J has new problems with Olivia. Plus, Mama Smurf's got a job for her boys, and she's throwing a party.
Adrian worries the Cody family will find out he's working with the DEA, and Smurf's hunting for the truth.
An old face from the Cody family past returns. And Mama Smurf's not doing well.
Smurf is pushing Pope too far, and everybody knows it. But who'll stop it?
Missionaries come to Greendale hunting witches
The situation between Baz and Smurf escalates. Meanwhile, Craig and Deran are in over their heads returning a favour for Marco.
Deran finally talks to Smurf about the bar, among other things. Meanwhile, she's pulling J in closer to the inner workings of the family business.
TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 1, Episode 9: “Judas Kiss”
Directed by Christopher Chulack
Written by John Wells
* For a review of the previous episode, “Man In” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “What Have You Done?” – click here
After the intense finish of last episode, Josh (Finn Cole) is left pondering a decision with Alexa Anderson (Ellen Wroe). Her suggestion was to call Detective Sandra Yates (Nicki Micheaux). But will he risk that in the face of Grandma Smurf (Ellen Barkin) and her gang?
Baz (Scott Speedman), Pope (Shawn Hatosy), Craig (Ben Robson), and Deran (Jake Weary) are headed into Camp Pendleton. They pass the vehicle inspection, then they’re in.
At home, Smurf is left wondering where Josh is – he’s busy switching the SIM card out of his phone because his grandmother tracks him, plus all his uncles. Now, he’s meeting with Dt. Yates, as Alexa pulls him in deeper into a scary situation.
Out at the base, the Cody Boys head into the paintball course, gear on, masks ready. They get into a pretty good game with a ton of other players. Until they break off from the pack to their target. Lieutenant Commander Paul Belmont (C. Thomas Howell) slips them a key to open a locked gate from which they emerge dressed in Navy camouflage.
Up at the Cody house, Catherine (Daniella Alonso) shows up with her daughter, as grandma does her daily cleaning. There’s lots of tension, though, and Catherine is trying her best to play into whatever Smurf expects of her. She even tries apologising, mending bridges. I’m not just worried about J anymore. I’m worried for Catherine. Even worse, she steals a bunch of money from behind the dryer while Smurf is in the other room. Scarier still? Catherine’s daughter lets slip that mommy’s friend has a car with “a siren” and she’s not supposed to tell daddy about that. Holy. Fuck. This is getting very worrisome.
The boys are moving steadily through their mission at Camp Pendleton. They’ve made their way into the warehouse and find the lot where the money’s held. Baz, Craig, and Pope get to work bagging money while Deran waits outside the warehouse. The amount of money is staggering.
Simultaneously, Josh is meeting with Yates, as well as Patrick (Dorian Missick), the cop who knows Catherine. Either way the truth is coming out about Smurf, the uncles, and Yates makes clear: “You‘re expendable, Josh. And you know it. You‘re like the colt who can‘t keep up with the herd when the wolves arrive. And the wolves are circling, Josh.”
Josh is being pressed by Yates to give up more information. He refuses to talk about Nicky (Molly Gordon) and her father. Yates is offering a way out, however, none of the police ever think truly about what it’ll be like for someone, especially a family member, after they rat out those close to them. And speaking of people in danger, Smurf’s already discovered the cop friend, now it looks as if she’s found out about Catherine stealing money. None of these issues are going to pan out well.
At the warehouse, the Cody Gang find soldiers kicking around. Luckily for them they’re not headed for the cage where the money’s being stolen. A pulse pounding moment or two. Afterwards, the boys load the cage with the dummy money they prepared, they wrap and seal the plastic again, strap the pallet in, and nobody’s the wiser. What a plan, too. They wrap the money in bags, snap GSP locators on them, then dump it into barrels of diesel or something similar. Tricky, tricky.
With J, things are getting sketchier. Yates wants him to wear a wire: “He might just do it for pussy,” she says wondering if Alexa might “open her legs” for J to get things rolling. Although Patrick doesn’t feel morally capable of letting that happen.
