‘There Will Be Blood’ – Film Review and Analysis

‘There Will Be Blood’ is a masterful, enticing film about how greed, corruption, and arrogance can destroy a man’s soul. Definitely one of the best films of this young 21st century, There Will Be Blood will be remembered for generations to come for its’ acting, cinematography, and direction. There are a number of things that make this film memorable including its’ cast, director, and musical composition.

In addition to all of that, the plot is written well, the characters are intriguing, and themes are still timely when compared to the modern era. While not the most popular film when it was first released, ‘There Will Be Blood’ has become a bit of a cult classic since it came out in 2007, over ten years ago. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two of them for ‘Best Cinematography’ and ‘Best Actor’ for Daniel Day-Lewis.

Considered the best Actor of his generation, Day-Lewis is a unique talent who can transform him into vastly different performing roles and deliver outstanding and award-winning performances. In addition to winning the Best Actor award for ‘There Will Be Blood’, Day-Lewis also won Academy awards for the films ‘Lincoln’ and ‘My Left Foot’, which were the exact opposite kind of roles to play as an actor.

Daniel Day-Lewis is able to stay in character for months or years on end to totally immerse him in both the story and the lines that he memorizes. It’s a truly impressive accomplishment to win one Academy Award but Day-Lewis was able to win three and is nominated for a 4th award for his most recent role in ‘Phantom Thread.’ Other noteworthy aspects of this film is the directing by Paul Thomas Anderson and the musical score by Jonny Greenwood who both set the tone for this movie’s themes and plot line.

Unbeknownst to most, the film’s screenplay and overall plot was adapted from American novelist Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! Which focuses on the oil boom in the western United States during the late 19th to early 20th centuries, and the men who made themselves wealthy from the discovery. Instead of covering a topic as deep and complicated about the oil rush over a few decades in a dramatic film, Paul Thomas Anderson chooses a protagonist named Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) to be the lens through which the audience witnesses the birth of the lifeblood for the modern American economy.

Anderson’s goals for this film in my opinion were to show how the U.S. and its’ oilmen were not so innocent when it came to the pursuit of wealth. In the quest to reap the profits of the oil boom, there was a lot of backstabbing, double-crossing, and short-shrifting between different competing companies. This film takes a hard look at how the protagonist Daniel Plainview loses his soul in the pursuit of wealth and prestige. In addition, There Will Be Blood is an examination of the push – pull relationship between capitalism and religion and how they are often linked together to pursue their goals.

There Will Be Blood’s setting takes place at the turn of the 20th century. Daniel Plainview, the main protagonist starts out as an ordinary silver miner looking to become wealthy from that pursuit. However, this changes in 1902 when he discovers oil near Los Angeles, California, and decides to create his own drilling company. At the beginning of the film, Daniel can seem to be like any normal prospector of that era and also selfless in the fact that he adopts the son of a fellow co-worker who was killed in an accident. The boy is named H.W. and Daniel seems to care and cherish the child. However, the audience soon finds out that it is not love that Daniel strives to have in his life but rather wealth and influence in the oil industry.

Daniel promotes himself as a ‘family man’ largely in order to curry favor with other businessmen and potential employees of his company. The main antagonist to Daniel is Eli Sunday, a preacher in nearby Little Boston, California, who wishes to get a good sum of money from Plainview in order to build his church. In exchange, Daniel gets access to all of the land under the town in order to build wells to drill for oil where there is a vast amount underneath their feet. Despite the fact that they have an agreement in the exchange of land for money, Daniel betrays the deal and berates Eli for his religious beliefs and the exploitation of his son’s deafness for his own financial gain. It is clear to the audience that both men are out for themselves but need each other in order to acquire wealth or a religious following.

Such as has been the case at times throughout history, religion and capitalism have been intertwined in an unholy marriage leading to disastrous results. Daniel uses Eli in order to get all of the oil wealth from under the town while lying about the amount of money he would give Eli or the town itself to build up their infrastructure. Eli uses Daniel’s money to build his mega-church but exploits H.W.’s misfortune of becoming deaf as a means to accuse Daniel of being a ‘bad father’ and a ‘sinner’ even though the freak accident was out of his control.

If I had to highlight two example scenes for somebody to check out before watching this movie, it would be the ‘I’m an oil man’ speech by Daniel Plainview to the townsfolk of Little Boston. You can see from this speech and from the overall scene that he does not care so much for the people in the town or what he can do to help them. The music combined with his lying through the teeth boasts show that he is not being genuine and is in this pursuit of oil for himself and himself alone.

“I’m an oil man speech”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHz-zZoBnbc

The other scene to highlight from this film is known as the ‘Fire’ scene, which is a brilliantly shot and executed scene. It’s amazing in its’ portrayal of the discovery of mass amounts of oil under a well indicating that Daniel Plainview is to become a very wealthy man. However, it’s at the same point in this scene where he realizes that his son, H.W. is to become deaf due to an accident near the well. At this scene, you can see Daniel change as a person to become more focused on his future as a ‘oilman’ than one as a ‘family man’ to H.W., his adopted son.

‘There Will Be Blood’ Fire scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKJAH-XBNNs&t=240s

Throughout the film’s events, you can see that Daniel does not care about family or religion at all. While he enjoys the company of H.W., he holds over the fact that he is not his biological son and does not want to give him any financial support to strike it out on his own. Daniel has no care for organized religion besides getting permission to gain workers and oil from underneath the town’s feet while contributing the bare minimum to Eli’s church or the rest of the town. As his last name reveals, ‘Plainview’ has a plain view about human nature that is very pessimistic and jaded.

Daniel only cares to get as much out of people as to benefit himself and his company personally. You wonder though by the end of the film what is in it for Daniel besides money and alcohol. He may have become a wildly successful prospector and oilman but what does it all mean if he is left alone and friendless. If you’re going to go into business, why not do it for the benefit of others and not just yourself? However, the view of Daniel Plainview is that life is a zero-sum game and that you can’t trust anybody but yourself.

