HANDS OF STONE (2016) – A Knockout of a Movie That No One Is Noticing

0
hands of stone

Edgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro, and Ruben Blades in HANDS OF STONE (2016).

 

HANDS OF STONE (2016), the new movie about welterweight boxing champion Roberto Duran, is one of those movies that I probably liked more than I should have.  It’s not really getting great reviews, and it’s receiving zero hype, but I loved it.  For me, everyhing about this movie worked.

Maybe that means I’m just a sucker for boxing movies.  Or perhaps it’s just a really good movie.

HANDS OF STONE is told from the perspective of legendary boxing trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro).  And if there’s one weakness to this movie, it’s that at times there’s a bit too much of Arcel’s voice-over narration, as it shows up in places where it’s not necessary, where standard dialogue and visual narrative would have sufficed.

And so we learn right from the get-go that Roberto Duran changed Ray Arcel’s life, as we hear it directly from Arcel’s mouth.  We meet Duran as a child in poverty-stricken Panama, and we see through his young eyes his disdain for the United States, which he views as an oppressor nation.  Amazingly, he convinces a local boxing trainer to train him, and so he’s boxing pretty much as a child.

We next see Duran (Edgar Ramirez) as a young man wooing the beautiful Felicidad Iglesias (Ana de Armas) who he’ll eventually marry.  Duran is introduced to the wealthiest man in Panama, businessman Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades), who in turn introduces Duran to trainer Ray Arcel, knowing that Arcel has what it takes to make Duran a champion.

But their union is not an easy one.  Duran wants no part of an American trainer, and while Ray clearly recognizes Duran’s talent, he’s prohibited by the mob from ever making money off boxing again.  Years earlier, Ray tried to convince mobster Frankie Carbo (John Turturro) to loosen his grip on boxing in New York City, so they could branch out into the television market.  Carbo said no, Ray went ahead anyway, and Carbo arranged to have Ray killed.  Ray survived, but he promised never again to make money off boxing, and in return, the mob let him live.

Ray solves his own personal problem by agreeing to train Duran for free, and Duran also changes his mind, setting the stage for a championship run.  Standing in their way is American superstar boxer Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond).  Duran sees beating Leonard as his chance not only to become champion but also to earn Panama the respect of the world and to humiliate the United States in the process.

And the more success Duran achieves, the more he’s swallowed up by big money boxing, falling victim to its lure in ways he never fell in the ring, even as aging Ray Arcel continually fights to protect him.

HANDS OF STONE tells a rousing story, one that I enjoyed a lot since I didn’t know much about Roberto Duran other than the results of his two championship fights with Sugar Ray Leonard.

The cast here is wonderful.  Edgar Ramirez shines in the lead role as Roberto Duran. He makes Duran a volatile force who is as undisciplined and hotheaded as he is talented. Indeed, some of the best parts of HANDS OF STONE aren’t the boxing sequences, which certainly are done very well, but the scenes between Ramirez and De Niro in the corners of the ring.  De Niro’s Ray Arcel is constantly fighting with Ramirez’s Duran trying to get him to follow his wisdom, which Duran often sees as limiting, as he just wants to let loose and pound his opponent.  Some of these verbal spars are more intense than the physical ones in the ring.

Likewise, Ramirez also shares powerful scenes with Ruben Blades’ Carlos Eleta.  And when the three of them are on screen together, watch out.  The verbal punches fly.

Ramirez captures the energy and charm of Duran and makes him watchable throughout.  I really enjoyed Ramirez in last year’s JOY (2015) where he played Joy’s (Jennifer Lawrence) husband, in a film that also paired him with Robert De Niro.  Ramirez also played the priest in the underwhelming horror movie DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014).  As much as I liked Ramirez in JOY, he’s even better here in HANDS OF STONE.

Robert De Niro is excellent as Ray Arcel.  It’s fun to see De Niro in a role that does not hide his age but actually makes him look older with a receding hairline and whispery white hair.  He also enjoys some of the best scenes in the movie, with riveting dialogue, as he teaches Duran his philosophy of boxing— always have a strategy and stick to it— and as he argues with Carlos Eleta.  Ray Arcel represents the pure side of boxing, the sport, while Eleta represents what Arcel sees as destroying boxing:  big money.

