by Steve Habrat
I’m starting to think that there is no role too great for Mr. Daniel Day Lewis. The man continues to top himself with each new role and with Lincoln, director Steven Spielberg’s new war drama, he may have given the performance of his career. With Lewis’ uncanny performance as the centerpiece, Spielberg, who blew us away last year with heartwarming boy-and-his-horse drama War Horse, spins a film so rich, detailed, and satisfying, it almost demands a second viewing to fully appreciate this towering instant classic on a technical level. I was in absolute awe over the fussy attention of each set piece, astonished by the grade-A lighting flowing into each scene, and fully immersed in this meaty slice of informative history that drops us right into the thick of the battle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment. But it all comes down to Lewis, hidden behind a beard and a few expertly blended prosthetics, as he settles into the role with a thin but warm smile. He is a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, a weight that he sometimes begins to collapse under but hides with a clever story that will lighten the mood when the tempers flare and the nerves churn around him. You can’t help but admire this man even when Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner dare to shed light on him in his fits of desperation.
Picking up during the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s (Played by Lewis) life, the Civil War continues to rage and the battle to end slavery is heating up in Washington. Lincoln, his Secretary of State, William Seward (Played by David Strathairn), and cranky abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (Played by Tommy Lee Jones) join forces to gather the number of votes needed from opposing Democrats in the House of Representatives to pass the Thirteen Amendment. As he attempts to convince those stubborn voters, Honest Abe uses his down-to-earth charm and hilarious anecdotes to win them over. He also sends out a trio of lobbyists, W.N Bilbo (Played by James Spader), Richard Schell (Played by Tim Blake Nelson), and Robert Latham (Played by John Hawkes), to earn votes. As the pressure to pass the Amendment and end the war escalates, Lincoln battles with his grieving wife Mary Todd Lincoln (Played by Sally Field) over the death of one of his sons and pleads with his son, Robert Todd Lincoln (Played by Joseph Gordon Levitt), about enlisting in the army.
At two and a half hours, Lincoln is far from the typical biopic that we all expected it to be. In all honestly, I think the final product would have suffered and bored us to tears if it chose to dive into Lincoln’s early years. The film opts to pull the curtain off of the small details and reveal the smoky meetings in the White House, where Lincoln and his staff debate over the best way to earn votes and win the war. When they can’t agree, Lincoln pauses and offers a little story to lighten the mood. Some of these stories are so veiled that they even stump Seward, who replies blankly with, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” When we aren’t in the meticulous drawing rooms of the White House, we are crammed into the stuffy House of Representatives, where the men bicker, scream, yell, and argue until they are blue in the face about the Thirteenth Amendment. While it certainly is interesting to get a behind the scenes look at this historical moment, it seems to lack suspense, mostly because we know the that the Amendment is going to be passed. In a way, that is the precise problem with Lincoln. There is never a moment where you are caught holding your breath. Instead, Spielberg focuses on carefully telling this historical epic in the grandest sense.
Then we Lewis, who pours everything he has into Honest Abe and completely disappears into the role of the 16th president. Folks, there are just simply not enough hours in the day to rave about this spellbinding performance. You just can’t help but love Abe as his lanky frame lumbers into a room and warmly embraces every face he meets. Lewis plays Lincoln as a sly politician who can win you over with a few perfectly delivered jokes. As a husband and father, Lincoln isn’t great but he tries his hardest. You can’t help but feel for the guy as he gets ripped up one side and down the other over the fact that he suggested the Mary be checked in to a mental institution when one of their sons died. He also doesn’t win any points with Robert, who begs Abe to let him enlist in the army. He rants about his embarrassment over not being able to wear a uniform during a party at the White House. The moment that hurt the worst was when Abe tries to reason with Robert but Robert just storms away in anger. As Abe watches his go, he silently whispers, “I can’t loose you.”