Eli Sunday, while a pragmatic preacher and someone who seems to care about the townsfolk of which who are part of his church, still does a deal gone south with Daniel Plainview in the pursuit of easy money. Eli is easily bullied by Daniel but still goes around trying to convince him to change his ways and repent as a sinner. While Eli means well and wants the best for the church and his town, he does not go about it in the right way leaving him at the mercy of Plainview.

While Eli Sunday and Daniel Plainview are both excellent at what they do, you have to consider that they are both very flawed human beings. They may have built a popular church to preach in (Sunday) or massive oil wells to enrich themselves (Plainview) but life will still be lacking for them if they have no love and compassion surrounding those achievements. That may be the main message for the person viewing this film. Wealth, notoriety, and personal prestige are not everything in life and that there are other things that you should focus on that really touch your soul as a human being.

“There’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet, and nobody can get at it except for me!” There Will Be Blood is an excellent story about extreme capitalism and religion gone wrong. Both protagonists pursuit of their own selfish goals hurts the other characters in this film. However, what would modern America be like without the preachers and the oilmen? While not as dramatic as this fictional movie, the discovery of oil and the spread of the gospel are intertwined with American history.

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‘Training Day’ – Film Review and Analysis

‘Training Day’ is the kind of movie that highlights two people who somehow cross paths as they are on opposite sides of morality. The men are shown to be both flawed in their own ways but still have a direct impact on each other as they spend more time together. Throughout this film, both men are trying to outwit each other in the hopes that they’ll come out on top. Because of this gamesmanship, this is no simple training day but rather a series of events that end up changing both of their lives for better and for worse.

The two main characters, one of them who could be considered a youthful idealist, is trying to better his community and his city by enforcing the law by the book. The other man has been around the block and knows about the grittiness of the job more so than his impressionable, younger rookie partner. He is a pessimist who discards the idealism that he likely brought with him when he originally joined the police force. He has abused his power as a law enforcement agent, is looking to maintain his authority and grow his wealth through intimidation and threats.

“It takes a wolf to catch a wolf” is a powerful quote from ‘Training Day’ that shows that in order to bring somebody down, you have to act and imitate who they are. The problem with this attitude is that sometimes you end up becoming your own worst enemy. However, to simply be a sheep is leading yourself to the slaughter as well especially when you’re dealing with the criminal underworld.

In order to survive as a detective, both men know that you need to be confident in yourself, steadfast in your beliefs, and willing to confront ‘the wolves’ out there if you want to catch one. It could be argued that the protagonist of this film starts out as a sheep and ends up becoming a wolf in order to catch the antagonist, a true wolf who has caught the wolves for many years. This kind of symbolism embedded within ‘Training Day’ makes it a classic film worthy of repeated viewings.

‘Training Day’, released in 2001 is a crime drama / thriller directed by Antoine Fuqua which follows two LAPD detectives who patrol and fight crime in gang-heavy neighborhoods. The film stars Denzel Washington as Alonzo Harris, a veteran detective and police officer who prefers wearing street clothes over a formal uniform and a badge. Ethan Hawke, who plays Jake Hoyt, a new detective and Alonso’s new partner who is entrusted in learning from Alonzo on his first day of detective training.

This film has earned excellent reviews over the years and is considered one of the best movies of the 2000’s. It achieved critical acclaim and success in theaters as Denzel Washington earned a Best Actor award for his role as Alonzo Harris. Truly, one of the best parts of the film is Washington’s acting and how he brings the corrupt yet smooth talking cop character to life. Det. Harris is a classic villain who ranks as one of the best antagonists in film history for his duplicity to others and displaying his indefatigable charisma while doing it.

From the opening scene of the movie, you can tell that Jake Hoyt is out of his league when it comes to matching up against Alonzo Harris. Unfortunately, not much of Alonso or Jake’s backstory is given in the film as well as how they came to become partners together. However, you can see early they are both polar opposites of each other in terms of their ideals, morals, and overall character. Jake is a young guy who’s trying to make his mark as a police officer and trying to do everything by the book as instructed by his superiors at the academy.

He is idealistic, fair-minded, and perhaps a bit naïve to the murky shades of gray that make up the world. Meanwhile, the audience can tell that Alonso has been on the wrong side of the streets for a while and has become purely jaded by his work as a narcotics detective. Instead of serving and protecting the people in his community and city, he cares only about his image, the reach of his authority, and the ability to make illegal money without compromising his career. What once was left of the idealism and the drive to do good by becoming a police officer has long been washed away. You could argue that Jake is a sheep while Alonso is a wolf who is going to prey on him.

The ultimate goal of Alonso is to bend Jake to his will by manipulating his moral code and his willingness to stay clean as a police officer. While Jake starts out the film as being a bit reticent, gullible, and naïve to what Alonso is doing to him, he is able to change over the course of the film to fight for his future, his career, and his life. The transformation of Jake Hoyt from a ‘sheep’ to a ‘wolf’ able to stand up to Alonso is one of the greatest displays of character development in film.

The great drama of ‘Training Day’ is to see both men push each other to the limits both mentally and physically to see who will be left standing after the training day and night is over. While Alonso lost his soul and is trying to corrupt those around him, Det. Jake Hoyt needs to harness his strengths, moral fiber, and intelligence to best Alonso at his own game.

At first, Alonso seems like an ideal partner to be with if you are in the police force. However, Jake and the audience find out that he is anti-social, manipulative, and willing to take what he wants without remorse. The challenge throughout the film for Jake is how does he change into a ‘wolf’ without losing his own moral code. Complicating matters for Detective Hoyt is the fact that Alonso isn’t the only corrupt police officer to deal with and that it goes to higher levels in both local and state government who know what Alonso is up to.

While some officials turn a blind eye to Alonso’s money-grabbing, wrongful beatings and killings, and others in the police force actually join in on it, Jake takes a moral stand and wants to bring Alonso to justice. However, we find out that Alonso is in fact his own worst enemy and the bad karma that he’s acquired over his years of corrupt wheeling and dealing will come back to haunt him.