Something I’ve not mentioned enough is the music. The score for the show is absolutely amazing, such an impressive addition that works alongside all the suspense, the tension, the adrenaline. Courtesy of Samuel Jones and Alexis Marsh (Preservation).
And after all their treachery, the Cody Gang heads back onto the paintball course, just like nothing ever happened. They head out, have the SUV chopped, each doing their little part to finish the job off right. True professional thieves. Back at the house, Smurf has a nice big apple pie waiting; a tradition after the latest job. She’s glad to have her boys back following their haul. Meanwhile, Baz is taking “first watch” on the money, as Craig and Deran eat their pie, fire up some weed.
Now Alexa is trying to draw J into the web of deceit of the law. They want him to talk, by any means necessary. Yates needs Alexa to seduce the young man, and that may prove to be just as dangerous as anything else. He’s still a teenager. This could do a lot of damage to him. They fall into bed together, though Alexa cries the entire time. She’s not making it better for herself, or for him. The cops need somebody else other than J to make their case. This, none of it, will end well.
At the same time, Smurf tells Pope about Catherine – the money, that she may be talking to police. This troubles him. “She‘s a user,” Mama tells her little boy. “We brought her into our family, but that girl she only cared about herself. I watched her lead you on.” Smurf continues dripping poison into her boy’s ear. That’s another dangerous element. She pounds the betrayal of Catherine into him. Worries me how he’ll deal with all that.
So he goes to her place in the night. He tells Catherine that Smurf knows about the money, the cop. Well, she plays it as being nothing. Problem is that Mama Smurf doesn’t believe that Catherine is not a threat. Everything starts to get creepier. The tension mounts and we begin to wonder exactly what Pope is there to do. This sends Catherine into a frenzy, trying to find any weapon possible nearby. That is, until they start stripping each other, kissing, and they wind up between the sheets…
…where Pope smothers her to death, crying as he does. Probably the most intensely emotional, disturbing scene that’s happened in the entire series so far. Not only was that Baz’s girlfriend, she left behind a little daughter, as well.
The cops are really pressing Josh. Things have changed, though. He’s now roped into Alexa and her physicality. He calls Smurf to let him know he won’t be home, staying at a friend’s, all that. But you can see Grandma Smurf is not pleased when Craig tells her that J is banging his teacher. “Hot as shit, I‘d be bangin‘ her, too,” he tells his mother. The look on her face says it all. She doesn’t like when her boys are into anyone else too much; anybody that isn’t her.
One of her boys is being really naughty. Out digging a grave. While he’s hauling Catherine’s corpse out of the vehicle, her daughter lies asleep in the backseat. How infinitely sad and tragic.
In the morning, Deran takes over the money watch post, as Baz heads back home. To nothing. Simultaneously, Josh is finding the cops applying more pressure: they want him to wear a wire. Yates says he wears the wire, or maybe Smurf finds out where he’s been all night, talking to the police. She spins a hard tale about the Cody uncles. You can see that Patrick isn’t as keen as Yates, he doesn’t like to see Alexa clinging onto Josh and pushing him to a decision. I’m thinking this will make everything more difficult at some point.
When Baz gets home in the morning, he finds no Catherine. Only their little girl.
And Smurf is left alone with her thoughts, imagining what sort of madness comes next.
Another near perfect episode! What an awesome penultimate Season 1 chapter. The last one is titled “What Have You Done?” and I’m betting all the Cody secrets are about to spill forth. Stay with me.
TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 1, Episode 7: “Goddamn Animals”
Directed by Tim Southam
Written by Eliza Clark
* For a review of the previous episode, “Child Care” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Man In” – click here
Mama Smurf Cody (Ellen Barkin) is headed off to do her own thing. She leaves Baz (Scott Speedman) with a regular salary for her and the boys, rather than the full amount they’re owed for the last job. Nobody’s happy, though she doesn’t care. She runs shit her way. Craig (Ben Robson) and Deran (Jake Weary) are likely going to not do what they’re supposed to. Pope’s (Shawn Hatosy) too busy sparring his punching bag to care about anything.
Meanwhile they’re all wondering about Josh (Finn Cole). He spent the night over at the house of Alexa Anderson (Ellen Wroe). When he tries leaving she wants more information. Then he opens up a little about his uncle Pope, the family business. Uh oh.