Lincoln may belong to Lewis but the supporting cast members are all brilliant in their own ways. Fields is an emotional force as Mary Todd Lincoln, who grapples with a grief that sends her into shocking fits of hysteria. Every blow of accusation she dishes out to Abe is even more severe then the last. When it comes to her politics, she can really grab a room. She shares a scene with the curmudgeon Stevens that finds a whole room holding their breath. Jones brings his long face to the role of Thaddeus Stevens, who is a firm defender of the Thirteenth Amendment. He is also handed a number of punchy one-liners to help keep things a bit playful (there is a good one about his wig). Levitt, who has been everywhere this year, shows up here as Abe’s antsy son Robert. He isn’t handed infinite amounts of screen time but his desperation to join the war is brave. Strathairn is firm and no-nonsense as Seward, the prickly Secretary of State who gets a little exasperated with old Abe and his anecdotes. Spader, Nelson, and Hawkes are all tasked with lightening the drama as three hilarious lobbyists. Spader is especially hilarious as he jogs after opposing Democrats and breathlessly argues and bribes them for their vote.
Despite ignoring his early years, Lincoln ends up feeling like the ultimate biopic, one that is immensely infatuated with its subject. Spielberg goes to great lengths to paint Lincoln as a man who isn’t perfect but is trying so desperately to do the right thing. Clearly a passion project, Spielberg pours his all into this and it shows right up to the end, making him a strong contender in the Best Director category at the Oscars. Lewis, meanwhile, should just be given the Best Actor Oscar right now and save the Academy the trouble of sorting out that category. So the question stands, is this Spielberg’s finest hour? Well, it is certainly is a triumph and it certainly ranks with the best of his work. Whether you love Spielberg or hate him, you can’t deny the fact that Lincoln is a touching, thoughtful, intelligent, reflective, and towering piece of filmmaking that will certainly be remembered for years to come. Best see it now so it can be admired on the big screen because your television will not do it justice.
by Steve Habrat
For quite some time, I’ve been griping about the never-ending stream of recycled ideas coming out of Hollywood over the past few years. I’d say that one of the most original films I’ve seen recently is without question Christopher Nolan’s 2010 mind-boggler Inception, a film that left me speechless after my first viewing. Well, now I can add writer/director Rian Johnson’s Looper to the short list of wholly original films. Fresh but flawed, Looper is truly something you’ve never seen before, a confident science-fiction vision that has the stones to pat itself on the back in the first fifteen minutes. While I believe that Looper is a little too hasty to congratulate itself for breathing new life into science fiction, the film’s opening hour is near classic levels. It’s incredibly riveting, funny, thrilling, and just begging to be revisited so the viewer can piece the brainy plot together. Unfortunately folks, it is too good to last and Looper does hit a snag in its second half, leaving Johnson in a scramble to recover. The second half of Looper is shockingly comatose, shifting the focus off the nifty time travel and onto a little boy and his mother, two characters who fail to draw the viewer in the way that stars Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt do early on. Luckily, the ending is somewhat of a recovery but it still leaves us feeling a bit empty.
In the year 2074, time travel exists but is instantly outlawed. Time travel is secretly controlled by a mob organization in Shanghai and is led by a mysterious figure called the Rainmaker. This organization captures individuals they want wiped off the map and they send them to the year 2044, where hitmen known as “loopers” kill the individual and then dispose of the body. Joseph Simmons (Played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) happens to be a looper in Kansas City, a dystopia gangland controlled by Abe (Played by Jeff Daniels), a man sent from the future to run the looper organization in 2044. Joe and his looper buddies quietly carry out their assassinations by day and by night, they hang out in Abe’s nightclub where they take recreational drugs through eye drops and flirt with the beautiful dancers. While loopers appear to live the high life, their bosses can suddenly end their contract, which means they send an older version of the looper through time to the younger version to be killed off, which is known as “closing a loop.” After Joe’s friend Seth (Played by Paul Dano) fails to “close his loop,” he comes to Joe’s apartment in a panic and asks Joe to hide him. Joe agrees to hide Seth but is soon convinced by Abe to give him up. Thinking the mess is behind him, Joe heads out to wait for his target to arrive. To his horror, his next target is the older version of himself (Played by Bruce Willis). The older Joe manages to escape and sets out to settle a nasty personal score. As the younger Joe frantically searches for the older version, Abe’s personal army known as “gatmen” begin to close in.
Certainly not the easiest film to sum up, Looper is chock full of twists and turns that will have your brain swimming, at least at first. The opening introduction is truly something to marvel at as Johnson’s camera explores this rusty, unglamorous vision of the future where cell phones are transparent and hovering motorcycles exist. It is in these opening moments, when Joe and his friends zip through the city streets in a sports car, almost mowing homeless people over, that I was vaguely reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The comparison quickly fades and we are left with a completely original story with plenty of savage wit and blood-drenched violence. Johnson does his best to not have to pause and explain plot points to the viewer, something that films of this sort often are forced to do. He manages to find a way to let the story naturally play out with only a small assistance from Joe’s voiceover. The film also tells us that there are individuals that have suffered genetic mutation and posses telekinetic powers. The film never fully elaborates on this aspect of the story but it becomes increasingly important as the film advances towards the climax. The second half of the film introduces us to isolated farmer named Sara (Played by Emily Blunt) and her son, Cid (Played by Pierce Gagnon), who are forced to take in the younger Joe, who is hiding out from Abe. It is on Sara’s farm where you may find some yawns making their way into the story.
Judging from Looper’s trailer, you’d think the film would be heavy on action but you are in for a surprise. Looper puts more effort into exhaustively developing its main characters. This is all well and good with Willis and Gordon-Levitt but when the film shifts to Blunt and Gagnon, the film is sent into a slump. Gordon-Levitt continues to prove why he is one of the most talented men in Hollywood as Joe. A mumbling junkie who coldly carries out his work, Joe is a young man heading for an unknown disaster. We feel it in these early scenes but we can never put our fingers on what that disaster is. Joe is busy stock piling all the silver bars he is paid for his assassinations and studying up on his French so that he can retire from being a looper and move to France. He mimics Willis almost perfectly, with a little help from subtle prosthetics glued to his face. In the early scenes, away from Willis and Blunt, Gordon-Levitt has a groove that I was sure wouldn’t be thrown off. Then he comes face to face with the even colder Willis, who has some nasty business to attend to that I will not ruin here. Trust me when I say, his business got some nervous rustles and uncomfortable twitches from the audience in my screening. The scenes where Willis and Gordon-Levitt are forced to come face to face don’t seem to have the zing that Johnson thinks they do. They are devoid of any real chemistry that would make these exchanges fun. They are almost, dare I say, flat! Luckily, Johnson separates them and lets them shine on their own
Then we have beautiful Blunt, a moderately talented actress who always seems to fly just under the radar. She has never really delivered a performance that has absolutely floored me and here, she is really no different, no matter how much raw emotion she chooses to pour into her brooding role. Similarly to Willis, she can’t really seem to find a groove with Gordon-Levitt even if the two are demanded to spark up a romance. Surprisingly, the young Gagnon is another standout as the lovable tyke Cid who can turn into a monster in the blink of an eye (we will leave it at that for fear of spoilers). While there are brief moments where Sara and Cid’s story will have you at the edge of your seat, they just failed to make me really care about them and trust me, I wanted to. Looper also makes the grave mistake of under-using Paul Dano as the hotshot Seth. Johnson only hands him a small number of scenes before he vanishes. The same thing happens with Jeff Daniels, who is here on an extended cameo. While memorable, I wished he would have remained in the action a bit more than he does. He hands his dirty work off to the screw-up gatman Kid Blue (Played by Noah Segan), a character that is more for comic relief than true menace.
While I hesitate to really call Looper a mediocre movie, I was certainly hoping for more consistency. Instead, it gets switched on to autopilot before the furious climatic confrontation. While the arching plot is relatively easy to follow, Looper leaves a lot on the viewer’s plate to chew on and debate. I’m still trying to piece everything within the picture together and make sense of every little plot point that Johnson hands us. Despite the frustrating stand still in the middle of the film, there are moments where we are sucked back in and overtaken by the early thrill, especially when the film switches from Sara’s farm back into the city. Overall, I admire the ambition and I certainly have to give it up for the premise, as it truly is one of a kind. I commend Johnson for trying to do something new and I even have to give TriStar credit for taking a risk on Looper. Despite the flaws, Looper is still a minor triumph for science fiction and I am left wanting quite a bit more from Rian Johnson.
