Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, in 1939, the dramatic film “Marlowe” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Jaded private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by a wealthy married socialite to investigate the disappearance of her younger lover, who was declared dead, but she says that he’s still alive.
Culture Audience: “Marlowe” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the Philip Marlowe detective books, star Liam Neeson and movies that are watered-down and less-interesting versions of the books.
“Marlowe” is going for a classic film noir vibe, but the results are flat and listless. The movie’s story is poorly constructed and badly edited. If you want to see cast members act like wooden robots or over-emote in the worst ways, then watch “Marlowe.”
Directed by Neil Jordan (who co-wrote the drab “Marlowe” screenplay with William Monahan), “Marlowe” is a movie that shouldn’t be as inadequate as it is. It’s disappointing that “Marlowe” came from Jordan and Monahan, who are both capable of doing much better work in the movie genre of crime dramas. Jordan wrote and directed the 1992 vibrant thriller “The Crying Game,” for which he won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Monahan is the Oscar-winning screenwriter of the 2005 twist-filled remake “The Departed,” for which Monahan earned an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
There’s nothing Oscar-worthy about “Marlowe,” which plods along at sluggish pace and is just a lazy compilation of repetitive scenes and awkwardly delivered dialogue. “Marlowe” (which takes place in the Los Angeles area in 1939) doesn’t do any justice to novelist Raymond Chandler’s originally created character Philip Marlowe, the private investigator who’s the protagonist of this atrocious movie. Several films and two TV series have been made about Marlowe. The 2023 version of “Marlowe” (which is based on John Banville’s 2014 novel “The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Mystery”) is by far the worst on-screen adaptation of a Marlowe story.
Liam Neeson is also miscast as Marlowe, who is presented in this very misguided movie as another rehashed version of Neeson’s Bryan Mills character in the “Taken” action movie series. In this subpar “Marlowe” film, Marlowe has the fight skills of a movie stunt person, while his detective skills seem like an afterthought. And never mind that Marlowe is supposed to be in his late 30s to early 40s, born and raised an American, while Neeson (who was in his late 60s when this movie was filmed) is originally from Ireland and doesn’t even try to hide his Irish accent when playing Marlowe.
“Marlowe” has some gorgeous outdoor scenery (the movie was filmed in Barcelona and Dublin, with both cities convincingly substituting for 1939 Los Angeles), but the movie’s cinematoraphy is an uneven mix of warm glows and muddy ugliness, depending on the scene. The movie’s production design and costume design are aesthetically pleasing. However, all of that doesn’t match the relentlessly dour and hollow presentation of the story’s characters.
In the beginning of the movie, Marlowe (a bachelor with no children and no romantic attachments) is hired by married wealthy socialite Clare Cavendish (played by Diane Kruger) to find her missing lover Nico Peterson (played by François Arnaud, shown mostly in flashbacks). Nico is a younger man who worked as a prop master and occasional actor in movies. Clare says that Nico also made money by fraudulently selling junk as antiques.
Marlowe isn’t judgmental about this extramarital affair, but Clare explains to him that she and her husband Richard Cavendish (played by Patrick Muldoon) have “an arrangement.” Clare also makes sure to let Marlowe know that she has more money than Richard has. Whatever “arrangement” that Clare and Richard have, it doesn’t prevent Richard from being rude to Marlowe when the two men first meet each other with Clare nearby. Richard tells Marlowe to “go fuck himself” before Richard walks away from the conversation. Clare says to Marlowe to explain Richard’s terrible manners: “He must think there’s something between us—something sexual.”
The problem with Clare saying that Nico is still alive is that Nico has been declared dead from a hit-and-run car accident that happened outside of an exclusive social club called the Corbata Club, where Clare and Nico would frequently meet up. Nico’s half-sister Lynn Peterson (played by Daniela Melchior) identified the body at the morgue before the body was cremated. However, Clare insists to Marlowe that Nico is still alive, because Clare heard that people who knew Nico have seen him alive since that fateful accident. What really happened to Nico?
During this investigation, Marlowe encounters the expected array of shady and corrupt characters. Corbata Club manager Floyd Hansen (played by Danny Huston) has no qualms in telling Marlowe that he covers up scandals for the club’s best customers. Dorothy Quincannon (played by Jessica Lange), Clare’s domineering mother, who is a faded Hollywood actress, is quick to tell Marlowe that Clare has a mental illness that Clare probably inherited from Clare’s father, an oil mogul who drove off of a cliff in La Jolla, California, before Clare was born.
Joe Green (played by Ian Hart) is a sarcastic police officer, who lets Marlowe walk away from crime scenes caused by Marlowe, without even questioning Marlowe. Lou Hendricks (played by Alan Cumming) is an arrogant fixer whose clients are wealthy people. Cedric (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is Lou’s driver, who knows how to keep secrets. Meanwhile, one of the few trustworthy characters in “Marlowe” is Marlowe’s secretary Hilda (played by Stella Stocker), but the movie makes her so generic and sidelined, she ulimately becomes insignificant. It’s a wasted opportunity to create a fascinating character who knows Marlowe very well.
“Marlowe” becomes a tedious mush of Marlowe blandly interviewing people at various locations; Marlowe getting into fist fights where he’s always outnumbered but always seems to win these fights; and Marlowe listening to the catty comments that Clare and Dorothy have to say about each other. This mother and daughter have a love/hate relationship that is mostly hate. After a while, this family feud becomes monotonous and a chore to watch.
While some of the “Marlowe” cast members seem to be acting on an emotionally aloof autopilot (this is especially true of Neeson and Kruger), other cast members (such as Huston and Cumming) ham it up to the point where their characters almost become parodies. Lange seems to be doing her best to bring some spicy intrigue to this film, but she doesn’t have enough screen time and is overshadowed by the cringeworthy acting by most of the other cast members. It doesn’t help that she’s given awful lines of dialogue to say, such as this mind-numbing statement that Carol says to Marlowe: “You know what they say about the boys’ club. There is one.”
With the direction, screenplay and acting a tonal mess, that leaves the mystery about Nico to possibly be the film’s saving grace. But “Marlowe” bungles that mystery too. When secrets are revealed, so much of it is rushed and looks very “only in a movie” fake. This uninspired flop is about famed detective Marlowe looking for a missing person. Too bad “Marlowe” is missing what it should have had: a good presentation of a classic detective story.
Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment released “Marlowe” in U.S. cinemas on February 15, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico and Texas, the action film “Memory” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, Asians and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.
Culture Clash: An assassin, who’s in the early stages of having Alzheimer’s disease, goes after people involved in child sex trafficking, as his memory begins to falter.
