Tag Archives: B-

HEADSHOT

Producer: Mike Wiluan, Sukhdev Singh, Wicky V. Olindo and Shinjiro Nishimura
Director: Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel
Writer: Timo Tjahjanto
Stars: Iko Uwais, Chelsea Islan, Sunny Pang, Julie Estelle, Very Tri Yulisman, David Hendrawan, Zack Lee, Yayu Unru, Ganindra Bimo, Bront Palarae and Egi Fedly
Studio: Vertical Entertainment

B-

Despite the title, there’s nothing at all cerebral about “Headshot” except the punches the hero takes to his noggin over the course of many fights—and returns in kind. Iko Uwais, who showed his prowess in combat in the two “Raid” movies, returns in another gritty Indonesian martial-arts extravaganza that offers little food for thought but a steady stream of over-the-top action. Fans of pictures that feature real stunts rather than CGI facsimiles of them will be pleased, though others will find the endless violence a bit much to stomach.

If there’s a problem with the picture, in fact, it’s that it has rather too much plot, compared to the “Raid” entries. They offered the barest of explanations for their string of brutal confrontations, but the rationale in this case is more complicated. A criminal mastermind named Lee (Sunny Pang) has been abducting children and turning them, via tortuous brainwashing, into an army of obedient minions. Lee is captured by the police and breaks out of prison in a bloodbath that opens the movie, but before that he had ordered the killing of one of his soldiers, Abdi (Uwais), for some unspecified infraction. That’s the reason for the bullet lodged in the young man’s brain—and the movie’s title.

Abdi survived, however, though in a coma. Cared for by kindly young doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan), he gradually recovers, but with amnesia, so she calls him, presumably as a fan of Melville, Ishmael. For a time they are a happy couple, until the freed Lee learns that his untrustworthy protégé is still alive and sends his troops to finish him off. To ensure that Abdi will eventually come to his lair for a showdown, Lee of course abducts Ailin and holds her hostage.

The first half of “Headshot,” despite some bursts of action like that opening prison break, is devoted more to exposition than sheer fisticuffs, though there are a few exceptions punctuating the talk. The second, however, goes full throttle, with one face-off after another, as in the “Raid” flicks. To be sure, some of them go on so long that exhilaration turns to exhaustion, for the viewer as well as the fighters; one gets the feeling that Uwais and his stunt colleagues became so enamored of every idea they had for tweaking the fights that they were reluctant to give up any notion they had come up with, as in the final confrontation between Abdi and Lee. But there are undeniably plenty of visceral thrills here for fans of the genre.

Like the “Raid” pictures this one is technically pretty rudimentary. But it’s shot (in widescreen by Yunus Pasolang) and edited (Arifin Cuunk) well enough to allow you to appreciate the athleticism of Uwais, whose acting skills might be minimal but whose moves aren’t, and the other brawlers. And in the final analysis, that’s what really matters in a movie like “Headshot.”

PATRIOTS DAY

Producer: Scott Stuber, Dylan Clark, Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, Hutch Parker, Dorothy Aufiero and Michael Radutzky
Director: Peter Berg
Writer: Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Themo Melikidze, Alex Wolff, Melissa Benoist, Jimmy O. Yang, Michael Beach, Christopher O'Shea, Rachel Brosnahan, Jake Picking, Vincent Curatola and James Colby
Studio: Lionsgate/CBS Films

B-

The team of writer-director Peter Berg and macho star Mark Wahlberg didn’t invent the genre of heroic disaster movie—Irwin Allen was a past master, and asteroid-heading-for-earth pictures and fare like “San Andreas” are prime examples–but they have certainly perfected the form for modern audiences with a docu-drama twist. In a series of joint efforts—“Lone Survivor,” “Deepwater Horizon” and now “Patriots Day”—they’ve shown mastery of the recipe: choose a recent catastrophe, whether it be a failed military operation, an industrial disaster or a terrorist act, and recreate it in jittery, viscerally exciting cinematic style (here courtesy of cinematographer Tobias Schliesser and editor Colby Parker, Jr.)—but making sure to emphasize how the tragedy brings out the best in the human spirit, not only in terms of individual heroism (especially of the “common man” variety) but as demonstrated in the resiliency of the victims as well. Along the way insert a few moments of homely humor, just to lighten the mood a bit.

