Jesse Eisenberg in Two Polar Opposite Movies
By Skip Sheffield
This is Jesse Eisenberg’s week in movies, with two completely different starring roles.
“American Ultra” is a wild and wacky comic book take on a deadly CIA special ops killer with amnesia. Eisenberg is Mike Howell, a seemingly harmless stoner who is looked after by a devoted girlfriend, Phoebe Larson, played by Kristin Stewart. Neither Mike Howell nor Phoebe Larson are what they appear to be in Max Landis’ fanciful cartoonishly-violent script, directed by London-born Iranian Nima Nourizadeh.
No, Mike Howell is a deadly killer who springs into action whenever he and or Phoebe are threatened by anyone out to do them harm, and it seems just about everyone is. Playing against type, Eisenberg is a highly-trained master of mayhem and martial arts, using any handy available object as a deadly weapon. By the same token Phoebe is not the innocent girl she purports to be.
Also playing again type is “That 70s Show” good guy Topher Grace playing a rogue CIA agent, Adrian Yates, out to eradicate Mike Howell by any means necessary. Topher seems to relish playing a heartless, deceitful scumbag. Connie Britton wears the white hat in this romp, playing a “good” CIA agent, Victoria Lasseter.
Walter Goggins goes completely overboard as a toothless madman thug, Laugher. John Leguizamo is a “good thug,” Rose, while Bill Pullman and Tony Hale are “good” CIA guys.
For all its violence and fake gore, “American Ultra” is a very funny movie. The director lets us in on the joke with actual cartoon comic book sequence in the final credits. It’s good summer fun.
Eisenberg Gets Serious in “The End of The Tour”
Jesse Eisenberg is deadly serious as Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky, upon whose book "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself” Donald Margulies based his screenplay for "The End of the Tour."
Jason Segal plays troubled novelist David Foster Wallace, whose complex, 1,079-page book “Infinite Jest” caused a national sensation when it was published in 1996. The title “The End of the Tour” refers to a promotional tour for “Infinite Jest.” Rolling Stone assigned David Lipsky to travel with David Foster Wallace for the last five days of the tour, ending in Minneapolis.
“End of Tour” is primarily a two-char character dialogue between cautiously probing interviewer and his complex, elusive, much-troubled subject. Jason Segal has never played a role of such depth and scope. His is a performance of Academy Award worthiness. Eisenberg’s Lipsky is more a sounding board and reactor to Wallace’s ever-changing moods.
James Ponsoldt, who directed the wonderful “Spectacular Now,” has a deep appreciation for the suffering and ordeals of a brilliant, intensely creative person. For those of us who make a living as writer, “End of Tour” reminds us of the perils of the profession. Though I live in a universe infinitely smaller, less significant, and far away from David Foster Wallace, who hanged himself Sept. 12, 2008 at age 46, I could not help but be touched. This is not a feel-good movie. I was profoundly affected for several days.