Culture Audience: “Memory” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Liam Neeson and anyone who cares more about shootouts and other violence in a movie instead of a movie having a good story.
Liam Neeson and the filmmakers of “Memory” sink to new lows of action movie schlock with the tacky gimmick of making Neeson’s character a forgetful assassin with Alzheimer’s disease. “Memory” mishandles this debilitating disease in ways that go behind cringeworthy and are downright insulting to people who really have suffered from this terrible illness. Alzheimer’s disease robs people of the ability to remember and communicate clearly. “Memory” robs viewers who are unlucky enough to waste time and/or money watching this garbage film.
Directed by Martin Campbell and written by Dario Scardapane, “Memory” (which takes place in Mexico and Texas) is an inferior remake of director Erik Van Looy’s 2003 Belgian film “The Memory of a Killer.” Because “Memory” is based on a movie of much higher quality than this sloppy remake, it has a little bit more of a complex plot than the simplistic action junk that Neeson usually churns out with robotic regularity. However, “Memory” still manages to be a remake that pollutes the story with a lot of hackneyed stereotypes and stupid scenarios.
“Memory” starts out looking like a typical B-level crime thriller, repeating the same concept for almost all of the action movies starring Neeson. But somewhere in the middle of the film, “Memory” takes a steep nosedive into idiocy that at times can be painfully dull. There’s also very little suspense or mystery, because everything happens in such a predictable way.
In these formulaic flicks, Neeson portrays an “anti-hero” who kills people out of revenge or out of necessity because he really just wants to save helpless victims. The victims he wants to save are usually women and/or children. Neeson’s choices in starring in action movies with these repetitive plots indicate that he has a serious complex/fixation on wanting to portray “murderers with a heart of gold.”
The opening scene repeats a familiar murder scenario that’s been seen most of Neeson’s action films. In “Memory,” Neeson portrays an assassin-for-hire named Alex Lewis. The movie’s first scene takes place in Guadalajara, Mexico, where Alex is disguised as a hospital orderly on duty in the room where an elderly woman is bedridden and using an oxygen tube to breathe. Somehow, Alex knows exactly when this woman’s thuggish-looking son is going to visit.
It’s never really explained why this son is target of the murder that Alex is about to commit, but this unnamed target is first seen swaggering through the hospital with a bouquet of flowers. He leers at the hospital receptionist and flirts with her in a way that’s borderline inappropriate. She seems to like the attention though, and she smiles when it looks like he’s leaving the bouquet of flowers for her. But he smirks when he pulls the flowers away and says that the flowers aren’t for her. She looks dejected and embarrassed as he walks away.
The only purpose for this scene is to make this unnamed man look like a jerk, so viewers won’t feel much sympathy for him when Alex ambushes the man in the hospital room and strangles him to death with a wire. The man had gone to the hospital with a male companion, who didn’t accompany the man in the room when this murder took place. There is no explanation for who these men really are, because Alex isn’t really supposed to care either.
It’s the beginning of more mindless (no pun intended) scenes in “Memory,” which has Alex commit a string of badly staged murders that are too unrealistic, even in a stupid action movie. In one of the murders, Alex is in a public parking garage and ties his victim to the steering wheel of a car. And then he blows up the car, as if this parking garage doesn’t have any surveillance cameras.
In another unrealistic murder scene (shown in the “Memory” trailer), Alex shoots a man on the other side of a window in a public gym. The murder victim is on a treadmill, when the window shatters from Alex’s gunshots. A woman on a treadmill is in the same room just about a dozen feet away, but viewers are supposed to believe that, because she’s wearing headphones, she doesn’t hear the gunshots, the glass shattering, or the thud of the victim’s body hitting the floor. Meanwhile, Alex just casually walks away after gunning down this murder victim.
“Memory” also rehashes another cliché in a Neeson action movie: His character wants to quit the criminal lifestyle and “go straight.” In “Memory,” the reason why Alex wants to suddenly become an upstanding citizen is not because he has a guilty conscience about all the people he’s killed but it’s because he’s losing his ability to remember. In other words, Alex knows he will become an incompetent assassin, so he wants to quit while he’s ahead, to prevent his assassin reputation from being ruined.
It’s revealed fairly early on in the movie that Alex has an older brother who has Alzheimer’s disease and is in a nursing home, where Alex visits him and bitterly snaps at a nurse who gives Alex some helpful information. And what a coincidence: Alex has all the signs of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He’s taking medication for it. And in one of the murder scenes, Alex accidentally drops his bottle of prescription pills at the crime scene.
After committing the hospital murder in Guadalajara, Alex is next seen in Mexico City, where he meets up with an assassin colleague named Mauricio (played by Lee Boardman), who is upset that Alex wants to quit. When Alex tells Mauricio, “I’m out,” Mauricio practically snarls at Alex and responds, “Men like us don’t retire.”
Meanwhile, Alex’s murder spree gets entangled with an undercover FBI investigation to bust an international child sex trafficking operation. FBI agent Vincent Serra (played by Guy Pearce) is first seen in the movie, in a scene taking place in El Paso, Texas. Vincent is undercover as a prostitution customer in a run-down home, where a sleazy father named Papa Leon (played by Antonio Jaramillo) is pimping out his 13-year-old daughter Beatriz Leon (played by Mia Sanchez), who’s expected to sexually service Vincent.
Papa Leon is part of an extensive sex trafficking ring that pays undocumented immigrants from Mexico to come to the United States and sell their children into sex slavery. (Beatriz’s mother is apparently dead.) The undercover sting goes awry, when Beatriz notices that Vincent is wearing a surveillance wire. She shouts this information to her father, who panics and attacks Vincent.
A major physical fight ensues between Papa Leon and Vincent. FBI agents, who were listening in during this sting operation in a nearby van, rush to the building to provide backup for Vincent. Papa Leon and Vincent crash out of a second-floor window during their brawl. Papa Leon is instantly killed in the fall, while Vincent has sustained minor injuries.
Beatriz is taken to a detention center for undocumented immigrants. When Vincent visits Beatriz, he tries to get information from her about the people who are part of this sex trafficking ring. She refuses to tell because her father ordered her never to snitch. Beatriz is also very angry at Vincent, whom she blames for her father’s death.
Vincent feels guilty because he knows how inhumane these detention centers can be. And so, even though Beatriz is an uncooperative witness, Vincent arranges for her to be taken out of the detention center and into a group home for orphaned children. If Vincent thought that Beatriz would be safer in this group home, he was wrong.