Ruben Blades, who plays Daniel Salazar, one of the best character on TV’s FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, is also very good as Carlos Eleta.  He brings Ray Arcel into Duran’s world not only to make Duran a champion but to give him some discipline, because Eleta is always fending off the youthful Duran who refuses to respect the rich businessman.

Ana de Armas, who we just saw in WAR DOGS (2016), is drop dead gorgeous and sexy as Duran’s wife Felicidad.  De Armas enjoys a more substantial role here in HANDS OF STONE than she had in WAR DOGS, a role that enables her to show more range and depth, and she doesn’t disappoint.

Singer Usher Raymond makes for a dashingly handsome Sugar Ray Leonard, and he displays the fleeting and fancy footwork of the boxing superstar with seeming ease.  John Turturro makes the most of his few scenes as mobster Frankie Carbo who in spite of their differences really respects and likes Ray Arcel and eventually helps him get the shunned Duran his comeback bout.  Reg E. Cathey, a talented character actor with tons of credits, recently seen as Cajun cook Freddy on the TV show HOUSE OF CARDS, plays Don King and enjoys some memorable moments in some key scenes as the legendary boxing promoter.

It was also nice to see Ellen Barkin play Ray’s wife Stephanie, in a performance that reminded me of Gena Rowlands back in the day.  And in a neat bit of casting, De Niro’s real life adopted daughter Drena De Niro plays Ray’s drug addicted daughter here.

HANDS OF STONE was written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz.  This is Jakubowicz’s first feature film, and it’s an impressive debut.  For my money, everything in this movie worked.

The fight sequences are well done, riveting and exciting.  The photography is lively and energetic, and the editing is quick and efficient.  The film is nearly two hours long, yet it flies by.

Even better than the fight scenes are the scenes of dialogue between Ramirez, De Niro, and Blades.  Jakubowicz also gives the movie an authentic Latin American feel, as well as capturing perfectly the time period of the 1970s and 1980s.

And Jakubowicz does a nice job with the controversial and perhaps signature moment of Duran’s career, where he infamously declared “No mas!” in the ring and walked away from boxing, words that to this day the real Duran swears he didn’t say, yet it’s what he’s most remembered for.

HANDS OF STONE is getting very little hype and meager critical recognition, which is a shame because it’s a rousing entertaining movie that tells the story of Roberto Duran, one of the most talented boxers ever to step into the boxing ring.

There’s no split decision here.  HANDS OF STONE is a clear knockout.

—END—

 

 

 

Advertisements

GRUDGE MATCH (2013) – A Surprising Winner

0

grudge-match-posterHere’s my review of GRUDGE MATCH (2013) which appeared over the weekend at cinemaknifefight.com.

 

Don’t forget.  If you like to read about movies, be sure to check out cinemaknifefight.com.  Not only will you find reviews there by L.L. Soares and myself, but by a pool of very talented authors, including Nick Cato, Colleen Wanglund, Daniel Keohane, and Pete Dudar  to name just a few.  There are many more.  So, check us out!  You’ll be sure to have a good time.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW:  GRUDGE MATCH (2013)

By Michael Arruda

 

Okay, so I knew going in that GRUDGE MATCH, the new comedy featuring Sylvester Stallone vs. Robert De Niro in the boxing ring, wasn’t going to be ROCKY (1976) vs. RAGING BULL (1980), but the good news is it’s not STOP!  OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992) vs. LITTLE FOCKERS (2010) either.

 

It plays more along the lines of GRUMPY OLD MEN (1993) Meets ROCKY.

 

In all honesty, as much as I enjoy both Stallone and De Niro, I dreaded seeing this one because I feared it would be awful.  It wasn’t.  It’s actually a pretty decent comedy, mostly because everyone involved takes its story of two has-been fighters who get one last shot at each other in the ring seriously.

 

Thirty years ago, boxing champs Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) split a pair of championship bouts, with each athlete winning one match.  Just before their scheduled rubber match, “Razor” abruptly retired from boxing, and the anticipated grudge match never happened.

