24 Lies A Second

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Independents Day

Hello again everyone. Quite by chance, this week we take a look at two films from indie
company Lion's Gate, a colourful crime caper and a look at the lighter side of


It's usually a pretty good sign of a film's success, both creatively and financially, if,
within a year or two of its release knock-offs, pastiches and wannabes suddenly flood the
multiplexes across the land. Most of the real mega-hits spawn their clouds of (usually)
inferior clones, but one film I didn't expect to trigger the same response was last year's
Ocean's Eleven. A very slick, funny, stylish and entertaining film, to be sure, and one
which I very much enjoyed, but not one I would've predicted as starting a trend.

Well, who'd've guessed it, but I was wrong again. Admittedly there haven't been that many Ocean's Eleven knock-offs, but they all indelibly bear the imprimatur of their
inspiration, and James Foley's Confidence is no exception, although one could equally
well argue it owes debts to The Usual Suspects, Heat, and - inevitably -

Ed Burns plays Jake Vig, leader of a crack team of con-men working in Los Angeles. Their
usual routine is polished and effective, until they unwittingly take the money of local
nasty-piece-of-work the King, played by Dustin Hoffman. Dustin is understandably irked by
this impudence and offs one of the team, prompting Jake to cut a deal: Jake and the gang will take Dustin's rival Morgan Price (Robert Forster, woefully underused) for five million
dollars and split the proceeds with him, thus settling their financial differences if nothing
else. Supposedly to help with the job, but I suspect mainly because it's a novel chat-up line,
Jake also recruits raven-tressed pickpocket Lily (lovely lovely Rachel Weisz). And the stage
is set for... well, dullness and confusion, actually.

This is mainly down to the writing, as you might expect. Writer Doug Jung apparently has
some background in TV, but this is his first feature script and it kind of shows. Without
wishing to be too unkind - some of the dialogue has a certain snap and crackle to it - I get the impression he really wished he'd written Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, etc, and
decided to go ahead and kind of do so anyway. The tricky flashback structure, the multiple
twists and use of cut-scenes, the occasional stylistic flourishes - we've really seen all of them before elsewhere.

Even so, lack of originality isn't necessarily a sin. But this kind of caper movie should have a kind of swashbuckling flair to it, and be all about false moustaches and forged paintings
and breaking into bank vaults by unlikely means. Confidence's big scam revolves
around... wait for it... corporate law and procuring an iffy bank loan. That's it, that's the
great challenge facing these characters. Jung tries to liven things up by stirring in subplots
about Jake being chased by a vengeful federal agent (a grizzled-looking Andy Garcia) and
Lily selling him out to his intended victim, but it really doesn't help, because the script is
fundamentally flawed. Some of the flashbacks actually happen, others are - in the context of
the film - fictitious, but it's not made clear which are which. The way the Garcia subplot is
resolved basically reveals, if you think about it, that Jake is a really nasty piece of work.
The obligatory twist ending is also actually sort of predictable.

However, a film isn't just the work of the writer. Jake is clearly written as cool,
commanding, charismatic, a combination of Clooney and de Niro. So it's really a shame that
Burns turns in a performance like Ben Affleck on valium, charmless and static. Paul Giamatti,
as his neurotic sidekick, is really much more likeable and interesting. Rachel Weisz's role is
almost entirely decorative, not that I'm complaining too loudly (but they make her dye her
hair red, for heaven's sake!). The acting honours are undoubtedly stolen by Dustin Hoffman,
playing a scabrous rodent of a man, capricious and weirdly menacing and possessed of a highly eccentric code of ethics (he gets to cop a feel of Weisz as well, as fine an incentive to take a part as any I can think of). As the film goes on he gets less and less to do, however.

As well as Hoffman, in its favour the film is reasonably well directed and the
cinematography is excellent, grainy, vivid colours giving it a kind of neon-noir feel. The
eclectic soundtrack is also something a plus, but on the whole this is very run-of-the-mill
stuff, lacking originality and clarity. Confidence does not get my vote.

Chained To The Desk

'Now the world don't move to the beat of just one drum - what might be right for you,
might not be right for some.'
So wrote Al Burton, Gloria Loring, and Alan Thicke in the
lyrics of the theme tune to the TV show Diff'rent Strokes, and the same sentiment
gets heartfelt expression in Steven Shainberg's slightly unorthodox new romantic
comedy-drama Secretary.

With a cast list that screams 'high quality indie flick', this stars Maggie Gyllenhaal from
Donnie Darko as Lee, an awkward young woman living in her sister's shadow. Partly,
one suspects, to escape from her overbearing parents (Leslie Ann Warren and Stephen
McHattie), she learns to type and gets a job with eccentric lawyer Edward Grey (the
ever-reliable James Spader). Gradually, the relationship between Lee and her boss deepens
and intensifies until she has choose between him and her nice but geeky fiancé Peter (Jeremy

It sounds a bit run-of-the-mill, doesn't it? Yes, but this is Two Weeks Notice as
directed by either David Cronenberg or the Marquis de Sade. The rather offbeat nature of
this film is signposted from the first scene, where a cheerful Lee goes about her office
duties, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she is manacled to a yoke. As the story unfolds, we
learn of her pathological self-harm problems - cutting and burning her arms and legs. Her
involvement with Grey only really begins when he ‘liberates' her from her need to do
this to herself by putting her on a strict regimen of spanking, submissiveness, and, er, lots of
other things I can't go into much detail about in a family newspaper.

The subject matter is quite intense and this is an occasionally explicit film, but the script
and direction have a wit and lightness of touch that keep it from being sleazy or
pornographic. And a lot of credit must also go to Maggie Gyllenhaal, who gives a subtle and
quite brave performance which makes it quite clear that Lee is far from an oppressed victim
or sex object - she's a woman slowly coming to terms with an understanding of what she really
wants out of life, and an equal participant in her relationship with Grey. James Spader, a
very fine actor who seems happy to work outside mainstream cinema, is equally good in what's
if anything an even trickier role. He takes a character whose mood seems to alternate
between reptilian obsessiveness and libidinous distraction, and makes him weirdly vulnerable
and endearing.

There is a sense, though, in which the film compensates for its more extreme elements.
Rather than the spartan flat-packed limbo that so many offices these days consist of, Grey
and Lee work in a warm and vibrant set of rooms complete with art deco stylings and wood
panelling - then again this may be making a virtue of the necessity of Grey's unusual working
practices (this is the only lawyer in modern America who doesn't use a word processor - a
crucial plot point). The film's structure, while a bit twisted and slow to get going, is
fundamentally that of many female-led romances - girl starts job, falls for boss, finally he
notices her, etc. I'm not sure whether such conventionality is entirely compatible with the
film's subversive message, and the clash between them may be the cause of a brief wobble
near the end where the story threatens to unravel entirely. But the movie redeems itself
almost straight away, by exploding into a lush and erotic romanticism of remarkable power:
more so than any more conventionally-styled movie I can remember.

For, at its heart, this is quite a warm and sensitive film, but one that's not afraid to make
its' point. Freedom of choice is a fundamental right and one to be valued, but some people are
at their happiest when freely surrendering it. The film anticipates objections to this by
including a scene where Lee encounters a far-from-impressed feminist, but on the whole it
argues its case wittily and persuasively. Secretary is a funny and perceptive adult
fairytale, and shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

The Awix


04.09.03 Front Page

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