That’s because the “one last hit” that Alex has agreed to do before he “retires” takes place in El Paso, and it involves Beatriz. Alex has been ordered to kill two people in this hit job: One is a businessman named Ellis Van Camp (played by Scot Williams), whom Alex strangles in Ellis’ home where Ellis lives with his wife Wendy Can Camp (played by Rebecca Calder) and their teenage daughter. Only Ellis is killed, because “Memory” goes out of its way to show that Alex doesn’t kill “innocent” women and children.
Alex finds out that the other person he’s supposed to kill in this hit job is Beatriz. He doesn’t find out that she’s a child until he shows up and surprises her while she’s sleeping in the group home. It’s a huge, hard-to-believe plot hole that a so-called “professional” hit man doesn’t even know what his target looks like, let alone that she’s a child. Alex is horrified when he sees that Beatriz is a child. Beatriz sees this stranger with a gun pointed at her, so she begs him not to kill her. Alex backs away and leaves the house undetected.
Alex tells Mauricio that he won’t go through with the deal, because Alex says he will never kill children. Even if Alex wanted to return the money that he was paid, Mauricio warns Alex that he can’t cancel the deal, but Alex doesn’t care. The person who hired Alex for this assassin job is a real estate attorney named William Borden (played by Daniel De Bourg), who gets roughed up and punched by Alex when Alex tells William to call off this assassin contract.
Meanwhile, because of the botched sting involving Papa Leon and because Beatriz is an uncooperative witness who is likely to be deported, the FBI dismantles the task force that was involved in this sting. Vincent is upset because he thinks the group is close to busting the leaders and frequent customers of this sex trafficking ring. Vincent’s immediate supervisor is a no-nonsense FBI official named Gerald Nussbaum (played by Ray Fearon), who tells Vincent that the orders to shut down the task force came from FBI authorities who are ranked higher than Gerald.
The other task force members are a sensible and even-tempered FBI agent named Linda Amistead (played by Taj Atwal) and a mysterious and hot-headed Mexican law enforcement official named Hugo Marquez (played by Harold Torres), who has a vague background and prefers to be called Marquez. It’s stated that Marquez might or might not have official authority from Mexico to help this task force, but apparently, the FBI in this movie never bothered to check. The task force needs Marquez because he claims to have connections in Mexico that can help the task force members get the information that they need. The FBI has officially disbanded the task force, but Vincent, Linda and Marquez agree to secretly continue working on the case together.
It should come as no surprise that Ellis Van Camp was suspected of being involved in this sex-trafficking ring. That’s why Vincent, Linda and Hugo go to the Van Camp house to interview Ellis’ widow Wendy, who is not helpful because she claims she doesn’t know why her husband was murdered. The El Paso Police Department has a detective named Danny Mora (played by Ray Stevenson), who’s heading the murder investigation. Detective Mora is at the house to interview Wendy too.
Predictably, the FBI agents clash with the cops from the El Paso Police Department, as more murders are committed in El Paso that are related to this sex trafficking ring. William Borden works for a real estate mogul named Davana Sealman (played by Monica Bellucci), who runs her company with her spoiled son Randy Sealman (played by Josh Taylor), whom she sometimes calls Rafo. They’re all desperately looking for some computer flash drives that have some very incriminating evidence.
Even before the movie reveals what’s on the flash drives, it’s very easy to figure out who are the guilty people, and why they don’t want anyone else to know what’s on the flash drives. And when Alex finds out, suddenly he doesn’t want to be a retired hit man anymore. He wants to kill everyone he can find who’s involved in this sex trafficking ring. There are no real surprises in “Memory,” which has all the subtlety of one of the movie’s many bloody shootout scenes.
One of the people killed by Alex is William Borden, whose murder is already revealed in the “Memory” trailer. Some innocent people who are not involved in the sex trafficking get killed along the way too. Law enforcement is hunting Alex, who is the prime suspect in all of these deaths. Meanwhile, the people who hired Alex want him dead because he didn’t kill Beatriz. It all just leads to one ludicrous chase and fight scene after another.
There’s a gruesome point in the movie where Alex gets a deep gunshot wound in his abdomen, and he lights the wound on fire, ostensibly to try to disinfect the wound so he could remove the bullet. But Alex actually doesn’t remove the bullet. That’s because his Alzheimer’s disease kicks in at random moments and he forgets things. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.
“Memory” is plagued with a lot of hokey dialogue and awkward scenes. For example, there are multiple scenes where vain and image-conscious Davana is getting Botox treatments in her home from her personal physician, Dr. Joseph Myers (played by Atanas Srebrev), who tactfully tries to tell her to age gracefully. Davana doesn’t want to hear it though. She spouts some gibberish about DNA being like an algorithm and that aging should be manipulated and controlled like an algorithm.
In another clumsily acted sequence, FBI investigators interview Maryanne Borden (played by Natalie Anderson), the widow of slain attorney William Borden. Maryanne, who is haughty and dismissive, essentially tells investigators that she was a trophy wife who really didn’t love her husband. Later, Marquez goes to the Borden home alone to get more information from Maryanne, who’s in a once-piece swimsuit, and she tries to seduce him by pulling down the upper half of the swimsuit. If this is the movie’s attempt to be sexy, it’s a miserable failure.
In another scene that looks very phony, Vincent and Linda are “undercover” at a yacht party attended by Randy Sealman. The problem with this scene is that Vincent and Linda look, act and dress like obvious law enforcement agents who are there as part of an investigation. While everyone on the yacht is dressed in swimwear or party clothes, Vincent and Linda are dressed in casual business suits. These FBI agents glance furtively around at people when they talk, because clearly look like they don’t know anyone at the party. It’s just an example of the many terribly filmed scenes in the movie.
Alex’s murky past is given a very lackluster and poorly conceived backstory. When Vincent does a background check on prime suspect Alex, this FBI agent finds out that Alex and his brother used to be troublemakers in their childhood, with arrest records for their crimes. However, Alex and his father both have death certificates. What really happened in this family? That part of the story is not as intriguing as “Memory” would lead viewers to believe, because it all takes a back seat to the violence and gore.
None of the acting in “Memory” is special, because all of the main stars of the movie have played versions of these characters in much better films. Bellucci’s stiff and wooden acting drags the film down even more. Neeson’s character in “Memory” forgets a lot of important details, but it seems like Neeson has forgotten how to make good action films.
Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment released “Memory” in U.S. cinemas on April 29, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Washington, D.C., the action film “Blacklight” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: An undercover “fixer” for the FBI finds himself enmeshed in a corrupt conspiracy that endangers his life and the lives of others.
Culture Audience: “Blacklight” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Liam Neeson and ludicrous action movies.
