Friday, February 24, 2012


(US - 2011)

THE SON OF NO ONE made headlines after a disastrous screening at Sundance in early 2011, where the Hollywood Reporter's journo in attendance termed the walkouts an "exodus."  And that was pretty much the last anyone heard about it.  Anchor Bay ended up distributing the film, produced by Cannon tribute band Nu Image, but clearly had little confidence in their acquisition, despite a big-name cast:  it was released on 11 screens in the US and grossed $28,000.  But the real question is:  is THE SON OF NO ONE that bad?  Yes.  Yes, it is.

Written and directed by Dito Montiel, THE SON OF NO ONE has one positive thing going for it:  Montiel, as he demonstrated in his last film, 2009's underrated FIGHTING, has an uncanny ability for capturing an old-school NYC aura that you rarely see in today's movies.  THE SON OF NO ONE is shot in areas of Queens that have looked the same for decades.  There's some overhead shots of the Queensboro Projects that are just stunning.  They're like photographs of a bygone era.  If Montiel made a documentary about unchanged areas of the five boroughs, he'd have a visual masterpiece on his hands.  But Montiel shits the bed with THE SON OF NO ONE, a dull and increasingly preposterous story of police corruption and a murder cover-up.  In 2002, for no reason other than Montiel shoehorning 9/11 into the plot, Staten Island cop Jonathan White (Channing Tatum, Montiel's usual star) is assigned to Queens, where irate captain Mathers (Ray Liotta) is frothing at the mouth over a series of letters sent to a muckraking journalist (Juliette Binoche, redefining the term "miscast") that threaten to expose a cop over the cover-up of two murders in 1986.  Those 16-year-old murders were actually committed by a young Jonathan, then known as "Milk," and living in the projects with his grandmother after the death of his cop father.  Jonathan shot two junkie dealers, and despite significant evidence that it was self-defense, Stanford (Al Pacino, showing surprising restraint), the lead detective and Jonathan's dad's partner, buries the evidence and leaves the case unsolved.  Now someone is threatening to expose them all.

To what end?  There's some stuff about Stanford being a real estate commissioner who wants to demolish the projects, and Milk's mentally-disabled childhood friend Vincent (played as an adult by Tracy Morgan, who's pretty good in his brief role) also figures in.  The ultimate revelation is more "Huh?" than "Whoa!", the pace can charitably be described as glacial, Tatum registers absolute zero in the lead and is almost outacted by an ill-advised moustache, and it's hardly a surprise when it's revealed who's harassing Jonathan's wife (Katie Holmes) with phone calls.  Word of advice to Montiel:  you don't have someone with a distinctive voice make anonymous threats on the phone without attempting to disguise that voice.  It couldn't be any more ludicrous if Holmes answered the phone and was told "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster."  This is a terrible film, with laughably contrived moments (two people have been shot in a bathroom, and a guy needs to use said bathroom, and only seems to notice in mid-dump that there's blood everywhere), pointless 9/11 exploitation, and completely lacking in any logic or common sense.  I don't think Montiel set out to make a bad movie, but he certainly ended up with one. (R, 92 mins)

(US/UK - 2011)

Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan (THE DEPARTED) makes his directorial debut with this London-set adaptation of Ken Bruen's novel.  I've read a couple of Bruen's books, but not this one.  I hope the novel is more focused than the film.  Monahan struggles to find the right tone in this initially enjoyable story of ex-con and ex-gangster Mitchel (Colin Farrell), just out of prison and wanting nothing more than to stay out of trouble.  But trouble is all he gets, as his dirtbag friend Billy (Ben Chaplin) keeps trying to pull him back into the criminal life by involving him with universally-feared and completely psychotic crime lord Gant (Ray Winstone, cast radically against type as Ray Winstone).  Mitchel gets a job as a handyman/bodyguard for reclusive movie star and tabloid fixture Charlotte (Keira Knightley), and of course they fall in love as Mitchel repeatedly declines the persistent Gant's job offers.  But things get serious and bodies to start to pile up when Gant won't take no for answer.

Farrell is great in the lead and is perfectly cast as a takes-no-shit tough guy, but Monahan's film is all over the place.  It starts off as what might happen if Martin Scorsese made a Guy Ritchie movie, but it veers wildly from "fun" to extremely downbeat.  Numerous subplots and extraneous characters--David Thewlis as a drugged-out ex-actor living in Charlotte's house; Anna Friel as Mitchel's gold-digging, party-girl sister; Eddie Marsan as Mitchel's parole officer; a stalker hanging out in front of Charlotte's house--drift in and out of the film with little (or, in the case of the stalker, no) purpose, and the Mitchel-Charlotte romance goes nowhere.  Did Monahan have a longer film in mind?  Whole chunks of story seem to be missing.  Plot threads are just left hanging by the end, and the film, with a great soundtrack (Kasabian's "Club Foot" always works) and a number of very good scenes, ends up feeling like an incomplete LAYER CAKE ripoff, right down to the ending, which also cribs from CARLITO'S WAY to a certain extent.  It's also wasteful of an excellent Farrell, who's very quietly done some great work in several under-the-radar films since making an effort to leave his "bad boy" image behind.  Chances are you missed TRIAGE, ONDINE, and THE WAY BACK, but they're all films worth seeing and Farrell's committed performances are a major reason why.  But unfortunately for Farrell, Monahan, and the viewer, LONDON BOULEVARD is a major letdown. (R, 103 mins)

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