Christmas home video reviews are in and “Arbitrage” with Richard Gere lead all DVDs under review by our celebrated movie critic, Forrest Hartman.
By Forrest Hartman
An excellent thriller starring Richard Gere and an action film centered on New York City bike messengers lead this week’s crop of home video releases.
4 stars (out of four)
Rated R for language, brief violent images and drug content
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download
Perhaps the greatest compliment one can bestow on a thriller is to call it Hitchcockian, and “Arbitrage” – written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki – would fit nicely in the Alfred Hitchcock catalogue. The movie’s power comes not only from the fact that it keeps viewers in suspense but from its carefully drawn lead character, Robert Miller (Richard Gere). Robert is a powerful hedge fund manager with an aura of complete confidence, yet viewers sense his vulnerability when he’s alone.
An illegal business deal has placed him in a precarious position that could derail the impending sale of his company and land him in jail. Compounding Robert’s already bad situation is a tragedy involving his mistress (Laetitia Casta). That event puts him under increased scrutiny not only from the law but from his adoring and large family. Rather than come clean about his fraud and his mistress, Robert goes to increasing lengths to avoid the consequences of his actions, and this leaves him teetering ever closer to disaster. Hitchcock would have been proud.
Gere is fantastic in the lead role, and his work netted him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. In truth, Gere had to be great because “Arbitrage” relies more on characters than plot. That’s not to say the story is bad because Jarecki’s screenplay is solid. The fascination, however, comes in watching Robert’s reactions to his increasingly ugly situation, and what happens isn’t nearly as important as the moves Robert makes to respond.
Gere is nearly always good, but his reading of Robert is particularly powerful. Whenever the man is in front of a crowd, he puts on a charming façade meant to prop up his reputation as a business leader. Gere’s performance is nuanced, however, meaning viewers can see Robert’s cracks even if the characters around him are fooled. And when the man is in private or having one-on-one conversations with trusted advisors, the façade fades away.
Although Gere is the heart of the film, he gets apt supporting work from a number of players. Casta is good as Robert’s mistress, Susan Sarandon offers a wonderfully complex reading of his wife, Nate Parker stands out as a young man unwittingly drawn into Robert’s problems and Tim Roth is solid as an aggressive police detective.
“Arbitrage” made just under $8 million during its U.S. theatrical run. That’s nothing to sniff at, but it’s far too little for a movie possessing this level of complexity and intrigue. It deserves an extended life on home video, and even more attention as the movie awards season plays out.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Jarecki.
Rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action sequences and language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and on demand
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the most interesting actors of his generation, and 2012 was a great year for him. Levitt got plenty of exposure thanks to key roles in “Looper,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Lincoln” and the lightweight-but-nimble thriller “Premium Rush.” In that film, Levitt plays Wilee, a New York City bicycle messenger who turned his back on more lucrative careers because he loves to ride. Most of all, he loves speed and the quick decision-making that comes with navigating New York streets.
His blind disregard for safety makes Wilee an excellent – and extremely fast – bike messenger, but it also has his girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), questioning his sanity. She rides, too, but she doesn’t understand Wilee’s desire to deliver messages despite having a solid college education. These domestic concerns fall to the wayside when Wilee picks up a rush package from Vanessa’s roommate (Jamie Chung) and finds himself being tracked by a man (Michael Shannon) desperate to steal the contents.
As simplistic as that plot is, there’s not much more to “Premium Rush.” Levitt spends the entire film riding like a madman in an attempt to prevent the package from being stolen and make sure it lands in the right hands. Co-writer and director David Koepp does a good job with the action sequences, and he is particularly good at showing viewers how Wilee’s mind works when he’s riding at top speed.
Unfortunately, the plot of “Premium Rush” is more than a little light. Basically, it’s a long series of chases. At first, the action is thrilling and unique, but it doesn’t take long for the novelty to wear off.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include two making-of shorts.
The home video release contains rated and unrated versions of the film. The rated version received a PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking.
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
For writers, “The Words” has intrinsic appeal because movies don’t often focus on the art of putting words to paper. Alas, the feature fails to live up to its considerable potential.
The structure of the project is complex, featuring a story within a story within a story. This seems appropriate for a picture with literary designs, and the action begins with writer Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reading from his latest novel. The book relates the story of a struggling writer who happens upon a long-lost manuscript and passes the work off as his own. As Hammond reads, viewers are treated to a visualization of the work, with Bradley Cooper playing the manuscript thief, Rory Jansen.
Much of the movie centers on Rory’s inability to live with the intellectual crime he’s committed, and the film journeys into yet another story when Rory has a run in with the man who actually wrote his manuscript (Jeremy Irons). This weathered, old character tells Rory about the inspiration for the book, and this deepens Rory’s guilt.
“The Words” is filled with intriguing ideas, and it asks viewers to consider whether one can ever truly escape past mistakes. Unfortunately, co-writers and directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal struggle with pacing.
One has to wonder if this story might have played better as a straight drama rather than a series of tales nested one within the next. This layered format is ambitious, and it gives the project weight, but the execution is labored and distracting.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray releases include the theatrical cut of the movie and an extended special edition. Extras include two making-of features.
Resident Evil: Retribution
Rated R for sequences of strong violence throughout
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and on demand
“Resident Evil: Retribution” is the fifth entry in the “Resident Evil” movie franchise, and one thing is painfully clear: Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson has run out of fresh ideas. The film tells the continuing tale of Alice, a former security officer for the Umbrella Corporation, a corrupt company that created a genetically engineered virus responsible for turning normal people into zombies.
In each of the first four movies, Alice has battled these creatures, as well as the forces behind Umbrella. That trend continues with “Retribution,” but the movie is little more than a series of niftily choreographed action sequences. It’s obvious that the “Resident Evil” films were inspired by a video game franchise because “Retribution” plays out in levels, rather than plot-driven scenes. Essentially Alice, played by Milla Jovovich, kicks butt in one location before moving to another and another and another.
Anderson’s filmmaking is stylish, and the 3D version of the movie looks great. Gorgeous visuals can only take a film so far, however, and that distance is short when the plot isn’t strong enough to prop the images up.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include outtakes, a making-of feature and two audio commentaries by the filmmakers.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Killer Joe”: Dark comedy starring Matthew McConaughey as a police detective who moonlights as a hit man. Directed by William Friedkin. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church also star.
“The Life & Times of Tim” – The Complete Third Season: Ten fresh episodes of HBO’s animated series about a twenty-something facing life’s ups and downs.
“Tosh.O”: Fans of comedian Daniel Tosh’s television show, can buy two new releases containing a host of episodes: “Deep V’s” and “Cardigans Plus Casual Jackets.”
“Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand-Up Revolution” – Season 2: More than two hours of stand-up comedy, as presented on Iglesias’ Comedy Central TV show.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.