Quick Takes 10

The Reel Deal

THE HELP, THE DEBT & COLOMBIANA

Quick Takes on Three Films

Film Insight by Tyler Malone

September 2011

THE HELP:

Reel Rating: 2.5 out of 5

If you loved The Blind Side a few years ago, then I think you’ll love The Help. If like me, you weren’t a big fan of The Blind Side, then you also probably will not be a big fan of this film. I’ve checked this line of reasoning out, and it tends to hold up–my colleagues and friends that liked one liked the other, and those that didn’t like one didn’t like the other. Like The Blind Side, The Help is about a tough and clever white woman who helps save black people. That doesn’t inherently make a bad movie, of course, but what is unfortunate about the effort is that it Disney-ifies history, making it palatable for an audience that wants the dark parts of our country’s past to be glossed over, or to become fodder for jokes, so that our unpleasant history can be easily “understood” (while actually being misunderstood). The film is designed so us white folk can look back and say, “Oh wow, how dumb those people were for being racist,” and then pat ourselves on the back for not being so. Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club says it better and more comedically than I can: “The civil rights movement might have ended segregation and beat back centuries of slavery and oppression, but let’s save a slow clap for well-meaning white folks with the moral courage to put themselves at the center of the narrative.” The film doesn’t force us to confront our awful history, it allows us to sugarcoat it, and assuage any lingering feeling of white guilt. If the movie really wanted to deal with this period of history in an intellectually honest way, why not make us see a lynching or two? Or someone in a white hood burning a black church? Or the shooting of historical figure Medgar Evers? We should be forced to witness some horror, not just hear about it abstractly between scenes about fried chicken, where we’re supposed to laugh and smile at the silliness of certain situations. This isn’t a drama with a few light-hearted comedic flourishes, it’s a comedy with some light-hearted dramatic flourishes. I think the civil rights movement deserves better than this shit (to put it rather bluntly). It’s all a bit disingenuous. For a film supposedly about racism, there’s barely anything violent or all that repulsive we’re forced to witness in the film. In fact, one of the most repulsive things anyone does, a black maid does to a white woman’s pie. I’m fairly certain that’s not the 60s I’ve studied in the history books. It’s certainly not the 6os I’ve heard my parents speak about. If you want to see another movie about how some white woman saves black folk, go ahead and check this out. If you can believe that some silly young white writer succeeded where Martin Luther King Jr. hadn’t yet, then honestly feel free to watch. By all means, see it if you need something to allow you to give yourself a pat on the back–yay! you’re not outwardly racist! Otherwise, I think it’s best to pass on this trite whitewashed version of history. (That said, I must admit that Viola Davis’ performance is quite good. It’s much better than Sandra Bullock’s Oscar-winning–but uninteresting, over-the-top and badly-accented–performance in The Blind Side. Viola Davis is just about the only thing that keeps The Help afloat. Well, and she has some help from this year’s breakout star Jessica Chastain.)

THE DEBT:


Reel Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Speaking of this year’s breakout star, Jessica Chastain is also in The Debt, and is a major part of what makes it such a good film. The Debt is about a group of Mossad agents who undertook a mission to track down a Nazi war criminal in 1966, and who, thirty years later, have to face the consequences of what happened on that mission. It is a good film, not a great film. It has some flaws, but it also has such wonderful performances that it is hard not to be enamored by it. Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren are phenomenal as Rachel (in 1966 and in 1997, respectively). Helen Mirren is always wonderful, so this comes as no surprise–she is one of the great actresses of the silver screen. But Jessica Chastain shows she’s just as good as the legend that plays her character all grown up. Chastain is this year’s breakout star who, in everything I’ve seen her in thus far, seems to always be able to carry any scene (whether it’s in a mediocre movie like The Help, a good film like The Debt or an amazing picture like The Tree of Life–all of which came out this year). There is an Oscar in her not-so-distant future, I would put money on it. It may not be at the next Oscars–though it probably should be (fingers crossed for a Tree of Life nomination)–but within a few years I predict she’ll be taking the statuette home with her. Unfortunately, The Debt loses a bit of its momentum and ingenuity as it careens towards its ending, and by its closing it feels somewhat unsatisfying and contrived, with those final scenes seeming to undermine some of what the film has delicately and ambitiously worked towards. That said, it is still a good film, and definitely worth seeing.

COLOMBIANA:


Reel Rating: 2.5 out of 5

What to say about something like Colombiana? What to say about a movie whose entire thrust of its narrative is to get sexy Zoe Saldana to kill people in increasingly outrageous ways? There’s certainly no point in hating it. Sure, it’s fairly trivial, but there’s much worse stuff out there. And it’s hard to complain about watching Zoe Saldana, one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood today, kicking ass in various sexy get-ups. This is not a revenge thriller with much to say about revenge, or much to say about violence in general; it doesn’t have anything to say at all really. It just is. It has some thrills, and some interesting set-pieces, and that’s just about it. As long as you go into it with those expectations, as long as that’s what you’re looking for, Colombiana isn’t a bad action flick. It could be much better, and it could be much worse. ‘Nuff said.

The Help is a film written and directed by Tate Taylor, and based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett. It stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids’ point of view on the white families they work for, and their hardships they go through on a day to day basis.

The Debt is a film directed by John Madden, written by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Staughan, and based on the film Ha-Hov. It stars Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Sam Worthington. The espionage thriller begins in 1997, as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel and Stefan about their former colleague David. All three have been venerated for decades by their country because of the mission that they undertook back in 1966, when the trio tracked down Nazi war criminal Vogel in East Berlin. At great risk, and at considerable personal cost, the team’s mission was accomplished–or was it? The suspense builds in and across two different time periods, with startling action and surprising revelations.

Colombiana is a film directed by Olivier Megaton, written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. It stars Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan and Callum Blue. A young woman, after witnessing her parents’ murder as a child in Bogota, grows up to be a stone-cold assassin.

LINKS:

IMDb: The Help

IMDb: The Debt

IMDb: Colombiana

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

Design by Jillian Mercado

Caption:

Press Photo from The Help, Photography Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

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