by Steve Habrat
Imagine if you removed all the muscle cars and roaring engines from The Fast and the Furious and replaced them with human stamina, sweat, spandex, and tricked out bicycles. Keep the pretty faces and the nonstop chases and you’d have director David Koepp’s Premium Rush, an energetic late summer action flick that is quite the breath of fresh air. Thrusting us into the fast paced world of bike messengers who zigzag through the taxi-clogged streets of New York City, Premium Rush keeps you on the edge of your seat with the idea that these kids, who have nothing protecting them from the pavement but a helmet, could eat concrete at any time if they make one wrong turn. Slightly better than your average late summer throwaway blockbuster, Premium Rush does find itself swerving a bit due to some bland dialogue and a slightly flaccid middle section, but it does keep on its course due to the performances from Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon. It also sneaks by due to the premise, which centers itself on speed demon bike messengers who are addicted to the adrenaline rush they receive from dodging pedestrians and cars. It’s the type of film that I can honestly say that there is nothing else out there like it and truly mean it. Premium Rush is certainly a different approach to the action film. Somebody get these kids a bottle of Gatorade!
Premium Rush introduces us to Wilee (Played by Joseph-Gordon Levitt), an adrenaline junkie bike messenger who zips through the streets of New York City while explaining to us that office work just isn’t for him. This guy prefers Under Armour t-shirts and cargo shorts to a shirt, tie, and briefcase. He also happens to ride a bike with no brakes, which forces him to fully assess a tricky spot when he rides up on it. Wilee pedals along side his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Played by Dania Ramirez), who he is constantly trying to win back from cocky rival Manny (Played by Wolé Parks). Frustrated that Manny keeps jumping onto his routes and stealing his deliveries, Wilee nabs a job delivering for his friend and Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Played by Jamie Chung), who warns Wilee that he has to deliver her package by 7 P.M. What Wilee assumes is just another ordinary delivery turns out to be something much more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Wilee is soon being hunted down by corrupt NYPD officer Bobby Monday (Played by Michael Shannon), a desperate man who is after the contents of the envelop Nima has given to Wilee. As the chase gets more and more chaotic, Wilee has no other option but to turn to Vanessa to help him stay alive.
The argument can be made that Premium Rush is just one long chase scene that is filled out with a handful of flashbacks. While that is true, the film’s true plot, which won’t be spoiled here, is still good enough to keep us on the hook for the hour and a half it rides across the screen. Still, the middle section does find some of the air leaking out of its tires as things start to get a bit bloated. Luckily, a number of twists and turns keep Premium Rush riding at full speed. The film packs a number of marvelous chase scenes that find us riding right next to the fully exposed bike messengers as they attempt to not get blasted by a speeding New York driver. Wilee and his cohorts ride around a sea of yellow obstacles while cops on beefed up bikes pedal furiously after them. These chase scenes usually pause when Wilee arrives at a tricky obstacle or maneuver that he must pull off perfectly to avoid a couple of broken bones and a night in the emergency room. Director Koepp shows us the outcome of each maneuver and route that Wilee can take and what the damage will be if he chooses the route. I’ll be honest, some of them are pretty violent and brutal. These scenes are effective enough to keep your knuckles white for a good majority of the action.
When the chases aren’t engaging you, the acting of Premium Rush will surely hold your attention. Levitt, who has been everywhere this year and is riding off the success of The Dark Knight Rises, continues to wow us as Wilee, a charismatic and smart-mouthed hero who really gets a charge from putting his life on the line. He has flames in his eyes as he groans over the idea of settling down and getting a real job in a stuffy office. Levitt has really proved himself as an action star and Premium Rush has me ready for what Looper will bring for the infinitely talented young star. When the film moved away from Levitt, I worried that it would take a turn for the worst but luckily, Michael Shannon brings his bat-shit crazy best and really laps up playing the bug-eyed crooked cop Monday. Talking with a spiky New Yawk accent and laughing like a cartoon hyena dreamed up by Looney Tunes, Shannon really knocks the role out of the park. It’s a role that could have slipped into the cliché but Shannon manages to resist the familiar and he single handedly rides off with the entire movie. Everyone else just settles for good as they are completely overshadowed by Levitt and Shannon. Chung does an admiral job as a troubled woman who is nursing heartbreak and Ramirez gets by as the perpetually sweaty ally to Wilee. The only one who is really flat here is Parks as Manny, a smug jerk that comes up short against everyone else. Another stand out in the minor role depart is Christopher Place as an exasperated bike cop who is constantly being outsmarted by Wilee.