Pope is pissed that Baz knew about mom slipping him pills. “I kinda think you like me crazy; less competition,” says Pope.
Of course there’s still the clear love of Deran for Adrian (Spencer Treat Clark). Just the way he looks at him, you can tell the dude is shook. He simply can’t come out; to himself, or to anyone around him. “Maybe we should go back to Belize,” he suggests to Adrian. However, there’s an obvious rift between them that won’t ever close. Adrian’s friend that Pope threw in the ocean has an infection, so that doesn’t sit well with the guy. Anyway, Craig shows up, so the two lovers act like nothing’s going on. Or, Deran does. Not so much Adrian. He wants more.
Detective Sandra Yates (Nicki Micheaux) is pleased with the way Alexa is working J. Now there needs to be more. Well, Ms. Anderson fucked up with drugs and she’s found herself on the hook to do whatever the cops need, so any worry she has for J is dashed by the looming spectre of jail.
In other news, Baz returns the briefcase to Paul Belmont (C. Thomas Howell). He’s more than glad to have it back. So much so he starts talking a bit too loosely with Barry, perhaps saying more than he should. Baz is sucking him in further and further with each passing moment. At the same time, Josh comes back to Smurf’s place. Briefly he talks to Paul – nice guy all around – and you can see Josh cares for Nicky (Molly Gordon). A threat from Uncle Barry makes the kid wise up even more than he has already.
Out doing her thing, Smurf has a friend doing a bit of work for her. Favours. That sort of jazz. He isn’t just a friend. He’s a father to at least one of the boys. Yikes. Such a brief encounter and we get a ton of expository information without a load of dialogue. Great writing that’s made this series lots of fun and so interesting thus far.
And Pope, he’s still got his old buddy Vin (Michael Bowen) sniffing around trying to get him in on a job. Pissed off that they didn’t do that last job together. But he also has a new job for them. When Pope goes with him to case the place it doesn’t turn out he likes the idea. Neither does that conclusion sit well with his old pal Vin.
Baz, a.k.a deadbeat husband and father, promises Catherine (Daniella Alonso) they’ll have another child. Yet Smurf does not approve. Will that hold him back? You can already see Catherine believes it will indeed.
What is Mama Smurf up to? She’s at a garage filled with some gorgeous cars. Stealing? Buying? No telling what’s up that sleeve of hers.
Josh heads back to see Ms. Anderson, or Alexa, as they’re on a first name basis. He finds the place out of order a little. In the bedroom he finds her wasted, throwing up. Likely on the heroin again, or oxy. The good man he is, J helps her to the bathroom and holds her hair as she vomits. Sad to watch him have to go through this with someone else now after his mother. Not too long later they fall into bed together. Goood damn.
At the Cody place there’s a big party going. Tons of people. Kegs. Barbecue. Uncle Craig snatches up his niece from Catherine, as she goes on into the crowd. In the midst of it all sits Adrian, a jaded look on his face. Afterwards, he and Deran go into the garage where they talk a moment, before Adrian walks away. Deran has to make it all look smooth, as Craig is in the driveway with his little niece. Almost giving himself away there.
Vin shows up around Baz, saying things about Pope and what he had to say about his ‘brother’ while in prison. That Catherine was his girl. That the daughter was his daughter. With the hurt feelings over their latest work, Vin wants a piece of some action Baz has going on in order to pay up for keeping Pope safe in jail. This is not going to go over well. I can see Vin meeting an end soon enough, which is probably going to be at the hands of Pope. Or is Baz about to step in? Speaking of Pope he’s talking to Catherine again, stalking her essentially. The look in his eyes says love. The way he goes about it says something else entirely.
The obviousness of Deran’s sexuality is clear to Craig. He doesn’t care. He just would rather if his brother wasn’t a jerk because Adrian is a good guy. Wow. I never expected that, least of all from Craig. Although those two have a good, solid bond between them, as it looks now.
Craig (to Deran): “I don‘t care who you have sex with, why do you think I invited him?”
