Tag Archives: C-

ARTHUR NEWMAN

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The main characters in “Arthur Newman” want to change their identities, and they’re played by two excellent actors, Colin Firth and Emily Blunt. But this debut feature by Dante Ariola, a director of music videos who apparently wants to prove that he can eschew the energetic conventions of that form, makes you wish that Firth and Blunt had changed scripts instead.

Firth plays Wallace Avery, a sad-sack middle-management fellow tired of his life and despised by his teenage son (Lucas Hedges), who lives with his dismissive ex-wife. It’s no wonder that Wallace should seek to escape his miserable existence. So after securing a fake ID in the name of Arthur Newman from a forger (the venerable M. Emmet Walsh in a mere cameo), buying a new vehicle and somehow accumulating a bagful of cash, Avery fakes his drowning in a beach accident—a ploy reminiscent of “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin,” though there it was played for dark humor.

But in Becky Johnston’s script it’s taken very seriously, and presently Wallace—er, Arthur—is on the road. But being a good guy, he almost immediately rescues a damsel in distress—one Michaela, or “Mike” Fitzgerald (Blunt), whom he takes to the hospital when he finds her in a bad state and then accepts as a passenger. It isn’t long before she discovers his imposture—though it takes him a lot longer to recognize that she’s using the name of her twin sister, who’s ensconced in a mental institution somewhere.

Nor does it take long for Arthur to spill the beans about his disappointing past. He was once a promising golfer, who choked on his first pro tour and never recovered. Now, he tells her, he’s off to Indiana, where a fellow he helped with his swing—and told he was a pro—has offered him a job on the links of his hotel.

Along the way Mike induces Arthur to join her in a curious game, breaking into the houses of couples while they’re away and adopting their identities, wearing the clothes they find there and pretending to be the owners. There’s the chance that despite the age difference they’ll stumble into a real romance—though Johnston and Ariola seem determined to keep matters relatively chaste, one montage apart. (After all, Arthur has previously chastised a motel clerk for having a television tuned to pornography where any customer could see it.)

Arthur and Mike travel a lot in the course of the movie, but the filmmakers apparently thought the story needed some contrasting element, so they periodically cut back to Avery’s son, his mother, and Wallace’s concerned girlfriend Mina (Anne Heche), with whom the boy begins to develop a fragile bond. These scenes frankly seem extraneous, though they’re presumably meant to suggest that Avery’s life wasn’t quite so empty after all. And there are plenty of references to golf, a motif that may be intended to suggest one should keep swinging even if the ball doesn’t always go into the hole—one gets not just second, but third and fourth chances.

Or maybe not. The problem with “Arthur Newman” is that the characters—both the real ones and the personalities they assume—never seem authentic. That’s why the film, despite its fine cast and technical quality—Edward Grau’s expert widescreen cinematography, Christopher Glass’s able production design and Nick Urata’s affecting score—doesn’t resonate emotionally, coming across as an artificial exercise about people who are synthetic in more ways than one.

THE NUMBERS STATION

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Claustrophobic and repetitive, “The Numbers Station” is a numbingly tedious would-be thriller that wastes the considerable talents of John Cusack.

He plays Emerson, a demoralized US intelligence agent, a recovering alcoholic who hits rock bottom after completing his latest mission, in which he wastes the entire population of a bar before trailing a witness home and eliminating him and failing to save the man’s innocent wife from execution by his boss Grey (Liam Cunningham). It’s a far cry from the far less conflicted that Cusack played so memorably in “Grosse Pointe Blank,” and frankly the actor looks as uncomfortable as the character—not a testimony to his identification with Emerson, but his apparent ennui.

At the base, a concrete bunker sort of thing in northern England where encrypted messages are dispatched to agents and received and decoded in turn, Emerson is partnered with Katherine (Malin Ackerman), a pretty blonde who’s there out of a sense of duty to her country. But arriving for work one morning the find themselves—and the whole place—under assault from a squad of bad-guys. The rest of the running-time is devoted to their effort to stay alive and hold out until reinforcements arrive.

It’s a tedious business, not invigorated by what feels like a good deal of padding despite a short (88- minute) running-time. The action is frequently interrupted by scenes of other workers in the facility being brutalized and killed by the invaders, and there’s a fractured quality to these, which are sometimes shown in real-time, and elsewhere in flashback snatches. The effect is disorienting in an unnecessarily arty way.

Still, from a technical standpoint “The Numbers Station” is competently made for the most part. Ottar Guttnason’s cinematography is atmospheric, and Ged Clarke’s production design does what it needs to. The picture’s faults like primarily on the narrative side, with a script (by F. Scott Frazier) that isn’t distinctive or surprising enough and direction by Kasper Barfoed that’s on the flaccid side. As for the cast, apart from Cusack Akerman has the only meaty role, and she does well enough showing her mixture of vulnerability, strength and pain (since she’s seriously wounded early on). That’s true even though she’s saddled with some monologues that rather clumsily deliver expository material that might have been handled more cannily. The villainous interlopers all seem to have come out of central casting.

In sum, “The Numbers Station” is a wearyingly ordinary attempt at a confined-space thriller that doesn’t so much take advantage of its locale as reflect its limitations. By the time it finishes, you’re likely to feel as exhausted and out of sorts as Emerson (or Cusack) looks.