Ever since the success of the “Taken” movie series, Liam Neeson has dragged himself down a shameless and shoddy hole of “Taken” ripoff movies. “Blacklight” is one of the worst. There is absolutely nothing original about this movie, which just re-uses and dumbs down plot elements from better action flicks, and then throws in lot of noisy stunts and fight scenes to distract from the ridiculous story. The movie has an awkward mix of gritty violence and ultra-sugary sentimentality. And through it all, Neeson looks like he’s just there for the easy money to play the same type of character over and over in these “Taken” ripoff movies.
“Blacklight” was directed by Mark Williams, who co-wrote the movie’s terrible screenplay with Nick May. Williams’ previous movie was 2020’s “Honest Thief,” which also starred Neeson as yet another grouchy loner with a troubled history and a bad temper. “Honest Thief” was another schlocky, unrealistic action flick, but at least “Honest Thief” tried to have some unexpected plot twists. “Blacklight” doesn’t even try. In fact, about 20 minutes into this 108-minute movie, it’s very easy to predict how everything is going to end.
In “Blacklight,” Neeson plays another “lone wolf” type with a particular set of skills in fighting whomever he fights in the movie. Neeson’s Travis Block character has been working “off the books” as an undercover “fixer” for the FBI. His boss is FBI director Gabriel Robinson (played by Aidan Quinn), who has one of the cheapest-looking and most basic offices that you’ll ever see in a movie for the supposed top leader of the FBI. He might as well be a back-office manager of a toilet-paper company with the type of office that he has in this movie. “Blacklight” is a fairly low-budget film, but the movie’s production design is laughably incompetent.
The story takes place mostly in Washington, D.C., but the movie was actually filmed in Australia. Regardless of where it was filmed, the low-quality cinematography often gives scenes a blue-gray tinge that makes locations look as soulless as a drab slab of steel. And for an action film, “Blacklight” has too many dull moments that aren’t helped by the movie’s subpar editing.
“Blacklight” opens with a political rally led by a progressive liberal politician named Sofia Flores (played by Mel Jarnson), who is obviously supposed to be like this movie’s version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In the audience of Sofia’s enthusiastic supporters is Dusty Crane (played by Taylor John Smith), who cheers his approval at everything Sofia says during the rally. Viewers find out later that Dusty is a former FBI agent who went rogue. Tragedy strikes after Sofia leaves the rally: She’s run over by a car, which speeds off.
Meanwhile, Travis is shown coming to the rescue of an undercover FBI agent named Helen Davidson (played by Yael Stone), who is trapped in a house trailer with an angry mob of about 10 to 15 white supremacists taunting her outside. Before Travis arrives, he finds out that Helen had been undercover to infiltrate this white supremacist group. However, Helen’s cover was blown, the mob outside knows she works for the FBI, and now these racists want to get violent revenge on Helen.
Travis does exactly what you think he would do to take on this furious mob that looks like it’s about to set the trailer on fire: He blows something up, and then runs off with Helen through a back door. And if people got killed during this massive explosion, oh well. “Blacklight” is so idiotic, it doesn’t bother explaining why Travis was sent all by himself for this dangerous rescue, when he was clearly outnumbered and had no backup in case things went wrong.
Back at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., Travis gives his boss Gabriel a briefing on what happened with this rescue. However, Gabriel has something bigger that’s preoccupying his thoughts: The death of Sofia is big news, and he wants to squash an investigation that could prove that her death was a planned murder. Sofia’s supporters are putting pressure on law enforcement to investigate her death as a homicide. Gabriel tells Travis that as far as he’s concerned, Sofia’s death was a hit-and-run accident, no matter what “politically correct protestors” want to say.
It’s at this point in the movie, Gabriel might as well wear a T-shirt that says, “Corrupt FBI Director Stuck in a Horrible Movie.” It’s also shown in the trailer for “Blacklight” that Gabriel is the movie’s chief villain. Later in the movie, it’s revealed that Travis and Gabriel did combat together during the Vietnam War. They lost touch with each other after the war. But then, 15 years ago, Gabriel contacted Travis out of the blue to offer him this undercover “fixer” job for the FBI. Travis has been a loyal employee ever since.
However, Travis wants to retire. Why? Because he wants to spend more time with his granddaughter Natalie (played by Gabriella Sengos), who’s about 5 or 6 years old and is a typical cute kid who says adorable things that make Travis feel all mushy inside. Natalie’s mother is Travis’ daughter Amanda Block (played by Claire van der Boom), who has been raising Natalie on her own, ever since Natalie’s father abandoned them. Amanda has abandonment issues because her mother (Travis’ ex-wife) also left the family when Amanda was a child.
The reasons for the collapse of Travis’ marriage remain vague in the movie. However, at one point, Travis remorsefully tells Amanda that he wasn’t a good husband and father, but he wants to make up for it by being the best grandfather he can be to Natalie. “Blacklight” has its sappiest moments when Travis tries to be an upstanding and reformed family man. But it all looks so phony when he does terrible and violent things that he knows are cover-ups for the FBI’s dirty deeds. Travis justifies it in his mind by saying he doesn’t believe in deliberately killing “innocent” people.
Meanwhile, at an unnamed newspaper that’s supposed to be as prominent as The Washington Post, ambitious reporter Mira Jones (played by Emmy Raver-Lampman) and her editor Drew Hawthorne (played by Tim Draxl) talk about the sudden death of Sofia. Mira, who calls Sofia a “voice of her generation,” thinks Sofia’s death could have been a political assassination, and Mira wants to investigate it for the newspaper. Sofia’s death has officially been ruled as an accident, and Drew believes this official report. He decides the official cause of death should be the story that the newspaper should have, so he declines Mira’s offer to investigate further.
Mira doesn’t know it yet, but her world will collide with Dusty and Travis. Dusty has bombshell information about the FBI that he wants to give to Mira. He’s in such turmoil about this information, he’s been drinking heavily and popping pills. That’s what he’s seen doing as he’s parked in his car outside of a police station. And he has an unconcealed, loaded gun next to him on the front passenger seat.
Some cops approach Dusty to ask him why he’s parked there. They see the loaded gun and ask Dusty to step out of the car to arrest him, since it’s illegal for to have an unconcealed weapon in a car. Dusty resists arrest by suddenly assaulting the police officers. He’s outnumbered and easily arrested.
In jail, Dusty gets a visit from Travis, who wonders why Dusty could be so reckless and foolish. Travis is under orders from Gabriel to bail Dusty out of jail and bring Dusty into “special” FBI custody. Dusty tells Travis that he’s going to tell a reporter some information, and he’s not going to let anyone stop him. The information has to do with a secret government conspiracy called Operation Unity.
