Thursday, September 27, 2012
"Won't Back Down" for Performances, Not Story
See “Won’t Back Down” for its Performances
It would be unfortunate if people thought “Won’t Back Down” is simply an anti-union film. There have already been union protests about this film from Walden Media, the same company that produced the doomsday education system documentary “Waiting for Superman.”
“Won’t Back Down” is a fictional drama, co-written and directed by Daniel Barnz (“Phoebe in Wonderland”) and inspired by California’s 2010 “parent trigger law,” in which parents attempt to take over failing public schools.
The drama is about two mothers. Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a single mom with a daughter Emily (Malia Fitzpatrick) with dyslexia. Jamie works hard as a bartender and struggles to help her daughter do her schoolwork.
Nona Alberts (Viola Davis) is a teacher at the Pittsburgh school Emily attends. Nona too has a child with a learning disability. Cody Alberts (Dante Brown) has suffered brain damage.
The elementary school Emily attends is one of the worst schools in town, and Emily is stuck with one of its worst teachers: Deborah (Nancy Bach). Deborah is lazy, apathetic, and treats the kids with malice. You would think in the real world Deborah would be fired, but according to this scenario, the union protects her and her job regardless.
I’m hoping this is just exaggeration for dramatic effect, but you don’t go to this movie for its melodramatic, then rah-rah story, you go for the powerful, heartfelt performances of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. As a bonus you get Rosie Perez in her first film role in some time, and a boo-hiss performance by Holly Hunter as the prickly teachers’ union head, Evelyn Riske.
Two and a half stars
“The Master” Also a Movie Whose Performances Overshadow Story
“The Master” is notable for its bravura performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, a shell-shocked, depressed and alcoholic World War II veteran. Freddie is the proverbial powder keg ready to blow. We see an early irruption when Freddie freaks out on a customer during a portrait photography session in a department store.
A troubled soul like Freddie is ripe for a cult. He finds one in “The Cause,” founded and run by genial, enigmatic but firm Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Dodd takes a shine to Freddie, takes him under his wing and becomes his mentor. The problem is Dodd is a crackpot and maybe even a crook, protected by his followers and his dutiful (but not stupid) wife Peggy (Amy Adams).
While Hoffman is quite good at capturing a man so full of himself he feels he had license to lead people, it is Amy Adams who is the real surprise. Let’s put it this way: this is Amy Adams as you have never seen her before.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”), “The Master” looks a lot like L. Ron Hubbard and his Scientologist minions, but it could be any organization led by a larger-than-life figure with messianic delusions. As with “Don’t Back Down” you see this movie for its performances, not its story. In this case it wreaks havoc but really goes nowhere.