Smurf is out with the guy from the garage. She continues plying information out of him, or trying to at least. We get a flash of her with that young surfer dude with the blonde hair, a picture of him and who I assume to be Smurf’s mother. We see more of Smurf as a young woman, the blonde haired man from the photo in the gallery, and he’s shot a woman inside a store. They rush out to the car.
The man from the garage is the man from the photograph. Jesus. I saw it coming, but still. Incredible.
When Baz finds the Cody house in full swing he isn’t overly happy. Mostly, he wants to talk with Pope. They chat about Vin, his threats, what he had to say about Pope and Catherine. So on. The two semi-brothers are at quite a crossroads. There’s a ton of animosity inherently stuck within Pope, always raging to get out. For a moment, he and Baz talk about Julia: “She was supposed to be your sister, too,” Pope tells him.
At the garage, Smurf gets into the old car her once blonde haired friend bought years ago. He talks about how he used to party with a woman, she was wild, got him into crazy things. He gave her young twelve-year-old girl the nickname Smurf because she’d swim in the water until she turned blue. What a whopper of a scene and exchange between these two. You can see the frantic memories running behind Smurf’s eyes, terrifying her.
Back home, Baz and Catherine talk about Pope. She tells him about his sort of stalking. “He loves you, he always has,” Baz says nonchalant. Like it doesn’t even bother him, really. Then up shows Craig, there’s movement in terms of their next job. They need to get ready. In the meantime, Catherine calls her cop friend for a little consoling.
Deran rushes to Adrian. He kisses him right out in the open. Only Adrian shrugs him off and doesn’t want to pursue their relationship anymore. Not the way Deran wanted it before. That’s all ruined their chances.
Baz goes to see Paul while he’s playing some basketball. He takes a chance and tells Belmont about everything; the robbery, the briefcase. Then gives the man an opportunity to do something big and Baz gives some advice: “If you‘re gonna cross the line, make sure it‘s a line worth crossing.”
When Smurf gets back she finds Baz knows she didn’t go for a rip in Vegas. Otherwise, the big Navy job is looking swell. Seems like Paul is on board. Barry knows Smurf isn’t well when she cries right there and then. Did she kill the man? What happened?
Great episode. Offered up plenty of nice backstory, as well as developed a couple characters in some much needed ways. Next episode is titled “Man In” and I bet we’ll see a nice dose of adrenaline soaked excitement; big things are coming.
TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 1, Episode 3: “Stay Close, Stick Together”
Directed by Christopher Chulack
Written by Eliza Clark
* For a review of the previous episode, “We Don’t Hurt People” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Dead to Me” – click here
With all the lies, all the secrets floating around, can Josh Cody (Finn Cole) manage to keep his head above water? Can he survive his own family?
Pope (Shawn Hatosy) is out fishing, gutting and skinning some sharks. He receives a visit from an old friend wanting to a do a job. Then we find out that this guy thinks Pope is with Catherine (Daniella Alonso), and that they have a baby together. So, could the baby actually be Pope’s child, or is that merely his ego, telling people this or that, lying? Hard to tell. Either way, it weighs heavy on Pope.
Then there’s Josh who seems constantly plagued by the strain of his family. He even has to steal back the gold watch he gave Nicky (Molly Gordon). Heading out from her place he runs into Nicky’s father, Navy Lieutenant Commander Paul Belmont (C. Thomas Howell). Not good. Yet the father doesn’t go too hard. He’s fairly lenient, most of all concerned about how his daughter’s doing.
Baz (Scott Speedman) and his Mexican girlfriend bang while Craig (Ben Robson) is being fixed up. This is not a good side to Baz. I hoped there was an inherently good part of him compared to the others. Not quite.
Back at home, in America, Smurf (Ellen Barkin) is looking after Catherine’s daughter and asking Josh whether he’s having sex with Nicky. “Does she satisfy you?” asks grandma. The closeness of the Cody family is wonderfully creepy. You sense that Smurf loves her boys, but there’s an overprotective quality that borders on inappropriate. This was always alluded to in the original film, as Smurf had a penchant for kissing her boys right on the mouth, even as grown men. Here, Barkin’s crack at the character goes deeper into that element, and we start to see how she’s the criminal glue holding these boys together. As well as tearing them apart at times.