There are a few other aspects that hold back Premium Rush from being a really great film. At times, Koepp resorts to iffy computer effects during chase scenes and hypothetical crashes. These scenes are painfully noticeable and they are severely at odds with the scenes where the chase isn’t done on a computer. Furthermore, there are points where the dialogue will have you shaking your head (“This is the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on!”). Still, the actors grit their teeth and deliver it, never letting the characters fall victim to the flawed writing from Koepp and John Kamps. There is plenty to like in Premium Rush and I can honestly say I was never really bored during the film, although my attention slipped a bit during the redundant middle section. I will applaud the film because it works double time to keep things light and keep us entertained, just like a good summer movie should do. Overall, as the last of the summer blockbusters make their way into theaters, Premium Rush offers audiences craving one more adrenaline rush an espresso size shot of action to tide them over until the next wave of blockbusters takes over.
Video review of the new Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. This was a tough film to discuss due to content that many may label as spoilers. I really tried to avoid revealing anything that will ruin the experience so please do not judge the video too harshly. Also, my heart goes out to the victims of the shooting in Colorado. It is a shame that someone had to ruin something that was meant to be fun and exciting. My deepest sympathies are with the families of the victims.
by Steve Habrat
It is finally here, folks! One of the most anticipated films of all time is finally crashing into theaters and everyone is dying to know if it lives up to the sky high expectations that have been set by critics, fanboys, and average moviegoers alike. Well folks, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment in his wildly prevalent Batman franchise, does live up to the gigantic expectations. In fact, it lives up to those expectations and then blows them to smithereens. If you can believe it, Nolan manages to craft a film that is bleaker and darker than anything he came up with in his shadowy origin tale or his chilling bridge film. This goes way beyond dark territory and dives headlong into black no man’s land. Nolan pits our flesh and blood hero against a foe that he is no match for and throws in an evil plot to end all other evil plots. Raising the bar even higher than he did with 2008’s showstopper The Dark Knight, Nolan once again begins tinkering with the formula of the superhero movie and what he conjures up is a mammoth ogre of a film that finds itself intrigued with our unshakeable fear of terrorism in our post 9/11 world. It could be called a rehash but Nolan is witty enough to put the lives of hundreds of thousands on the line and with a number like that, there is no way everyone can survive.
I won’t provide too much about the plot in this review so I will stick to the barebones basics. Eight years after the Joker brought Gotham City to its knees, crime has been almost completely scrubbed away from the streets of Gotham. The city still mourns the death of their “white knight” Harvey Dent, who was driven insane by the Clown Prince of Crime and went on a killing spree that left several individuals dead. In an attempt to keep hope alive in Gotham, Batman (Played by Christian Bale) has taken the fall for Dent’s crimes and disappeared from the city. Commissioner Jim Gordon (Played by Gary Oldman) has been grappling with the fact that he has been feeding the public lies and finds himself on the verge of revealing the true Harvey Dent to the citizens of Gotham. Bruce Wayne, who is still licking the wounds he suffered at the hands of Dent and the Joker, stays locked away inside Wayne Manor, which has now been rebuilt. Wayne is shaken out of retirement after he stumbles upon a vampy burglar by the name of Selina Kyle (Played by Anne Hathaway) making off with his mother’s necklace. As Bruce begins to investigate Kyle’s background, he discovers a much larger plot to destroy Gotham City. This plot is being led by the terrifying mercenary Bane (Played by Tom Hardy), who is diligently building an army below the streets of Gotham, waiting for the proper moment to emerge and turn the city to ash.
