Sunday, July 18, 2010

Movies: Solitary Man/Harry Brown (U.S. 2010)

I haven’t kept up with the exploits of centenarian vampire Edward Cullen in the latest Twilight movie. I’ve been hanging with guys who are a few years younger but have more problems.

In Solitary Man, Michael Douglas plays Ben Kalmen. Once the biggest car dealer in the tri-state area and now a train wreck, he’s pulled off the neat trick of screwing everything that moves as well as himself. Familiar faces abound in this rich character study with a sharp script by Brian Koppelman (who co-directs with Rounders screenwriting partner/crime novelist David Levien). But it’s Douglas’s show. He’s in every scene, giving a sensational, swaggering performance that nails the victimhood beneath the surface of every egomaniac. Not that Douglas’s old dog tricks don’t work in a young man’s game; when he successfully beds a woman a third his age, you understand why both of them do it. The movie has a real feeling for well-off New Yorkers. The way Douglas says “lobster Cobb” to an associate giving him the brush-off over dinner is priceless.

Michael Caine is Harry Brown. So say the titles. The movie is not entirely successful; the story of an aged ex-marine who launches a bloody vendetta against the hoodies who rule his housing estate eventually strains credulity. But the parts that do work cut deep. Caine and the gifted director Daniel Barber give us an entire life in the wordless sequence of Harry fixing himself breakfast before visiting his dying wife in the hospital, the familiar spaces of his flat terrifying now that he knows they are soon destined to be empty. Barber’s shots – a sucker punch intro of Harry at a funeral, a long look at the self-loathing on his face as he chooses to take the long way around instead of walking past some raucous teenagers – are brutally communicative. And the hair-raising scene in which Harry tries to buy a gun proves that, with this and the Red Riding trilogy, Sean Harris is now the scariest mofo in movies.

Speaking of seniors with attitude, here’s the scoop on the upcoming Damn Near Dead 2, edited by Bill Crider.