We bundle 6 Underground, Le Mans ’66, and The Irishman in to the back of the judgement van in our latest episode. Which will come out a made man, and which gets the cement shoes? Listen in and find out!
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For someone on a film podcast, I spend surprisingly little time reading up on what’s in the pipeline, ,so news of Netflix tapping Michael Bay to helm this extravagantly be-budgeted action flick passed me by until Craig mentioned it last week. Not that I’d be all that interested in what Mr. Bay is up to anyway, but I suppose there’s some morbid curiosity in what he can concoct with $150 million to burn.
6 Underground very much starts as it means to on, with a fifteen minute car chase with more shootings, stunts, crashes, quips and fast cuts than most action films fit into their entire run time. For about seven and a half of those minutes, it’s exhilarating, and for the rest, it’s exhausting. And again, very much as it means to go on.
With that out of the way we get into the very little that passes for character and plot, as largely through flashbacks we find out how Ryan Reynolds’ tech billionaire puts together an anonymous team to dispense the sort of vigilante justice governments are not able to. He’s faked his death, alongside the other recruits, to put together a family of untraceable ghosts, those others being Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ben Hardy, Adria Arjona, and Corey Hawkins, now calling themselves a number and not a free man.
This was prompted by Reynolds’ character, One, witnessing an airstrike on the refugee camp he was visiting on a philanthropic PR exercise in his prior life, so he has resolved to take down the man ultimately responsible, the dictator of Val Verde and put his less objectionable brother in power. Again, through the mediums of crashing cars, shooting people and sinking yachts. It’s not a subtle plan.
I guess what little in the way of instruction from Netflix was to take Fast and the Furious and Deadpool and mash them together, and weld over the join with explosions, and by golly, that’s what’s been delivered. It is, as you should expect, squarely inside the little sub-genre of Michael Bay action films, and, well, I’m not sure there’s all that much point delving into it all that much. You probably know if that’s the sort of thing you like by now.
It’s all glossily captured explosions and beautiful people and shootings and beautiful locations and car crashes, and you can absolutely see all that money on the screen, briefly, before it it destroyed. The addition here is an almost nonstop stream of quips, primarily, of course, from Reynolds, which alongside the more deliberately ludicrous shots give this the breezy, light comedic ultraviolence vibe of a Deadpool. How well that works will depend on your tolerance for, well, Reynolds, mainly.
Clearly not in the budget was any sort of depth for the characters or plot, all of which are the minimally viable framework to explode things with, and, well, look, you get the point. In the world of big dumb action movies it is about as big, and certainly as dumb as they come, and if you’re in the market for that it will scratch the itch.
I can’t say I cared enough about it one way or the other to give you any stronger opinion on it – the first fifteen minutes numbed me to the rest of it, perhaps, and I’m instead left only with a vague sense of dissatisfaction that so much money was spent to have so little lasting impact. Even when writing these notes, I’ve spent reading about 60’s cult TV show The Prisoner and the Sneaker Pimp’s post 1997 career because they’re less ephemeral. Netflix’s search for a mass-market film franchise will need to continue, I imagine. Meh out of ten.
Le Mans ’66
It’s an oddly named film, this one: Le Mans ‘66, the title it carries in the UK and other countries, typically those where the Le Mans 24 Hour race is more well-known than in the US, makes sense, certainly, though the actual race takes up only a small portion of the race and I doubt that many people know the significance of that particular year. Its original title, Ford v Ferrari, therefore makes a lot more sense as both Ford and Ferrari are universally recognised names. However, it’s not really about Ford vs Ferrari, as neither Enzo Ferrari nor the company that bears his name play much of a role in it, being responsible for an inciting incident and not a great deal more (and that itself isn’t unique, as Ferrari arrogance allegedly also led to Lamborghini, then known for tractors, beginning to produce sports cars).
The plot is reasonably straightforward, being in many ways a paint by numbers sporting underdog story (though that “underdog” was one of the world’s largest car manufacturers with a blank cheque for R&D, so that’s the last time I’ll use that term). Jon Bernthal’s Lee Iacocca believes that one way to fix Ford’s flagging market share is to create a motor racing division, and he believes he’s found a shortcut: Ferrari are in financial trouble, and they could basically just buy the world’s leading motor-racing marque for a song and rebadge it. After meeting with Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), Iacocca and Ford find out that they’ve been played, and that the negotiations with Ford were simply to get a better price from FIAT. This rather rankles with Tracy Letts’ Henry Ford II, and after some guff about his granddaddy, decides that Ford will build its own car to beat Ferrari at Le Mans, in one of the world’s most prestigious races.
To do this are enlisted Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby, a former Le Mans winner and car designer, Christian Bale’s crotchety and financially-troubled mechanic and racer, Ken Miles, and oodles and oodles of cash. Now, they do have a very short time limit for their first attempt, but you know: massive company with rivers of money. They’re not a sympathetic hero, especially when Shelby and Miles’s biggest battle really isn’t with the Italian team, it’s with Ford and the Detroit boardroom politics, represented most notably by Josh Lucas’s disagreeable Leo Beebe.
However, Damon and Bale are as engaging as you would expect as they work together to develop and build the fabled GT40, and the film is carried very firmly on their shoulders, even if their characters are simply not as interesting as Niki Lauda and James Hunt in Ron Howard’s Rush, for example: in that film Lauda had much more going on than being a moaning, tea-obsessed Brummie, and someone with less charisma than Bale would have been forgettable. Most of the rest of the cast are at least decent, but beyond the treacherous Lucas, Bale and Damon take most of the mindshare. Except for one actor.
While it’s not as crucial as it could be, given the relatively small role Ferrari actually play in a film originally titled Ford v Ferrari, Mangold totally screwed the pooch in casting Enzo Ferrari. The Italian was a legend, one of those people whose personality dominated a room without ever having to even speak. So for some reason he cast Michael Gambon’s knock-off Italian cousin, and if you know how little I rate Gambon as an actor you’ll understand how scathing I intend that to be. He’s awful but, like I say, minor. The bigger crime is the running time: there is no reason for this film to be 2 hours 32 minutes long, especially when it continues for a good ten minutes after what was a really clear, and poignant, end point. Grumble grumble, etc.
James Mangold’s direction is far too polished to be called workmanlike, but it’s certainly not particularly special. It is nicely shot, but I can’t but think that the focus is wrong when lush California afternoons stick in my mind more than a car doing 200+ mph down the Mulsanne Straight. It is also, and this will shock you, not very accurate, in details or timeline: facts being another casualty in Mangold’s attempt to change the script so that it would attract good actors. It did, and it’s just as well as it’s lacking in other areas and, as I’ve mentioned, doesn’t seem to have quite the right focus.
But it’s a well-made film, solidly entertaining and with a couple of very appealing central performances. Paint by numbers, perhaps, but at least the result is a pretty enough picture. However, if you’re of a mind with Garth Marenghi then you will think writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller, along with the director are cowards, though to be fair there’s not a lot “sub” about the “struggle with the movie studio executives” subtext.
After many years in conceptual gestation and production limbo we are finally privy to Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, his oft-mooted adaptation of I Heard You Paint Houses, a biography of mafia hitman Frank Sheeran and his alleged involvement in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. Starring Robert De Niro as Sheeran, Al Pacino as Hoffa, an un-retired Joe Pesci as mob boss Russ Bufalino, and clocking in at three and a half hours, The Irishman might be Scorsese’s most ambitious film to date, though you might not think it to look at it’s surface.
By now you, like me, may likely be utterly bored by the attention and debate so far expended upon the movie’s great visual trick, which is the de-ageing process that allows it’s leads to play their characters across something like five or six decades. In short, yes it is distracting up until about halfway through the film, after which it really is not. The much more interesting conversation is to be had around how the movie chronicles the demise of withered old men whose power and glory fades into the shadows of old age and death, along with the secrets they may or may not have kept, and the lives they most certainly saw fit to take.
To be clear, this is not Scorsese’s typical gangster movie, and if anyone who lambasted Casino as a remake of Goodfellas had the same concerns here they will surely be in no doubt now. Where the director’s previous movies have at times sailed very close to the wind in their glorification of the men at their centres The Irishman most certainly cannot be accused of similar. This is a film that is happy to take its time in very slowly and methodically ensuring that you are in no doubt as to whether there is anything heroic or enviable about the actions of Sheeran or Bufalino, and if the account of Hoffa’s demise is anything close to the truth Frank Sheeran may actually be one of the least sympathetic men in history.
De Niro is fantastic in a wonderfully measured performance, though I fear the CG make-up (make-down?) does somewhat dull the work he does with his eyes, and this is a film where a lot of storytelling that takes place purely in people’s eyes. Pacino was probably born to play Hoffa, though at this point in his career we’ve seen so many variations of this performance from him that it perhaps feels less fresh and energetic than might have been hoped. He’s still brilliant though, because he’s Pacino, and Pacino probably can’t live minute to minute without being brilliant. It’s Pesci, though, who has been earning the most plaudits for his portrayal of Bufalino, and I tend to agree. With a reputation as the “nice guy” among mafia bosses, if there can be such a thing, this performance is not Tommy, nor Nicky, and rather something completely new and engaging from the actor which makes me really glad Scorsese talked him into one last job.
While critics have pretty much anointed The Irishman as Scorsese’s greatest, most mature work to date (and I need a couple more viewings before I feel comfortable echoing that), there has been criticism from other quarters, mainly in the film’s lack of involvement from it’s female cast which is a) completely disingenuous and b) entirely missing the point in what the inclusion of those roles is saying about Frank and his philosophy, or lack there of. There’s an incredibly telling moment later in the film where a frail and fading Sheeran attempts to assuage the anguish of one of his daughters, in telling her that his actions have always been about protecting his family. The response, a curt “from what?”, perfectly frames the preceding three hours of narrative and amorality in two syllables flat.
I really, really like The Irishman, and even if I wasn’t able to view it optimally I did, over two nights, find a pretty natural point of intermission, and I don’t feel it lessened my experience at all. Remember kids: if anyone wants to tell you how you ought to consume your art you can roundly tell them to eff off. This is contemplative, meditative cinema of an incredibly high degree, and as a swan song to the combined talents of an iconic trio of actors it is a wonderful gift. I dare say it is not for everyone but then neither is anything else.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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