Saturday, March 30, 2013

John Grisham's "Witness"

Before I totally forget... because I have seen some actual movies here, so I better take a little time to blog about them.  When I first started developing my cinematographer fetish, I began with Barry Sonnenfeld and Roger Deakins, of course, being the Coen-head that I am.  So, does not The Client cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts belong in that same pantheon?  Probably not, but he's had a damn interesting career, doing everything from working in the Merchant-Ivory mines on such clunkers as A Room with a View and The Remains of the Day, to modern comic-book and video-game-based fare such as Underworld 1 and Doom.  Doom was directed by Falling Down cinematographer Andrezj Bartkowiak, and Falling Down was directed by The Client director Joel Schumacher, so Schumacher's probably to blame for Pierce-Roberts' slide into adolescent fare.  Schumacher's best work is probably Falling Down and the gritty 8MM, and if you think 8MM is gritty, but in a big-budget-studio way, I'd hate to see the real thing.
Of course, Schumacher's usually at his best with stuff in the middle of the spectrum like The Client.  Taking a cue from the Spielberg school, author extraordinaire and Stephen King of the legal world John Grisham knew he had to have a kid as a protagonist.  You know, to draw in the kids.  And Schumacher picked a good one in Brad Renfro, but he still kinda sounds a bit like Winona Ryder in his quieter moments.  Rest in peace, Brad.
Okay, so we have a kid.  Now, how do we get the kid to need the services of a lawyer?  Time to go the Witness route.  But this is a PG-13 movie, so no topless Amish babes here, thank you very much!  No, we set the story in Grisham's back yard, and it'll be about the mob, probably in the way that Steven Seagal's Out for Justice was about the mob.  The kid and his brother... two kids!  Genius!  These two kids see a wicked blue-eyed fat dude trying to kill himself in his car, using a hose stuck in his tail pipe, so they play God and intervene.  The fat dude grabs Renfro and starts talking.  This fat dude's one of those scary adults that kids should be kept away from.  The guy eventually does kill himself, but before he does, he spills his guts about the terrible, terrible secret that he knows.  We don't actually hear that part until later... there's a lot of delayed stuff like that in this pic.
The wicked fat dude ("Romey") was a mob lawyer, and his main client is Barry "The Blade" Muldano, played by Anthony LaPaglia, an Australian actor best known to American audiences for his Italian characters, such as in 29th Street, One Good Cop, and this... okay, so I haven't kept up on his work.  Sue me.  In his first scene, we see him intimidating Romey's secretary with a knife awfully similar to the knife pulled on Michael Douglas in Falling Down.  And just like Catherine Zeta-Jones in Intolerable Cruelty, it's kind of a joy just to see what outfit he's wearing next.  Trust me, they're consistent; he's always dressed like a bad boy douchebag.
The two main adults in the movie are the Reverend Roy Foltrigg, played by Tommy Lee Jones, and Susan Sarandon who plays Reggie Love, a woman just trying to get by with her modest law practice... I think they're supposed to be in Tennessee, I can't remember.  Tommy Lee Jones is probably the best thing in the movie, but it is nice to see him and Sarandon spar.  And I'm probably just a racist, but I predicted that Ossie Davis would play a judge.  Or maybe it's like Danny Glover in The Rainmaker.  Davis' character is named Harry Roosevelt... boy!  Grisham really knows African American names!  What was Denzel's name in The Pelican Brief? Lemme check... Gray Grantham?  I retract my earlier statement, if it please the court.  Oh, and the voice of Homer Simpson plays a sleazy fourth estate photographer.
One more casting choice I wanted to point out... I finally figured out the guy's name: Kim Coates, who plays Paul Gronke here.  If I remember correctly, Gronke is the sound one of the dinosaurs makes in the B.C. comic strip.  Coates played a similar but more colorful role in The Last Boy Scout.  He's since graduated from playing bad guys all the time, most prominently in Pearl Harbor.  He plays a guy named Jack Richards, and gets to say that he doesn't know if the planes can make it all the way to China.  Movin' on up!
As for the plot, well... it's kinda ludicrous to me.  But it's consistently ludicrous all the way through, I'll give them that.  It harkens back to a more innocent time when people had rights, and lawyers could actually protect them.  On the plus side, Schumacher's using genuine locations.  It was more interesting to me to see the trees on the way to the mob lawyer's boathouse than what was in the boathouse.  And the New Orleans restaurant that the mobsters were dining in looked like one I saw on an episode of one of those Anthony Bourdain shows.  I don't travel as much as I should, you see.....
Oh, and of course, the big tearjerker at the end.  I hate to spoil it, but I will anyway.  The kid and his family end up in the Witness Protection Program.  But before they go, Sarandon gives the kid her compass that was introduced to the audience earlier.  I almost lost it.  Yup, 'tis a fine, three-star cinema of enriched bleached plotting that'll last forever, despite the fact that it's all kinda silly.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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