All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

ROMEO MUST DIE

C+

Slick, sassy, and boasting lots of the colorfully violent
action viewers have come to expect of Joel Silver productions,
“Romeo Must Die” is a cheerfully tawdry twist on the star-
crossed-lovers motif and a solid American lead debut for Hong
Kong martial-arts maestro Jet Li. Its unfortunate that so
much of the running-time has been given over to the plodding
plot about a war between two gangs–one African-American, the
other Chinese–over some waterfront property being hawked as
a site for an NFL stadium (a conflict which leads to the deaths
of some family members and the unlikely romance between an ex-
Hong Kong cop and a black godfather’s daughter); but one can
forgive a good deal of the tedium to savor the periodic
punch-fests so artfully concocted by Andrzej Bartokowiak and
beautifully executed by, most notably, Li and Russell Wong.

The sporadic pizzazz of these balletic fisticuffs, unhappily,
can’t entirely compensate for a pedestrian storyline that’s
entirely too predictable (in terms of the identity of the
ultimate villains) and pacing of the intervening expository
sequences that drags the picture out to an unconscionable full
two hours. One gets what the producers were after here: a
picture that’s one third romance, one third chopsocky action,
and one-third hip-hoppy gangsta noir. But the love story
never really takes off (the relationship between Li and
songstress Aaliyah never progresses beyond the wet-eyes and
soulful-stares stage), and the African-American stuff, which
concentrates on gang leader Delroy Lindo trying to go legit
and smooth Isaiah Washington as his chief lieutenant, tries
too hard for emotional resonance while wasting an excessive
amount of time on the supposedly comic exertions of Anthony
Anderson as a distinctly boobish member of the crew who’s
repeatedly bested by Li. (This portion of the movie also
results in a good portion of the running-time being accompanied
by a series of ghastly rap numbers; the one which runs beneath
the titles is so awful–just a succession of obscenities–that
it takes some time for the picture to recover from the
onslaught.)

But then there are the stunt-filled action sequences, which are
sufficiently inventive to perk one up every time. Li amazes
in an opening jailbreak, outdoes Jackie Chan in a humorous
football set-piece, and does a great final confrontation with
Wong. Interspersed are a pretty nifty car-and-motorcycle
chase and a couple of well-choreographed fights between our
hero and Anderson’s crew. (On the other hand, an elaborate
scene in which Li uses Aaliyah as a confederate in order to
avoid fighting a lethal female directly doesn’t work, largely
because of the singer’s stiffness in battle.) One must also
note that Li’s English seems better than that of other Hong
Kong stars to have tried to make the transition to American
copies of eastern actioners, something which bodes well for his
future on these shores.

So if you can overlook the clunky plot conventions of “Romeo
Must Die” (a title which is unfortunately explained in a few
risible lines of dialogue toward the close) and just savor the
great action moments, you should have a reasonably good time
(much better, at any rate, than you were likely to have at
either “The Replacement Killers” or “The Corruptor,” the two,
far less successful, attempts to do Hollywood variants of the
Hong Kong formula with Chow Yun-Fat). It’s just a pity that
the airy grace of Jet Li has to be showcased in a movie that,
apart from his acrobatic contributions, is so sadly flatfooted
and resolutely earthbound.

SUCH A LONG JOURNEY

B

When the main character in a plot is named Noble, as is the
case here, there can be little doubt that his creator intends
him to be taken (at least in part) metaphorically; and when
the title of the work in which such a figure appears includes
the word “journey,” it’s pretty clear that the main focus is
on his transformation, for better or worse. Both elements
are found in this British-Canadian adaptation of Rohinton
Mistry’s novel about a Parsi bank-teller in early 1970s India
who, through a series of family crises and tense, sometimes
dangerous involvements with co-workers and old acquaintances,
learns the true meaning of love and friendship; by the close
the protagonist has truly been ennobled through suffering and
a realization of the humanity he shares even with those he has
treated with exaggerated reverence or occasional dismissal.

The path that we’re shown Gustad Noble taking is, to be sure,
a rambling and leisurely one, filled with byways and dead ends,
but thanks to Sturla Gunnarsson’s fluent direction and a
remarkable cast, it proves well worth following. Roshan Seth,
one of India’s greatest actors, is spellbinding as the well-
meaning but sometimes dense everyman hero who’s confronted by
conflict with his son and the illness of his daughter while
simultaneously trying to deal with the less-than-perfect
circumstances in which he lives and the foibles of his best
friend, co-worker Dinshawji (beautifully played by Sam Dastor).
In the midst of all these difficulties he’s asked by an old
buddy named Jimmy (Naseeruddin Shah), who’s with the Secret
Service, to serve as a conduit for cash which, it’s claimed,
is earmarked to help the Bengali resistance movement; the
arrangement brings Gustad back in touch with a shadowy friend of
Jimmy’s (the always-superb Om Puri) who once helped save
Noble’s life and now is the middle-man between him and his
long-absent friend. This element of the plot places the
protagonist’s emotional odyssey within the context of the
complex (and often corrupt) politics which marked the sub-
continent thirty years ago.

It’s impossible in a brief precis to recount all the side-trips
involved in Noble’s journey, or to touch even briefly upon the
wide array of supporting figures he meets along the way. But
the story, while dense in texture (like its source), is kept
from unravelling by Seth’s sensitive, admirably controlled
performance. Gustad is a character who, in unsubtle hands,
could easily have become irritating; but thanks to the
innate humility and goodness Seth imbues him with, Noble
remains throughout a sympathetic if troubled soul. And
at the end, when amid loss, suffering and violence he
achieves a kind of redemption through acceptance and forgiveness,
the effect is moving rather than mawkish. All of the other
cast members are admirable as well, and Gunnarsson’s recreation
of the Bombay milieu of the seventies, with its crowds and
political paranoia, is impressive.

“Such a Long Journey” requires a viewer’s patience, because it
is a complicated tale, told in a deliberate fashion. But those
willing to invest their effort in it will be amply rewarded.