This gritty, L.A. film noir scored Nicole Kidman a Golden Globe nomination. It also got her a few comparisons to Charlize Theron, because the same way Theron didn’t wear make-up and made herself look ugly for her role in Monster, Kidman used prosthetics and was made to look like…well, comedian Tig Notaro. That led me to wonder…why not just cast Tig Notaro? You see, Scarlett Johansson had to drop out of a movie because she was playing a transgender woman, and everyone got upset and said the studio should just cast a real transgender actor. Now, I believe an actor should be allowed to play any character they want. You’d obviously rather have an A-lister like Johannson as opposed to an unknown transgender actor if you’re a studio trying to make money, just as the filmmakers in this would rather have Kidman than Notaro. I’m just wondering why there’s never any backlash, only praise, when actors do this. They wear fat suits, or have their faces altered, when…there are many actors that already look like what they’re going for. After all, the filmmakers of Can You Ever Forgive Me? cast Melissa McCarthy to play alcoholic biographer Lee Israel. They didn’t cast a gorgeous actress that was going to spend 3 hours in the makeup chair each morning, to be made to look less attractive. Even going back to Misery in 1990, a movie in which every A-list actress wanted the role — they cast an unknown Kathy Bates (who went on to win the Oscar), because she looked right for the role. They didn’t cast Sharon Stone and then spend hours trying to make her look frumpy. But…I don’t fault Kidman for taking the part. She probably wants to do a variety of roles and she always does such interesting work (I told her at the Critics’ Choice awards a few years ago, that Rabbit Hole was one of my favorite movies of the year).
The premise — Officer Erin Bell (Kidman) shows up at a crime scene on a bender. The other cops don’t look happy to see her. Audiences might not be happy to see her either. It doesn’t look like the Kidman we’re used to, and sometimes changing an appearance like this can be distracting. And some of the time it is. What also bothered me is the whole brooding, depressed, alcoholic cop character. It bugged me when Casey Affleck played a brooding cop last year in The Old Man and the Gun. It’s just a played out character trait.
Bell claims to know who did the killing, and the movie then shows her doing all the detective work to get to the bottom of it. We’re going to see all the losers she questions. Sometimes that involves questions, other times it involves some violence. At least it’s more convincing when she pistol whips someone, as opposed to when Jennifer Garner went all vigilante in last year’s horrible Peppermint.
Oh, and when Bell needs to get information from one guy, she gives him a…uh…well, she manually stimulates him. What’s weird about that scene is not just how graphic it is (we see her spit on her hands during the middle of it), but the fact that she just did that in another movie (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) a year ago. Doesn’t she read the script and say “Guys…I’m not going to do this again. I just did it in another film.”
I’m not saying that scene offended me, but I don’t like to think about other movies when I’m trying to get lost in the story and characters presented on screen. And when I think to myself — hey, that person did that in their last movie…it takes me out of it. I even joked with actor Noah Emmerich at the Critics’ Awards last week, because my wife loves his show The Americans, and when I told her how funny it was that in The Truman Show he always showed up at Jim Carrey’s house with a six-pack. She was shocked, explaining “He does that in ‘The Americans’.” He laughed and told us that he tried to warn them about how people might wonder about the connection and they assured him that movie was too long ago for anybody to remember. Yeah, that movie was 20 years ago, but people remember things. Especially Kidman using her hands on someone in two different movies so recently. It might not be as bad if this was a technique that is used to extract information, but I’ve never seen it on film before that wasn’t rated X.
As the story develops, we see some flashbacks, and find out that Erin infiltrated a drug ring with another cop (Sebastian Stan). They pose as a couple, but start to fall for each other. The kingpin is a guy named Silas (Toby Kebbell), and he’s bad news. There’s one scene in a living room where we see how manipulative and evil he is with his crew, daring someone to play Russian roulette.
Other flashbacks show Erin has a fractured relationship with her teen daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn). Making things worse is a relationship Shelby has gotten into with a much older guy who is trouble.
It’s hard to buy the scenario that takes place once Chris and Erin get hooked up with the criminals. I’m really picky about how undercover operations of this sort are portrayed. It’s one of a handful of things that disappointed me about The Departed (but that went on to win the “best picture” Oscar, so what do I know?).
The movie has the usual tropes you’d expect from this genre, but surprisingly, you’re very rarely bored. Some of that has to do with dialogue that’s often smartly written.
Near the end of the movie, they pull a Memento moment on our ass with the timeline. Some will love that, others will hate it.
Half of this film is a convoluted mess, the other half is interesting. I just wish they would’ve delved deeper into the characters, instead of just scene after scene of people getting shot, punched, or yelled at.
Of course, there is a barfing scene, which now makes it up to 87.4% of every movie I see having a vomit scene in it (although when you’re dealing with an alcoholic, it makes more sense).
I’ll give it an extra half a star for using the great Dire Straits song “The Man’s Too Strong” and I’ll end this with lyrics from that:
I have legalized robbery/called it belief
I have run with the money/I have hid like a thief
Rewritten history/with my armies of my crooks
Invented memories/I did burn all the books.
2 ½ stars out of 5.