Years ago, Indianapolis’ late, great criminal defense lawyer Owen Mullin brought me on board to help him with trials as he aged. Spending a lot of time with him, he would frequently be approached by other lawyers and asked, “Ownie, when are you going to quit this business?” to which Mr. Mullin responded, “You don’t quit the practice of law, it quits you.”
Whether that rule actually has some merit to the practice of criminal law, it definitely does not apply to the cinema. Both Kevin Costner and Liam Neeson proved that with their recent films, “3 Days to Kill” and “Non-Stop.” Though both films have fundamentally ludicrous concepts, these guys are living proof that great acting can overcome flaws in any script.
While Costner may be 59 and Neeson is 61, both are mean as a snake. Costner’s CIA hitman may be dying from brain cancer, but his assassin abilities make him look like James Bond on Social Security.
Neeson is an alcoholic air marshal who is dancing on the edge of a psychotic breakdown. On the other hand, when on a transatlantic flight to London, he literally kicks the living crap out of many unfortunate innocent passengers as he tries to locate a terrorist threatening to blow everyone into kingdom come. You keep waiting for him to mumble, “Sorry, buddy, I hope your scars heal.”
“3 Days to Kill” was easier to take for me given that it involved moments of genuinely amusing interaction between Costner’s character and a family whom he walked away from years earlier. Hailee Steinfeld is truly wonderful as a teenage girl who will only address her missing father by his first name.
What makes the film fun is the gradual bridge built between father and daughter, frequently resulting in cell phone calls that interrupt dad during a brutal interrogation of a vicious suspect. Wait for the moment where Costner hands the phone to a petrified, Italian terrorist target, forcing him to converse with Steinfeld’s character to help her make some decent pasta. At all times Steinfeld reminds everyone of her brilliant performance in the remake of “True Grit” (2010).
Finally, you are not likely to forget the stunning performance by Amber Heard, here playing Costner’s extraordinarily hot CIA boss. The scene where she is straddling him in her 5-inch heels as he lays wounded on the pavement, wearing a tight, short dress with black seams running up the back of her nylons is as sexually unnerving as when Margot Robbie stuck her high heel into Leonardo DiCaprio’s forehead as they both were on the floor in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Along that same line, Neeson embraces his role as a deranged air marshal with the same enthusiasm that he brought to “The Grey” (2011) and the regrettable “Taken” films (2008 and 2012). He is helped immensely by the talented Julianne Moore, here playing a passenger sitting next to him on the plane whose life is nearly as pathetic as his.
Costner kills because that is his job, and Neeson dismisses constitutional rights as if they are a regrettable aggravation. In the end, you end up liking Costner’s agent because he is trying to connect with a lost life, while you get the feeling that Neeson’s humorless character could only find future employment working for Russian President Putin in Crimea.
2014 Academy Awards
If you followed my Oscar predictions, I can only hope that you did not put good money on them. While I hit more than I missed, the failure of “American Hustle” to get one blasted award was profoundly disappointing.
On the other hand, unlike 2012, I couldn’t disagree with any of the winners. For a whole host of reasons, Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave” was a powerful film. Its only real handicap dealt with the fact that it revealed a moment in American history that we would rather forget, and as a result it was a mesmerizing film that was anything but entertaining.
Lupita Nyong’o deserved her Supporting Actress Oscar, and her acceptance speech was fabulous. As for my pick of June Squibb from “Nebraska,” I once again followed my heart instead of my head. How could I not root for an 84-year-old woman?
Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto were easy picks in their categories, and their acceptance speeches were also brilliant. And though Matthew McConaughey won out over Chiwetel Ejiofor, his performance will justifiably be remembered for a very long time.
The one thing that I did accurately predict was that “Gravity” would dominate in the production areas. While I loved that film, I had the good fortune of seeing it at the IMAX in 3-D. Ironically, I just don’t know how well it can play at home no matter how large your TV screen may be.
Two final observations. It remains hard to understand how a film like “American Hustle” could be left out in the cold despite the fact that all of its actors were nominated as well as director David O. Russell. Good grief, I loudly applauded both “12 Years a Slave” and “Dallas Buyers Club.” However, the box office for “American Hustle” more than doubled the combined total of both of them, and Hollywood can’t simply ignore the opinion of those who treasure the movie experience.
Lastly, the Friday before the Oscars I received a cryptic email from my youngest sister in southern Indiana. Married with two children, she said the following: “Don’t tell my 14-year-old daughter, but I would have sex with Jared Leto any place at any time.” I sent her an email in response that read, “Don’t tell your 14-year-old daughter this either, but so would I!”
And before finding fault with me or my twisted sister, what if all you could remember of the Oscars was the completely smashed Liza Minnelli or the surgically scarred Kim Novak? Like it or not, sometimes an idiotic imagination is far superior to reality.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.