By Scott Cole
UNCHARTED – * * 1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Tati Gabrielle, Sophia Ali
Uncharted is the newest Hollywood blockbuster hitting theaters, and it is simultaneously refreshing and derivative at the same time. On one hand, it is good fun to see a new action film that includes swashbuckling pirate energy mixed with Indiana Jones-style raiding of ancient ruins in hopes of achieving that most classic of film prizes: golden treasure. However, this also serves as its downfall in a way as we keep constantly being reminded of the better action films that laid the groundwork before it.
Based on the video game of the same name, director Ruben Fleischer’s film follows bartender Nathan Drake (a game Tom Holland) who is merely 25-years-old but already a lifetime adventure seeker. In flashback, we see Nathan and his older brother’s attempted theft of an ancient treasure map, culminating in his brother having to abandon young Nathan to avoid inevitable jail time. Fast forward to current day and Nathan is moonlighting as a small-time pickpocket to fuel his adventurous fires. This all changes when a man named Sully (Mark Wahlberg) enters the scene claiming to have been working with Nathan’s long lost brother to realize possession of potentially the largest amount of unclaimed treasure in history. Now, he wishes to recruit Nathan as his partner to finalize that pursuit and work out a plan to claim the gold. Of course, there will be obstacles aplenty while they race against time to find the treasure before a corrupt billionaire (Antonio Banderas) and a young, deadly mercenary leader (Tati Gabrielle) challenge them for dibs on the treasure.
The few large action set pieces in Uncharted are rather impressive, even though most of them have been unfortunately spoiled heavily by the film’s persistent marketing. A major aspect for me that wore out its welcome is the Judd Apatow-style “bro” comedy between Holland and Wahlberg that runs throughout the film. Initially, their back-and-forth is kind of amusing, but by the end I felt that well was really drying up. I know the film isn’t meant to be a documentary, but I think it asks a lot of an audience to buy that these guys will stop in the face of certain death to rib each other about their height difference. Uncharted has some impressive and fun action sequences, but the script just didn’t really hit the mark for me, and I was left wishing it had tried harder.
DOG – * * 1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)
Directors: Channing Tatum, Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jane Adams, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Nash, Q’orianka Kilcher
The noticeably peculiar progression of Channing Tatum’s career was heavily on my mind watching his new film Dog, which he co-directs with Reid Carolin. After originally standing out in interesting independent films like A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006) and Foxcatcher (2014), the buff and handsome Tatum almost seemed to be playing against type reflecting a wise energy behind his eyes that was palpable. Even when he took a role in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012) where it felt like he was finally going to rest on his looks and outward persona, he had a surprising amount of nuance and humanity in the role.
In Dog, he plays a psychically and physically damaged U.S. Army Ranger named Briggs who is given a chance again at active duty if he can transport his newly deceased brother-in-arms’ military dog from Washington to Arizona in time for his fellow soldier’s funeral. Tatum’s performance is perfectly fine, but I found it to be strangely very on-the-nose in a manner opposite of how he subverted material in his earlier performances. The film itself becomes difficult to pin down but not really in a good way. It has difficulty managing its tone as it jumps from oddly plotted scenario to scenario revolving around his struggle to restrain and connect with the dog Lulu, who herself is a victim of the PTSD of war, mirroring Briggs’ own struggles. The movie takes a lot of big swings between saccharine moments to broader comedy to other moments that were just sort of head-scratching such as Lulu getting lost in the woods and ending up at the type of peculiar “quirky” house only found in the movies.
The film has its heart in the right place, and I found myself almost feeling bad for not surrendering to its targeted sweetness. But some of the scenes just left me wondering what kind of effect they were even going for. One extended sequence in the middle of the film begins as broad comedy set in a hotel, then escalates into an uncomfortable profiling situation involving borderline icky stereotypes, and then it swings back into drama with its totally earnest speech from Briggs. Comedy and drama wrapped up together is markedly difficult, and it seemed like Tatum and Carolin lacked the deft hand needed to wrangle all of this together. Instead it just becomes a series of unconnected episodes on a road trip where Briggs and Lulu finally achieve a strong bond and help each other heal. The conclusion of the movie is sweet and touching (I’m human, I promise!), but it was the journey to get there that just ended up being a ride I couldn’t quite take.
CYRANO – * * * * (4 out of 5 stars)
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn, Bashir Salahuddin
Throughout film history, we have seen numerous adaptations of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac running the gamut from austere and faithful adaptations in the original French language all the way to Steve Martin’s loose modern-day retelling Roxanne (1987). The new interpretation Cyrano, directed by Joe Wright and adapted from the original Rostand play by Erica Schmidt, exists somewhere in the middle and is all the better for it. It is both a lush, heavily costumed period film and a sweeping movie musical full of high emotional stakes. It subtly incorporates certain… I hesitate to use the loaded word “anachronisms” – perhaps better to just call them slightly modern touches. These are mostly based in the dialogue and more precisely in the sung dialogue. However, we absolutely succumb to their charms because Wright’s expert direction, the wonderful performances of the actors, and Schmidt’s script all work together to ensure that the emotions feel genuine and our empathy is connected.
At the heart of Cyrano is a love triangle where the weight of the balance is constantly shifting. Cyrano (a fantastic Peter Dinklage), a guard in the French Army, is introduced as an enigmatic swordsman with a flair for writing distinguished poetry. He pines secretly for his lifelong close friend, the beautiful heiress Roxanne (Haley Bennett), but his own self-consciousness prevents him from professing his love. In a switch from the original text, the root of Cyrano’s self-consciousness has changed. Instead of his perceived ugly appearance and long nose from the previous iterations, this updated Cyrano is a dwarf who can’t envision a reality where Roxanne would want to be with him, even though they share crackling chemistry within their friendship. Roxanne confesses to Cyrano that she has fallen in love at first sight with the army’s newest recruit Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) who is also instantly smitten. Sensing that Roxanne desires a suitor with a poetic heart, he laments to Cyrano that he can’t be the man she needs. Cyrano offers to ghostwrite love letters for Christian to use to woo Roxanne. As can be predicted, these matters of the heart grow extremely complicated.
Although the story is familiar, this musical version moves effortlessly with very little dragging or low energy. Cyrano was first conceived and produced in 2018 for the stage by rock band The National (twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner) which also starred Dinklage and Bennett. The transition to film works very smoothly. Many of the songs are very strong and give the film the liftoff factor that can catapult a scene into orbit. Like all musicals, there are some weaker songs and moments, but they are almost always counterbalanced by something that sincerely plucks your heartstrings. Call me an old softy, but I was really moved by the stirring work of all the artists involved here.