Fire With Fire

Fire With Fire might have been a straight-to-DVD release, despite the talent in the film. And this would be unfortunate, as it is, despite the by-the-numbers unfolding of the story, a pretty good film that is elevated by solid performances. Vincent D’Onofrio is particularly good.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released August 21, 2012

Written by Tom O’Connor and Lowell Cauffiel

Directed by David Barrett

Starring Rosario Dawson, Josh Duhamel, Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinny Jones, 50 Cent, Bonnie Somerville, Richard Schiff, Kevin Dunn, and Julian McMahon

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

This is a story we’ve seen before. Regular, kind of a loser guy who is good with the ladies, is pushed into a perilous situation, reevaluates life based on true love, and is forced to do terrible things to keep his loved ones safe.

There’s not a lot of fresh about this movie’s storyline. But what Fire With Fire gets right is that these are regular, recognizable people and they behave like they should based on how their character’s goals and the story push them to behave.

Jeremy (Duhamel) is a bit of a hotshot firefighter with a couple of best friends, one of whom regularly prompts Jeremy to settle down and have a family. But Jeremy likes his life too much  to make any changes. One night after a massive fire, Jeremy and his pals go drinking and Jeremy stops into his neighborhood convenience store to pick up supplies. Three mean-looking Aryan Brotherhood-type men show up, led by Hagen (D’Onofrio). Hagen does horrible things and Jeremy barely escapes and is convinced to go into witness protection so that he can testify against Hagen, who is a sadistic crime boss.

Talia Durham (Dawson) is the US Marshall assigned to keep Jeremy safe- and she tames his wild heart. Cella (Willis) is the determined cop trying to nail Hagen and who also wants to keep Jeremy alive.

But Hagen finds Jeremy and now Jeremy has to take matters into his own hands if he’s going to keep those he loves safe. Fire With Fire, as you would expect, ends with a fiery, surprisingly tense climax.

Critique

This is a relatively formulaic action flick. Regular guy with bachelor values is forced into a situation and he turns a corner and must confront evil, using whatever resources he can get his hands on and relying on determination to get him through.

But Fire With Fire is not satisfied with the template. It makes sure that Jeremy really is a normal guy. This guy gets hurt, has the tar beaten out of him, and has a lot of trouble becoming a hero. When he inevitably does kill someone, he reacts strongly. He gets out of breath. Not wanting to be a hero and very scared for his safety, the woman he falls in love with becomes the leverage that pushes him to step into the darkness.

All of this is convincingly played by Duhamel. This is a human hero, really similar to Bruce Willis’ John McClane, making it very appropriate for Willis to be in this movie. Willis is far more laid back than in most roles, looking thin and haggard from the get-go. He is also very much by the book.

That is what Fire With Fire does well: it doesn’t take the easy way out, instead making sure that each character is true to him or herself. The heroic characters have flaws, make stupid mistakes, and have to scrape victory right out of the jaws of defeat. The bad guys are mean, but are human in their speech and behavior.

And the performances are very good. Vinnie Jones is a very good sardonic bruiser. D’Onofrio is excellent as a sadistic, terrifying madman. Peter Schiff adds realism and heart to the character of Hagen’s lawyer. Even 50 Cent is believable as a gang leader.

You know what else? These people get wet in the rain.

Fire With Fire is a strangely overlooked film. Not the best film ever, uneven in its pacing and transitions, and a little overwrought, but it’s enjoyable and very nearly believable.

Content warnings: some graphic violence and plenty of salty language and a little bit of sensuality

Writing: 3.0          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3.5

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Unstoppable

Unstoppable is, interestingly, a lot like the runaway train that the film centers on. It feels like it gets a slow start, but as it picks up speed, you can’t tear your eyes away from some great pacing and acting and by the end you are clutching your armrest.

It’s a mighty fine entertainment from Tony Scott.

Here’s a trailer:

Here are the deets:

Released November 12, 2010

Written by Mark Bomback (based on true events)

Directed by Tony Scott

Starring Rosario Dawson, Jessy Schram, Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Kevin Corrigan, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn, and Lew Temple. Oh, and a really big train.

Rated PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The story of Unstoppable is simple: a train hauling tons of toxic chemicals gets away from its rather careless conductor and picks up speed as it heads toward some seriously populated areas. It’s going to kill a lot of people unless two men can find their courage and stop the thing while bucking the orders of the train company’s head honcho and working for a no-nonsense supervisor.

The film opens with Will (Pine) starting his day. He apparently is on the outs with his lady, Darcy (Schram) and is in something of a funk. He appears to be related to a bigwig in the train company for which he works as a conductor. He is slated to work with rail veteran Frank (Washington), who has two grown daughters and is pretty philosophical about life. Will and Frank’s day goes just fine until they find out that they’re on a crash course with an out of control train.

Dewey (Suplee) is the nimrod that allowed the train to get out of control. Connie (Dawson) is the tough, no-nonsense, but desperate supervisor who has to figure out how to keep the train from killing people. She has to deal with railroad execs who are far more focused on the dollar (of course) than on practicalities and people. She also has to try to keep Will and Frank alive as they decide to do more than just avoid the train.

Solutions are come up with, tried out, discarded, and all leads to Frank and Will being faced with a decision that will test their grit and courage. The final twenty minutes are some of the tensest moments you will experience in a movie.

Critique

Tony Scott discards some of his usual tools, such as overly dramatic lighting and at times too-frenetic camera work. He still uses interesting angles and helps the viewer get into the movie from fascinating perspectives, but none of these are done for the purpose of art. They are done to enhance the tension of the film.

Unstoppable works so well because the two main characters are written with an eye to the tension that exists between a rookie and a veteran, where the rookie is somewhat entitled and too big for his britches. It also works well because it does not flag in its pace, it focuses on what people are doing about this train and the personal sacrifices involved, and it explores courage very effectively.

Despite some predictability and a few overly dramatized scenes, this is a good movie.

Be careful. Like The Fighter, this movie packs a totally unseen punch– unseen that is until you get hit. Unstoppable is a great date movie because it engages and delivers an emotional wallop that will leave any two people on a date with plenty to appreciate and talk about.

Content warnings: some language and some very tense situations and painful events.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 5          Overall: 4.5

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