Monday, 25 May 2009

No. 138 : What Doesn’t Kill You

Here’s a film that’s familiar on many levels but still offers enough nuggets of interest to garner pass marks. It opens with a botched armoured car robbery with an off duty policeman interfering with the sloppily planned job. Ethan Hawke pulls off his mask and strides towards the have a go hero with his gun blazing. Before we find out the outcome of the shoot out we dissolve to the past and learn that this is one of those films where we’ll have to watch for 90 minutes just to get back to the starting point.

Hawke and ‘W’ thread friend Mark Ruffalo are a pair of tearaways who grow up on the tough streets of Boston. We see them as teenagers running errands for the local Irish villain and then 15 years later, still doing the same petty crimes. They try to branch out on their own but an early heist involving dodgy TVs sees them sent down for five years.

Ruffalo eventually makes his parole but Hawke gets an extra six months for bashing a nonce. Our man finds it tough on the outside and soon the nuns and the gas board are looking for their overdue cash. With jobs hard to come by Ruffalo struggles with staying away from petty crime and the bottle. With breaking point reached Hawke gets out and suggests that the end to their trouble can be found with one last big job. With the stick up fast approaching we have to guess who’ll be on the crew and whether it’ll be successful.

We’ve seen most of this stuff before with films like ‘The Departed’ and ‘The Boondock Saints’ heavy influences here. The two leads are excellent and I thought Hawke in particular was very reminiscent of his recent outing in ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’. This film isn’t as good as that one but that’s obvious seeing that it doesn’t have Philip Seymour Hoffman or Marisa Tomei displaying her charms. We do get Amanda Peet as Ruffalo’s wife but all she does is moan a lot.

The idea that the two protagonists are on a road that has no exits is, again, a well worn one but they could have jazzed it up somewhat as they were basically saying that if you can only get a crappy job you may as well rob banks. The bad guys lacked a bit of menace and while I’m sure their casual threats delivered from their cosy bar was meant to be reminiscent of ‘The Sopranos’ they served only to show their shortcomings next to that series.

I did like the interplay between the two leads with some of their capers such as dognapping clearly played for laughs. Ruffalo was a bit too anguished as the tormented family man trying to do the right thing but overall I cared a bit so something was right. The ending delivered a rather unearned surprised and my usually favoured ‘what happened next’ captions seemed somewhat out of place here, reminding us that it was a movie rather than a gritty drama.

Despite the various nits the film is better than average but not as good as any of the other stuff I’ve compared it to in the review. So there you have it, if the faint praise doesn’t kill you it’ll only make you stronger.

Best Bit : Nonce Gets His Dues
‘W’ Rating 15/23

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