Tag Archives: Jason Isaacs

Twisted Game

Agent Game

by Tori Hanes


In his third feature film, director Grant S. Johnson dives into the unrewarding cinematic web of United States bureaucracy. Agent Game centers around a group of expendable CIA officers scapegoated in a coverup and forced to fight the government for their lives.

While not entirely pro-United States, Agent Game makes the assumption that the audience shares a universal respect for their government. While this approach might have worked until the 2000s, it’s unrealistic in today’s age of information and dissent.

Governments’ relationships with their societies change, and a film that doesn’t reflect that shift puts itself at a disadvantage. Ultimately, Agent Game never climbs out of the ideological valley it begins in. 

The acting is, at best, uninspired. At its worst, it’s incompetent. This does not entirely seem to be the actors’ fault. Though perhaps verging on hyperbole, it looks like the actors were only given single takes. It’s hard to conjure another logical explanation for why, at points, it seems that they’re performing the lines for the first time. 

The only performances that manage to break into a believable space come from Jason Isaacs and Dermot Mulroney, who play two uncommonly moral CIA agents. While bouncing off of each other, they’re able to find the grit and realism Agent Game overwhelmingly lacks.

Though certainly not intended, Mel Gibson’s character ironically breaks up the monotony of the dull narrative. Supposedly the mastermind behind a twisted government operation, Gibson plays more like a parody of himself than a commanding force. The strangely elongated pauses and conviction behind cheesy quips make for moments of unintended comedy gold.

The story revolves around two separate but connected missions, confusingly paced and set non-chronologically. It seems the director and writers started with a fairly simple concept and decided the plot was too easily understood, so they created unnecessary and underdeveloped roadblocks in the narrative.

Ultimately, if there was even a hint of self-awareness, this film could be an enjoyable ride. Instead, it spends its energy trying excessively hard to distract you from its faults. 

Bill (Jason Isaacs) laments about his place in government morality, and his line perfectly encapsulates the takeaway of the film: 

“Looks like we’re not the good guys anymore.”

Were we ever, Agent Game?

Couples Therapy

Mass

by George Wolf

Jay and Gail (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton) arrive at a local church, both uneasy about their planned meeting with Linda and Richard (Ann Dowd and Reed Birney). While the choir practices upstairs, a room has been reserved for the couples to talk.

There is a small table with four chairs. There is water. And there are tissues.

An unthinkable tragedy has connected these four people for life, and veteran actor Fran Kranz explores their journey of healing with a gently assured filmmaking debut full of shattering emotion.

Yes, you will need some of those tissues, too. But Kranz’s touch is so perfect, and the characterizations so real, that you never feel preached to, even with a large crucifix dominating the room.

The four actors are raw and touching, each exploring different levels of anger, blame, guilt and forgiveness. Writer/director Kranz gives Gail the most complete journey, and Plimpton realizes it with an award-worthy turn, while Dowd finds the subtle grace in a final confession that could have easily turned overwrought.

Mass is a spare chamber piece that makes sure nothing comes easy. You hang on every word, afraid to intrude on this intimate pain yet welcoming the invitation. With insightful writing, superb performances and unassuming direction, it’s a cathartic film that deconstructs an all too common tragedy with overdue honesty.

Survival Instinct

Hotel Mumbai

by Brandon Thomas

On November 26, 2008, 10 Pakistani terrorists launched a coordinated attack in the Indian city of Mumbai. At least 174 people were killed, with thirty-one dying inside of the Taj Hotel where the initial attack turned into a four-day siege.

In the modern era, terrorism has become an ever-present part of our lives. Cinema’s response has been to turn these perpetrators into moustache-twirling villains with a penchant for money more than ideology. Only in the wake of 9/11 did filmmakers routinely start to tackle terrorism with gravitas. Paul Greengrass’s United 93 and Steven Spielberg’s Munich were two of the first films in this wave to treat terrorism in film as something more than an excuse to blow something up. Hotel Mumbai’s terrifying journey into the 2008 attacks places it firmly alongside these latter day efforts.

Hotel Mumbai follows a handful of guests (Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs and Nazanin Boniadi) and hotel staff (Dev Patel and Anupam Kher) as they struggle to survive the armed assault by four gunmen. As the ordeal continues and family and friends are separated from one another, the surviving hotel employees band together to help keep the guests as safe as humanly possible.

The tension flowing through every second of Hotel Mumbai is palpable. When the violence begins, it’s shocking and matter-of-fact in its ferocity. Director Anthony Maras wisely keeps the action grounded, using a lot of hand-held camerawork to create a chaotic feel. There’s an eerie sense of normalcy to what’s happening that gets under your skin.

Speaking of normalcy, making the heroes of Hotel Mumbai the hotel guests, waiters and kitchen staff only adds to that sense of realism. We’ve already seen the version of this movie where the star is a cop or an elite team of commandos. Watching the hotel staff work together to usher the remaining guests to safety adds an emotional element that would be missing if this was simply an “action movie.”

Patel leads the pack with a riveting performance that isn’t showy or recycled. His character of Arjun is in complete contrast to the men terrorizing the hotel, his sense of honor and purpose driven by saving people.

Hotel Mumbai offers an unflinching look at the horror of terrorism. Thankfully, it also shows us that true heroism can exist even in the darkest of moments.

 

 





Dead Body Politic

The Death of Stalin

by George Wolf

Opening with a madcap “musical emergency” and closing with a blood-stained political coup, The Death of Stalin infuses its factual base with coal back humor of the most delicious and absurd variety.

The film cements director/co-writer Armando Iannucci (Veep, In the Loop) as a premier satirist, as it plays so giddily with history while constantly poking you with a timeliness that should be shocking but sadly is not.

So many feels are here, none better than the sheer joy of watching this film unfold.

It is Moscow in the 1950s and we meet Josef Stalin and his ruling committee, with nary an actor even attempting a Russian accent. Those British and American dialects set a wonderfully off-kilter vibe.

Iannucci has a confident grip on his vision, and the impeccable cast to see it through,

Who else would play Nikita Khrushchev but Steve Busemi? Then there’s Jeffrey Tambor and Simon Russell Beale as committee members jockeying for power after Stalin’s death, Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend as Stalin’s manically desperate kids, and Jason Isaacs arriving late to nearly steal the whole show as the uber-manly head of the Russian army.

As enemies lists are updated (“new list!”) and constant assassinations whirl, the hilarious barbs keep coming in dizzying succession, each delivered with bullseye precision by lead actors and walk-ons alike. Monty Python vet Michael Palin is a fitting face in the ensemble, with Iannucci structuring a few bits (like Buscemi and Tambor trying to slyly switch places at Stalin’s funeral-classic) that recall some of the finest Python zaniness.

It all flows so fast and furiously funny, it’s easy to forget how hard it is to pull off such effective satire. We end up laughing through a dark and brutal time in history, while Iannuci speaks truth to those currently in power with a sharp and savage brand of mockery.

Stalin is still dead.

Long live The Death of Stalin!