Everyone’s luck eventually runs out and Alonso finds himself on the wrong end of a bad gambling streak with organized crime. For all of his manipulation, wrongdoing, and anti-social behavior, its’ Alonso’s desire for control over others including Jake that leads himself to ruin. To the opposite, Jake becomes a stronger person and a more effective police officer as the film progresses. He stops two men on the street from physically abusing a high school girl, which pays off for him later after he faces another near fatal betrayal from Alonso.

The concept of karma plays out for Jake, as he is able to resist the corrupting influence of Alonso and remain on the right side of the law by doing his job even under great personal pressure. Instead of letting the power and authority entrusted in him get to his head, Jake is able to become not just a better police officer than Alonso by the end of the film but a better human being.

While Alonso wasn’t always a corrupt cop, ‘Training Day’ makes you wonder what could have happened to this man to turn him into what he was originally fighting against. Overall, this movie is a morality tale of two men who have different intentions when it comes to being a police officer, which puts them at odds with each other. Their impression of the other man continually changes as they learn more about who exactly is the ‘sheep’ and who is the ‘wolf’ as their training day plays out.

‘Traffic’ – Film Review and Analysis

‘Traffic’ (2000) is one of those films that was way ahead of its’ time when it was first released over a decade and a half ago. It is a film that makes you think deeply hours or even days after you first watch it. ‘Traffic’ should be viewed more than once to really understand all of the nuances and subtleties embedded in its’ individual stories underneath its’ overarching central themes.

When compared to most other movies of the crime drama genre, ‘Traffic’ gained a lot of particular praise for the way its’ director and screenwriter were able to successfully weave multiple plotlines, characters, and settings together that slightly overlap with each other but are seamless enough as to not overburden the viewer with unrealistic connections.

‘Traffic’ is a movie that respects the intelligence of its’ audience and isn’t afraid to tackle the controversial topic of the ‘War on Drugs.’ It’s quite surprising when you think about how this movie was released back in 2000, but is still just as relevant and timely of an issue today as it was back when it was first released to the public. When ‘Traffic’ came out, it gained universal recognition and critical acclaim, and after viewing it for the first time, it’s easy to see why it was so noteworthy.

Steven Soderbergh directed ‘Traffic’, and Stephen Gaghan wrote its screenplay. Mr. Gaghan, who was responsible for another multi-layered film with multiple plotlines in ‘Syriana’ (2005), which also starred an ensemble cast of actors dealing with a different timely issue of oil and geopolitics in the Middle East. Unbeknownst to most people, ‘Traffic’ won numerous awards including for Oscar awards for Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. This ensemble cast of actors for ‘Traffic’ is very impressive and includes star names such as Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Dennis Quaid, and Catherine Zeta Jones.

At its’ core, ‘Traffic’ focuses on the illegal drug trade going on in both the United States and Mexico. One of the brilliant things about this film is the fact that each character in the movie represents a different perspective on the drug war whether they are a user, enforcer, trafficker, lawyer, or politician. It’s unlikely that a film like ‘Traffic’ would be made today but it’s distinctive editing, multi-use of colors depending on which of the three stories are being highlighted, and the political relevance of its’ themes could keep a lot of viewers away these days.

Its’ importance and timeliness today can’t be overstated as this film doesn’t try to impose a point of view on the audience. ‘Traffic’ would rather cause the individual viewer to ask questions, seek out more knowledge about the issue, and weigh the different opinions expressed by the characters throughout the movie. The three-color grades that are used for the three different stories are probably one of the most interesting things that I’ve ever seen when it comes to film editing. Each story in ‘Traffic’ could be its’ own movie in its’ own right, and the film is lengthier than most in terms of run time at two hours and twenty minutes total.

To briefly highlight the substance of the three stories without spoiling the whole movie, let’s go over each one to introduce the arch of the overall plot to prospective viewers out there. The first story is mainly set in Mexico City and other parts of the country, which highlights the efforts of two Mexican police officers that are trying to do their job as enforcers of the law under difficult circumstances. While trying to bring down local cartels in the easiest way possible, the two officers, one of them, Javier Rodriquez (played by Benicio del Toro) come up against corruption, and crime within their own ranks, which makes their ability as officers to keep their areas safe difficult with money and influence blurring the line between the good guys and bad guys.

Officer Rodriguez (del Toro) wants to do his best to keep his job, but to also hold his fellow policemen and elements of the Mexican army accountable for their actions without compromising his safety. He knows that ending the drug war is futile but he wants to keep his immediate community safe and that of its’ inhabitants. This is especially true if it means that the local kids in his neighborhood can play baseball at night with new stadium lights and not be at risk of joining gangs instead in their free time.

The second storyline in ‘Traffic’ takes place between the nexus of small town Ohio and the capital city of Washington, DC in the United States. A conservative judge, Robert Wakefield (played by Michael Douglas), is appointed to head the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, and he becomes an unofficial ‘drug czar.’ Mr. Wakefield doesn’t seem to be enthused with the new position he’s been given due to the long hours, lack of support, and political skepticism from the official circles within Washington. He tries to make the most of fighting the ‘war on drugs’ even if he knows deep down that it is truly unwinnable. Because he is away from his family for long periods of time, he is unaware that his daughter in high school has developed a drug problem over the past six months and is struggling with a heroin addiction now.

On top of dealing with being a father and the leader of a national drug control policy effort, he struggles to be a open and forthcoming husband to his wife. Compared to other characters in the film, Wakefield changes the most in his views on the ‘war on drugs’ as the audience can see that his mindset changes when this issue becomes personal and not just professional. With his daughter’s future and life at stake, the ‘war on drugs’ becomes less of an abstract war and more of a battle to save his family from falling apart.

The third and last storyline takes place mostly in southern California in the San Diego area where two DEA agents are conducting an underground investigation. The investigation, led by Agents Ray Castro and Montel Gordon (played by Don Cheadle), eventually leads to the successful capture and arrest of a top drug dealer, Eduardo Ruiz, who pretends to be a fisherman as his cover.

