Restrepo Review

            Last night National Geographic Channel was kind enough to air the critically acclaimed documentary Restrepo.  Even more generous was the fact that it appeared to air unedited (judging by the amount of f-bombs that were contained in the television version).  The documentary won its category’s award at the Sundance Film Festival and it definitely deserved it.  Restrepo is a masterful and insightful piece of moviemaking about the lives of our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.
            The documentary follows a platoon of American soldiers in the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan.  The valley is one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan for American soldiers who have dubbed it “The Valley of Death”.  As the film says, over forty American soldiers have died there while fighting the Taliban.  The film centers mostly on life in the Restepo Outpost which was named after one of the first soldiers in the platoon to die.  The film takes place over the course of one year.
            It is amazing, to say the least, what Sebastian Junger (an American journalist) and Tim Hetherington (a British photogropher) accomplish with this film.  They really went to the fires of hell to make this film as they were there with the soldiers in probably one of the most dangerous places in the world.  Some of the sequences they are able to catch are breathtaking (such as soldiers reacting to news of comrades dying, the gorgeous scenery surrounding the outpost and numerous firefights).  However, the most jaw-dropping sequence they come up with is the ambush scene in the opening.  It really provides a phenomenal hook that keeps you gripped to the screen.
            Another interesting thing this documentary showcases is the terrain of Afghanistan.  Many people (including myself) think of Afghanistan as a barren (yet mountainous) area that is almost desert like.  However, while watching this film the almost completely green valley catches you by surprise.  As the film continues sequences are shot with soldiers trekking through thick forests and even shoveling through dense snow.
            Restrepo is an excellent documentary and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this film is to Afghanistan what The Hurt Locker was to Iraq.  Not only are they the defining films (so far) of each war but they also showcase the soldiers instead of delving into any of the politics of war.  Each soldier is shown to have a different personality (some are fascinated by the ability to go out and fight while others are completely rattled by the experiences that occur to them) and this might be the film’s greatest strength.  These are real people fighting this war.


Red Riding: 1974 Review

           In a time where the general public is very weary of the government’s motives, a movie about corruption, crime and murder should be very relevant.  Unfortunately, Red Riding: 1974 does not completely achieve this atmosphere.
            Red Riding: 1974 is the first film in the Red Riding trilogy that was made for television in the United Kingdom (However, they were released theatrically here in the United States).  The first film in the series follows Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield showing why he won his roles in The Social Network and the Spider-Man Reboot), a newspaper reporter who tries to uncover the culprit of a string of murders (most involving young girls).  Eventually, Dunford finds out that the local police and many others are involved in the cover up of the murders.
            The film is directed by Julian Jarrold (probably most known for directing Becoming Jane).  Unfortunately he brings nothing to the table as he is unable to obtain the claustrophobic or disturbingly poignant atmosphere that a movie of this genre should have.  Writer Tony Grisoni also fails to spice up the film to anything above average.  His script, unfortunately, has all of the clich├ęs of any crime drama.  The ending of the film really brings the failure of these two into context as a choice in the final seconds is made (involving something supernatural) that makes no sense within the context of the film and the genre it pertains to.

            The acting, on the other hand, is commendable with the exception of Sean Bean (who is completely wasted as the film’s villain).  Andrew Garfield is great and it is easy to see why he was chosen to star in The Social Network and the Spider-Man reboot.  Garfield brings a lot of gravitas and the “rooting for” factor that are necessary in his upcoming roles.  Rebecca Hall is very good as well in a supporting role as a grieving mother and love interest for Garfield.  I also found it very fortunate for the movie that all of the actors (except Bean once again) were able to pull off the Leeds accent that was required for all of the characters. 
            Behind the camera, a lot is handled well.  The only exception is the editing which did not work in creating any suspense.  The cinematography starts of bland but quickly becomes increasingly interesting.  For example, there is a fascinating angle in the film of Garfield’s character looking through a distorted doorway into Rebecca Hall’s face.  However, as twists in the film reveal themselves, the angle turns out not just to be done for the sake of being fascinating.  The costume design is also well done for the small budget the film had.
            Red Riding: 1974 is definitely a film, with a little more creativity involved, that could have achieved greatness.  Instead it settles with being an unmemorable stepping stone on Andrew Garfield’s path to superstardom.


The Girl Who Played With Fire Review

With The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Niels Arden Oplev made a satisfying adaptation of the most beloved books in the world and brought one of the most iconic heroines to the big screen.  Now with a different director onboard (Daniel Alfredson), the cinematic version of the Millennium Trilogy continues with The Girl Who Played With Fire

            The Girl Who Played With Fire follows Lisbeth Salander’s continuing adventures as she is framed for the murder of a journalist, who is working on a sex trade expose, and her guardian, whom she was blackmailing for raping her (all of which occurred in the first film).  As Lisbeth goes out to get to the bottom of the murders and clear her name, so too does Lisbeth’s former fling, Michael Blomkvist (whom Lisbeth has dropped all contact with).  As the two get closer to the culprit, more and more about Lisbeth’s past is revealed.

            Daniel Alfredson does a valiant effort in taking over for Niels Arden Oplev.  Even if Alfredson cannot completely carry over the intensity of the first film for this sequel, he is still able to bring a unique atmosphere to it.  Here you find an almost Bond-like action movie compared to the dark noir atmosphere the first film brought.

            Maybe due to the fact that the source material of The Girl Who Played With Fire is weaker to that of the first book (I have not personally read the trilogy), the script does not come across as strong as that of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  There are a few problems with it.  The ending, for instance, comes across as an attempt to go out blockbuster style instead of focusing on what make the characters interesting in the first place.

            The cast is overall very strong.  Noomi Rapace continues to do wonders in the role of Lisbeth Salander.  Her work here is on par with her exceptional work on the first film.  At this point I don’t know how Rooney Mara can top it in the American remake.  Michael Nyqvist is once again great, but his role is greatly reduced from the first film.  Out of the supporting cast Georgi Staykov comes across the strongest as the film’s main villain.

            The behind the scene work is nothing special.  The cinematography, editing and score are as good as any of the work done on a blockbuster from the United States.  The costume and makeup work, however, do continue to be interesting for Lisbeth Salander.  Makeup work is strong on another certain character (readers of the book will know who I am referring to).

            All in all, The Girl Who Played With Fire is a worthy addition to the cinematic version of The Millennium Trilogy.  What has interested me most so far about this series is that it, in my mind, appears to be the most easily consumable non-English language film for main stream audiences.  The film follows a larger than life character and is almost a run of the mill detective story.  With this in mind, I am disappointed about the upcoming American remake as most people will just take the approach of “why should I watch a film in subtitles if I can just wait a year to watch the English version?”.


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