I’m going to kind of kill this review right out of the gate by telling you that I liked this film. I liked it a lot and I’m going to give it a good rating. I say this because I don’t want you to read this to find out what I thought. You SHOULD see this film for the plain and simple fact of who made it.
This is the latest film from director Fernando Meirelles. For those of you who don’t know who that is, he’s best known in the states for the films Blindness (a very good modern Sci-Fi film), The Constant Gardner (arguably one of the best films of 2005) and City of God (which is one of the most powerful films I have ever seen). His talent as a director is unique and unquestionable. I’m a firm believer that when a director puts out films of that caliber, you should see every film they follow up with until they start to disappoint [*cough**M.Night**cough] which Meirelles has yet to do.
Now, if you’ve never heard of this film, or need more to go on, here’s a breakdown on the film from our friends over at IMDB:
A dramatic thriller that weaves together the stories of an array of people from disparate social backgrounds through their intersecting relationships.
I know what you’re thinking. Oh, great! Another drama about people’s lives intersecting! I would urge you to shy away from that take. While this is beginning to become a tired premise, Meirelles has crafted a very interesting story here with some pretty strong characters that plays out a lot better, in my opinion, than films like Babel or Crash. I suppose the Babel comparison is an easy one to make. The films look and are structured very similar but the themes are very different and the stories are much more interesting.
The theme of the film is supposed to be about how the choices/paths we make/take in life effect our lives and those around us. I could make a good argument though that sexuality and infidelity are more appropriate. They may just be the guise to the overall point but this film features a woman turned call girl, a cheating wife, a cheating boyfriend, a promiscuous newly single girl and a sex offender recently released from prison. If anything, the film plays out much more like a dark, non-comedic take on something like Love Actually.
While the film is good, it hinges on it’s cast. The marketing for this one is a bit devious though as it focuses on four of the film’s biggest stars. They being Ben Foster, Rachel Weisz, Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins. Don’t let this mislead you. The fact of the matter is that the best stuff in this film comes from the actors whose names you likely wouldn’t know. I couldn’t name one of them to save my life but loved them all by the end of the film. Unfortunately, the bigger names were a different story.
Rachel Weisz and Jude Law are pretty much wasted in this film. Their combined talent far out-weighs their simple roles as unhappy husband and wife. Hopkins, looking old as ever, isn’t in the film enough for my tastes. For the most part, he isn’t given much to work with either but takes full advantage of his time on screen. At one point, Meirelles purposely makes the Filmmaker 101 mistake of holding a still shot on Hopkins as he gives what was probably a two page scripted monologue. Any other actor would’ve probably failed but Hopkins is able to take the words and run with them giving a wonderful speech that resonates after he’s done.
Ben Foster also shines in this film as a sex offender being released from prison that is still clearly grappling with his sexual demons. Foster continues to prove (to me at least) that he is one of the most underrated young actors in Hollywood. I’ve raved about him in the past when he’s torn it up in films like 3:10 to Yuma or 30 Days of Night. Hell, he’s even the best part of action schlock films like The Mechanic and Contraband. The man can stew and chew the hell out of scene with the best of them yet seems to always fall to the wayside when compared to other actors of his generation like Jake Gyllenhaal or Ryan Gosling (though both deserve their due as well). Foster keeps that streak alive in this film.
The ending of this film is what really earned my respect. It’s not perfect, I will say that. Some of the stories are sewed up nicely and others feel like a bit of a reach or as if they were tacked on for the sake of continuity. However, the film is so good that you’ll hardly care. What’s amazing as well is that Meirelles is able to deliver a lot of happy endings that don’t feel like happy endings. The film feels dark when it’s all said and done and you won’t leave the theater feeling as though the ending was put through the Hollywood “they lived happily ever after” machine but almost everyone in this film leaves better than when they entered it. I have a feeling that you will as well.