Friday, January 20, 2012

Film Pairing — Stone And Under Suspicion, Actors Shine

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m drawn to the sport of boxing. I know it is a brutal, brain-bruising sport. But there’s something about it that few other sports can claim. Unlike football, for example, another constant concussion sport, boxing is one on one — one person’s fitness, endurance and strategy against another’s. There’s no way anyone can say, “we’d have won if we had a better quarterback.” One body and one brain engaged in a primal battle. It may be wrong and reflect the worst of human nature, or nature itself; but it is about as pure as it can get.

On the other hand, I’m not at all embarrassed to admit that I admire British actors and actresses more, generally speaking, than their American counterparts. I buy into the process of repertory experience, which usually means that actors develop considerable skills before celebrity is bestowed.

Bearing both of these thoughts in mind as I considered this double bill — Stone and Under Suspicion — I’m not necessarily saying these are among the best crime films ever made. They aren’t. But they meet two very important criteria worth noting. Each film is, at its core, a singular battle between two individuals, and these four characters are portrayed by American actors every bit equal to the best Britain has to offer.

The first, Stone (2010), is a claustrophobic little film. Even though Robert De Niro is one of the stars, I’d never heard of it. That he could effectively portray anyone was never in question. Here, he is a flawed bureaucrat in the criminal justice system trying hard to suppress his own demons while trying to cast out or at least sort out demons in others. We watch and appreciate. What was pleasantly surprising is the phenomenal job Edward Norton did portraying a kind of pure evil. The battle between the two as the convicted arsonist Norton attempts to convince De Niro, that he should be paroled is fascinating. Snake charming. Or a dance. The dance, as in Ali and Frazier, is everything. Milla Jovovich also stars.

Under Suspicion (2000) is less concerned about philosophy. The dance that turns out to be largely between Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman is simpler in the sense that there appears to be no larger truths involved. It is simply cat and mouse. Hackman plays a wealthy, powerful and talented lawyer in Puerto Rico, who is implicated in the murder of a young girl. Freeman, the top cop, calls him in to, of course, “clear up some details.” And just as most of the drama in Stone takes place in De Niro’s office inside a prison, most of Under Suspicion takes place in the Freeman’s office inside the police station. Though the film is essentially about the two men, actress Monica Bullucci, plays a significant role.

As I mentioned earlier I find these films especially interesting less because they have successfully realized the overall goal, but more because of the performances of the actors. The chance to see the cream of the American crop of actors in roles that allow them to show the depth of their talent isn’t as frequent as it ought to be.

To sip or not to sip: I’d watch the first film spirit free. But to cap off your evening in Puerto Rico — and you do get glances of it here and there — try my standby, rum and tonic with a twist of lemon. Not lime. Lemon. Well, lime if you must.

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