This arrest is instrumental in helping along the trial of suspected drug lord, Carl Ayala, who is thought to be the leading distributor of illegal drugs for one of the biggest cartels in the world. Ruiz is important to be kept alive and in good shape so that he can testify to the illegal activities of Ayala and his empire, but that is harder for the DEA than they ever imagined. With Ayala’s possible imprisonment and/or cooperation, the DEA agents are hoping to bring down this cartel, once and for all.

However, since Ayala and his wife, Helen (played by Catherine Zeta Jones), have a lot of wealth and influence still, they are able to put a damper on the DEA’s plans with the help of the shady family lawyer, Arnie Metzger (played by Dennis Quaid). DEA Agent Gordon and his partner are unable throughout the film to cope with the long tentacles of the drug cartels, and the amount of money and hit men the Ayala’s are able to use to threaten the safety of the DEA’s witness and the potential success of the prosecution against Ayala. You could imagine that this particular story in the film does not come with a happy ending.

Any of the three unique yet intertwined storylines of ‘Traffic’ could be ripped from newspaper headlines from over the past forty years. Ever since the beginning of the ‘war on drugs’ back in the 1970’s, there has been endless debate about whether there have been any successes or mainly just the upholding of the status quo. ‘Traffic’ doesn’t try to impose a simple yes or no answer to the ‘war on drugs’ question.

Rather, this film intelligently asks its’ audience to weigh the outcomes of these different stories that are affected by the drug trade, and the viewer is supposed to make that decision for themselves. When it comes to special movies like ‘Traffic’, there are no simple black and white solutions. There are many shades of grey in all of these human stories, and it takes deep insight, critical thinking, and analysis in order for slow changes of the status quo to actually occur.

While this is a fictional movie, it is made clear by the film itself that a lot of these characters are based off of actual people who make up all sides of the ‘war on drugs.’ Overall, the one key thing that the ending of this film makes clear to the audience is that there are no winners in the drug war, only losers, and it takes an impactful movie like ‘Traffic’ to make that fact absolutely clear.

‘Lord of War’ – Film Review and Analysis

Arguably one of the best movies of the 2000’s and Nicholas Cage’s best performance as a lead actor, The film ‘Lord of War’, released in 2005, is a realistic and unfiltered take in the role of illegal arms dealers, who facilitate the sale and transfer of arms trafficking throughout the international arms industry, which continues to be one of the world’s most profitable endeavors. ‘Lord of War’, while nonfictional in its’ story is actually based off of the lives and exploits of different real-life arms smugglers. ‘Lord of War’ is directed by Andrew Niccol, and stars a cast of Nicholas Cage, Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke, and Bridget Moynahan.

Nicholas Cage plays Yuri Orlov, the son of Ukrainian refugees from the Soviet Union, where he and his brother, Vitaly, help their parents out in their Ukrainian restaurant as cooks and helpers. While Vitaly is somewhat satisfied with this simple life of cooking borscht and washing dishes, Yuri wants to achieve the ‘American Dream’ and get out of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where he grew up after leaving Ukraine. He struggles to grasp at any real business opportunity in order to get out of the shadow of his ordinary life in Brooklyn.

However, one day when he is dining at a restaurant in Brighton Beach, the business idea he needs comes to life for Yuri in the form of a Russian mobster killing two would-be assassins and fending off their attack with AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles. Yuri believes that there is a lot of money to made in international arms sales and decides to go into business despite the protests of his brother, Vitaly, and the fact that his parents don’t know what he’s up to.

One scene in particular that stands out in Yuri’s beginning as an illegal arms dealer is when he tells his brother that since there are so many McDonald’s and gun stores in America already, he needs his business to be international in its’ focus. At first, Yuri feels that dealing arms is comparable to serving food at a restaurant. He justifies his nefarious business by narrating to the audience that its’ providing for a part of human nature in his opinion, the instinct to kill and harm others, as documented by the “earliest human skeletons who had spears in their heads and ribcages.”

While Vitaly, Yuri’s brother has moral reservations about what Yuri is doing, he decides to join him later on as they crisscross the globe during the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s dealing with corrupt governments, genocidal dictators, and other more ruthless arms dealers as their competition. As Yuri becomes more popular and wealthy with the illegal arms business, he runs up against a by-the-book, incorruptible, and idealistic Interpol agent, Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), who tries unsuccessfully to track Yuri’s business dealings down by air and by sea.

Despite the fact that his brother, Vitaly, becomes a drug addict, and is an unreliable business partner, Yuri continues to run his illegal arms business as a one-man show. While a fictional story, ‘Lord of War’ is based off of real life conflicts and real life people who were involved in the illegal arms trade. These conflicts include the 1982 Lebanon War, the Soviet Union’s War in Afghanistan against the Mujahedeen, the civil war in Liberia during the 1990’s, etc. The movie does not gloss over the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the impact that the end of this cold war conflict had on the rest of the world in terms of arms sales. Yuri is able to become a very wealthy and powerful arms dealer in the film due to his family connections in Ukraine and the sheer weaponry, and arsenal that the Soviet military left unused.

Like his arms business, which is run under false pretenses, he does the same with his love life as he falls for a fashion model and childhood crush, Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan), who he sets himself up with under the guise of a false photo shoot. Despite the fact that his parents don’t know about his illegal dealings, he lies to his new wife regularly, and his brother ends up in a drug rehabilitation center, Yuri does not give up on the arms business because he likes it, is good at it and is unable to go straight in legal business endeavors. Howver, in the wake of all of his ‘success’, innocent men, women, and children get killed by the guns, bombs, ammunition, tanks, planes, etc. that he sells and profits off of. As the film progresses, the director makes clear that Yuri has sold his soul in this dirty trade and it may cost him his life or the lives of others close to him if he doesn’t stop.

In a way, the audience who watches ‘Lord of War’ could be most closely aligned with the perspective of the Interpol agent, Jack Valentine. He knows that Yuri is a bad person and he wants to bring him down, but will it make any difference to bring one sole arms dealer down when billions of dollars are exchanged around the world each year through both legal and illegal arms sales. Like Jack, the audience may question the nobility of bringing down one arms sales dealer like Yuri when there are dozens of them out there, and Presidents / Prime Ministers of the major countries are the biggest arms dealers of them all.