 

It’s now thirty years later, in the present day, and Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), the son of their deceased promoter, is trying to drum up interest in a long delayed grudge match between the two.  Dante is nearly broke and desperate, which is why he is looking for anything to generate some income.   Billy is definitely interested, but Razor hates Billy and wants no part of it.

 

But Razor is also hurting for income and is about to lose his job due to layoffs, and so he agrees to appear in a video game featuring his likeness, under the condition that he doesn’t have to spend any time with Billy.  Of course, Billy shows up at the studio at the same time as Razor, and the two men go at each other, nearly destroying the studio.  Their melee is filmed by one of the staff there, and it goes viral on the internet.  Suddenly there’s an interest in the real deal, and the money becomes so good that no one involved can say no.

 

Razor trains with his former trainer Louis “Lightning” Conlon (Alan Arkin) who’s pretty much confined to a motorized wheel chair, while Billy trains with his estranged son B.J. (Jon Bernthal) who only recently learned the identity of his father.

 

B.J.’s mother Sally (Kim Basinger) is Razor’s former girlfriend and the reason why he left boxing all those years ago.  When Sally hurt him by pursuing Billy, Razor decided he’d take away the one thing that Billy wanted most, a rematch.

 

But nothing’s going to stop the fight this time around, and the story builds quite nicely to an unexpectedly riveting climax in the boxing ring.

 

GRUDGE MATCH isn’t going to win any awards for Best Screenplay, but the script by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman is funny.  Most of the jokes here work, and although the theme of the movie is that you’re never too old to take your best shot, the good news is that the humor doesn’t always come at the expense of the senior citizens in this one.  Sure, there are “old” jokes, but most of the comedy stems from Stallone’s hatred of De Niro, and De Niro’s misguided attempts at reconciling with his estranged son and young grandson.

 

There are a lot of other fine moments as well.  The scene, for example, where Stallone and De Niro are confronted by a mixed martial arts fighter is a keeper.

 

Sure, Stallone is playing a variation of his Rocky character, but he’s so good at this sort of thing, it’s difficult to complain.  And even for a man in his 60s, he still looks like he would be formidable in the boxing ring.

 

You need to suspend more disbelief in De Niro’s case, since he’s not built like a tank like Stallone, but De Niro more than makes up for this with a sharp comedic performance that is as biting as some of the jabs thrown in the ring.

 

Kim Basinger is still beautiful, even at 60, and she’s very good here.  Alan Arkin is hilarious in yet another role where he gets to be a wise cracking old man, and Kevin Hart has his share of comedic moments as Dante Slate, Jr.  But my favorite performance in this one probably belonged to Jon Bernthal as De Niro’s son B.J.

 

Bernthal, from TV’s THE WALKING DEAD and MOB CITY is in two movies opening this weekend, as he’s also in Martin Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.  He plays two completely different types of characters in these films, and he nails them both.  Here, as De Niro’s son B.J., he’s a decent hard working guy raising his young son, and he’s doing his best to reconcile with his estranged father, who doesn’t make it easy for him.  It’s a very sincere performance by Bernthal.

 

Director Peter Segal does a nice job at the helm.  Clocking in at 113 minutes, GRUDGE MATCH is rather long for a comedy, but the pacing is brisk, and this one doesn’t drag at all.  In fact, it actually gains momentum as it builds to the climactic bout between Stallone and De Niro, which believe it or not is actually pretty exciting.

 

Boxing matches have been done to death in the movies, but there’s enough freshness here to make the climactic match stand on its own.  First, there’s the novelty of seeing characters played by Stallone and De Niro face each other in the boxing ring.  It’s impossible not to think of Rocky Balboa vs. Jake La Motta.  I was really curious as to which character would win this bout.  And then there’s the dynamic between the two characters in this film, and the way it plays out is very satisfying.

 

I enjoyed De Niro here better than in his previous film, THE FAMILY (2013), although he’s not as memorable as he was in last year’s SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012).  De Niro has been busy this year, appearing in three other movies in 2013:  THE BIG WEDDING, KILLING SEASON, and LAST VEGAS.

