Sundance Part Three
Posted on Saturday January 17, 2009, 17:07 by Damon Wise
In the last six years I've only ever attended one public screening on opening weekend here, so I felt pretty good about starting with two this year on the Friday. The first was a pretty big deal on paper: the latest by Antoine Fuqua, Brooklyn's Finest is an ensemble crime drama starring Don Cheadle, Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke as three men employed in a subdivision of the NYPD. With a cast like that, you might, as I did, think, Wow, especially when the opening scene sees Hawke offing a big-mouthed gangster with a gun to the face at point-blank range. But after that, Fuqua's film meanders so much, I began to wonder what it was actually about, and whether it would reach outside audiences in the same form. Paradoxically, there's both too much and not enough, and the actors, especially, seem to try too hard in roles that don't quite fit.
Cheadle plays Tango, an undercover cop who is investigating an inner-city drugs ring, but gets too close to the players and finds his loyalties torn when his superiors decide to play dirty, asking him to entrap his closest friend in that world, a recently released, but clean, convict (Wesley Snipes). Hawke is Sal, a corrupt cop and struggling father who takes desperate measures to supplement his income so he can keep his young family in decent housing. And the least convincing of all is Gere as a downbeat cop who's about to retire, playing Russian roulette every day in his unfurnished apartment. The three stories interweave, Crash-style, with a fairly obvious moral skew that makes it reminiscent of Hawke's recent thriller Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, and when the characters mingle, the film gets a bit of life to it. But other than that, I just couldn't help thinking about The Wire, and how tired I am of films/series where it's considered a badge of honour to have lead characters talking gibberish for minutes on end. Street slang I can accept, but don't cops ever say normal things? The chief culprit in this is Ellen Barkin, who has an awful role as a bitchy police bigwig, yelling jargon and threatening to bust asses and whatnot (I didn't make notes, sorry!). But on the plus side, Wesley Snipes is simply awesome. Like many people, I associated Snipes too readily with tax evasion and generally being a bit of an arse on film sets; this performance reminded me how he got there.
Rudo Y Cursi followed almost immediately after. Presented by director Carlos Cuaron, star Gael Garcia Bernal and producers Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo Del Toro, it's a great, earthy Mexican comedy that reunites the creative team behind Y Tu Mama Tambien. Though it has some similarly acerbic social elements, it's much more broad, and I think it could play very well in the UK, as long as some tweaks are made to the subtitles – and the title itself is made a bit clearer. Bernal and Diego Luna play half-brothers Tatto and Beto, two poor Mexicans who work tough, underpaid shifts on a banana ranch. Tatto dreams of being a musician, Beto of bein a professional goalkeeper, but it is Tatto who is unexpectedly discovered and turned into a football pro by a sleazy travelling talent scout. The boys fall out and Tatto moves to the capital, but Tatto looks out for his brother and soon both are big soccer stars in two of the city's biggest teams. This part of the movie isn't quite so easy to believe, since Luna and Bernal look as much like pro footballers as my arse (which is not a lot), but Cuaron's film has a satirical edge that excuses this (it was intended to be a mockumentary, the director revealed afterwards).
Personally, I think this film could be a big hit with the Y Tu Mama crowd in the UK, since it has much of that lovely film's personality plus a lot to say about the effects of football stardom on the poor: Tatto wastes his money on a woman and a hilariously misguided singing career, while Beto gambles his fortune in a subplot that threatens to turn dark – REALLY dark – then pulls back at the last moment. The title refers to their two footballing nicknames, and a tabloid rivalry that results in a tense deciding match, and, really, that's what this funny, warm and very, very likeable film is about, not the beautiful game itself, which is shown rarely and sparingly. Luna couldn't attend the screening, which was a shame because he steals the movie. Bernal is great too, but then we know he can do goofy and gormless. Luna, though, is a revelation with his macho 'tache and crappy suits. I think I already want to see it again...