Mini-Reviews: Ben-Hur, War Dogs, Hell or High Water, & Sully

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the second edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Hell or High Water

Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Gil Birmingham

Synopsis: A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

 

Hell or High Water may start off as a typical bank robbers vs. the law film, but underneath all that is much more. Brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) Howard start a string of bank robbers that are actually to save their mother’s ranch in the desolated West Texas for a bigger reason we don’t find out until the final act. On their trail is a on the verge of retiring Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Birmingham). As the Rangers get closer, the risk for Toby and Tanner gets bigger and it leads to an explosive finale.

The film is written by Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan, which you can immediately tell once the film gets going. The themes of the film are nicely layered and scattered throughout, which may seem off or forced to many, but once you look at film as a whole, you’ll appreciate the nuances.

However, it’s the cast that really makes this film fantastic. Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are reliable as ever with Bridges seemingly enjoying his more livelier role to date, while Ben Foster once again showing he’s a force that shouldn’t be forgotten.

All in all, Hell or High Water is a fantastic film with a great cast and story. The film is slow ride, but so worth it for the final outcomes that fits in today’s world.

Hell or High Water

4.5 out of 5

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War Dogs

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Todd Phillips, Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic

Cast: Miler Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak and Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: Based on the true story of two young men, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.

 

Todd Phillips has come a long way from The Hangover. War Dogs is a much more mature film for him that tackles a huge subject of the second Iraq War, but doesn’t do so in a way that says “war is bad,” but takes a conversational, or to some the real reason, “war is an economy.” The film even stars with a voiceover by Teller’s David Packouz telling us how much it costs to gear and arm every soldier in our military.

The film follows David, an unhappy massage therapist working in Miami in 2005, who reunites with his old junior high best friend, Efraim Diveroli (Hill). Unlike David, Efraim is living a rather successful life as an arms dealer who picks up government contracts. Efraim needing help, and David with a baby on the way with his wife Iz (de Armas), the two decided to grow their own business and take on government contracts. However, their partnership and friendship are tested as the money gets bigger.

I will say the film was better than I thought it would be, and it helped that Jonah Hill and Miles Teller were on their A-game. Hill almost steals the film with his sleazy performance as Efraim. While Brady Cooper pops in and out through the film after being introduced around the middle of the film. Although the film doesn’t really bring too much new to the table, you can pretty much tell how this film will turn out by the end. It’s not a bad thing – considering it’s based on a true story – and while the chemistry between Teller and Hill seems spot-on, the movie does go into a lull after a while.

All in all, War Dogs is much more of a drama than comedy, but the film has plenty of laughs to balance out the seriousness and crazy reality of the film.

War Dogs

3.5 out of 5

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Ben-Hur

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writers: John Ridley & Keith R. Clarke

Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Rodrigo Santoro, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Moises Arias, Ayelet Zurer, and Morgan Freeman

Synopsis: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge, but finds redemption.

 

I have no connection the old Ben-Hur films or novel since I never saw them or read it. I do know the cultural and film significance the film the property has had, so I was always going to go off what this new iteration bought to the table. I wasn’t really looking forward to the film too much since the trailers weren’t that great, but I gave it a shot and you know what? It wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Ben-Hur follows Judah Ben-Hur (Huston), a prince in Jerusalem, who lives his family including his adopted brother Messala (Kebbell) who knows his place amongst the family is at the very bottom. To find his own place in the world, Messala leaves and joins the Roman army, and after years have passed returns home as a successful soldier. Messala goes to Judah and pleads with him to name anyone that would think about attacking Pontius Pilate (Asbaek) when he passes through Jerusalem. Judah, not wanting to get dragged into anything, tells him he thinks Pilate will be safe. Of course, something happens and Messala seeing no other choice and viewing this as a betray sends Judah to be a slave.

However, when Judah’s ship does down, Judah finds land and is employed by a wealthy African named Ilderim (Freeman) to help him and become his chariot rider for a big race coming soon. Of course, the chariot race will have Messala in it. Along the whole way, Judah has small run ins with Jesus (Santoro).

One of the good things the film does is make the relationship between Judah and Massala a big part before we mostly follow Judah for the rest of the film. We see the love they have for each other, but you can see Messala is conflicted with his position in the family, and knows Judah will always first in the family’s eyes. It also helps that Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell have descent chemistry together, and Kebbell has enough acting chops to not make Messala a villain, but enough to make us not root for him in some way.

The rest of the cast does okay with what they given. Freeman doesn’t show up until the final third of the film, and does his typical reliable Freeman performance. Nazanin Boniadi plays Esther, Judah’s wife who tries to play Judah’s moral compass, and Rodrigo Santoro’s Jesus is nicely scattered through the film.

The film does bring up some political issues into the film, and thankfully aren’t shoehorned in. However, when Judah gets free from the ship, that message is gone and focuses on Judah’s journey of revenge, and from there the performances do take a bit of a dip, but thankfully come back near the end of the film.

All in all, Ben-Hur isn’t that bad of the film. It’s not perfect, and I’m sure most people will say it’s not like the other iterations, but something tells me that’s okay for this one. Also, the much advertised chariot race was a descent enough action set-piece.

Ben-Hur

3 out of 5

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Sully

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Todd Komarnicki

Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Mike O’Malley, and Laura Linney.

Synopsis: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers.

 

I barely remember the actual event of “The Miracle on the Hudson” on the news, but I never actually knew, many most of us too, what happened afterwards. So who better to tell that story on screen than Clint Eastwood and everyone’s favorite actor Tom Hanks. Hanks is, of course, not untested playing real people as he already did it in Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks. But there is something a little different about playing the man that saved 155 people in a forced water landing.