Yuri never takes full responsibility for his business dealings during the film even if the sale of his arms causes bloodshed and death. He remarks bluntly to his brother, Vitaly during one scene: We don’t talk about it. How many car salesmen talk about their work? How many cigarette salesmen talk about their work? Both their products kill more people every year than mine, at least mine comes with a safety switch. Those guys can leave their work at the office, so can I.”

In Yuri’s opinion, he may be evil, but he’s ‘necessary evil’ because there are other people or governments out there like him involved in the business, but sometimes they ‘can’t have their fingerprints on the gun.’ Despite the pressures placed on him by family, friends, and the law, Yuri is committed to doing what he does best without having the moral imperative to stop. As I don’t want to reveal the ending, the first time you see it, you may be shocked but this film doesn’t deal in black and white, and that’s what I love about it.

There are numerous shades of grey that go along with the black and white, and the ending of ‘Lord of War’ falls within those shades of gray. ‘Lord of War’ doesn’t have your typical Hollywood ending, and that’s partly what it makes it such an alluring film. On top of the exquisite directing, acting by Nicholas Cage, Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke, etc. and the deep political and philosophical themes behind this film, I highly recommend it.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the film that is very poignant and is still true twelve years after ‘Lord of War’ was released in movie theaters. “While private gunrunners continue to thrive, the world’s biggest arms suppliers are the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France, and China…they are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.”

‘Field of Dreams’ – Film Review and Analysis

terencemann
“Oh…People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Field of Dreams is a quintessential classic American film and a movie that gets better with repeated viewings. Field of Dreams is almost thirty years old but has aged like a fine wine since it was released in 1989. This film is a unique mixture of the fantasy, sports, and drama genres and shows how crucial the game of baseball is to American culture. While some people who watch Field of Dreams think that this film is an original story, it is actually based off a novel by W.P. Kinsella titled, ‘Shoeless Joe’, which was critically acclaimed as well.

Part of the reason why Field of Dreams was so successful is because of the great cast of actors and actresses that helped make the film so popular. This was one of Kevin Costner’s most famous roles and also stars Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, and the late and legendary Burt Lancaster who starred in his final role in this movie. Another fact that most fans of this film wouldn’t know about is that Field of Dreams was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

Of all the places in the world to hear a voice whisper the phrase, “If you build it, he will come…” a large cornfield in the middle of Iowa wouldn’t be your first guess most likely. However, that is exactly the premise behind Field of Dreams. A local farmer, Ray Kinsella, who has a troubled relationship with his father, John Kinsella, a former baseball player who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps feels guilt at what a strained relationship he had with his father before he passed away.

Ray then sees a vision of his cornfield being turned into a baseball field and decides to go along with this vision by turning his farm into a real baseball field. Ray is an adamant defender of ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson who believes he was actually innocent and didn’t do anything wrong despite the fact that he was banned from baseball due to the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. Ray’s father, John, was also a big defender of ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson and that’s the one major thing that Ray and his father could agree upon. His daughter, Karin, and his wife, Annie, are skeptical of Ray’s plan to build a baseball field at first but end up trusting his judgment after some convincing.

After Ray completes the building of his baseball field in Iowa, many months go by and the bills for maintaining the field start to pile up causing Ray and his family to feel some serious financial stress. When all hope seems to be lost regarding his vision, Karin spots a baseball player moving through the baseball field one night and Ray recognizes the player as being no one other than ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson (played brilliantly by Ray Liotta). John, Ray’s father was a big fan of ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson and would be thrilled to know that Ray’s vision came true and Mr. Jackson was here out on his farm in Iowa absolutely thrilled to being playing baseball again. Shoeless Joe ends up bringing some of his teammates from the Black Sox who were also banned from baseball due to the 1919 scandal and they start practicing together on Ray’s field.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Ray’s family can see the baseball players on the field. Ray’s brother-in-law, Mark, warns Ray about how much of a financial drain the baseball field is on his farm and Ray may have to foreclose on the property unless he is able to generate some money from it. Mark thinks Ray has gone crazy because he keeps referencing the baseball players on the field who Mark is unable to see. Luckily, Ray’s wife, Annie, and Ray’s daughter Karin can see the baseball players and believe Ray to be doing the right thing leaving Mark quite flustered and angry.

Ray ends up hearing another voice whisper through the field telling Ray to ‘ease his pain.’ After seeing how the local town wants to ban the books of one of his favorite authors from the 1960’s, Terence Mann, Ray ends up doing some more research about his favorite author and discovers that one of Mann’s dreams was to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers professionally. One of the reasons why Ray ended up quitting baseball even though his father wanted him to play professionally was because he read one of Terence Mann’s books when he was a teenager and never played catch with his father, John, again.

Ray and Annie both have a dream about Mr. Mann one night in which Ray is attending a baseball game at Fenway Park together with Terence. With Annie’s support, Ray goes all of the way to Boston to seek out Mr. Mann even though he has become a curmudgeon recluse over the past few decades and mainly keeps to himself. With a lot of convincing, Ray takes Terence to a baseball game at Fenway where they both end up hearing another voice telling the two of them to ‘go the distance.’ They also see the statistics of a baseball played of Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham who starred in only one game for the New York Giants but never had an actual at-bat. Ray and Mr. Mann do more research about Graham and end up driving together on their way to Minnesota to go see him.

When Ray and Mr. Mann travel all the way to Minnesota, they realize that Moonlight Graham became a doctor and had passed away over fifteen years ago in 1972. When Ray goes for a walk one evening, he realizes that he has transported himself to that time before Moonlight ‘Archie’ Graham had died and encounters him on the street where they have a conversation about his short-lived baseball career. The older Moonlight Graham is content to be a doctor but wishes for that one chance to face a major league pitcher.

After Ray and Terence leave Minnesota, they encounter a young hitchhiker on the road who introduces himself as Archie Graham. The two of them are amused by this crazy coincidence and take him with them to Iowa. During the ride, Ray confides in Terence Mann that his father was disappointed in Ray for throwing away his baseball career and for denouncing his father’s hero, ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson as a criminal. One of Mr. Mann’s books led to Ray putting down the baseball bat as well. Ray really wishes to make up with his father and make things right again if he had a dream to spare.