Dropping the thriller routine that he was fond of in The Dark Knight, Nolan crafts a large-scale disaster epic that leaves our hero scrambling to gather all the help he can find. He discovers that he may be able to trust Kyle, who is desperate to erase her rocky past any way she can. Batman also finds that he can trust Gotham City beat cop Detective John Blake (Played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an admirer of Batman’s efforts to clean up the city. He also finds help in the usual suspects Lucius Fox (Played by Morgan Freeman), his gadgets man, Commissioner Gordon, and Alfred Pennyworth (Played by Michael Caine), his trusty butler. While The Dark Knight Rises slowly evolves from disaster film into war epic, Nolan bombards the viewer with countless images of destruction and devastation that settles in the pit of your stomach like a rock. We’ve all seen the scenes of the football field collapsing and the overhead shots of bridges getting blown to hell, but that doesn’t soften their impact, especially when Hans Zimmer’s rumbling score joins in. It is through heavy scenes like this that you have to wonder if these new alliances will even make a ripple against Bane’s tidal wave of terror.
While The Dark Knight Rises has plenty of jaw-dropping action sequences, the film is carried off into greatness by the performances of everyone involved. The standouts are definitely the new kids on the block, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The one who steals the movie (fitting for her character) is Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, who is never once referred to as Catwoman. A Robin Hood figure dressed in a black body suit and goggles, Kyle is firecracker as she slinks through this boys show. She gets a kick out of seducing rich men and then taking them for all that they have. While Hathaway is great, she gets some competition from Hardy’s Bane, a hulking terrorist with a fang-like gas mask bolted to his face. While Hardy is given the nearly impossible task of following up Heath Ledger’s Joker, he holds his own as an equally sadistic “liberator” who manhandles anyone who tries to go up against him. Rounding out the new kids is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s beat cop Blake, a good guy who catches the attention of Commissioner Gordon, and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises investor who is desperately trying to shake Bruce Wayne out of his funk.
Then we have the veterans who all exit Gotham City in plenty of style. Bale shines even brighter here as Wayne, now a gaunt recluse who has shut himself out of the world in the wake of what the Joker took from him. You will want to stand up and cheer when Bruce finally leaves the halls of Wayne Manor and hits the streets once again as the Batman. As Batman, Bale brings a ferocity that we haven’t yet seen from him as Batman. We briefly glimpsed it in the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight but here; Batman is a predator that is foaming at the mouth. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox jumps at the opportunity to get Bruce back in the crime fighting game. He gets to unveil Batman’s latest “wonderful toy” The Bat, a prototype flying machine that is beyond nifty. Caine’s Alfred gets the most emotional moments of the film as he pleads with Bruce to not confront this new evil that is ripping Gotham to shreds. He gets one specific scene with Bruce Wayne that will hit you in the gut like a wrecking ball. Then there is Oldman’s Gordon, who is suffering from the fib he has told about Harvey Dent. You will fight back geeky applause when Batman and Gordon finally reunite after eight years.
Sadly, The Dark Knight Rises does have a few flaws, which are mildly distracting. One in particularly really bothered me but I won’t reveal it here because many may label it a spoiler. There is also one character that is left slightly undeveloped, which was a shame because it would have improved the twist at the end of the film. Despite the flaws, Nolan once again holds up a gritty reflection of our current political backdrop. While I don’t think it was intentional, Nolan touches upon the Occupy Wall Street movement and the 99% rising up against the 1%. The film was written just slightly before the protests but you have to hand it to Nolan for picking up on the tensions. He also can’t resist touching upon terrorism, the theme even heavier here than it was in The Dark Knight. While I am reluctant to say too much about the film because the less you know going in, the better it will be, I can promise you that the last hour of this film is why we go to the movies. You will fight the urge to leap out of your seat and throw air punches as Batman and Bane battle for the fate of Gotham City. I’ll admit that I was fighting back tears in the final moments of the film, Nolan wrapping everything up in the finest way possible, which meant the world to this Batfan. While its few flaws may make it fall short of being a masterpiece, The Dark Knight Rises is easily the best Batman film ever made, the best blockbuster of the summer, and the best film of 2012 so far. If you want my opinion, epic doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Nolan has delivered here. It is a commanding tour de force that will almost make you forget to breathe. A must-see.
by Steve Habrat
Did you ever think something as serious as cancer could be funny? Well, if you thought no, you should immediately rush out to see 50/50, the heartwarming, side-splitting tear-jerker that manages to snap a picture of the pain and anguish one goes through while they are being treated for the illness and the power of friendship that pulls someone through any tough situation they are facing. This film, which is directed by Jonathan Levine and penned by Will Reiser, strikes a perfect balance of hearty belly laughs and sniffling tears that it becomes a downright marvel in itself. Leave it to stoner comedian Seth Rogen to gravitate to a picture that makes the claim that male camaraderie is all a guy needs to pull him through a situation, any situation, that will change their life, make them embrace adulthood, or accept responsibility. It also helps that rising star Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Adam, the poor guy with the dreaded illness with a tragic vulnerability, a guy who all we want to do is reach through the screen and give him a big bear hug.
