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Friday, January 02, 2015

Susan Granger At the Movies: ‘Unbroken’ and ‘Foxcatcher’

By Susan Granger

Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-seller, “Unbroken” follows the incredible life and endurance of Olympian and World War II hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell).

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Impressive and immersive, it begins as Zamperini’s bomber crashes into the Pacific Ocean. He and two other survivors endure 47 days adrift until they’re ‘rescued’ by the Japanese and sent to POW camps.

Cocky, grimly determined Zamperini was singled out for relentlessly brutal torture by a cruel, imperious camp commander (Miyavi), wielding a bamboo cane. Scattered throughout, there are flashbacks of Louie’s rebellious childhood as a high school, college and Olympic runner.

Joel and Ethan Coen (”No Country for Old Men”) dutifully adapted Hillenbrand’s book, working with director/producer Angelina Jolie (“In the Land of Blood and Honey”), who also enlisted the Coens’ cinematographer, Roger Deakins, and French composer Alexandre Desplat.

The solemn weight of the vivid, if overly long drams rests directly on Jack O’Connell, a charismatic Englishman, who embodies Zamperini’s indomitable integrity. His courageous cohorts are played by Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleason and Finn Wittrock.

Perhaps the longest gestating project in Hollywood history, it took 57 years to bring to the screen. Over the years, various actors like Tony Curtis and Nicolas Cage were attached to the project. But the biopic never got traction until Angelina Jolie’s passion propelled it.

The postscript shows the real Louie running in the 1998 Olympic torch relay through the streets of Tokyo, epitomizing the film’s message of forgiveness. Zamperini died at age 97 on July 2, 2014. While he was in ICU, Jolie brought her computer to the hospital and showed him a rough cut of the film.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Unbroken” is an inspiring, triumphant 8, celebrating the resilient power of the human spirit.

Also based on true events, Bennett Miller’s chilling crime drama “Foxcatcher” reveals the ultimately tragic relationship between a delusional, eccentric millionaire and two freestyle wrestling champions.

Brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo) Schultz are preparing for the 1988 Seoul Olympics when they catch the attention of lonely, socially inept, 57-year-old John du Pont (Steve Carell), a wrestling aficionado who lives on Foxcatcher Farm, a 416-acre compound on Philadelphia’s Main Line that’s owned by his elderly mother (Vanessa Redgrave).

Impressed by the DuPont wealth and dynastic stature as the world’s largest chemical company, taciturn 27 year-old Mark becomes John’s protégé, moving into a sumptuous guest cottage and submitting to the strict discipline and loneliness enforced by his benefactor.

Soon, Mark realizes that the counsel and training he needs can only come from his devoted older brother. Eventually, not only Dave but the entire U.S. Olympic wrestling team makes Foxcatcher Farm their state-of-the-art headquarters. Until, one ill-fated night…

Cleverly scripted on the detailed research by director Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”), the multi-layered performance-driven concept is subtly compelling, as Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum embody the subtext of their characters.

Wearing a large prosthetic nose, Carell is almost unrecognizable; his nasal voice is halting and hollow, reflecting his contemptuous paranoia and underlying emotional insecurity. In contrast, Ruffalo’s in full command of the wrestler’s mentality, matched by Tatum’s physicality and simmering resentment.

On the Granger Gauge, “Foxcatcher” is a sorrowful, sordid 7, oozing bizarre homoeroticism and brutal violence.


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( Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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Posted 01/02/15 at 08:32 AM  Permalink



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