 

Stallone has been just as busy.  I actually enjoyed GRUDGE MATCH a bit more than his previous effort, when he teamed up with Arnold Schwarzenegger in ESCAPE PLAN (2013).  However, I liked Stallone’s BULLET TO THE HEAD (2012) and THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012) better than this movie.

 

I feared that Stallone and De Niro would make fools of themselves in this film, but they don’t.  Surprisingly, GRUDGE MATCH was a very watchable comedy that kept the goofiness to a minimum, and by doing so, allowed its actors to generate some laughs by simply doing what they do best, creating characters who you can believe in and root for.

 

The bottom line is that GRUDGE MATCH delivers when it comes to producing laughs.  I laughed quite a bit during the movie and found it hard not to like a film that featured Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in the leads.

 

Helped by a solid supporting cast, Stallone and De Niro both come out on top, making GRUDGE MATCH a surprising winner.

 

I give it three knives.

 

—END—

 

THE FAMILY (2013) – An Uneven Mix of Drama and Comedy

0

The-Family-2013-Movie-PosterMovie Review:  THE FAMILY (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

 

True, when I saw the trailers for THE FAMILY, I didn’t think much of it, but how could I not see a movie starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, two of my favorite actors?  I like De Niro in pretty much anything he’s in, and way back when, Michelle Pfeiffer as the Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS (1992) was the hottest thing going.

In spite of my misgivings about this movie, I was eager to see the two actors in action.  That being said, THE FAMILY is a rather odd movie.  Its tale of a former mobster hiding out in the witness protection program who has to move constantly because both he and his nutty family can’t seem to stop killing people has screwball comedy written all over it, but this isn’t the path  this movie takes.

It follows a far more subtle path and tries to be a sophisticated comedy-drama that is oftentimes as elegant as the rich Italian dinners Pfeiffer’s character prepares.  But the subtlety here is juxtaposed against both serious scenes of violence including some graphic mob hits, and comedic over-the-top ones, played for laughs, making this movie a difficult one to figure out.  It’s as if the filmmakers weren’t sure what kind of movie they wanted to make— comedy, drama, comedy-drama, dark comedy, or nuttiness unchained— but one thing is for sure, regardless of intent, the whole thing would have worked better with a sharper script.

THE FAMILY opens with a jarring mob hit, as the underworld is out to get the former Giovanni Manzoni, a former mafia boss who ratted out his associates and now goes by the name Fred Blake (Robert De Niro).  Blake and his family, his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), teen daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) and teen son Warren (John D’Leo), have relocated to Normandy, France, under the protection of CIA Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones.)

Stansfield is frustrated with Blake because he can’t seem to stay out of the limelight, and as a result the CIA has to relocate him and his family every few months.  Stansfield is fighting a losing battle, because it’s not only Blake— who goes out when he’s not supposed to, and talks openly with neighbors when he should be keeping a low profile— but his wife and kids.  When the local store owner insults his wife Maggie, she turns around and blows up his store.  When some boys try to take advantage of Belle, she beats them silly, and likewise, young Warren is up to no good in school as well, building up a criminal resume that would make his dad proud.

Because the Blakes are not subtle, it’s not that difficult for the mobsters to find them, and when they do, they send in a massive hit squad to wipe out Blake and his family.  Of course, his family, being who they are, are not about to go down without a fight.

The biggest problem with THE FAMILY is it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a comedy or a drama.  When Maggie blows up the store, it’s supposed to be funny.  When the mob’s hit squad attacks the Blakes at the end of the movie, this part is played seriously, with ample tears, blood and death.

As a result, while earlier I had laughed here and there, during the ending, I wasn’t laughing at all, as thing were played straight.

The film could certainly have benefitted from stronger writing.  The comedy could have been funnier and the drama darker.

Most of the comedy misfires.  There’s a scene for example where De Niro’s Fred is signed up to give a talk about a movie, and it turns out to be GOODFELLAS (1990).  This should be an uproarious moment, but it hardly garners a laugh.