Pope isn’t feeling well lately. Probably because mom is slipping him anti-depressants or something else into the food he’s eating. Moreover, he also doesn’t like what has been happening at home. He does not like his nephew, him being around and possibly being a liability, nor does he like how Baz is the big king in the Cody Gang anymore. His mother’s trying to turn him around. But will that put her boys at odds? There’s a good chance.
Speaking of the boys, Baz and Craig are on a Mexican beach enjoying themselves. At least for a while. Craig’s wanting to do more jobs, as Baz tries to keep him from doing anything stupid.
Out collecting rent, Deran (Jake Weary) runs into Adrian (Spencer Treat Clark) – not only is he the one who owes money for the surf shop, he’s also the guy who was going down on Deran. His face is a mess. He dropped tons of cash on an MRI to make sure there were no internal injuries. Now, he doesn’t want to pay rent. It’s all on Deran, or else Smurf finds out her boy was sucking dick then decided to sucker punch the guy whose dick he sucked. Nasty stuff for ole Deran, he’s in quite the position.
Pope picks up Josh. As advised by his mother, the uncle plans on bringing his nephew into the fold. Just not Baz’s fold. He wants to exert some of his influence on the kid and get him on the perceived ‘right’ side of the family. This will only mean more and more of the brothers being at odds with one another. Not to mention Pope also ropes Deran into the mix. But though Smurf suggested Pope ought to include Josh in things, she knows nothing of the job the boys are about to do. Plus, Smurf is too busy trying to make sure she gets to spend time with Catherine and Baz’s daughter. Even if that means being greasy.
“You ready to have some fun?” Pope asks his nephew, as they haul on some uniforms, throw decals on their truck, and prepare to get busy. Inside their target building, the boys break through a wall and look for a safe. They find it, though they’re interrupted, and the pace quickens for them. Josh ends up doing Pope right when Deran refuses. At the very same time, coming back across the border, Craig lets Baz know there are drugs on board. Right as the police dogs come closer. It goes smoothly, but god damn – these guys play fast and loose. The only sensible one criminally is Baz. Just an all around shitshow at both ends.
The safe gets opened. Pope doesn’t want to give Deran any, as Josh did the work needed to be done: “He has more balls than you do,” Pope berates his brother. There is plenty of aggression and tension between these two now. Josh agrees to split things three ways, but Uncle Deran doesn’t want to admit he was scared, and walks off. There’s more tension elsewhere. Smurf and Catherine are at odds, too. Mama Smurf doesn’t like that Catherine has been getting money, et cetera, from the Cody Gang while thinking she’s above it. That is a slight bit of hypocrisy. All the same, Catherine doesn’t want her daughter around that viciousness. And I agree.
Craig’s drug plan pays off for him and Baz, even if the latter wasn’t too pleased with how things played out. At least they’re home in one piece. At home, Pope won’t take the watch back from his nephew, he tells him to keep it; all in the name of rebelling against mother. Man, these are a bunch of dudes with a terrible load of mommy issues all over the place. Aside from everyone else, Josh tells Deran he didn’t see anything down at the beach. Although the uncle plays it dumb. He shouldn’t. Because eventually Josh is going to find himself in a place where he’s going to drop that secret out in the open.
Around the couches, the Cody Gang talk about their father(s). One was a seagull. The other a one-eyed dolphin. Regardless of what or who he was, this is all about resentment. Pope pulls out more of it for Deran before leaving. It’s all too clear this situation will come to a head sooner rather than later. But Pope, he’s pushing hard against other issues. He keeps creeping around Catherine. Yet part of him is only concerned for her, the baby. He offers money to get a good babysitter. For all his weirdness and his temper, Pope seems to have a good heart. It’s just buried far beneath the issues with Smurf, his troubled life of crime, and a ton of bravado.
Poolside, Deran challenges nephew Josh to a competition: who can hold their breath longest in the pool. They stare one another down, as Josh clearly has more trouble than his uncle. When he tries to go back up, Deran stops him. He tries to drown his own nephew. All in good fun, right? Josh continues to figure out how dangerous it is being a Cody, and that being born into that blood is more like being birthed into Sparta than a Californian family.
