that it is a question of faith and not science that life exists. Enter cynic philosopher Minister Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey). His close relations to Arroway and his visibility on the world stage creates a fabulous breeding ground for conflict and make audiences think hard about the dual truths and ambiguities of both religion and science. In fact, the line between science and faith almost seem to disappear at times. In the end, we must draw our own conclusions about what is what, but not without feeling that science and religion have both been given a fair shake. If you are expecting laser battles and intergalactic dictators on mega-spaceships, then Contact will certainly thwart you. However, if you are expecting to dive deeply into the thought process and see a Sci-Fi film that is more on the philosophical side with many questions left unanswered (like 2001: A Space Odyssey), then you are in for a great voyage into the unfamiliar. Aside from the material it tackles, the greatest thing about Contact is its ensemble cast. Aside from Foster and McConaughey, James Woods is remarkable as the starchy-shirt bureaucrat who refuses to bend to what he cannot see. Angela Bassett is the open-minded and contemporary believer representing science community who is more willing to accept Arroway’s ideas than anybody else, while John Hurt is HR Hadden, the eccentric billionaire who is Ellie’s ticket to financing the spaceflight. On a less commanding note, McConaughey is unable to make his role motivating and is only more or less appealing. The only thing he can convince us of is that he could deliver a stronger character than he actually does as his ideals are at times full of clichés and redundant statements.

However, whether you are on the side of science or faith, at the uppermost echelon of the plot is Arroway’s need to at once use faith, and on the other side of the coin, her need as a scientist to satisfy a hunger which has burned inside her since childhood. Because Ellie has suffered the greatest losses – the death of both parents – director Robert Zemeckis carves out a story that in its conclusion actually melds science and faith, but without a religious slant. Since Arroway is the only true purist, she is the film itself, while the rest of the characters, although vital, are there to serve her much like a map of unexplored territory is there to guide a voyager.