One of the funnier gags is De Niro’s various uses of the F-word.  When Maggie complains that he uses it too much, he explains that he has to because it has different meanings depending on the situation and on the way one says it.  He goes on to demonstrate, in one of the film’s funnier scenes.

But the scenes with his teen children— and I hate to point this out, but isn’t De Niro a bit old to playing a dad of teen kids at this point?— mostly misfire.  The humor is all off, and as a result in spite of some decent acting performances by Dianna Agron and John D’Leo, they’re not very likable characters.  Plus Agron gets stuck in a subplot in which she has a crush on a student teacher that is about as realistic as an old BRADY BUNCH episode.

Luc Besson, who also directed, wrote the screenplay with Michael Caleo, based on the book by Tonino Benacquista.  There are plenty of set-ups for some decent comedy, but time and time again the writing fails to deliver, and the jokes just don’t work.  The story is also not dark enough to completely work as a drama either.

Besson has a ton of writing credits, so he has plenty of experience, but that didn’t seem to help him here.  He fares better as a director, as I liked the look of this one, very polished, and it captures the mood of a gangster film.

A lot of emphasis is placed on food in this movie, from characters complaining about the rich creams of French food, to Michelle Pfeiffer going on about the benefits of olive oil, to elegant Italian dishes, to Robert De Niro preparing a barbecue.  I found myself hungry by the time this one was over.

I did enjoy the two performances of the leads, Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer.  De Niro can play a mobster in his sleep by this point, and he’s certainly fun to watch here.  I probably enjoyed Pfeiffer the most in this movie, as she cracked me up just with her fiery personality.  Imagine how funny she could have been with a better script!

Tommy Lee Jones was good as well, but to a lesser degree since he enjoys far less screen time than De Niro and Pfeiffer.  And again, both Dianna Agron and John D’Leo deliver decent performances as the Blake teen children, but the characters they play are rather annoying.

I would have enjoyed THE FAMILY far better had it either been flat out funny or a much darker drama, or even a well balanced mix of the two.  As it stands, it’s an uneven hodgepodge of light and dark, a dish that’s not easy to digest, like that French cream poured on a barbecued burger served on a heap of olive oil pasta.

—END—

RED LIGHTS (2012) Screeches To A Halt

0

Red Lights - PosterStreaming Video Review:  RED LIGHTS (2012)

by

Michael Arruda

I settled in to watch the thriller RED LIGHTS (2012), now available on Streaming Video, expecting to see a battle between two cinematic heavyweights, Sigourney Weaver vs. Robert De Niro, but sadly the movie doesn’t play out this way, and the two actors, who play adversarial characters in this story, don’t even get to share any screen time.  Bummer.

In RED LIGHTS, psychologist and professional skeptic Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) travels the nation with her young assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) debunking false psychics and mediums.  They’re sort of “myth busters” for paranormal occurrences.  Early on, they assist a family whose house is “haunted,” and it doesn’t take them long to show that the young medium “helping” the family is really nothing more than a talented hair dresser, and the strange noises are caused by the family’s young daughter who wants to move back to their previous home.

When taking on “professional psychics” who fill entire auditoriums with people eager to receive the benefits of their psychic abilities and healing powers, Margaret and Tom break out the high tech equipment to expose these frauds.

Meanwhile, the most famous psychic in the country, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement after a nearly 30 year absence from the public scene.  Young Tom is eager to take on Simon and prove that the master is a fraud, but Margaret wants no part of Silver.  She considers him too dangerous, especially since thirty years before during his last performance, the man who was close to exposing him died under mysterious circumstances.

When pressed by a TV interviewer to talk about this suspicious death, Silver explains that his skeptics’ accusations that he had anything to do with the man’s death are bogus and nonsensical, because on the one hand, they’re calling him a fake, yet on the other, they’re saying he used his “powers” to kill his critic.

Up until this point, I was really into this movie.  I had completely bought into its premise, and I was looking forward to the efforts which Margaret and Tom would employ to try to prove that Simon was a fraud.  However, the story takes a dramatic turn, completely removing Margaret from the picture, leaving Tom to face Simon on his own.

