Sunday, May 16, 2004

TV: CSI: New York

The spinoff will be introduced on Monday’s season finale of CSI: MIAMI. I’m tempted to watch because the new show will star Gary Sinise, one of those terrific Chicago actors who imbue every performance with a kind of grounded theatricality. But I’m also afraid that he’ll be hamstrung by the rigors of the franchise. I love Anthony LaPaglia on WITHOUT A TRACE, but the series doesn’t give him the opportunities to dig deep the way he did in films like BULLETPROOF HEART and LANTANA. Then again, Vincent D’Onofrio has managed to turn LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT into a showcase for his twitchy histrionics, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Sinise stars in one of my favorite movie scenes of the ‘90s. In the so-so thriller RANSOM, he plays a crooked cop who masterminds a kidnapping. When his plan falls apart, he walks into a laundromat to ponder his next move. The play of emotions on his face as he comes up with a particularly ruthless solution and then steels himself up to carry it out is riveting. No special effects required.

Movie: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Nelson Gidding, one of the film’s writers, passed away recently. I watched this movie for the first time a few weeks ago. Noir expert Eddie Muller named it as a personal favorite. So did director Jean-Pierre Melville.

The movie comes late in the noir cycle; some of the trademarks of the coming revolution in cinema are already in evidence, like the stark cinematography and innovative use of music. Robert Wise directs with a spare style that seems fused to the material. Robert Ryan plays a racist so desperate for a score he throws in on a bank job with an equally desperate black jazz musician (Harry Belafonte). The tension between the two finally boils over when the robbery goes south. Ryan is fearless; his scenes with Gloria Grahame are played with a blistering neediness. The closing moments overtly state what had been neatly underplayed, but it’s a bracing, adult film.

Gidding also wrote Susan Hayward’s I WANT TO LIVE! as well as THE HAUNTING and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN. Here’s to a fine career.

Movie: Act of Violence (1949)

World-class director’s Fred Zinnemann’s lone foray into noir surfaced on TCM. It’s set primarily in one of those picture-perfect California towns where sin goes to fester. The underrated Van Heflin plays a veteran who’s built up a thriving business as a contractor. When his ex-service buddy Robert Ryan (again – where would noir be without him?) shows up intent on killing him, we naturally take Heflin’s side. Slowly, the truth comes out; while in a POW camp, Heflin sold out his own men to the Nazis. The reappearance of his one-time friend sends him spiraling into the shadows. Ryan’s sputtering attempt to justify his crusade to Heflin’s wife (Janet Leigh) is topped by another exceptional scene where Heflin’s rationalizations collapse into self-loathing. Potent stuff. Few characters in contemporary entertainment are as complex as Heflin’s is here, and when they are, that complexity becomes the entire point of the enterprise. (Witness AMERICAN BEAUTY.) That Zinnemann’s film can give us a taut story as well is nothing short of miraculous.

Miscellaneous: Links

North Korean pop culture tries to take root in the south. And no wonder most movies suck, with screenwriters carrying on like this.