Josh goes to see Nicky – he gives her back the watch. Certainly Mr. Belmont isn’t all that happy, but he’s still not an outright dick. I want to see more of his involvement with Josh. That makes me worry slightly for him because a man of the law involved with the Cody Gang is a recipe for disaster. At the house, Smurf bitches out Deran for Josh being gone with all his things. Where’s the boy headed?
Baz keeps money at his father’s place, stashed below the cupboards. Once more, he contemplates shooting his father, who for his part eggs him on. There’s a deep pain in Baz that stems from his family, his father in particular it seems, so there was likely abuse of some form in his past.
Smurf finds her grandson ready to head out of town. She’s sad to see him running. We find out more about Smurf’s own history, that her mother was also a junkie, which clearly passed down to her daughter, Josh’s mother. For his part, the kid wants to know who his father was, for sure. Smurf doesn’t know, only the one that she loved and that she tried to bring into the fold – Baz. They were in love. Whoa. That’s a ton of intrigue thrown into the batter right there. Well, Smurf takes Josh back home. We can see there’s something in Deran’s eyes; is it worry? He doesn’t want his secret gay life to get exposed, and also doesn’t want to be thrown from the family, for any reason.
Baz and Josh end up chatting briefly. The latter reveals he shot his mother up that day she died. That’s heavy. His semi-uncle assuages his guilt, saying that his mother did that to all of them and it was the family burden, essentially. I want to see more of this relationship between Baz and Josh. At least now we know why Baz is more gentle than any of the rest with Josh, as he has a personal connection to the kid.
Trying to sleep, Smurf feels the eyes of her crazy son Pope on her. He stands watching her for a while before coming to her bedside and crawling in next to her for a cuddle. I keep wondering if there’s something sordid to do with Smurf and Pope specifically. He seems to have the most issues. We’ll find out soon, I’m sure.
Another solid episode. Next up is “Dead to Me” and with a title like that, YOU KNOW something is going down. Stick with me, and with the series. Digging these episodes a ton. I hope some of you are, too.
Unbreakable. 2000. Directed & Written by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, Eamonn Walker, Leslie Stefanson, & Michael Kelly. Touchstone Pictures/Blinding Edge Pictures/Barry Mendel Productions/Limited Edition Productions Inc.
Rated Pg. 106 minutes.
Everyone has their starkly contrasted opinions of M. Night Shyamalan. Despite his few rough patches over the years, recently he came back strong with the horror-thriller in found footage style The Visit, which I loved. Everyone knows of The Sixth Sense whether they’ve seen it or only heard of it. But Unbreakable is his definitive masterpiece. It is small and subdued, yet at the same time epic in scale. Shyamalan tells the story of superheroes, but in a contained and human fashion. The tales of good and evil were translated from gods of the Greek pantheon into comic books a hundred years ago. Shymalan’s film is one of the more contemporary takes on the superhero genre, without even directly coming out and saying the word, really. He boils it down to something smaller. Just like the character Elijah Price suggests, the stuff of those mythic comic heroes is tangible, exaggerated for flare and commercial interests. With a beautiful, rhythmic style, a steady pace that reveals the story in an exciting way, Shyamalan crafts one of the modern classics. This one is a work of art.
David Dunn (Bruce Willis) comes back from an interview via train and it goes off the rails. Everyone except him dies. He walks away “miraculously unharmed” which makes things all the more unbelievable. Soon, a man named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) contacts him. From there they develop a strange connection, mostly insisted upon by Price. He believes David is his opposite. Elijah has a condition which causes his bones to break easily; he sees David as indestructible.
What their relationship comes to mean for David is life changing. Neither he nor Elijah will ever be the same again.
As David Dunn wakes up after the accident, he’s left to sit and watch the only other survivor waste away right in front of him. Terrifying. Then to walk away without a scratch, it’s got to be emotionally devastating to wonder, for him, how he was spared. This brings into question things like the nature of life, fate, for some it brings to mind ideas of God, et cetera. So before we know what’s happening there is a truly humanist root to the story being told.
