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Will Harry Potter persevere? The Rock rolls in Faster. No go Crowe

by Mark Burger

Will Harry Potter persevere? The Rock rolls in Faster. No go Crowe

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I, it’s the beginning of the end for the boy wizard (played once more by Daniel Radcliffe). This was JK Rowling’s final Potter book and will be the final movie, although Warner Bros. has neatly severed the epic story it in half so as to release Part II next year.

There’s money to be made, and there’s magic in that money.

Like all its predecessors (both literary and cinematic), Deathly Hallows — Part I is already a blockbuster. Part 2 will be, too. And, promises to the contrary, it’s hardly out of the realm of possibility that Harry could again return. Countless lesser franchises have been remade, rebooted or rehashed in one form or another.

Nevertheless, The Harry Potter franchise has been of a consistently, reasonably high quality. None of the films stands out as a particular worst, and the filmmakers are due a measure of credit for keeping the standard at a certain level. The success of the series is hardly unearned. The Harry Potter films may be many things to many people, but they’re all extremely well made — and made to order for fans.

This installment certainly stands as one of the better ones, with Radcliffe, Emma Watson (as Hermione) and Rupert Grint (as Ron) by now very comfortable in their roles — and, more importantly, none evince any boredom or repetition after playing them so many times. These talented young actors have grown with the characters, and have also grown as actors. At this stage in the series, they’ve got to carry the brunt of the story. Special effects can only do so much; acting’s got to do the rest.

The kids are out of Hogwarts and into a bigger, broader, meaner world — one in which the older and more experienced play for keeps. There is danger everywhere. Those whom Harry encounters fall into one of two camps: Those who want to protect him, and those who want to destroy (or at least corrupt) him.

Surrounding Radcliffe, Watson and Grint is a star-studded supporting cast, headed by

Ralph Fiennes as the vicious Lord Voldemort, the murderer of Harry’s parents and his sworn enemy. A final confrontation is imminent (and will, of course, occur in the next film).

Nevertheless, having so many esteemed and familiar faces providing support has also been a principal part of the Potter films’ success — although those who have followed the series (and there are millions who have) cannot help but notice that the guest stars have less and less to do with each film. Here, some — including John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Bill Nighy, the perennially underused Julie Walters and Michael Gambon (as Dumbledore… isn’t he dead?) — barely have enough screen time to be recognized before taking their leave.

Even such stalwarts as Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson and Jason Isaacs spend a good deal of time off-screen, although Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter (as the wicked Bellatrix Lestrange) are a bit more on-camera than in previous installments. Then again, they are the principal villains….

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I is a persuasive build-up to the culmination of the saga, replete with plenty of magic, mysticism and mystery. At this stage of the game, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Part 2 will wrap things up in a style befitting the series. The makers and the audiences have come this far. They’ll be taking that next, final step together.

Although it’s being marketed as a brainless,

bone-crushing, high-octane action vehicle for Dwayne Johnson (AKA “The Rock”), Faster sets its sights a bit higher than advertised, which is a pleasant surprise in itself.

Make no mistake: The action’s there, directed with kinetic flair by George Tillman Jr., and so is the blunt symbolism and so are the sardonic line readings. Nothing makes a killing go down easier than chasing it with a sarcastic quip. But this is also a snappy latter-day film noir that ultimately falls victim to its own internal cleverness — a twist too many — but delivers more than promised.

Dwayne Johnson, in his best performance to date (no joke), plays an ex-con who leaves prison and promptly embarks on a mission of revenge against those who set him up and killed his older brother after pulling off a daring bank heist a decade ago.

Johnson has such a physical presence that he’s a massive, muscular metaphor for retribution as he metes out delayed justice. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue here. He doesn’t need it.

Soon in pursuit are Billy Bob Thornton as a burned-out cop and Oliver Jackson-Cohen, as a sleek killer for hire who can’t resist one last job, even if it means delaying his wedding. Other interested parties include Mike Epps, Moon Bloodgood, Jennifer Carpenter, Maggie

Grace, Tom Berenger and Carla Gugino (photographed remarkably unflatteringly).

Thornton is in particularly, crazily appealing form here, sporting what appears to be a Justin Bieber hairpiece and all but stealing the film from his co-stars as a lackadaisical lawman who, after one of his hunches pays off, replies: “Even Quasimodo has his day.” It’s not Shakespeare, but it does just fine for what it is. The same could be said of Faster.

After his wife has been convicted of murdering her boss after an office argument, Russell Crowe decides to take matters, and the law, into his own hands in The Next Three Days, an interesting misfire from Oscar-winning writer/director Paul Haggis (of Crash fame).

Having exhausted every possible legal means of springing his better half from jail, as well as having exhausted the family bank account, Crowe’s John Brennan scours the internet, painstakingly researching the ways and means of taking a long, possibly permanent, trip over the border into Canada.

Theoretically, he covers all the bases — even if there are no scenes in this overlong film in which he looks up any extradition laws between the neighboring countries — and decides to execute something akin to the perfect getaway.

As a statement on the loopholes of the American justice system, The Next Three Days is talky and contrived. As a jailbreak potboiler, it’s at least polished and professionally made.

Crowe brings a sincere, if single-minded, conviction to his role, as do the supporting actors: Elizabeth Banks (as the ostensibly wronged wife), Brian Dennehy, Jason Beghe, Daniel Stern, Olivia Wilde and Liam Neeson, who literally drops in for a coffee break. Everyone takes everything very seriously. Individual scenes are intense and exciting, and the film makes excellent use of its Pittsburgh locations, but on the whole it’s too far-fetched to really succeed.

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