Sully follows ‘Sully’ (Hanks) as he deals with the aftermath of landing on the Hudson River. Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles have to deal with an investigation by the FAA and the insurance company. Despite Sully pulling off the impossible and viewed as a hero by many, he’s viewed as reckless to the investigators for putting everyone and the plane in danger since the simulations all show he could have made it back to the airport or make it to another one.

For what it’s worth, Sully is a very engaging film that keeps you hooked from beginning to end. The plane sequence is tense to watch, and will probably make you a little afraid of flying now, and it’s interesting to see it play out in multiple ways. We see the sequence in two different ways that are completely different, but they are a thrill to watch in their own ways. I will say the film does lack a certain something that keeps the film from being a more powerful film, not saying the film isn’t powerful, but for me there was something missing.

Of course, the main draw here is Tom Hanks. Hanks is – once again – reliable in every way possible and carries the film on his shoulders. I wouldn’t say it’s his best performance, but you believe him as this conflicted man that probably risked the lives on everyone onboard. Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles is pretty good here too and might be a performance some will forget. Mike O’Malley plays Charles Porter, the lead investigator in the case against Sully. O’Malley is a surprise choice for the role, considering he’s known mostly for his comedic performance, but has put on some dramatic roles as of late and nails the performance here. Laura Linney feels almost wasted here as Sully’s wife Lorraine, as her whole performance is talking on the phone to Sully, but does have one moment near the end of the film that makes it work.

All in all, Sully isn’t that bad of a film. It’s not Eastwood’s or Hanks’ best film, but it’s not their worst.  The film is engaging and tense throughout to keep you invested more than you think, and it shines a light on a hero. The CGI plane moments do take you out of the film a bit, but Eastwood hasn’t really worked with too much CGI before, so we can probably let it pass.

Sully

3.5 out of 5

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‘Sicario’ Review

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo P. Saracino, Maximillano Hernandez, and Edgar Arreola.

Synopsis: An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The War on Drugs is something that has been done on film before and some have been done with great success, but director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan have done something special with Sicario. The film gives an unapologetic, rare and bleak look on the subject and one of the most intense and effective thrillers I’ve seen in a while.

 

Sicario opens with FBI agent Kate Macer, the leader of a kidnap and response team in Arizona, who with her team that includes her partner Reggie Wayne (Kaluuya) raid a house that has dead bodies inside the walls. The raid and discovery puts her on the radar of government agent Matt Graver (Brolin), who decides to bring her in to his operation of taking down a head of one of the Mexican cartels. When she bought she also meets Alejandro (Del Toro) who, according to Matt, is a “liaison” but never tells her from or what to. As the operation goes on, Kate soon realizes that everything around her may not be as clear cut as it seems. More importantly, can she trust the people around her?

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Kate acts as our surrogate into the drug war and specific situation they are trying to pull off in the film. Thankfully, Emily Blunt gives another reliable performance and makes us believe her as she is thrown into a world she doesn’t completely understand and well trying to get answers, she is pushed to the side and kept in the dark. Blunt truly is one of the best actresses in Hollywood today and being the lead in the film like this is refreshing to see. They could have easily put a man in the lead role – and they almost did, but Villeneuve and Sheridan protested – but it probably wouldn’t have worked.

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However, despite Blunt’s great performance, Sicario belongs to Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro. It takes a while to finally figure his character out, but Del Toro gives us enough to be interested in him until that point. Hell, his character doesn’t say too much at the beginning of the film and even other people see him they stiffen up a little bit. Del Toro has always been on people’s radar, but it feels like recently he is getting a lot more attention, and he deserves it. Alejandro is definitely one of Benicio Del Toro’s best characters and maybe one of the best characters of the year.

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The rest of the cast fare well in the roles they are given, although the film really does belong to the main actors. Josh Brolin looks to be having fun chewing up scenery as his cocky, brash and laid-back government agent that is always keeping Kate in the dark right up until the end. Daniel Kaluuya’s Reggie is loyal to Kate through-and-through and has a nice scene that breaks all the tension from the rest of the film that shows you how close the two characters are. Victor Garber pops in as Kate and Reggie’s boss, Jeffery Donovan also pops in as another government agent that Matt works with and is equally mysterious and cocky. Finally Maximiliano Hernandez, who fans will know as Agent Sitwell from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plays a Mexican police officer, Silvio serves a great purpose to the overall theme of the film than you would think.

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Speaking of the theme, Sicario has a lot going on and thankfully it doesn’t get lost too much in them. I don’t really want to give any of them away, but as you can assume with the film being about going after one of the bosses in one of the cartels in Mexico, things are going to get a bit murky. Yes, Taylor Sheridan is saying something about the war on drugs, and quite honestly it could be what many think, but there is something about how Sheridan and director Denis Villeneuve are saying about it that makes the film, like I pointed out earlier, unapologetic

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Finally, the last bits that make Sicario all that more effective and great is the chilling and atmospheric score by Johann Johannsson that really elevates a lot of the tension filled scenes. Seriously, Sicario is jam packed with tension from beginning to end, and some nice twists that believe me, the trailers really don’t give away. The other great thing about the film is some of the cinematography by one of the best in the business, Roger Deakins. Some of Deakins shots that are mixed with Johnnsson’s score are just so great by themselves, but mixed with the themes and what leads to them makes the film more worthwhile at the end.

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All in all, Sicario is lead by great performances by Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and more importantly Benicio Del Toro. The film is unapologetic, raw, and bleak, along with being an effective tension filled thriller that I have experienced in years. Will it be for everyone? No, the film is tough and heavy to watch, but layered underneath all that, is a great film.

Sicario

5 out of 5

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