“Blacklight” is such a stupid movie that when Travis takes Dusty into custody in Travis’ car, Travis doesn’t handcuff both hands behind Dusty’s back. Instead, he has only one of Dusty’s hands handcuffed to a hook near a car window. And then, instead of locking Dusty up in a secure area, Travis takes a detour because he has a parent-teacher meeting at Natalie’s school. Travis leaves Dusty in his car unattended. And you know what that means.
Dusty escapes, of course, and that leads to a lengthy chase scene where Dusty steals a truck, and speeds down streets and on pedestrian sidewalks, thereby causing several car crashes and injuries. Travis races after Dusty in Travis’ car, and at one point their vehicles are side by side, with the windows open. Travis shouts at Dusty, “What the hell are you doing?” Dusty yells back, “I’m going to free my conscience!”
What’s the big rush, Dusty? It turns out that Dusty wants to meet with Mira, to give her the bombshell information that he has stored on a computer flash drive. That’s why Travis ends up meeting Mira too. But things don’t go smoothly for all three of them, of course. And not everyone makes it out alive by the end of the movie.
Dusty manages to escape from Travis and goes into hiding. Two FBI goons with the last names Lockhart (played by Andrew Shaw) and Wallace (played by Zac Lemons) are sent to go after Dusty. And the person who sent them is exactly who you expect it would be. The Washington, D.C. police department is also looking for Dusty since he’s now an outlaw who skipped bail. And, of course, Travis has to hunt down Dusty too.
“Blacklight” is such a sloppily made and terrible movie that it throws in a few things to try to make the characters look “deep and complicated,” but then does nothing with these subplots. For example, it’s revealed that Travis has obsessive compulsive disorder, but there’s barely any evidence of this OCD. The only person in Travis’ life to mention his OCD is Amanda, who tells Travis: “Your quirks aren’t quirks anymore. I sometimes wonder if your quirks changed you, or was it your dirty job?”
Mira has a backstory that’s introduced and then left to dangle as a meaningless plot strand. Travis and Mira end up reluctantly helping each other, because she’s been investigating Gabriel for ordering assassinations of political enemies and whistleblowers. (It’s another plot point that’s revealed in the movie’s trailer.) In fact, the “Blacklight” trailer gives away about 90% of the movie’s plot, including Natalie going missing, and Travis confronting Gabriel before their big showdown.
None of the acting is very impressive, although Raver-Lampman and van der Boom seem to be making an attempt to bring emotional nuance to their characters. Any effort to give a good performance is just wasted on a bad movie that has no intentions of being original in moronically staged and poorly written scenes in this inferior revenge flick. “Blacklight” is as suspenseful as wondering if Neeson is going to star in yet another “Taken” ripoff after making this garbage film.
Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment released “Blacklight” in U.S. cinemas on February 11, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the United States (especially the Southwest) and briefly in Mexico, the action flick “The Marksman” features a racially diverse cast of white people and Latinos, with a few African Americans and Asians.
Culture Clash: A former Marine-turned-rancher, who lives in Arizona, helps an orphaned boy, who’s an undocumented Mexican immigrant, as they try to hide from drug cartel gangsters who want to kill the boy.
Culture Audience: “The Marksman” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Liam Neeson and to viewers who like violent and clichéchase movies.
By now, Liam Neeson has made so many mediocre-to-bad action schlockfests that he could do them in his sleep. Audiences can also predict in their sleep what’s going to happen in these movies. Does Neeson play a loner who’s got something to prove? Is he an anti-hero who breaks the law as a means to an end? Is there a formulaic and sometimes nonsensical plot amid all the chase scenes, fist fights and gun shootouts? The answer is “yes” to all of these questions. “The Marksman” falls right in line in Neeson’s long list of these types of forgettable flicks.
Directed with little imagination by Robert Lorenz (who co-wrote the derivative screenplay with Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz), “The Marksman” tries and fails to be more socially relevant than the average action movie. “The Marksman” throws in the hot-button issues of undocumented Mexican immigrants and Mexican drug cartels, who have been used in divisive political debates on how the United States should or should not change immigration laws. The movie panders to the worst negative stereotypes of Mexicans who cross over into the U.S. border. And the film pushes another “white savior” narrative that makes a crusading white person as the only person in the story who has the conscience and the courage to do the “rescuing” of someone who isn’t white.
In “The Marksman,” Neeson portrays Jim Hanson, a former Marine who is now a rancher in Naco, Arizona. Neeson keeps his native Irish accent in the movie, so it’s clear to viewers that Jim is an Irish immigrant. Jim sometimes tries to talk like an American cowboy, but it doesn’t sound believable, partly because much of this movie’s screenplay has badly written dialogue.
Jim is a grouchy and sad widower who lives alone, and his life isn’t going so well. In addition to grieving over his wife (who died of cancer), he’s also having major financial problems because his ranch is on the brink of going into foreclosure. Jim gets a visit from a bank official (played by Alex Knight), who tells Jim that he has 90 days to come up with the back payments, or else the bank will take ownership of the property. And it looks like Jim could very well lose his ranch, because when he tries to come up with ways to earn more money, all of his attempts fail.
Jim’s only real companion is his Border Collie mix dog named Jackson. Jim also has an adult stepdaughter named Sarah (played by Katheryn Winnick), who works as a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Jim has been hiding his financial problems from Sarah. But after the visit from the bank official, Jim meets up with Sarah at a bar, where he tries to drown his sorrows in drinking alcohol, and he confesses to her about being close to losing the ranch and feeling very scared about his uncertain future. Sarah is sympathetic and comforting. She drives Jim home because he’s too drunk to drive.
Meanwhile, the beginning of the movie shows the Mexican boy who will unexpectedly come into Jim’s life. His name is Miguel (played by Jacob Perez), who’s about 12 or 13 years old. Miguel lives in Mexico with his widowed mother Rosa (played by Teresa Ruiz) in a modest house. Miguel is shown going to another house to look for an older girl named Lola, whom he has a crush on, but Lola’s brother (played by Harry Maldonado) tells Miguel to leave immediately because Lola is too old for him.
Rosa and Miguel don’t have an entirely squeaky-clean life. Miguel’s uncle Carlos (played by Alfredo Quiroz) helps look after him, but Carlos is a member of a drug cartel. Carlos has stolen a lot of cash from the cartel, so he’s captured and tortured by some of the gang members. The cartel’s boss is named Angel (who’s never seen or heard in this movie), but he has a goon named Mauricio Carrero (played by Juan Pablo Raba) as one of the chief henchman tasked with “making an example” out of Carlos.
