Primal Fear & Secondary Plot

 DATELINE: Attorney-Client Privilege

 attorney privilege

In 1996 came another of those lawyer with killer client movies. This one featured Richard Gere as the hotshot attorney, and young Edward Norton as the simpleton altar boy who butchers the archbishop.

Smarmy, with a wink, and an attitude to put the screws to anyone in his way, infamous attorney Richard Gere defends mobsters (Steven Bauer) and anyone else who will cause his picture to adorn the city’s magazines.

Laura Linney is his antagonist in the prosecutor’s office and dismisses him after a one-night stand that “lasted six months.” Her buttons can be pushed, and she pushes back. In light of the Hollywood mistreatment of women, the brazen sexism of the Gere character is a bit too much. However, it fits in with the attitudes he exhibits.

Alfre Woodard is the judge who is not about to let her courtroom become a place where Gere can let loose his vendettas. The corrupt city prosecutors are about as hooked into mob ventures as the church in this cynical movie.

This time the archbishop isn’t diddling the boys, only videotaping their antics with hired girls. What a change of pace!

Norton seems to play the hillbilly boy brought to the big city by the slick priest. However, neuropsychiatrist Frances McDormand isn’t quite convinced during the 60 hours of conversation she holds with the young choir boy.

Gere uses a bag of tricks to acquit the young man of the heinous crime (a word he claims is too fancy for the dumb jury).

The growing twisted jazz score indicates that we are in film noir territory, and come-uppance is around the corner. Movie is well-done and has fine performances, though we feel like we have been there in several similar movies, most notably with Keanu Reeves last year in The Whole Truth and Gary Oldman a few years back in Criminal Law. They had client troubles too.

You could do worse than pay attention here.

How Many Oscars to Put Up a Billboard?

DATELINE:  Ebbing Tide!

McDormand

Two major Oscars went to the star actors of Three Billboards Near Hibbing, Minnesota, or was it Ebbing, Missouri?

We think the ridiculous title seemed laughable at first, but becomes seriously apt by the end.

Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell play borderline sociopathic and violent characters who are held in check by the small-town sheriff played by Woody Harrelson.

Audiences have been deeply bothered by a racist cop (who may be latently gay) and vindictive mother of a murdered girl who become, weirdly, sympathetic, owing to the brilliant performances of Oscar winners Rockwell and McDormand.

The audience faces a story wherein characters repent and try to mend their nasty ways. It’s not looked upon with much favor. It becomes far worse if they turn into outright vigilantes, leaving us with complete moral and ethical ambiguity. We seem to forget Bruce Willis has just released his remake of Death Wish, the ultimate film about taking the law into one’s hands, just to entertain us.

The Oscar winners are surrounded by other tour de force actors, playing small-town Missourians to the hilt. And, there were likely no other stars who could have played the leads: we doubt that Meryl Streep or Tom Cruise could have pulled it off with such aplomb or lack of glamour.

The story has absurdist elements that make for that most deplorable of all genres: dramedy or black comedy, with fewer and fewer laughs along the way.

Perhaps life is not so black and white as good guys and bad after all, but our movies usually refuse to reflect this. This film challenges its audience to live with moral ambiguity in their art, as well as in life.

This is the first movie in quite some time in which characters mention Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde in the same scene, among other quirks, making this the most intriguing film of the year.