Secret in Their Eyes


Stranger than fiction. Sometimes real life events are so incredible that they seem like works of fiction. I’ve had a few moments in life where I found myself in the middle of something epic. But those were just moments. Imagine a life that rivals some of the greatest stories you’ve ever heard. Such a life belongs to Saroo Brierley, an Indian-born Aussie from humble yet extraordinary beginnings.

Lion begins with a window into the world of Saroo (Sunny Pawar, Love Sonia), an impoverished, adorably resilient five-year-old boy. He and his older brother Guddu supplement their mother’s meager income by panhandling on the streets of their small enclave, a tiny village in India. I was transported to another world, both morally and culturally. Saroo’s learned resourcefulness was a byproduct of the apathetic environment in which he lived. Yet his spirit was one of innocence and joy.

In my travels to Indonesia, I witnessed firsthand how those with the least have the most love in their hearts. It shines forth like a beacon, and that’s the quality young Saroo radiated into the world. All is well until one fateful day threatens to snuff out that little light. While waiting at a train station for his brother to return from securing work, Saroo inadvertently becomes trapped on a train and whisked hundreds of miles away. He disembarks in the congested city of Calcutta, where he does not speak the language and cannot describe his home. Lost in a shuffle of insidious indifference, Saroo fends for himself in a manner no child should have to. Danger lurks around every corner, as he narrowly escapes one pitfall after another.

Through sheer serendipity, Saroo finds himself at an orphanage, where a new family is eventually brokered. In yet another seismic shift in his life, he is adopted by an Australian couple, John (David Wenham, Goldstone) and Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman, Secret in Their Eyes). This time the change is one that brings peace and healing, as John and Sue give Saroo the love and security he so desperately needs, filling his childhood with joy once again.

Fast-forward 25 years and Saroo (Dev Patel, Chappie) is a fresh-faced young man coming into his own. He has a girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara, Carol) and has nestled into a secure life. But no matter how wonderful things have become, Saroo can’t escape the nagging memory of the life he once knew. He longs to find the mother and brother whom he believes never stopped searching for him. Hampered by poverty and a deficient local infrastructure, it was virtually impossible for Saroo to have been reunited with his family after he came to be stranded in Calcutta as a child. Now that he is an adult, he embarks on the emotional journey to find his family. Saroo is torn between wounding his adoptive parents and satisfying his own longing to reconnect with a forgotten part of himself, toiling away in frustration in an effort to pinpoint the area in which he grew up.

I frequently extoll the virtue of film’s ability to illicit emotion and remain with the viewer long after watching. The most powerful films feel like an emotional investment. As I’m oft to repeat, the beauty of film as an artistic medium lies in its ability to transcend outward differences and to convey the profound depth of the human experience. With all that’s going on in the world, it’s nice to experience something good about the human condition, to connect with another story on an emotional level. Lion was a beautiful film, and I felt deeply moved and emotionally invested in what I was watching. One of the year’s best.

Grade: A+

Money Monster

There are many ways to tell a story, and one of the great things about film is that it offers the freedom to explore a range of narratives. A sweeping epic may unfold at a leisurely place over the course of two hours. A movie that takes place in a single day will be presumably action-packed and fast-paced, as there is little time for character or plot development. Money Monster promised a glimpse into a day in the life of two men on a particularly harrowing day for both.

George Clooney (Hail, Caesar!) stars as Lee Gates, a Jim Cramer type of character who mixes buffoonery with financial advice on his own cable show. I was amused to see the typically suave Clooney bounce around like a ham-handed carnival barker, flanked by two ‘dancers’ in costume like a bad rap video. Julia Roberts (Secret in Their Eyes) is Patty, his calm and cool producer who helms the ship, making it hum like a well-oiled machine. Gates has a duplicitous, opportunistic aura, sort of like a cross between a car salesman and a stockbroker, with more style than substance. When one of his tips to invest in a company called IBIS proves disastrous, disgruntled viewer Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell, Unbroken) exacts his own brand of justice by taking over the television studio during a live broadcast.

