Director Louis Malle made his feature debut in 1958 at age 24 with Elevator to the Gallows (The Criterion Collection; Movie •••½, Picture/Sound •••½, Extras •••½), a coolly controlled tale of a murder plot gone awry.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Sony; Movie ••••, Picture/Sound ••••, Extras •••) didn't win any major American awards, but for many who saw the directorial debut of actor Tommy Lee Jones, this beautiful yet unsentimental take on the modern Western was the film to beat in 2005.
<I>The Last Samurai</I> is a movie that succeeds more than I expected it to in spite of Tom Cruise giving one of the worst performances of all time by an actor of his stature (and I’m not referring to his diminutive height here). I didn't see <I>Samurai</I> in the theater because I was repelled by its marriage of subject matter and star. And no, I'm not a Tom Cruise hater at all. I just had a hard time imagining him in a Samurai picture of any kind. And even my lowered expectations didn't prepare me for how laughably unconvincing Cruise is here as the adrift Civil War hero Nathan Algren. Cruise's performance is all the more frustrating because the man can be nothing short of brilliant when he wants to be (see <I>Born on the Fourth of July</I>, <I>Magnolia</I> and even <I>Interview with the Vampire</I> for proof positive).
Before there was <I>Rocky</I> there was, in real life, James J. Braddock. Braddock was a respectable fighter and contender in the late 20's who fell on extremely hard times during the depression. He was reduced to poverty like so many millions of Americans and barely put food on this family's table between boxing and working the docks. In the mid-30's he went on the right winning streak at the right time, culminating in his capturing the heavyweight title in 1935. Offering some idea of what an underdog Braddock was in his title bout with Max Baer, he entered the ring that night with the very pedestrian record of 44 wins and 23 losses. The "Cinderella Man's" story inspired millions, not to mention the impact it's had on sports movies over the decades.
"It was whiskey done it, much as anything else." So says William Munny (Clint Eastwood), a man of notoriously vicious and mean disposition, when asked how he killed so many men so easily in his younger years. <I>Unforgiven</I> deconstructs the myth of the western gunman, a character Eastwood himself played to such great effect earlier in his career.
This is a bleak film to be sure, one in which the kindest characters are inflicted with the cruelest fates. In westerns we typically see some rough form of justice meted out by the gunman/hero, and we cheer when the bad guys "get what's coming to them." According to Eastwood's Munny, "we all have it comin."
The New World (New Line; Movie •••½, Picture/Sound ••••, Extras •••), Terrence Malick's film about the fateful collision of English settlers with Native Americans in 1607, is short on dialogue and long on trippy shots of sunlight leaking through virgin forests.