The parallel between the characters is incredible. Obviously mirroring the relationship between heroes and villains in the comic books which Elijah loves so dearly. But more than that it’s a depiction of two men whose lives haven’t been easy or gone so smooth. Yet each turned out to be completely different despite coming up against adversity. Two ends of the spectrum.
Then the representation and symbolism to which Shyamalan attaches them is impressive writing. The fact we see Elijah primarily through reflections in mirrors and a television screen is telling. Later, we see him through reflections in his gallery. His identity is fragmented. In opposition, David is shown enduring physical crises, or experimenting with his power (see: weights in the basement with Joseph), his strength personified by physicality and supposed invincibility. His life, from his body to his pride, is defined through strength, through heroism.
Elijah: “It‘s all right to be afraid, David, because this part won‘t be like a comic book. Real life doesn‘t fit into little boxes that were drawn for it.”
Shyamalan’s film is perfectly shot. Each frame is downright marvelous. The composition of shots brings to life the panels of comic books, the movement of the camera takes us along with the characters as if through the panels and pages of a graphic novel. There are moments it’s less subtle, then at other points there are clear, though amazing, instances of the comic book treatment. While Shyamalan uses colours specifically in a lot of his pictures, Unbreakable has a faded, washed out sort of palette overall. Then he takes bright colours and uses them to signify points worth watching. Especially the colour red, which helps us track David Dunn’s sense of heroic vision. Certain shots call to mind the visually lyrical style of the comic world. For instance, when young Elijah receives a comic from his mother, the camera starts as we look at the book upside down and whirl around in a 360 before leveling out to see it right side up. My favourite: later in the film when David is in the house moving towards outside he appears through the drapes, closer and closer, just like a row of panel moving from one to the next. He’s even dressed almost constantly in hooded/caped rainwear, particularly during his job and then when he’s in the house with the hostage family later. There’s no cartoon-ish sense of comics here. Shyamalan brings the superhero world to real life, as best as he can. The mythic figures of the comic universe are no longer Greek god-like figures. Here, they become human, living souls with full lives, made up of the good and the bad. Unbreakable allows us to examine what those true-to-life heroes might look like.
Not everyone will see any film the same way. You can’t ever find a universal opinion on one movie, and you also cannot ever find a subjective opinion on a film. But to me, Unbreakable is one of the greats. It is a genuine masterpiece. There are so many things about it I love. Jackson is incredible. As is Willis, no matter what some say of his performance – he played a man dealing with something extraordinary, supernatural almost, and rightfully seems shocked or devastated in some way most of the time. They’re excellent together. Plus, Shyamalan does wonderful things here as director, which proves he has the chops; everybody makes a wrong step in their profession, at one time or another, so give him a break. A few of his movies are already classics. He’s a talented guy who can bring forth a lot of interesting themes through his writing, giving them life on film. This is one of those movies where he gives us a new way of looking at a subject, which just so happens to be darkly exciting, odd, and exciting at once.
Arlington Road. 1999. Directed by Mark Pellington. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger.
Starring Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Robert Gossett, Mason Gamble, Spencer Treat Clark, Stanley Anderson, Viviane Vives, Lee Stringer, Darryl Cox, & Loyd Catlett. Screen Gems/Lakeshore Entertainment/Arlington Road Productions Corporation/Gorai & Samuelson Productions.
Rated R. 117 minutes.
There are certain movies re: terrorism which, after the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, really begin to take on heavier meaning than before. Even more so now as people seem needlessly frightened here in North America over so many refugees coming here. The paranoia of these terrorism-fueled thrillers makes for great stomping ground to play out a drama concerning who is or who isn’t a terrorist.
Arlington Road is interesting because nowadays you’d probably see the Tim Robbins character played by someone Middle Eastern, casting immigrants and those outside the North American culture as terrorists, or sympathizers. However, here’s Robbins playing a guy who may or may not be a terrorist (at least we’re unsure for a little while) – the white guy next door. And so this movie came along just a couple years before everybody starting assuming all terrorists have brown skin. It’s refreshing, honestly. Mark Pellington directs a script by Ehren Kruger that’s filled with mindbending sequences, as we rush along on the coat tails of Bridges, whose characters is beyond determined to figure out the truth about his new, subtly suspicious neighbour. Filmed well from a solid screenplay, Arlington Road is a mystery-laden thriller, not without flaws. Overall, it does the job of sucking you in and never letting go, not until the last beat.