An unhinged protagonist is familiar cinematic territory, whether our anti-hero is robbing a bank or holding hostages. Common themes are desperation and a nearly suicidal level of commitment. Kyle is armed with a detonator and makes Lee wear a vest rigged with explosives. He blames the loss of his life savings on the TV host, whose offhand prediction cost him dearly. Dominic West (Genius, The Affair, The Wire) is featured as Walt Camby, IBIS’ shady CEO who claims an unforeseen glitch in his company’s financial algorithm caused the stock to take a hit. At first Kyle’s ire is directed solely at Lee, but Gates is able to pass the buck on to Camby, whose explanation for the massive loss is questionable at best.

Jodie Foster (Elysium) marks her return to directing here, and quite naturally I had high expectations for such an acclaimed collection of Hollywood’s elite. I won’t use the word disappointed, but Money Monster was more decent than memorable. I enjoyed the subplot involving supporting characters as they worked to uncover the truth behind Camby’s questionable geo-political business dealings, but for the most part the tension and tautness wasn’t there. Perhaps the fault lies in the script, as I thought Foster’s direction within the tight confines of the television studio was effective. The small space added to the air of desperation, but overall the film wasn’t something that stayed with me. Sometimes a day at the movies is just a passable one, and while that’s enough for some – others may want a little more. Grade: B

Triple 9

I like to remain open-minded about my film experiences, and sometimes I take a more cerebral approach to my cinematic choices by occasionally venturing beyond my comfort zone. But when all else fails, stick with what you know. When I saw the trailer for Triple 9, I knew this was my type of movie. Reminiscent of movies such as Training Day and Street Kings, Triple 9 promised a gritty look into the seedy world of corrupt law enforcement and the criminals to whom they are indebted. Featuring a talented cast including the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor (Secret in Their Eyes, The Martian) and Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), my curiosity was sufficiently piqued. It looked like the type of movie to fly under the radar, and sure enough my theater was sparsely populated.

I often say that movies are won and lost in their opening and closing sequences, and Triple 9 started with a literal bang and never let up. It begins in the back of a van, without about six men gearing up for what appears to be some type of tactical mission. Are they cops? A swat team? Bank robbers, or all of the above? They expertly execute a bank heist with precision, targeting only a singular safe deposit box. As they flee the scene of the crime and peel off their masks, we see that most of them are actually cops. They are lead by Michael Atwood (Ejiofor), ex-military private security, police officers Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie, The Night Before), Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr., Transcendence), ex-cop Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad) and his brother Russell (Norman Reedus, The Walking Dead). The crooked bunch are working at the behest of the Russian mob, controlled by a very sinister Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) as Irina Visalov, wife of an incarcerated Russian mobster.

Irina and Atwood’s relationship grows increasingly volatile after she ups the ante and insists they pull off another heist, this time from a Homeland Security facility – a nearly impossible feat. In a cruel stroke of genius, Rodriguez has a plan to divert local law enforcement’s attention while they pull of the job. When an officer goes down in the line of duty, his fellow brothers in blue respond immediately, citywide. Just as 187 is the police code for murder, 999 (triple 9) is the code for officer down, or in distress. If they can pull off a Triple 9, they can square things with Irina and walk away with a big payday. Stuck between the law and the mob, these crooked cops have their work cut out for them, leveraged to the hilt.

I enjoyed this movie for the simple reason that it was entertaining. There were some issues with pacing, as the movie wore on in its final act, but overall I enjoyed it because several scenes were nothing short of an adrenaline rush. The performances were mostly good, with Mackie and Ejiofor particularly bringing a convincing and conflicting emotionality to their roles. Winslet was as I’d never seen her, unnerving and vicious. The script faltered a bit here and there in terms of realism, but I mostly thought it was solid. You could say this was a poor man’s Training Day, and it won’t be remembered, but hey, I liked it! I give it a solid grade of: B