Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Quick Looks: ARBITRAGE, THE GOOD DOCTOR, and SLEEPWALK WITH ME


In Arbitrage, Richard Gere plays a hugely wealthy banker in some serious trouble. He’s become embroiled in a complicated financial deal that’s threatening to sink his company if the funds don’t get moved around quickly enough to cover his assets. And that’s not even the worst of it. He sneaks away from his wife (Susan Sarandon) to drive upstate with his mistress (Laetitia Casta) and ends up flipping the car. When he comes to, he sees that his mistress is dead in the passenger seat so he flees the scene of the accident. (The pointed intent couldn’t be clearer: the rich flee catastrophe on instinct.) So he’s dealing with financial trouble and legal trouble, skulking around large boardrooms, spacious offices, and fancy apartments, trying to avoid the consequences of his actions.

Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki has created a phony fantasy of a character study that feels altogether too calculated a guesstimate of how the one-percent lives. (Not that I have any experience with that income bracket, but it can’t be as simple as it’s made to seem here.) To put such material in a standard thriller (the kind with dramatic turns that make it play like an episode of Law & Order from the suspect’s point-of-view) only cheapens what was sparsely drawn to begin with. It should be juicier and with more of a bite; it’s all strangely toothless. That said, Gere gives a persuasive performance of a man crumbling under the burden of keeping up appearances. I also appreciated the work of Nate Parker, as a working-class man Gere debates scapegoating, and Tim Roth, as the investigator who is frustrated that the legal system seems rigged in favor the rich. Would that these performances were in a movie that would be able to better show them off.

Director Lance Daly’s The Good Doctor is a squirmy thriller about a lonely young doctor (Orlando Bloom) who falls in love (no, obsession) with a pretty patient (Riley Keough). He decides to tweak her medication in order to keep her in the hospital under his care. The script by John Enborn follows this situation to its predictable conclusion and the talented supporting cast (including Taraji P. Henson, Michael Peña, and J.K. Simmons) fills out the plot convincingly enough. It’s a shame, then, that the whole experience is just a sad, slow circle down the drain, completely without tension and devoid of emotional interest. This is a thinly imagined thriller that manages nothing more than a queasy feeling once or twice. It’s most unfulfilling in its flat visual style and ploddingly obvious script. As someone who sort of enjoyed Daly’s similarly slight first feature, the kids-in-puppy-love romance Kisses, I’m especially disappointed to see that this is where he’s gone next. He’s a director of potential and maybe someday he’ll live up to it.

Stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia has told the same – very funny – story in several mediums now. If you’re anything like me, you may have managed to hear several times over (in his stand-up, on This American Life, in his memoir) about his intense sleepwalking problem that caused him to, say, dream about a jackal intruding in his bedroom, which would result in him fast asleep shouting at a hamper, fully convinced he was confronting a wild animal. This is obviously a problem, but his career seemed to be taking off and his relationship with his girlfriend was growing complicated and one thing leads to another and he’s in a deep sleep while jumping out a second-story hotel window.

This story’s latest telling takes movie form in Sleepwalk with Me and it’s perfectly fine, though I did wonder if it would have worked better on me if the novelty was still there. Birbiglia, here the writer, director and star, has a loose, casual style that pumps up dream sequences with off-hand discombobulation that is undercut with silly shifts to reality. To fill out the rest of the semi-autobiographical movie, it follows Birbiglia’s relationship with his girlfriend (played by Lauren Ambrose) as well as his growing stand-up career that takes him from hotel to hotel, crummy gig to crummy gig. Altogether it plays like Woody Allen lite, warm and sweetly small. This is a minor, but often charming movie, mostly because Birbiglia is so likable. But the thing of it is, you’d have just as good a time listening to the original monologue, so I have a hard time recommending this movie outright. 

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