Tom brings in his beautiful young student assistant Sally Owen (Elizabeth Olsen) to help out, and the rest of the movie pits these two young skeptics against the master psychic Simon, whose powers seem too formidable to be phony.

The film’s downhill spiral continues towards an improbable twist ending that flies in the face of its earlier message of healthy skepticism.

For a movie that starts off so well, RED LIGHTS surprisingly loses its momentum and eventually becomes a disappointment.  It’s really two completely different halves.  The first half is compelling and interesting, whereas the second is melodramatic and sensationalistic, and nowhere near as intriguing as its beginning.  And it’s topped off by a weak twist ending that just doesn’t work.  RED LIGHTS truly is a mixed bag.

The first half of RED LIGHTS really belongs to Sigourney Weaver.  Her psychologist/skeptic Margaret Matheson is a fascinating character who really deserves an entire movie about her, not just half a movie.  Margaret is a veteran psychologist, she’s been doing this for years, and she makes for a very formidable character. I really liked her.  I also liked her motivations.  Her adult son has been in a coma and on life support for years, and she admits that she has selfishly kept him on life support because all of her investigations have consistently turned up the same results, that there is nothing supernatural or otherworldly out there, or in her son’s case, there’s no after life.

It’s a great performance by Weaver, much more memorable than her recent appearances in THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012) and THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011).  She really brings Margaret to life, and she does this in just half a movie.  Imagine how good she would have been had she been in the whole thing!  It’s her best work since AVATAR (2009).

Like the second half of the movie, Robert De Niro’s performance as psychic Simon Silver is overdramatic and not that satisfying.  De Niro used to be able to create very uncomfortable characters.  His Simon Silver should be one very unsavory man, yet De Niro doesn’t seem to get inside this guy’s head.  Instead of coming off as threatening, he comes off as angry.  De Niro’s recent performance in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012) was much more satisfying.

RED LIGHTS is really about Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) as he emerges as the story’s central character, and Cillian Murphy in fact does receive top billing here.  But as a character, Tom is never as interesting as Margaret or Simon Silver.  RED LIGHTS is clearly a story that should have been about these two veteran characters, not the young whippersnapper.  Of course, Tom has to be the central character here because he’s part of the twist ending, but this twist doesn’t work, and this movie would have been better both without it and without Tom as its main focus.

I like Cillian Murphy a lot, and I’ve enjoyed his performances in INCEPTION (2010) and in Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy, and he’s fine here.  The problem is he’s overshadowed by Weaver and De Niro, and once Weaver is gone, she leaves a void that Murphy isn’t able to fill.

The very cute Elizabeth Olsen fares better here in a supporting role as Sally Owen than she did in the awful horror movie SILENT HOUSE (2011).

Writer/director Rodrigo Cortes sets up an intriguing first half to this thriller but then takes it in a direction that is less believable and ultimately less satisfying than its start.  Frankly, skeptic Margaret Matheson would never believe how this story plays out, and neither did I.

Instead of an intelligent drama about the efforts to disprove a fraudulent psychic, the movie switches gears and becomes a dramatic thriller about supernatural powers on the loose.

Red lights refers to a term used by Margaret to identify “tells” the frauds use in their work.  For example, in one instance, the “red lights” are people used by a phony faith healer to find information about his audience.  This term is used again when Tom and Sally investigate Simon, as they look for “red lights” to expose him.

Sadly, this thought-provoking idea is largely wasted, and when the twist ending rears its ugly head, all thought and intellect earlier employed in this story are rendered moot.

It has a captivating premise, but RED LIGHTS shifts gears midway through, slowing down, before eventually coming to an abrupt stop.

Fitting, I guess, since stopping is what you’re supposed to do when you come to a red light.

—END—

Never Too Late- SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Still Delivers

2

SilverLiningsPlaybok

Movie Review:  SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)

by

Michael Arruda

 

When is it too late to see a movie at the theater?  Why, never of course!

We’ve gotten so used to seeing movies on their opening weekends, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “I don’t want to see it.  It’s been out too long.  I’ve already heard too much about it.”  I say, it’s never too late to see a movie on the big screen.