Before Carlos is caught by the other cartel thugs, he makes a frantic phone call to Rosa and tells her that she and Miguel must leave the house immediately because people will be looking for them and will want to kill them. Rosa takes a travel bag full of cash (which is presumably the stolen cash) and follows Carlos’ orders. She and Miguel barely manage to escape from the house before Mauricio and his cronies show up. The gangsters have tracked Rosa down because they took Carlos’ phone and saw her number in the phone.
Rosa has enlisted the help of a guide to take her and Miguel to the U.S. border. But shortly before they get to the border, the guide changes his mind when he sees that they’re being followed in a Chevrolet Suburban SUV, and he figures out that Rosa is running away from gang members. He tells Rosa and Miguel that they’re now on their own. He advises them to find the part of the border’s wire fence that can be loosened so that they can cross over.
With Mauricio and his thugs (he has two with him, including his brother) quickly catching up, Rosa and Miguel frantically race to the fence and find the part of the fence that they can go through to get to the U.S. border. However, one of Rosa’s legs accidentally gets cut on the fence wire. Miguel is running ahead of her into the middle of a road, where he almost gets hit by a beat-up Chevy truck. Who’s driving the truck? Jim, of course.
Jim knows immediately that the woman and boy he’s encountered have entered the U.S. border illegally, so he calls the U.S. Border Patrol to report them. His plan is to hold them until the Border Patrol agents can arrive and take over. But then, Mauricio and his thugs show up and demand that Jim (who has a gun) hand over Rosa and Mauricio. Jim refuses by saying, “Sorry, Pancho, these illegals are mine. I suggest you just turn around and say ‘adios’.”
This leads to a shootout and chase scene that includes Mauricio hopping on the truck and trying to get Jim to run off the road. However, Mauricio is thrown off of the truck. And in the end, Mauricio’s brother and Rosa end up dying from gunshot wounds. Mauricio leaves in defeat with his remaining cohort. But, of course, Mauricio will be back for revenge.
The Border Patrol agents take Miguel to the nearest detention center, and they plan to deport him back to Mexico, since they were able to track down some relatives who are willing to take custody of Miguel. As Jim is driving away, he notices that Rosa left behind a bag full of cash in his truck, along with a slip of paper that has a street address in Chicago. There’s no name with this address, but Jim immediately figures out that Rosa intended to flee with Miguel to this address.
Jim suddenly has a change of heart and decides that he’s going to take Miguel to this address. He calls his stepdaughter Sarah, finds out that Miguel is going to be deported, and Jim asks her if there’s anything she can do to stop it. She firmly says no and tells him it would be against the law for anyone to stop the deportation.
But that doesn’t prevent Jim from showing up at the Border Patrol detention center, pretending that Sarah gave her permission for Jim to visit Miguel, and talking his way into the room where Miguel is being held. Jim has been told that Miguel blames Jim for his mother’s death, but somehow Miguel doesn’t show much hesitation in trusting Jim when Jim tells Miguel to leave with him.
Jim and Miguel sneak out of the detention center. Is it kidnapping or is it doing the right thing? Jim thinks it’s the latter. And that’s when they go on the road trip that takes up the rest of the movie.
At first, Jim thinks Miguel doesn’t speak English, so there are some tense moments where he tries to communicate with a sullen Miguel. But then, lo and behold, Miguel reveals that he can speak and understand English perfectly. A very ignorant Jim is surprised to find out that Miguel learned English in school. It’s as if Jim thinks Mexico is a backwards country where the only language that’s taught in school is Spanish.
“The Marksman” has some very ludicrous plot holes to explain what happens next in the story. Mauricio and three of his thugs have crossed the U.S. border (by bribing a border patrol agent) and have been staking out the Border Patrol detention center to find out what happens to Miguel. It’s actually pretty dumb that they’re sitting in their car and hanging out conspicuously in a parking lot where they could be easily caught by Border Patrol agents.
Because of this stakeout, Mauricio and his thugs happen to see the exact moment when Jim and Miguel drive away in Jim’s truck. They follow Jim to his remote ranch. (Jim doesn’t notice that he’s being followed, even though he should be paranoid about being caught for kidnapping.) Jim and Miguel have left the ranch and have started their road trip by the time the thugs show up at the ranch. Mauricio and his cronies snoop around the house, and that’s how the gangsters find out personal information about Jim.
Mauricio uses his connections with computer hackers to track Jim’s movements, based on Jim’s credit card activity. Later in the story, Mauricio enlists the help of some other criminals during this cat-and-mouse game that takes place in various U.S. states, including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Arkansas. (The movie was actually filmed in Ohio and New Mexico.) These other criminals are just bit players, because for the most part, the gang doing the actual chasing consists of just four thugs (Mauricio and his cronies) who are in a SUV to track down Jim and Miguel.
“The Marksman” is one of those dumb action flicks where during a big showdown with guns or other weapons, people stand around talking to their targets, instead of using the weapons immediately on their targets. There are some “close calls” where Jim and Mauricio could have been easily killed immediately in real life. But since this is a fictional movie, that type of realism would cut the story too short, so the plot is dragged out in very unimaginative ways.
There’s almost no suspense in “The Marksman” because it plays out exactly how most people expect it to play out. The violence is utterly predictable. Perez’s portrayal of Miguel is adequate (the character doesn’t do much talking), while Neeson is clearly just going through the motions and brings nothing unique or charming to this role. Raba’s Mauricio character is very generic, while the other criminals in the movie have no discernable personalities.
There are moments when Jim starts to doubt his decision to “rescue” Miguel. And there’s a brief interlude where Jim and Miguel express very different views on religion: Miguel is religious and believes in heaven, while Jim is a staunch atheist. This difference in opinion leads to a scene where Jim shows he does have a heart underneath his gruff exterior. But that’s the closest thing to “emotional depth” that this banal movie has.
“The Marksman” isn’t a relentlessly horrible film. It’s just a very lazy film because it does nothing for the genre of action-oriented Westerns. Some viewers might be offended by how the movie depicts Mexican men. The only people who might like this movie are those who can’t get enough of Neeson recycling his same “defiant loner” persona in yet another stale action flick.
Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment released “The Marksman” in U.S. cinemas on January 15, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place in the Boston area, the action-crime thriller “Honest Thief” has a predominantly white cast (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A notorious bank robber battles with FBI agents when he decides to turn himself into authorities.
Culture Audience: “Honest Thief” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching predictable thrillers that have a lot of credibility issues.
If there’s an action drama with Liam Nesson as the star, then you can bet that his character in the movie is out for revenge. The problem is that Neeson has made so many of these types of “revenge movies” that they all blend together after a while, except for the “Taken” franchise which is its own separate beast. Therefore, it’s understandable if viewers really can’t tell one Neeson pulpy thriller from the next one. At least with “Honest Thief,” the title is a reminder of what type of character Neeson portrays in the movie. The film’s title might be distinctive, but the movie’s mediocre plot and action definitely are as generic and unimaginative as they can be.