50/50 is based on a true story. The film follows Adam (Played by Levitt) who works at a radio station with his pot smoking best buddy Kyle (Played by Rogen). Adam is a nice guy, one who shacks up alongside his gorgeous girlfriend Rachel (Played by Bryce Dallas Howard), who often times walks all over him. She consistently wants to be the center of attention, overshadowing Adam at every turn. Adam has recently been feeling an aching in his lower back. He takes a trip to the doctor and learns he has a rare type of cancer, one that demands he undergo chemotherapy to treat it. As the treatment pushes forward, Adam meets two saccharine older men also stricken with cancer, is cheated on by his girlfriend, gets a ridiculous retired racing hound names Skeletor, gets medicinal marijuana, and meets a perky but amateur medical student Katherine (Played by Anna Kendrick) who guides him in the psychological aspect of what is happening to him. As Adam begins to fall apart, he begins trying to do things he doesn’t usually partake in. As his illness gets worse, Adam learns that he has a 50/50 chance of survival, a fact that pushes the defeated Adam to the brink of a nervous breakdown.
Drastically shifting from hilarity to heartrending, 50/50 avoids being a clichéd drama, one that strums the heartstrings that sing the loudest or a tasteless comedy, one that turns something like cancer into a sick joke. Focusing on the swirling emotions that no doubt accompany something like this, this film is sincerely human. A film that left me thinking about how I would emotionally cope with learning I had cancer. You never feel like a voyeur while watching 50/50, never exploiting and always inviting you in to the scene. There is a part of the film that shows us Adam and Kyle smoking weed with Alan (Played by Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Played by Matt Frewer), the two older gents struck with cancer. They joke, laugh, and are warmed by Mitch’s wife, who embraces Mitch in a loving hug, showing she is sticking by her companion through sickness and in health. It’s the moments like this that show 50/50 is never on autopilot in the emotions department. The film also becomes piercing and cold, especially when Rachel’s true colors emerge. There are moments that are pathetic, especially a scene in which Adam lays around in a pot coma, wallowing in the calamity and despair that has crept up on him.
Rogen, who should be up for an Oscar for his supporting role as Kyle, steals the entire film, the foul mouthed best friend who always annoys yet cracks the straight-laced shell of Adam with a crooked grin. He always knows the right things to say, even if Adam refuses to admit it’s humorous. After Adam dumps Rachel, Kyle takes him out and encourages him to exploit his situation in order to pick up chicks. The results are hysterical. Rogen has a way with ad-libbing, making any given scene feel natural, creeping by the staged. He has become an actor who radiates natural allure, always coming across unadulterated and not simply a character he is portraying. Kyle is his crowning achievement in his sprawling body of work. Howard and Kendrick also bring human performances, one representing the aloofness of human nature (Howard) and one embodying the compassion (Kendrick).
The message is clear in 50/50: Life is unpredictable. We shouldn’t be afraid to take risks because we never know when it can be taken away. Adam lives a conservative, buttoned up life (He doesn’t drink or drive a car), one that lacks thrills. Kyle lives as if everyday is his last, wisecracking and giggling his way through any situation, even as he is caught in the middle of an argument between Rachel and Adam. Yet it’s his friendship, his willingness to stand by his friend that moved me while watching 50/50. This is a film that even if you think you won’t have your world shaken up, it will get you at some point. Adam’s nervous breakdown was the point that really hogtied me emotionally. 50/50 believes in the power of love, a force that is complicated and has strange ways of showing up and guiding us. Every door closed is another door open. I wish every film could fill me with optimism and dazzle me with the splendor of life like 50/50 did. It also proves that laughter is indeed the best medicine.