When Professor Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) finds a young boy named Brady (Mason Gamble) stumbling through the road, bloody, arm nearly blown off, he rushes the kid to a hospital frantically. There, he meets the parents – Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins & Joan Cusack). They are grateful to Michael, and as it turns out, live right across the road. So Michael and his girlfriend Brooke Wolfe (Hope Davis) befriend the new neighbours. The families become friends, especially Michael’s boy Grant (Spencer Treat Clark) and Brady.
Things aren’t everything they seem, though. With his studies in American History/Terrorism, as well as the fact his former wife died in the line of duty with the FBI, Michael knows almost too much about the lives and habits of terrorists. So when Oliver and Cheryl begin to seem suspicious, it takes him into an obsessive loophole of paranoia, guilt, and a strong wave of fear. As things get more tense, Brooke and Grant may both be in plenty of trouble. Only Michael can figure out how to prevent that. Problem is, nobody else sees what Michael sees, and the more he fights to prove his theories, the more he appears crazy.
Can Michael determine what Oliver is and what he’s up to in time? Or is there anything to figure out at all?
The term paranoid thriller is one that fits easily with Pellington’s Arlington Road. And while the paranoia proves to be more dangerous than in certain other films, perilous for the main character spiraling into it, this screenplay really plays on the emotions. Bridges’ character devolves into this paranoid man whose every move is marred by an unshakeable feeling of conspiracy, of terrorists lurking behind every corner of his own neighbourhood. Part of what’s so excellent is the fact we feel very much in the perspective of Bridges the whole time, yet we also see the other events and actions surrounding his situation; we know there’s something not quite right with his neighbours, particularly just before the last 40 minutes starts to roll, and still there’s an overwhelming feeling of seeing things solely through Bridges’ point-of-view. Getting both sides, somehow Pellington traps us with him and the fear, the suspense is all so tangible.
Pacing in a thriller like this, which keeps us guessing to a certain point then replaces any of that suspense with action and plenty of tension, is an important key. And from the moment Faraday (Bridges) starts to really catch onto a possible terrorist plot, there’s a frenzied, chaotic feel to many scenes. These get more and more frequent until Faraday is going full speed, chasing the team of people about to unleash a bombing on the city. The finale is an intensely executed sequence that makes us feel crazy like Faraday, it makes us feel frustration, even anger; everything a good film is supposed to do emotionally. Plus, Bridges help sell it incredibly well. But it’s how things are paced, moving quick and smooth from one scene to the next, which keeps us in league with the thrills. We follow along fast with Faraday, and never are we left in the seat of feeling safe or centered. The pacing keeps us glued, while simultaneously throwing us off our guard during certain moments. Regardless, we go chugging along to the end and the near two hour runtime never feels that long at all.
The acting is spectacular, particularly on the part of Bridges. I’m most impressed by the screenplay. When you consider the end – SPOILER ALERT – not many films have the fortitude to take it that far. Instead of us finding a happier, more pleasant ending, Arlington Road takes us into the depths of terrorism, striking at the happy heart with its shocking final moments. Furthermore, we’re also able to see how the media spins things, and how conspiracy theories are formed, how they breathe and live in the world. There are other films which tackle these types of issues. But Pellington’s film is able to get where many of those other cinematic experiences can’t, as they’re often not willing to go to the lengths this one does. If Faraday managed to save the day, this would be another cheesy crime-thriller, wrapped in mystery and paranoia. But instead of doing that, Pellington, through the writing of Kruger, crafts something lastingly haunting, devastating, and it carries a strong message. I’m just glad this story plays out without having a racist angle, which of course is due to it being released in 1999. If it came after 9-11 this would be weighted down by racial issues and overtones. Arlington Road gives us all the examination of terrorism necessary, without relying on a religious or political dichotomy, or casting a certain race as the only perpetrators of terrorist violence.