One shouldn’t denigrate the Berg-Wahlberg pictures. From a docu-drama perspective, they are all exceedingly well-done. From a purely cinematic perspective “Patriots Day” does a remarkably effective job of recounting the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, portraying, quite graphically but still with restraint, the horror of the episode and the destruction it wrought on property and people. But it follows the pair’s established formula. It begins with a roughly twenty-five minute prologue introducing important characters—in this case police and victims-to-be—going about their ordinary lives, while cutting periodically to show the perpetrators preparing their attack.

At roughly the half-hour point, the disaster occurs, and as the injured are desperately cared for, a frantic investigation ensues, resulting in the identification of the bombers and a manhunt to track them down. The culmination comes with a confrontation between law enforcement and the bombers, followed not only by captions describing the punishment meted out to malefactors but, in this case, by clips of affected persons describing their reactions to their experience and archival clips demonstrating the public determination—particularly among the citizens of Boston—not to be cowed by the violence aimed against them.

All films of this sort massage the details of the historical record for dramatic effect; that’s certainly true of the previous Berg-Wahlberg collaborations. But “Patriots Day” does so in a more pronounced fashion. It includes a great many actual figures in the course of the narrative—not only the Tsarnaev brothers Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Jahar (Alex Wolff) and the former’s wife Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist), but such official personages as Boston police commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), the city’s police superintendent William Evans (James Colby), Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach), Boston mayor Thomas Menino (Vincent Curatola), Watertown police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons), and chief FBI agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon). Attention is also given to victims like Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) and her husband Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea) as well as MIT campus officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking). Carjacked civilian Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), the reluctant hero who proved instrumental in tracking down the bombers, becomes a recurring character as well (Dun Meng also has a cameo in one scene).

Speculation necessarily occurs in the scenes featuring these figures in the script Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer have fashioned from the actual events; after all the conversations between the Tsarnaev brothers must be based on probability and dramatic license. But the screenplay goes further in creating a composite character named Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg), a sergeant in the Boston PD, to serve as a general symbol of the yeoman work that Boston cops did on the day of the bombing and those following. The effect is akin to what the old television series “The Untouchables” did with Elliot Ness, placing the agent at the center of virtually every government action against the criminals of the Prohibition era despite his marginal, or non-existent, involvement. The decision to fabricate the Saunders character is a dubious tactic in itself, but it’s frankly not justified by Wahlberg’s performance, which turns the cop into precisely the sort of hot-tempered but highly principled figure so familiar from TV police dramas and one—given his accent and attitude—that comes across almost as a Boston caricature. One can imagine that disentangling all the threads the script combines in Saunders might have been a difficult narrative task, but that doesn’t diminish the weakness of the composite solution, which is accentuated by the predictable relationship between the character and his wife (Michelle Monaghan).

In contrast to Wahlberg, Monaghan and the rest of the cast deliver solid work, with Simmons bringing a likably regular-guy vibe to Pugliese and Melikidze, Wolff and Benoist giving some shading to the Tsarnaev without downplaying their essentially villainous quality. All of the victims are understandably portrayed in terms that exhibit no flaws (neither the youngest casualty, Martin Richard, nor his parents are impersonated by actors at the family’s request, though one of the most poignant episodes involves the treatment of the boy’s remains). One of the figures that audiences will most embrace is certainly Dun Meng, whom Yang invests with real charm.

There are various elements of “Patriots Day” that might give one pause—was the shootout in Watertown, for instance, really such an explosive action-movie fracas as the one presented here? (By contrast the depiction of the bombing and the destruction it caused has the ring of authenticity.) Because of the subject matter, however, it can’t help but have strong emotional impact, even if ultimately it doesn’t measure up to Paul Greengrass’s “United 93” (still the touchstone of this genre)—or the previous Berg-Wahlberg films, for that matter.