Take SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012), for example.  It was one of those movies which I’d missed- it had fallen through the cracks- but I really did want to see it on the big screen, so I ventured out on a recent Thursday night- the last night the film was scheduled to play in my area- and watched it with one other person sitting in the theater with me.

 Was it as an exhilarating experience as catching it in an opening night theater abuzz with a loud and energetic opening night crowd?  No, I can’t say that it was.  Had I heard more than I wanted about the movie already?  Sure.  But that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of seeing the film on the big screen.

 Of course, it didn’t hurt that SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a very good movie.  And in keeping with the theme that it’s never too late to see a movie on the big screen, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK has as its central theme that it’s never too late in life to go after what you want.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) is released from a stint in a mental institution, ordered there by a court to deal with anger issues after he had found his wife in the shower with a co-worker and beat the co-worker nearly to death.  Pat also suffers from bi-polar disorder.  He’s taken home by his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) where he’ll live temporarily with her and his dad Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro).

He develops a friendship with the quirky sex-addicted Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) but barely notices her because he’s determined to the point of obsession of winning his wife back.  But Tiffany is persistent, and when she offers to help Pat get back together with his wife, by delivering a letter to her, which he can’t do since there’s a court order for him to avoid all forms of contact with her, he begins to pay Tiffany attention, and when she convinces him to take part in a dance competition with her, their relationship deepens, to the point where you really want to see them overcome their obstacles and get together.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a poignant story, often disturbing, sometimes funny, about second chances in life, about seeing the positives in spite of all the negatives, and about connections people make and whether or not these connections can survive the muck of human existence that gets in the way of relationships.

 I’ve become a big fan of Bradley Cooper, from his humorous turns in THE HANGOVER movies to more dramatic roles in LIMITLESS (2011).  He’s great here once again, making a complicated man like Pat very sympathetic and likeable.

Jennifer Lawrence really does steal the show here as Tiffany, and her Oscar win for Best Actress was well deserved.  I really enjoyed her in THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) but she’s so much better here.  As Tiffany, she delivers a powerhouse performance, creating a woman who’s explosive, volatile, and strong, one who is able to cut through all the distractions and problems in Pat’s world and make him pay attention.  You’ll be paying attention too.

Robert De Niro, as the OCD suffering Pat Sr., delivers one of his most satisfying performances in years. He cares deeply for his son, yet he can’t seem to do right by him, as he’s constantly losing his patience around him.  Yet De Niro is very likeable as Pat Sr., and enjoys a key scene late in the game where he finally says the right thing at the right time.

Jacki Weaver is also memorable as Dolores, and Chris Tucker shines in a supporting role as Danny, Pat’s friend from the institution who keeps showing up at Pat’s door saying he’s been allowed out when he’s really escaped.  Anupam Kher is also a hoot as Dr. Cliff Patel, Pat’s therapist. 

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK was written and directed by David O. Russell, and his screenplay was based on the novel by Matthew Quick.  The fact that it’s based on a novel comes as no surprise because this one plays like a novel, with deep, rich characters who are more complicated and fleshed out than your typical movie character.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a thoroughly satisfying movie from start to finish.  It has great acting and a thought-provoking emotional story that grabs you from the outset and takes you along for an entertaining ride.  I’ve heard many people grumble that it shouldn’t have been up for Best Picture, but I’m glad it was nominated. 

I enjoyed its story about characters who really have to work hard to succeed in their relationships.  These folks all have baggage, hang-ups, and difficulties.  They strive for happiness and they struggle to treat those around them, family and friends, the way they want to.  They want to treat them well, but more often than not, they don’t.  SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK presents us with characters like ourselves, stuck in struggles we often feel powerless to overcome, yet always with the desire to make connections with others and to do right by those we know and care for.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK  is a movie that tells the truth about flawed people and their relationships.  Yet it’s not a downer by any means.  Sure, there are parts that are painful to watch, but for the most part, the humor works to offset the hopelessness.

We root for these folks, and we want to see them succeed even though we know the road to happiness is paved with pain and uncertainty.  Anything less would just be a silver lining.

 —END—