In “Honest Thief” (directed by Mark Williams), Neeson plays Tom Dolan, also known as Tom Carter, a notorious bank robber whose modus operandi is to set off explosives to open a safe in a bank while the bank is closed for business. (Tom lives in the Boston area, and Neeson keeps his native Irish accent for this role.) Tom always chooses banks with older safes (which are easier to open) and which are located next to vacant buildings, so the explosives won’t affect a building next door that has an active business.
Tom has robbed 12 banks in seven states over the past eight years. His total robbery haul is about $9 million, and he’s been successfully able to elude capture for all of these years. Law enforcement has no idea who the bank robber is, and the bank robber is nicknamed the In and Out Bandit by the media, because of how quickly and efficiently he commits the crimes.
But Tom’s life is about to change when he meets Annie Wilkins (played by Kate Walsh), who works as a clerk at a place that rents storage units. Tom goes there to rent a medium-sized unit, which viewers can immediately tell is where he’s going to hide money that he stole from the bank robberies. Tom and Annie flirt a little during this transaction, which indicates that Annie might just become more than a passing encounter.
The movie then fast forwards to one year later. Annie and Tom are now a couple, and they are looking at a big house that Tom is going to purchase in Newton, Massachusetts. Tom then surprises Annie by asking her to move in with him. She’s hesitant because she’s still recovering from a traumatic divorce and is very reluctant to take her relationship with Tom to the level of “live-in partner.”
Annie hasn’t lived with anyone since her divorce. As she tells Tom, “I just don’t want to go through that again.” Tom tells her, “You won’t have to.” And because Annie really likes the house and seems to really love Tom, she then changes her mind and says yes. Annie is studying psychology to become a therapist, which is a skill she’s going to need when she has to deal with all the crazy things that happen to her in this movie.
But what about Tom’s secret life as a bank robber? He’s about to come clean and face the consequences. While staying at the Charleston Hotel, Tom calls the FBI’s Boston office and confesses that he’s the bank robber called the In and Out Bandit. He also mentions that he hates that nickname because he thinks it’s tacky, as if that’s something he should be concerned about in the moment that he confesses to his serious crimes.
The FBI agent who talks to Tom on the phone is Agent Sam Baker (played by Robert Patrick), who listens to Tom’s confession with a great deal of skepticism. Tom tells Baker that he will turn himself in and give back all the money that he stole, on the conditions that he serve a reduced sentence with a maximum of two years, and it must be at a minimum-security prison that’s near Boston.
Baker almost laughs when he tells Tom that the law doesn’t work that way, but Tom stands firm on his demands. When Baker asks Tom why he’s confessing, Tom says it’s because he met a special woman, he can no longer live with the guilt of his big secret, and he wants to start a new life with her after he serves his prison time. Tom hasn’t robbed any banks since he fell in love with Annie.
Tom tells Baker that he’s at the Charleston Hotel in Room 216. Baker then tells Tom that he will look into Tom’s claims, but Baker comments that the FBI has gotten a lot of false confessions from people claiming to be the In and Out Bandit. Tom insists that he’s telling the truth about being the real In and Out Bandit. (And he is.)
While Baker is taking this call, he’s sitting across from his colleague Agent Myers (played by Jeffrey Donavan), who’s even more hard-nosed and more cynical than Baker. Both men have a lot of respect for each other though. Myers considers Baker to be his mentor and closest friend in the FBI.
There’s a minor running joke in the movie that Myers often has his small white-and-brown dog named Tazzie with him. It’s a dog that he doesn’t really want, but he got the dog in a bitter divorce from his ex-wife, who got to keep their former marital home. And, out of spite, he doesn’t want to give the dog back to his ex-wife. Myers doesn’t mistreat the dog, but Tazzie is often seen tagging along with Myers in places that you wouldn’t expect to see a small dog during an intense FBI operation.
The dog’s presence is one of the few semi-humorous things in “Honest Thief,” which takes itself way too seriously for being such a formulaic and substandard movie. (“Honest Thief” director Williams co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Steve Allrich.) There’s plenty of action, but much of it has so many unrealistic consequences, that anyone watching this movie will have to drop any expectations that “Honest Thief” is nothing more than a cheap retread of Neeson’s other “anti-hero” rampage movies, where he gets angry at certain people and won’t stop until they’re all injured or killed.
Agent Baker thinks that Tom is just another crackpot giving a false confession, so he hands off the report to two subordinate FBI agents named Agent Pete Nivens (played by Jai Courtney) and Agent Mario Hall (played by Anthony Ramos). Nivens is single and very ambitious in his career. Hall is a happily married man with a young son.
The difference between these two men becomes obvious when Nivens complains to Hall about how parents unnecessarily gush about their children to make childless people feel like they’re missing out in life. Nivens basically tells Hall that he thinks being a parent is overrated. Later in the movie, Nivens (who thinks of himself as an “alpha male”) repeatedly manipulates Hall by using Hall’s love for his son as a way for Nivens to get Hall to do what Nivens wants.
Nivens and Hall go to the Charleston Hotel to visit Tom and investigate Tom’s claims. Tom tells these two FBI agents that he hid the robbery money in a storage unit and offers to show it to them as proof. However, Nivens orders Tom to stay at the hotel and says that he and Hall will go to the storage unit by themselves. Tom reluctantly gives them the key to the storage unit and tells them where the storage unit is.
Nivens and Hall go to Tom’s storage unit and find out that Tom was telling the truth, because they find millions of dollars in cash hidden in boxes. Nivens then convinces a reluctant Hall that they should steal all the money for themselves and pretend to everyone else that the money was never there. Nivens appeals to Hall’s desire to be able to pay for whatever his family wants, as a way to persuade Hall that he will never have any more money problems for the rest of his life.
Nivens and Hall are packing up the boxes of cash in their car trunk when Annie suddenly approaches them to ask what they’re doing with Tom’s stuff. Annie mentions that she saw them on the office’s surveillance cameras, and she came outside to investigate. Nivens and Hall lie and tell Annie that Tom asked them to help move some of his items from the storage unit.
Because Tom had told Annie that he was temporarily staying at a hotel due to plumbing repairs in his home, she believes want Nivens and Hall have to say. Even though Annie is suspicious, she asks a lot of leading questions that are easy for the crooked FBI agents to lie about, such as, “How do you know Tom? Did you serve in the Marines with him?” And, of course, they say yes.
