Archive for Ron Silver

Time is Fleeting

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2019 by dcairns

I’m working up to BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD, Sidney Lumet’s final film. But I hadn’t seen his penultimate one, FIND ME GUILTY, either, and had always been curious.

It should come with a health warning, though — the first face we see is the Max-Schreck’s-lovechild visage of Rudy Giuliani, via a news broadcast. This works better now than it must’ve in 2006 — the movie is complex, but the surface narrative invites you to root for an indicted gangster over the public prosecutors.

Linus Roache plays the Giuliani-substitute with plenty of wimpy venom — he’s basically RIGHT, and he gets a speech proving it — but we find ourselves seduced by the underdog-gangster, already serving a long sentence, now up on a RICO rap.

To demonstrate how the wrong guy can win over a jury, or a movie audience, Lumet needs a star — along comes Vin Diesel, whose career was looking a little rocky back then — it’s still not exactly solid unless he’s behind the wheel of a fast-moving vehicle — and he brings the goods. Excellent mookwork here.

Ron Silver as the judge in the case, marvelous. Peter Dinklage as a defense lawyer (not Vin’s — he’s defending himself). Lumet was asked why he’d “cast a dwarf” in this key role, whereupon he should’ve just said that Dinklage is a terrific actor, but instead he said that the film was nearly all set in a courtroom and he needed some visual distraction to keep the audience from getting bored. Tsk.

To prove that the long-suffering Dinklage’s casting is a cheap joke, they have a special platform for him to address the jury from. It’s a fancy, antique platform — presumably the court has had a long run of little lawyers who have required it.

BUT — representation is good. Dinklage has taken a lot of roles that are problematic (THREE BILLBOARDS is one of the worst, actually). Here, at least he has a role in which his size is never discussed, it’s not a relevant part of his character. And he has a huge role, and he’s excellent, holding his own with the heavyweights.

Overall I love this, and I guess it signalled the start of Lumet’s late-period blooming. His nineties films had been a little flakey — my theory has always been that, though Lumet believed he was an all-rounder with no conscious artistic personality, he was actually born to specialise in takes of crime and the law with a preferably New York setting (but with a surprising adaptability to British subjects — THE OFFENSE, THE DEADLY GAME and especially THE HILL). But recently he had made films that were perfectly situated in that bailiwick — the ludicrously cast FAMILY BUSINESS and NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN — the mediocre GLORIA and A STRANGER AMONG US — which did him no credit.

So this terrific movie — a string of marvelous scenes, a tight narrative, a fascinating subject and character — and a wickedly satiric callback to TWELVE ANGRY MEN that does nothing to hurt one’s affection for that debut picture — is the first part of a terrific sign-off. But if Lumet had lived longer, I can’t help but think, we could have had a bunch more movies as strong.

“Time is fleeting,” remarks Diesel a couple of times.

“What does that mean?” asks an irate cop the second time.

“It means like it’s fleeing, but they put a T in it because it’s the past tense.”

Significant Other in a Coma

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2019 by dcairns

I’d never gotten around to Jeremy Irons’ Oscar-winning turn in REVERSAL OF FORTUNE, but was finally spurred on by a few things. Viewing director Barbet Schroeder’s fascinating feature doc TERROR’S ADVOCATE led me to suspect the film might provide a more nuanced view of legal ethics than hitherto suspected, and recent appearances in the news by Alan Dershowitz, who is portrayed in the film, and Felicity Huffman, who acts in it, further sparked my curiosity.

Huffman’s appearance in the flick, giving a perfectly decent performance in vivid contrast to the sort of behaviour she’s been charged with, isn’t specially revealing. The representation of Dershowitz, now a bloviating Trump mouthpiece, is more intriguing. The seeds are present here.

Though a lot of the film’s interest comes from creepy touches like Sunny Von Bulow’s narration from her coma bed (beautifully performed by Glenn Close), Irons’ bravely accurate rendition of Claus Von B.’s distinctive and very weird mode of speech, and Ron Silver’s typically robust performance as Dershowitz, a good deal of the fascination now stems from the ambiguity in the way this figure is presented. Though Schroeder’s filming is a bit too dependent on the Steadicam for my liking, with shots floating about aimlessly when they could have been more tightly rendered with traditional tracks (perhaps the schedule was oppressively tight?), he does well with the story, characters and issues explored in Nicholas Kazan’s script.

In TERROR’S ADVOCATE, we hear the story of Jacques Vergès, a lawyer who started out defending, based on his political convictions, of various Algerian freedom fighter’s/terrorists, and follow his path from this to acting as legal advisor to a mindbogglingly array of war criminals, dictators and serial killers. The slow decay of the moral sense, or just a successful career progression?

ROF is very interesting on the ethical dilemmas a lawyer may face, and when the film uses the same arguments as THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLYNT to show that every accused person deserves a good lawyer — “I may not like Claus Von Larry Flynt-Bulow, but etc” — it does so with more nuance, with the sense that this may be a slippery slope fraught with peril. Silver, looking like a sort of Groucho Einstein, plays Dershowitz with enough compassion to be compelling and enough beady-eyed critique to make us feel that this flawed and morally rather flexible figure could turn into the televisual apparition we now all know and regard with revulsion. For the lawyer who fights a monstrous system becoming a monster may be a professional hazard.

Nicest directorial touch, for me: standard-issue helicopter shot credits, but sailing over palatial residence after palatial residence, as Mark Isham’s score pours a kind of heartsick malaise over the top of it all.

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE stars the Marquise de Merteuil; Beverly & Elliot Mantle; Eugene Hunt; Angie Tucci; Frieda Maloney; Constance Bulworth; Lynette Scavo; and Elaine Dickinson.