Tag Archives: C



There’s a good deal to be said for understatement in a movie, especially one that deals with matters that can easily become overheated. But ironically “The Lucky Ones” takes reticence to excess. It concerns injured soldiers coming back from Iraq, a subject that was treated rather hyperbolically by Kimberly Peirce in the recent “Stop-Loss.” Here, though, the style adopted by Neil Burger {“The Illusionist”) is so laid-back and plain that the film leaves almost no impression at all.

The picture follows three GIs returning after the tours. Cheaver (Tim Robbins) is a reservist, injured in an accident (involving a portable toilet, ha-ha), who’s glad to be free of the service and, after two years’ absence, anxious to reunite with his wife and son in suburban St. Louis. Colce (Rachel McAdams) is southern girl, recovering from a leg wound, who plans to spend her thirty-day leave in Las Vegas visiting the parents of her boyfriend who was killed in Iraq, and returning his valuable guitar to them. And TK (Michael Pena) is an ambitious, rigid young man planning to get some unorthodox treatment in the same city for a shrapnel injury that’s left him unable to perform sexually before continuing on to California, where his fiancee lives. Unfortunately, when they arrive in New York from Germany, they find air traffic snarled as the result of a blackout and decide to pool their resources, rent a car and drive together to Missouri, where they’ll go their separate ways.

Of course, things don’t turn out quite as planned. Cheaver’s homecoming goes badly, and he suddenly finds himself homeless, unlikely to get his old job back, and in need of a wad of cash. He decides to continue westward with the other two, prolonging the picaresque road trip that’s already featured that old standby, a barroom brawl instigated in this case when some snotty college girls ridicule Colce’s limp. Their further adventures will include being locked out of their car, getting into a harrowing accident at a rural stop sign, visiting a church whose pastor prays over the men at Colce’s behest, and—most implausibly of all—not only attending a wealthy parishioner’s birthday party, where Cheaver has a comic sexual romp, but also encountering a tornado that has a therapeutic effect on TK’s condition.

Actually, this makes the picture sound far more energetic than it actually is, because despite all the incident it’s flatly written and played rather lackadaisically. Burger seems to be going for a dryly naturalistic style in which even outrageous moments—like that farcical sex scene Cheaver has on a lark—aren’t given much shape or panache and the more dramatic (or melodramatic) ones are tamped down as well. The result is a strangely undernourished mixture of the serious and the quirky, which unsuccessfully tries to merge a sympathetic picture of soldiers trying to reconnect with civilian life with a comic road trip.

The performances are similarly drained of vitality. Robbins—whom one might think a strange choice to star in a picture that ultimately seems to say little beyond “support the troops” anyway—mostly looks lethargic and vaguely disinterested, while McAdams’ lower-class spunkiness too often comes across as calculated. Pena’s character actually develops more than the others, and he catches the changes fairly subtly, though the turn in the last act is overly cute. This is basically a three-person piece, which is probably a good thing given that the rest of the cast are rather amateurish (or perhaps just indifferently directed)—though John Heard does show up for what amounts to a cameo in which he manages to chew the scenery for sixty seconds or so.

Undistinguished technically as well as narratively, “The Lucky Ones” is probably a sincere effort on Burger’s part to say something insightful about the soldiers coming back damaged from Iraq. But it represents a steep decline from the moodily effective “Illusionist” (and even from his earlier picture, “Interview with the Assassin”). Given the result, the title certainly doesn’t refer to the audience.



The adventures of a young boy attempting to cross much of continental Europe in an effort to reach Denmark after escaping a prison camp in communist Bulgaria is the subject of Paul Feig’s adaptation of Anne Holm’s novel “North to Freedom.” The picture is certainly well-intentioned, but its episodic structure and rather slack approach are unlikely to generate much excitement among the family audiences at which it’s targeted.

David (Ben Tibber, looking a bit well-fed for the part of a long-time detainee) is an understandably glum, uncommunicative youngster who’s known nothing but the camp all his life. He has no relatives there (though his dreams may be of his absent mother), only an older protector–an almost saintly, bespectacled man named Johannes (Jim Caviezel) who undertakes to protect him against the stern commandant (Hristo Shopov). After a particularly cruel incident, David’s escape is arranged, though we aren’t told why and by whom until the final reel, with instructions that he must stow away on a ship bound for Italy and thence make his way through Switzerland to freedom in Denmark. The reason for that destination is also withheld until the surprise ending.

David’s journey is, of course, an eventful one, but in the fashion of Disney live-action movies in which the danger doesn’t seem all that threatening and the attitude of most of the people the boy encounters turns out to be helpful rather than menacing. There’s an Italian sailor named Roberto (Francesco De Vito), for example, who’s more concerned that David might have messed with his magazines than that he’s a stowaway, and who later not only aids the kid to get to the Italian shore but gives him a much-needed ride. (Roberto turns out to be a truck driver, too.) And a sweet Italian girl (Viola Carinci) whose life David saves in a bizarre sequence (her brothers have apparently tied her to a chair in a barn and set the building ablaze–something for which they’re barely punished). Her parents, an aristocratic type living in what appears to be an eighteenth-century palace complex, take the boy in for a time and teach him a good deal about the wonders of civilization before he decamps to continue his journey. And most importantly, there’s Sophie (Joan Plowright), a grandmotherly painter who sneaks David over the Swiss border, shows him much kindness, and eventually puts together the secret of David’s identity. (The recurrent presence of a non-fiction book in the course of the trip proves the key, and helps to bring about the happiest of endings.)

Feig is reasonably successful in balancing the various elements of Holm’s tale. He manages to evoke a sense of the danger of David’s predicament, particularly in the opening prison camp sequences and the flashbacks to it that periodically follow to explain the circumstances of David’s escape (and the identity of his ultimate savior). But he keeps that relatively mild, presumably so as not to scare younger viewers excessively. Indeed, as the story proceeds, most of the incident is devoted to showing that ordinary people tend not to be nasty but nice, even if “officialdom”–like police and border guards–might not be entirely welcoming. But the director doesn’t invest the episodes with enough tension or energy to keep the interest from flagging; there’s a slightly enervated feel to the proceedings that gets tiring over time. The cast go through their paces with a similar lack of pizzazz. Tibber is convincingly doleful (it’s one of the jokes that David has to be taught how to smile), but he’s certainly not charismatic, and Caviezel gets to do another of his martyr routines, striking grave, soulful poses on the way to becoming a sacrificial lamb for the second time this year–and again at the hands of Shopov, who also played Pilate in “The Passion of the Christ.” Only Plowright really adds some zest to things as the considerate, good-natured matron who takes David under her wing. On the technical side the movie is just okay, but though Roman Oman’s cinematography isn’t much more than workmanlike, at least his camera is usually focused on attractive locations (like the Italian family’s sumptuous home).

“I Am David” is a nice enough picture, but it’s also slow and meandering, and though its uplifting finale isn’t strenuous enough to be cloying, it’s not transcendent either. Watching it is like seeing a decent Family Channel movie, except in this case you have to pay for it.