Arbitrage – I have come to realize that Richard Gere is an acquired taste among many. Some haven’t been able to get past the notion that he’s nothing more than a model that’s been masquerading as an actor. As for me, I think he’s steadily grown over the course of his career and has gotten to the point where he projects a quiet confidence on screen without an artifice. He seems to have grown so sure of himself that he’s seeking out challenges, taking on a variety of roles he wouldn’t have attempted early on. Check out the heartwarming, man and his dog story Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009) and then watch his latest effort Arbitrage, to see how his range has grown. In it, Gere plays Robert Miller, a hedge fund magnate whose life is crumbling around him. A sure-fire business deal that will save his company is in danger of collapsing, his unstable mistress (Laetitia Casta) is threatening to expose their affair and a tragic accident puts him in the middle of a manslaughter case. The script by director Nicholas Jarecki is a taut exercise and contains more than a few plausible and satisfying twists. However, watch Gere. He gives an effective, subtle performance and as the walls begin to close in on Miller, you see just what an assured, solid actor he’s become.
Killer Joe – Director William Friedkin’s (The Exorcist, The French Connection) Killer Joe is not for everyone. After all, it was released with an NC-17 rating and deals with the sorts of characters your mother used to tell you not to get involved with. However, there’s no denying it’s a compelling little piece of trailer-trash noir as a simple murder plot becomes hopelessly complicated and undone due to the many flaws its characters are saddled with like millstones. Drug dealer Chris (Emile Hirsch) is deep in debt and decides that if he can collect the insurance money on his mother (Gina Gershon), all will be well. To that end he hires Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to knock her off, however he requires a retainer and ends up taking Chris’s sister Dottie (Juno Temple), as she is the one who will get the money once the deed is done. That Joe is also a police officer is but one of the of the film’s many pieces of ebony black humor, while the solid cast, which also includes Thomas Haden Church, revels in the script’s witty dialogue. If any actor has had a renaissance year, it’s McConaughey who does fine work here, matching his efforts in Magic Mike and Bernie.
Total Recall – If there’s one summer movie that everyone missed the boat on it was this remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner that improved on that film’s action as well as the existential angst its character goes through. That a far better actor than Arnold, Colin Farrell, takes on the main character – memory-scrambled blue-collar worker Douglas Quaid – helps considerably as we come to understand the sort of existential angst he suffers from. Told he’s a revolutionary and that his memories have been wiped out, he gets help from fellow rebel Melina (Jessica Biel) and needs all he can get as his “wife” Lori (Kate Beckinsale) is out to kill him as she’s nothing but a plant, working for the corporate-run government that’s out to get him. Director Len Wiseman (Underworld) proves he can do more than just manipulate CGI vampires and werewolves and renders the film’s constant action in an inventive and exciting manner.
The Words – You have to take your hat off to actor Bradley Cooper. He’s struck while the iron is hot, having formed his own production company after hitting it big with The Hangover, and has quietly been building on that success with a variety of roles that showcase his talent. Limitless was an unexpectedly satisfying sci-fi thriller, while the current Silver Linings Playbook is one of the best films of 2012. In between was the little-seen but powerful The Words, in which Cooper plays a plagiarizing author whose past catches up to him when the true writer (Jeremy Irons) of his best-selling novel seeks him out. A framing story involving another author (Dennis Quaid) adds another intriguing layer to the story as this effective cautionary tale reminds us that a single indiscretion can create a ripple effect that spreads far wider than we can ever anticipate. Olivia Wilde is also part of this solid cast that elevates what could have been a soap opera in lesser hands to a powerful tale of guilt and loss.