Putting aside the fact that they know they’ve been caught on camera taking things out of the storage locker, the stupidity of Nivens and Hall’s decision to steal the money also comes from the fact that they wouldn’t be able to spend all that money without arousing suspicion. And who knows if that stolen bank money has bills that are marked? These are things that FBI agents and other law-enforcement officials are trained to know about, but the corrupt FBI dimwits in this sloppily written movie don’t consider these very realistic factors.
And not to mention that a snake like Nivens wouldn’t hesitate to double-cross his partner in crime, so Hall is incredibly naïve for putting his trust in Nivens. Hall finds out how much of a loose cannon Nivens can be when something happens after Hall and Nivens get back to the hotel and they lie to Tom by saying that they didn’t find any money in the storage unit. What happens next in the hotel sets off a chain of events that lead to Tom going on the run, Annie getting caught up in the danger, and certain FBI agents chasing in dogged pursuit.
When there’s a movie as poorly thought-out as “Honest Thief,” sometimes it can be entertaining because of the action sequences. But the action in “Honest Thief” is very unremarkable and has been seen in dozens of other movies just like it. People get beaten up, there are some explosions, some car chases, some shootouts, some chases on foot. And there are lots of scenes where Neeson just barrels along with injuries that, in real life, would put someone in an emergency room at a hospital.
“Honest Thief” is just another unimpressive action showcase for Neeson as yet another angry and misunderstood loner who’s out for self-righteous vengeance while he goes through the expected motions with gun violence and other predictable stunts. Neeson has been sticking to this formula for quite some time for his action films, so most of his fans should know what to expect. Anyone expecting high-quality entertainment from “Honest Thief” will definitely feel cheated.
Open Road Films released “Honest Thief” in U.S. cinemas on October 16, 2020.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, “Ordinary Love” has a predominantly white cast of middle-class characters, with the story focusing on a middle-aged couple who’ve been married for about 30 years.
Culture Clash: The couple’s marriage is put to the test when the wife finds out that she has breast cancer, and they have disagreements about her medical treatment.
Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people who want to see a well-acted, tear-jerking drama with realistic portrayals of marriage and health issues that affect millions of people.
It’s no easy task to make a movie about someone getting cancer. The subject matter can be extremely depressing and there’s always the possibility that it will turn off an audience. However, the drama “Ordinary Love” is probably one of the most emotionally authentic scripted “cancer movies” that’s been made in quite some time. But be warned: Some of the scenes are so realistic, they’ll be very triggering for anyone who’s gone through something similar.
In the beginning of the story, life seems to be on a tranquil keel for middle-aged Belfast couple Tom (played by Liam Neeson) and Joan (played by Lesley Manville), who’ve been married for about 30 years and appear to be retired. Viewers see them going on pleasant walks together and going on errands. But one day, Joan feels a lump on her breast and makes a hospital appointment to get a medical exam about it.
Tom accompanies Joan to the appointment, where he tells her in the waiting area that he hates hospitals because they’re depressing and they remind him of death. After the exam, they’re told that the cyst in Joan’s breast could be cancerous. The doctor tells them that on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not cancerous and 5 is definitely cancerous, the cyst is about a 3. Joan tries to look on the bright side, but Tom is already bracing himself for bad news.
And it is very bad news: Joan has cancer, and she has to have surgery to remove two lumps and about 13 lymph nodes. As the dreaded news sinks in, Joan tries to deal with it as bravely, even somewhat cheerfully, as possible, while Tom grows despondent and pessimistic.
The cancer diagnosis and the possibility of Joan dying also opens a wound from their past: Tom and Joan’s only child, a daughter named Debbie, died when she was an adult. It’s not mentioned in the movie how she died, but Debbie’s death has left a huge void in their lives. “I’m glad that Debbie isn’t here to see this,” Joan says of her cancer diagnosis. “It would break her heart.”
While in the car on the way to checking in for her hospital stay, Joan remembers that she hasn’t had time to visit Debbie’s grave since the cancer diagnosis. She asks Tom go to Debbie’s grave to tell her about Joan having cancer. Tom thinks it’s a ridiculous request, but Joan gets very upset and emotional when Tom expresses reluctance to do what she asked. He eventually does what Joan wishes. His scene at the grave is one of the most gut-wrenching parts of the movie.
There isn’t an unrealistic moment in “Ordinary Love,” mainly because of Neeson’s and Manville’s superb performances. The movie’s greatest authenticity is not from wailing melodrama (which a lot of cancer movies have) but from the quiet moments, such as the fear in Joan’s eyes as they’re preparing her for surgery, or the small talk that she makes with a fellow patient who’s also about to go into surgery.
The movie also shows the tensions that can arise from this traumatic medical diagnosis. Joan snaps at Tom because she thinks he asks the doctor too many questions. Tom thinks that Joan is not asking enough questions. She tells him to be quiet. Viewers can tell that this bickering isn’t really about how many questions the doctor is being asked but about how differently Tom and Joan are dealing with the diagnosis.
And in one of the best scenes in the film, the emotions run really raw when Tom and Joan get into an argument about how she takes her medication. He thinks she should be more mindful of her prescription pills—what to take and when to take them—and he starts to lecture her by saying that they’re both going through this together. Joan explodes and accuses him of being unsympathetic. She tells him that that as bad as he might be feeling, she feels even worse because she’s the one who has cancer and she’s the one who’s going through the type of pain that’s so severe, she can’t even think straight.
If people who see this movie wonder why it seems so realistic, it’s because “Ordinary Love” screenwriter Owen McCafferty’s wife Peggy was diagnosed with breast cancer. And “Ordinary Love” directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn are married in real life, which no doubt added a genuine layer to how Joan and Tom’s marital dynamic is portrayed on screen.
Tom and Joan also have several moments of loving support throughout this ordeal. When Joan starts to lose her hair because of chemotherapy, she asks Tom to help her shave it all off. He then tells her, “You’re a star, kid. You’re an absolute star.” And there are moments of shared humor, such as when Joan ends up choosing a wig and they have some laughs over her new look.
There’s also a subplot where, by chance, Joan sees a fellow patient she knows from her past. His name is Peter (played by David Wilmot), and he was one of Debbie’s teachers when Debbie was a child. Peter also has cancer, and he and Joan end up becoming confidants. Meanwhile, Peter’s life partner Steve (played by Amit Shah) and Tom find common ground in the feelings of grief and anxiety that come from having a partner go through cancer treatment.
“Ordinary Love” is the kind of movie where viewers will probably end up shedding some tears or getting very emotional in other ways. The title of the film is somewhat of a misnomer because the story shows that any love that can help someone through the trauma of cancer is far from ordinary.
Bleeker Street released “Ordinary Love” in select U.S. cinemas on February 14, 2020.