In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_thefarewellparty_usposter

The Farewell Party

High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.

Thumb_jrz5dbcqdqtrdfxq1yhmdcqy6yd

Sunshine Superman

I found Jean Boenish’s philosophical musings less than persuasive. And I don’t think my fear of heights was the reason for my bias.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Cannes Archives
Other Articles
Far Flunger Archives

Reviews

Once In The Life

  |  

"Once in the Life" tells the story of two half-brothers, one black, one white, one just out of prison, the other a heroin addict, who are in danger from a drug lord and find themselves sharing a hideout with a man who may be their friend, or their executioner. The key word here is "hideout." This is a film made from a play, and like many filmed plays it tried to cover its tracks by limiting most of the action to one room, which we are not supposed to think of as the stage.

The play is by Laurence Fishburne, who also directs the film and stars as 20/20 Mike, an ex-con who says he has eyes in the back of his head--and apparently does. His half-brother Billy (Titus Welliver) claims he has cleaned up from his habit, but may be lying. Mike and Billy have a lot of unresolved issues about their father. As for Tony the Tiger (Eamonn Walker), he and 20/20 became friends in prison. That's why 20/20 is asking for help now, not realizing that Tony is working for Manny (Paul Calderon), the drug lord whose henchman Freddie Nine Lives (Dominic Chianese Jr.) he has offended and whose nephew he has killed.

These plot elements are standard stuff. Drugs themselves seem almost exhausted as a plot device for all but the most inventive movies; we've seen so many variations of their sale, use, trade and theft, and the violence they inspire. But Fishburne's film and play aren't about drugs; they're the MacGuffin, and the play is really about . . . well, the desired answers are "brothers" or "trust," but I'm afraid a better answer is "dialogue." This is a film of words, especially once the three key characters hole up in a slum room that looks like the set decorator was given too much money. No abandoned room should look this atmospheric, unless it deliberately wants to resemble a stage set. In the room, the three go round and round, settling old scores, reopening old wounds, gradually learning the truth of the situation, and from time to time someone goes to the window and looks to see who's outside--an ancient device in movies based on plays. Among the people outside, or in other locations, are Ruffhouse (Gregory Hines), a spotter and enforcer (I think; his role is not very clear), and Annabella Sciorra as Maxine, Tony's threatened wife.

I imagine this material worked on the stage, where it was titled "Riff Raff" (it was produced at the Circle Repertory Company in lower Manhattan). But stage plays are about the voices and physical presence of the actors, and we supply the necessary reality. Movies have a tendency to be literal, no matter what the intention of their makers, and stylized dialogue and acting is hazardous--it calls attention to itself and clangs. Consider, for example, a poem that Tony recites. It brings the movie to an awkward halt.

Fishburne is a powerful actor, and he has assembled a talented cast, but the movie remains an actor's exercise--too much dialogue, too much time in the room, too much happening offstage, or in the past, or in memory, or in imagination. Billy's meltdown provides a real-time reality check, but for most of the time we're waiting for the payoff, and when it comes, I'm afraid, it's not very satisfying.

Popular Blog Posts

Video games can never be art

Having once made the statement above, I have declined all opportunities to ...

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Bill Murray, iPhones and Our One-Handed Species

An essay on how technology has rendered us a one-handed species.

Cannes 2015: "Macbeth," "Ice and the Sky"

A final film report from Cannes on two of the last films for 2015: an update of Macbeth and an environmental document...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus