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Friday, February 08, 2008
It's that time of the year
A look at movie lawyers in love
(Zachary D. Porter/Daily Report)
Eleanor Ringel Cater has been a film critic in Atlanta for 29 years. Her column appears every Friday. She can be reached at eringel-cater@alm.com.

(Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Studios)
Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney make “Intolerable Cruelty” tolerable.

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“I can't keep up with what's been going on/I think my heart must just be slowing down/Among the human beings in their designer jeans/Am I the only one who hears the screams/And the strangled cries of lawyers in love?”

Happy Valentine's Day from Jackson Browne!

Lawyers in love in the movies generally have it easier when only one of them is an attorney. An ego thing, you think?

Anyway, here are a few titles to share with your beloved. Consider it a good alternative to reading each other the riot act under romantic pressure.

Strictly legal affairs:

“Adam's Rib”—Tracy and Hepburn. Nobody does it better.

“Legal Eagles”—Daryl Hannah makes things messy for defense attorney Debra Winger and assistant D.A. Robert Redford.

“Philadelphia”—The love that dares not speak its name has its say in court, thanks to Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas.

“Chicago”—Nobody loves Richard Gere like Richard Gere.

One argues for love, the other argues for money (which is which?):

“Intolerable Cruelty”—Tolerable mostly because the leads, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, are so lovely to look at.

“My Cousin Vinny”—Marisa Tomei has a thing for Joe Pesci … and she can fix cars, too.

“Enchanted”—Amy Adams has a thing for Patrick Dempsey … and she can get animals to do housework.

“Body Heat”—Kathleen Turner pretends to have a thing for William Hurt … and she can get him to do whatever she wants.

Topsy turvy

It's a weird week because all the Big Name movies are on DVD and all the under-the-radar ones are in the theaters.

At-home viewing, first.

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” was one of the best movies of 2007, but you'd hardly know it from the way Warner Brothers whisked it in and out of theaters in under two weeks. Brad Pitt gives one of the best performances of his career—this is NOT an exaggeration—as the renowned outlaw on the downslide.

Tattered and tired, all this Jesse (Pitt also produced) wants is a place to hang his hat and, um, hang a picture. As any of us who know the story, bad move. Anyway, good as Pitt is, the movie belongs to his titular co-star, Casey Affleck, as the “coward Robert Ford.” Affleck's performance is a breathtaking blend of hero-worship and obsession. The Academy has quite rightly honored him with a best supporting actor nomination.

Cate Blanchett can't reproduce the surprise and magic of the first time she played Good Queen Bess (that's as Elizabeth I in 1998's “Elizabeth”), but she's still a formidable presence in this fitfully successful sequel “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.”

Unfortunately the rest of the movie paddles around her like an uncertain puppy, willing to please but unable to figure out what exactly to do. Still, she's powerful enough to snag an Oscar nomination for best actress (to go along with her much more deserved nomination for best supporting actress as Bob Dylan in “I'm Not There.”)

Actually, Blanchett's best actress slot should've gone to Jodie Foster for her deceptively complex performance in “The Brave One.” Somewhat dismissed as a distaff “Death Wish,” in which Foster turns vigilante after a loved one is murdered by thugs, the movie is also a nuanced dissection of the nature of grief. There is a horror and blankness and a this-can't-be-happening look in Foster's eyes that transcends mere revenge-movie genre.

There's more where's-my-Oscar-nomination fall-out in “American Gangster,” a confident and muscular gangster saga that's been unjustly overlooked by the Academy voters (with the exception of Ruby Dee's best supporting nomination.) Based on a true story, the film features excellent work by Denzel Washington as a legendary '70s mob king from Harlem and Russell Crowe as the down-and-out detective set on nabbing him.

Back to the big screen

“The Band's Visit” is a charming Israeli picture about members of a wandering brass band from Egypt who finds themselves stranded in their neighbor's desert hinterlands. Humanity and cultural crossed-signals are beautifully observed—and resolved.

Also set in the unsettled—and often unsettling—Middle East, “Caramel” looks at lives of quiet desperation in Beirut. Five women cope and cope again in a film that's unexpectedly funny at times and, sadly, all-too-expected at others.

The much-lauded documentary, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” minces neither words nor images in its examination of questions posed by our interrogation methods as related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The picture focuses on one horrifying story — a cab driver who took the wrong fare (apparently) and ended up dead—and uses it as a filter through which to study who did what to whom in Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo. Given that the title is derived from Vice President Dick Cheney, represented by a post-Sept. 11 clip in which he talks about having to “work the dark side, spend time in the shadows, use any means at our disposal” to deal with terrorism, the movie is quite proudly one-sided. But it makes you wonder—and wondering, misguided or not, is part of what freedom is all about.

_____________

Quotable

“I don't mean to toot my own horn, but if Jesus Christ lived in Chicago today, and he had come to me, and he had $5,000, let's just say things would have turned out differently.“

—Richard Gere as razzle-dazzle lawyer Billy Flynn in “Chicago.”

Film Critic Eleanor Ringel Cater can be reached at eringel-cater@alm.com

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