The amazing thing is that this young Archie Graham character gets to play on Ray’s baseball field in Iowa and is able to get a triple miraculously after winking at the opposing pitcher as he always wanted to do even as an old man. Facing financial pressure from Mark and his associates, Ray thinks about selling the field to save his farm but Terence Mann encourages Ray to re-consider.

Considered to be one of the greatest monologues in modern film, James Earl Jones gives an amazing speech regarding the central role that baseball has played as America’s pastime and how it has formed our culture, and made the nation stronger during times of peril and tragedy. “People will come, Ray, people will most definitely come…” Terence Mann’s beautiful speech to Ray convinces him to keep the baseball field and not sell it off because he knows that baseball fans will come to Iowa to see their childhood heroes play America’s beloved game.

Mark, acting increasingly incensed, causes Ray’s daughter, Karin to fall from the bleaches, but Archie Graham who has a sense of both his past and future to come, steps off this magic baseball field to save Karin from choking. Mark then becomes a believer and sees all of these historical baseball players and encourages Ray not to sell the baseball field. He most likely believes that the field could be a major cash crop within itself and that people will most definitely come to see it. The older Moonlight Graham thanks Ray for the chance to make his dream to come true and that he doesn’t regret how he became a doctor too.

Terence is invited to leave with the baseball players one day to go through the cornfields to a destination that is unknown. Ray is going to miss Terence but trusts his judgment that it could ‘make one hell of a story one day’ about ‘Shoeless Joe Jackson coming to Iowa.’ Ray has his own family and can’t go with Terence who may be entering a realm or destination beyond our comprehension as the audience. Still though, he’s confident about his next destination and isn’t worried about not coming back.

One day, A younger version of Ray’s father shows up on the baseball field and Shoeless Joe Jackson references that the voice in Ray’s head was not Joe’s but rather Ray himself wanting to have a better relationship with his father and to ‘ease his pain.’ In the climatic scenes that can make even the most stone-hearted person cry, John is reunited with his son, Ray, on the baseball field, and he even gets introduced to Ray’s wife and his granddaughter, Karin, who he never knew in life.

John Kinsella remarks to Ray how “it’s so beautiful here, it’s like a dream come true.” The young John, asks Ray if this is heaven. Ray replies simply that, “It’s Iowa.” Even though John believes it still could be heaven, Ray asks if there is a heaven having never experienced it. John replies, “Oh yeah…it’s the place where dreams come true.” An uplifting emotional moment takes place in this scene as Ray Kinsella looks around at his beautiful farm, his wife and daughter happy and smiling, and to be reunited with his estranged father again as being a sign that maybe they, in fact, are all in heaven together.

Ray is so overcome with emotions at being with John again that before John leaves to go through the cornfields as the sun sets, he strikes up the courage to ask his dad to have a catch with him as they did in the old days. They start to throw to each other and Ray is struggling to believe that this is actually happening until John throws him the baseball, which Ray catches in his glove, and he can actually feel the soft baseball in his mitt knowing that his dream finally came true.

This last scene of ‘Field of Dreams’ is an iconic one and shows the power and love of the relationship of a father and son. Despite their differences, they still want to share the tradition of having a catch together after all of those years had passed between them. As the final scene fades out, you can see thousands of red lights emanating from the cars who are lining up to visit the ‘Field of Dreams’ and see their old childhood heroes play the game of baseball. People most definitely will come if you build it.

A truly remarkable film, ‘Field of Dreams’ is hard to get through without tearing up and having some tissues near you. More so than just Ray and John’s relationship, many characters have their dreams realized because of this baseball field. Archie ‘Moonlight’ Graham gets to swing the bat for the first time, ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson gets to play baseball again as apart of his shamed Black Sox team, and Terence Mann gets to see what’s on the other side of those Iowa cornfields. The powerful musical score by the dearly departed James Horner stirs your emotions with every scene, and you can feel the weight of Ray and John’s relationship with each sound of the orchestra. James Earl Jones steals the show by giving one of the best monologues about baseball and its’ importance within the history of America.

If you love the game of baseball and you enjoy a story about achieving your dreams when they seem out of reach, then you should watch ‘Field of Dreams.’ They really don’t make too many Hollywood films like Field of Dreams anymore and even though it was released in 1989, it’s still an American classic, which has stood the test of time. If you ever go to Iowa, that special baseball field is still there to visit. If you’re a father or a son, you’ll also really connect with this film and it will touch you in your heart and in your soul.

‘Collateral’ – Film Review and Analysis

It’s not often the case that a Hollywood film can go beyond its’ genre to relay a deeper message about the human condition and why people are the way they are. ‘Collateral’ (2004) is one of those movies that is able to achieve just that by making the audience member such as myself care about the characters as well as appreciate the deeper meanings beyond the dialogue and the setting.

While there are numerous crime thriller films out there, ‘Collateral’ is able to go above and beyond the clichés and be original in its’ own right. Part of this is due to the fact that Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx give outstanding performances for their respective characters along with the rest of the credit that should be given to director Michael Mann who relishes being a director for crime noir dramas that are set in Los Angeles. While ‘Collateral’ was not an Oscar award winning film unfortunately, its’ characters, the setting, the action sequences, the directing, and the overall message that the plot sends to the audience make it a unique and reputable movie that deserves a viewing or two.

Without going into too much detail, the plot of ‘Collateral’ stars two men who come from very different circumstances and live very different lives. However, the Cosmos align to have them meet for the first time at night in Los Angeles. “Vincent” played by Tom Cruise, has just arrived in Los Angeles from the airport and is looking for someone to take him around the city. What better way to see L.A. than to do so by taxi so Vincent goes to the nearest taxi stand to seek one out for a ride. That’s where the plot of the film begins as Max, played by Jamie Foxx, accepts Vincent as a new passenger after ignoring his presence initially. Vincent, dressed in a gray suit with gray hair could be just like any other businessman in Los Angeles but he’s not what he appears to be. Max starts to realize this as the night goes on but not until after he drops off Vincent at his first but not his last destination.

Vincent is more than just the new guy in town here for business. He’s a contract killer and a hitman who is in Los Angeles for one night only in order to carry out a series of hits. After bearing witness to the first of Vincent’s murders, Max is forced into being Vincent’s chauffeur for the rest of the night as he has four more contract hits to carry out for his boss, “Felix”, played brilliant by actor Javier Bardem. Vincent’s goal for the night is to carry out the rest of the contract hits successfully and then get a flight out of Los Angeles as the sun rises after his boss pays him handsomely for his ‘work’. Max’s goal for the rest of the night is to get out of this situation alive without getting killed by Vincent or being seen by the police as an accomplice of Vincent who is dragging him along as he commit these vicious murders in cold blood.

Mixed up in all of this madness is “Annie”, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, who is a prosecutor in the U.S. Justice Department who works out of their office in Los Angeles. She ends up being the first passenger of the evening in Max’s cab before the fates intertwine and Vincent comes along to change Max’s life forever. The only good part of Max’s night is when he meets Annie and they hit it off enough to the point where he is able to get her phone number but it is uncertain whether or not he will have the confidence to call her and make plans.

Unfortunately, Vincent, the contract killer, has Annie in his sights as one of his five targets setting off a series of events that put Max and Vincent on a tense collision course. On top of all of this, you have members of both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department noticing what Vincent and Max have been up to which causes more violence and bloodshed to occur. “LAPD Detective Ray Fanning and FBI Investigator Frank Pedrosa” (played by Mark Ruffalo, and played by Bruce McGill) are the ones leading the investigation into these random but coordinated killings popping up all over Los Angeles in the dead of night orchestrated by Vincent with Max as his unwilling accomplice.

There’s no character in this film that isn’t in danger or who may come into harms way and that is partly what makes the title of the film fitting as called ‘Collateral’ because everybody in this movie feels the damage caused by Vincent in some way. Max has feelings for Annie so he wants to do the most he can to protect her before she become apart of the ‘collateral’ damage that is being inflicted by Vincent.

Michael Mann, the director of ‘Heat’ (1995) previously and of this film ‘Collateral’, does an excellent job of making the setting of Los Angeles feel like its’ own character that sets the tone for the movie as well as provide an analogy for what the characters of Max and Vincent are like. Los Angeles is a sprawling urban city of more than four million people and has highways, tunnels, and bridges that loop and wind through the various neighborhoods that can only be connected by car.

For Max, Los Angeles is the only home he’s ever known but for Vincent, it’s a sprawling, disconnected mess of alienated people who don’t know or care about each other even if the collective Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of their city is more than most countries on the planet. Vincent regales Max about a story of someone who dies on the Los Angeles Metro one day and nobody else on the transit system notices for many hours, which proves his supposed point about the city’s culture of alienation. Similar to L.A., Max and Vincent are disconnected from other people in their own ways. Max is shy and reticent with new people he meets and doesn’t go after what he wants while Vincent is a sociopathic killer who doesn’t have much regard for people in general.

There’s one excellent scene in this film where Vincent and Max chide and prod each other as to why they are who they are. Vincent wants Max to call Annie, the girl whose number he got earlier in the evening, because “Life is short. One day it’s gone…” Max doesn’t reply regardless of what Vincent’s opinion is of his dating life. Later on in the scene, they both see a lone grey wolf walking through the streets of Los Angeles presumably searching for food or for some sort of purpose. In so many ways, this is symbolic of who Vincent and Max both are.

Vincent knows his purpose is to kill people because it’s what he ‘does for a living’ but this job alienates him from his humanity and causes him to be a lone wolf. Max is unsure of his purpose in life and wants desperately to be more than a simple taxi driver. He has dreams to start his own limo company one day but never takes the first step to making that dream come true and actually become a reality.

Even though they are two different men from very different circumstances, they are able to see what they should become if they weren’t so set in their ways. Max is a compassionate person who cares for others but is stuck without a purpose and isn’t able to take control of his life. Vincent is a sociopath who can’t relate to other human beings but knows what his one true purpose in life is and this allows him to feel some control over his existence, which he deems as being ‘meaningless’ in the long run.

Even with the fact that they detest each other, they begin to understand the flaws in their own character and how they could be different if they gave themselves a chance. Max could be more spontaneous and avoid having a repetitive life if he chose to be something more than a taxi driver. There’s no changing that Vincent is a cold-blooded killer but you start to see the circumstances that created his monstrous self. He never knew his mother, and his father was an alcoholic who beat him mercilessly and let young Vincent to grow up in foster homes. Max, nor the audience, can show much sympathy for Vincent’s plight but you start to realize that he is not just a simple-minded killing machine.

While life may be meaningless for Vincent, he still thinks that Max should live it to the fullest and ‘carpe diem’ before it’s too late for him. Max gets Vincent to ask himself why he is a sociopathic killer and gets him to reveal a little about his troubled family as well as to why he is a nihilist. In response, Vincent gets Max to ask why he never did anything to make the Limo Company to become a reality. He implores him to think deeply about making his dream come true because someday it may never come to pass if you don’t do anything to make it happen in the first place.

‘Collateral’ is a great crime thriller that is extremely well written, has great acting, and is directed and choreographed superbly by Michael Mann and his team. Beyond that, ‘Collateral’ is a film that makes you question certain things about life and the limits that we put on ourselves. The nihilism and disconnectedness of both Los Angeles and the main characters of Max and Vincent is both surreal and powerful. This is not your typical Hollywood drama and that’s a good thing. This movie is not a blockbuster and feels more like an independent film that came in way under budget.

‘Collateral’ is a gripping take on two men who are forced together by fate to go through a night together that will change them forever. I highly recommend this movie based on the excellent writing, acting, directing, and the strong storyline that keeps the viewer interested. Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise do an excellent job and have great chemistry together, which is what makes ‘Collateral’ really shine, and have longevity as a unique film over a decade later. If you get the chance sometime, you should really see this movie.

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ – Film Review and Analysis

Few other modern films capture the power of the human spirit more than The Shawshank Redemption. Directed by Frank Darabont, released originally in 1994, and starring Morgan Freeman as Ellis ‘Boyd’ Redding, Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne; this film was not originally successful in movie theaters when it was released to the general public.

However, since then, The Shawshank Redemption has become a cult classic which has skyrocketed in popularity even after its’ release twenty years later. It is often considered by film critics to be one of the best Hollywood movies of the 20th century. Personally, I have watched this film multiple times and consider it to be my all-time favorite movie. If I’m channel surfing late at night and I see that The Shawshank Redemption is on AMC, HBO, or another movie network, I’ll often stop what I’m doing to watch the film already in progress. It’s that good of a movie and is timeless in its’ themes and its’ overall message.

More so than just the brilliant acting by Mr. Freeman and Mr. Robbins, along with the great directing by Frank Darabont, the cinematography is quite flawless and the film has a consistent flow to it. It also has an engaging plot and setting that suits the overall themes quite well. The Shawshank Redemption is a very human story with a lot of powerful, and emotional scenes that have captivated millions of viewers. It’s rare to come across a film today that can tug at your heartstrings and make you really feel deep emotions about a fictional story and characters. The Shawshank Redemption is able to pass that test and remind you of what it means to be human. The film highlights the triumphs, the tragedies, and the deeper meaning that we seek within our own lives.

Andy Dufresne is a young, smart, and ambitious banker in Portland, Maine who is accused and later convicted of murdering his wife and her extramarital lover. At first, he appears to the audience as a cold, detached, and remorseless person who very well could have committed that awful crime. The other main character, Ellis ‘Boyd’ Redding, a long-time prisoner at Shawshank state prison is unimpressed by Andy’s appearance at first sight and remarks how “a stiff breeze would blow him over.” As the saying goes though, “Don’t judge a book by its’ cover.”

Throughout the film, we learn through the eyes of Red more about Andy and what he’s like in terms of his true personality and character. We don’t know whether he killed his wife or not because he pronounces his innocence to Red and the other prisoners. Red is resigned to his life in prison and tries to make the best of it by being ‘the guy who can get you things.’ His friendship with Andy blossoms due to a simple, haphazard moment when Andy asks Red for a rock hammer to carve chess pieces. It’s an unusual request but it gets the two men to talk to each other and to break down the stereotypes that Red has of Andy, and Andy has of Red.

Andy must deal as best as he can with his new life as a prisoner whom may in fact be innocent of the crime that he was convicted of. As Red states knowingly in the film, “Prison is no fairy tale world.” Andy has to cope with the vindictive warden of Shawshank prison, played by Bob Gunton as well as the malicious head prison guard, Captain Byron Hadley, who is played by Clancy Brown. He also must fend off some sadistic fellow prisoners who wish him physical harm and sexual violence. It is clear to the viewer that Andy, despite the injustices he has encountered in Shawshank and outside of Shawshank prison, maintains the ‘hope’ that he’ll survive his ordeal and eventually win his freedom. Despite his friend, Red, warning him about the dangers of seeking hope in a place where none can be found, Andy reminds Red that “Hope is a good thing, maybe even the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

The most memorable scenes of this film still stick out to me after all of these years. My favorite is the famous ‘Suds on the Roof’ scene when Andy risks his life to give his fellow prisoners a one-time allowance of beers while they tar the roof of a factory by giving the prison guard, Hadley, some financial advice on how to deal with the IRS. Andy knew how much it would means to his fellow prisoners if they could enjoy a beer or two while doing hard work in the hot Maine summer sun. In that scene, he also showed a lot of bravery by confronting Hadley about if “he trusts his wife with money or not.”

Another notable scene that stands out to me is how Andy continuously asks the state of Maine for extra money to give to the Shawshank prison in order to build a memorial library in honor of another prisoner, Brooks Hatlen, who committed suicide regrettably after finishing up his sentence. Andy keeps writing letters for months on end but finally receives the funds he needs after a few years to build the memorial library. Because of this library, many prisoners like young Tommy Williams, who Andy takes a liking to, end up reading books and even receiving their High School GEDs (General Equivalency Degree).

Lastly, there is an extremely beautiful scene where Andy is collecting records for the prison library and ends up putting an Italian opera record over the loudspeakers for all of the prisoners to hear. He locks himself in the room so the guards and the warden can’t get to him. For a few minutes, the opera music flows openly through the walls and the bars of the prison. As Red puts it succinctly in the movie, “For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free…”

After nineteen years in prison and many tumultuous events, Andy knows that his destiny no longer is meant just for the walls and bars of Shawshank prison. He dreams of a coastal city in Mexico known as Zihuatanejo, where he can run a hotel and begin his life anew. Andy implores Red to join him one day and help him out with his business since he’s a man who “knows how to get things.” While Andy remains hopeful and optimistic even when his future seems grim, Red is skeptical and dismissive of Andy’s “pipe dream.”

Despite the long odds, Andy doesn’t let the negativity get him down and puts effort toward realizing his dream of getting out of Shawshank and making his way to Mexico. This courage and perseverance shown by Andy has a lasting effect on Red by the end of the movie as they have become close friends who have known each other for almost twenty years. Red realizes the innate truth behind Andy’s belief in everlasting hope and to “get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’”

Some people who have not taken the time to watch The Shawshank Redemption regard it naively as just another prison movie. However, this summarization is far from the truth. Similar to The Green Mile, it’s a story about finding hope in the least hopeful of places and never giving up on life when it seems rather cruel or unjust. It also has a constant theme about the power of male friendship and how Andy and Red have bonded together over the years despite their initial differences.

The Shawshank Redemption was never a summer blockbuster or a critically acclaimed behemoth of a film but it is widely regarded now as one of the best American films of all-time. Many people have cited this movie as having changed their lives for the better when they were going through difficult times in their personal or professional lives. Above all else, The Shawshank Redemption is a story about one man’s ability to remain hopeful during the most difficult and harsh circumstances. As Red states at the end of the film, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’ That’s goddamn right.”