Thursday, March 28, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: DAY OF THE FALCON (2013) and EASY MONEY (2012)

(France/Italy - 2011; 2013 US release)

It's nice to see a grand, majestic 1960s-style desert epic that looks like it could've been made in the wake of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, but Jean-Jacques Annaud's DAY OF THE FALCON is a rather tedious affair despite some outstanding cinematography and location shooting in Tunisia and Qatar.  The initially intriguing story gradually becomes laborious, drawn out, and overly contrived, and after a while, it just starts to feel like this thing is never going to end, especially when the hero gets shot in the head, chunks of skull flying in several directions, instantly presumed dead and carried to his immediate funeral service...and he somehow survives and is just fine in the next scene.  In the Arabian desert land of Hobeika in the 1920s, Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas) and Sultan Amar (Mark Strong) have been fighting over a vast area known as the Yellow Belt.  As part of a peace agreement, both men agree that the land is to be left alone and is owned by neither, but Amar is forced to hand over his two young sons to be raised by Nesib.  15 years later, the boys have grown into the outgoing, arrogant Saleh (Akin Gazi) and the sensitive, bookish Auda (Tahar Rahim), who has loved his adoptive sister Leyla (Freida Pinto) since childhood.  In the ensuing years, a Texas oil company has informed Nesib that the Yellow Belt is rich in oil, and the formerly financially-strapped Emir has become the richest man in the region, albeit a benevolent one who shares the wealth by building a hospital, a school, and a library for his people.  Amar views this as a violation of their agreement to leave the land alone and, sticking to his convictions, even turns down a share of the profits.  Saleh, still devoted to his father, rebels against Nesib and is killed by his men, prompting a never-ending shifting of alliances as the withdrawn Auda, who has been granted marriage to Leyla in exchange for his continued loyalty to Nesib, finds his voice and becomes a leader, determined to do what's best for his people--something neither Nesib (blinded by money and power) nor Amar (blinded by religion and revenge) are now capable of doing.

Scripted by Annaud and former Steven Spielberg associate Menno Meyjes (THE COLOR PURPLE, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE), DAY OF THE FALCON gets off to a decent start but ultimately just meanders and spins its wheels before a climax that grows more hackneyed and cliched by the minute.  And Rahim, so terrific in 2009's riveting A PROPHET, is just a bland bore here. The desert locations look beautiful, even with some CGI augmentation, and it's nice to see relentlessly busy supporting actor Strong in a starring role, but despite all the right ingredients, DAY OF THE FALCON just never catches fire.  (R, 130 mins)

(Sweden/Denmark/France/Germany - 2010; 2012 US release)

SNABBA CASH was Sweden's biggest box office hit in 2010 and has already led to 2012's SNABBA CASH II and a third installment due to be released there later this year.  Martin Scorsese saw it and helped broker a US distribution deal (earning a cosmetic "Martin Scorsese Presents" credit in the process) with the Weinstein Company, who rechristened it with the English-translated title EASY MONEY and released it on seven screens last summer.  Joel Kinnaman (the scene-stealing Det. Holder on the AMC series THE KILLING, and star of next year's ROBOCOP remake) stars as broke economics student JW, who struggles to get by with a meager income provided by driving a cab part-time and doing term papers for other students.  JW has ingratiated himself into a clique of jet-set rich kids in his obsessive climb up the social ladder.  It's this ambition to abandon his lower-class roots that drives him into a life of crime, though he tries to pretend that he's not an active participant and seems legitimately shocked when his decisions and actions have consequences.  As JW works his way into the inner circle with his financial smarts, his life intersects in various ways with escaped convict Jorge (Matias Padin Varela) and Serbian mob enforcer Mrado (Dragomir Mrcic), as both use the otherwise naive JW for their own purposes, though JW is just as quick to sell either of them out if it means a higher social/economic standing to impress his comes-from-an-insanely-rich-family girlfriend (Lisa Henni).  She genuinely loves him and looks the other way when his lies collapse (at various points, he claims his blue-collar father is a diplomat to both India and South Africa), though it's hard to see what she sees in a vacuous, superficial poseur like JW in the first place.

Based on a novel by Jens Lapidus, EASY MONEY attracted enough international attention prior to its belated US release that it got director Daniel Espinosa a major Hollywood break with the 2012 Denzel Washington thriller SAFE HOUSE, but it's ultimately a bit on the disappointing side.  Though you eventually figure it out, the film doesn't do a very coherent job of introducing many of the characters and establishing who they are in relation to everyone else.  Also, at over two hours, it's at least 20 minutes too long and really drags in spots, and despite some interesting character touches (tough guy Mrado is forced to take custody of his impossibly cute eight-year-old daughter and drag her on jobs with him when his junkie ex-wife gets arrested), there's really no surprises in how these characters progress through the film.  Though it doesn't involve cops, a lot of the situations seem a bit like a retread of INFERNAL AFFAIRS and its remake THE DEPARTED, so maybe that's why Scorsese was so enamored of it, but there's very little in the way of innovation or surprises here.  Solid performances by the three leads do a lot to carry EASY MONEY through its many ponderous stretches, and it's strange seeing and hearing the Swedish Kinnaman, who's so good at playing a fast-talking, street-smart American cop on THE KILLING, speaking in his native tongue.  The overrated EASY MONEY has its moments, but I honestly can't imagine it needing two sequels.  (R, 125 mins)

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