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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Wow, Misconduct Is A Terrible Movie!

I was looking for something to watch OnDemand one rainy afternoon, and this 2016 movie looked as though it would provide all of the legal drama and corporate intrigue of such thrillers as Enemy of the State, Disclosure, The Firm, et al. "Misconduct?" I said to myself. "How did I miss this one?" 

I fell for the seductive Misconduct trailer. They got me, I admit it. The truth is, I am such a sucker for any movie set in a high-caliber workplace where unscrupulous lawyers, journalists, CEOs and/or politicians would kill each other to either keep or find out some scandalous secret, for money, power, or all of the above.  Are there plush corner offices with skyline views and whiskey on the credenza during the daytime? Fantastic. Does a breathless & bruised power suit make a furtive phone call urging his wife to get out of the house? I'm in, get the popcorn. I hope there's danger music shaping tense scenes over missing files or stolen files or secret files or forged files. Give me at least one hacker, please. I'm an easy sell with this stuff. But in the end, I wanted to punch myself in the face for wasting 106 minutes on Misconduct.

Misconduct wants to be a suspenseful legal thriller starring Josh Duhamel's hair flip, flanked by the asterisked academy award-winning star power of Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino. Julia Stiles and Alice Eve play two of three blondes, along with Malin Akerman, whose fame I don't even understand.  After my unfortunate decision to watch it, I took to the internet to see if utterly abject disappointment was mine alone. It was not. I read about a dozen reviews penned by film buffs as puzzled and annoyed as me. So thoroughly is Misconduct already panned online, in great detail, that those lovely writers save me the time of doing a play-by-play. I'll sum up and include a couple of specifics, but below, you'll find links to a few well-written reviews for you to read later. I wish I'd read them first. But at least I feel validated: yes, in fact, this is a terrible movie.

No, Seriously. Misconduct Is A Truly, Tremendously Terrible Movie

So here's what's going on in Misconduct. This is what I'm calling the A-story. A workaholic lawyer named Ben Cahill (Duhamel) will do anything for billable hours and another win. When his mentally unstable college girlfriend Emily (Akerman) shows up ten years after an apparently volatile break-up, he unwisely meets her for a drink, because that always works out well for married men. Emily has snooped around where she shouldn't have, and found hard evidence implicating her current boss/boyfriend Arthur Denning (Hopkins). Denning is the decades-older bazillionaire big pharma CEO of Pierson, a company that may have faked clinical trials, knowingly letting their bad drug kill people. With this illegally acquired evidence, Cahill sees dollar signs, plus a chance to be a big shot in front of his even bigger big shot boss, Charles Abrams (Pacino).

Now, that all sounds like fine fodder for a compelling legal thriller, doesn't it? But the tidy way that I wrote about this A-story is not how Misconduct unfolds. An off-kilter storyboard (not in a good way like Memento) is so confusing that it simply ruins whatever it is they were trying to accomplish. Any suspense is awkwardly forced through excruciatingly slow camera pans across nothing for no reveal. Any tension is unconvincing, contrived as it is through needlessly bombastic music. Other weakly contrived attempts at building suspense are merely scenes that take too long. These include all the walking performed by Anthony Hopkins, well-documented elevator rides, hearing only one side of a phone call, and characters that are reacting to something we can't see out of the frame. Just because we don't know what's causing Josh Duhamel to make that face doesn't mean it's "suspenseful." It's merely annoying.

If this story were presented in any sort of logical sequence, there may have been a chance to build tension. If the characters had been developed, their actions may actually trigger some reactions in us, the viewing audience. If we understood what was happening, we may have felt some of the apparent suspense they're trying to build. If the plot elements had been given any real room to unfold, there may have been a chance for some thrilling twists. How can you have a plot twist when no one knows what's happening in the first place? You can't "twist" first. That doesn't work at all.

Misconduct wants so badly to be edge-of-your-seat compelling, but in the end, you get a confusing pastiche of dramatically lit scenery through which a fledgling director (Shintaro Shimosawa) sends a cast of a few big stars plus a whole raft of relative unknowns whose characters possess no discernible motive for anything they do until this movie's puzzling anti-climactic "conclusion."

I Should Have Bailed Five Minutes In...

I should have known. The first shot, through the opening credits, is a close-up of the Louis Armstrong statue at Algiers Ferry Landing in New Orleans. But it's shown from the side. You can't see the face, so you'd have to already be familiar with the statue in order for it to usefully place the action in New Orleans. The camera pulls back from the statue for a long 30 seconds, accompanied by audio of TV news reports that serve to inform us that Pierson is being investigated. Denning dismisses a petulant Emily's suggestion that the two of them leave town for awhile. Then Denning, as he walks (and walks and walks) around his house, gets a text implying that Emily has been kidnapped. Then Denning is walking (and walking and walking) to, and around, the Octavia Gallery. That's where he will pay some un-named kidnappers 2.5 million in cash that he just happened to have laying around. During the ransom drop scene we get the back of Anthony Hopkins' head for an obscene amount of time.

"Do we still have to pay these guys if we only shoot them from behind for many endless seconds?"

The expert security adviser (Julia Stiles) is so visibly barking orders into a communication device that I really wondered if these movie makers have ever seen a surveillance team in any other movie in the history of time. If there WERE kidnappers watching, which this viewer never believed for one single second, they would have spotted these "security experts" in an instant. Mind you, this is barely seven minutes in at this point, so we're assuming this kidnapping is the A-story. It's not. There is no reason at all to open with this scene sequence, except that Anthony Hopkins is in it.

The B-stories are disconnected and never fully play out to any satisfying conclusion. Characters are plunked into the story without exposition, or float in and out of position as protagonist and antagonist, alternating from being victimized to having the upper hand.

There's a sickly nameless Asian guy. We assume he's a soon-to-be-fatal victim of Pierson's bad drug, but otherwise we never really learn his role in all this. Even when we suspect (correctly) that he's a hired hit man, that still doesn't explain his motivation. Why does he hunt down Emily's hapless neighbor? What's his payment for brutalizing the Cahills? Revenge for something we don't even know happened? Money?

There's the Cahill joyless marriage, which seems to have hit the skids after a late-term miscarriage, and may or may not explain the intense weirdness of Charlotte Cahill (Alice Eve.)

There's the unknown nature of Emily's relationship with Charles Denning. It's "unknown" because Emily is an unreliable character. Though she claims to be unhappy when she tells Cahill that Denning "won't let her" leave, there doesn't seem to actually be any such duress in the first scene. In fact, Emily is the one suggesting a trip to London with Denning to wait out the heat from the bad drug scandal.

There's Ben Cahill's stilted dalliance with Emily, utterly devoid of any spark or chemistry. For one thing, she acts surprised to find out he's a lawyer, but then later it seems like she purposely sought him out, for the express purpose of giving him this evidence against Denning. But that's confusing too, because what does she possibly gain? And not only that, but Cahill was the one who made first contact with Emily, by friending her online and making the date to meet for drinks. But that's even more confusing later, when it appears that Ben Cahill and Emily alike were set up by powerful people to take the fall for...wait, for what again?

There's the power dynamic between Cahill and his boss, Abrams. We don't trust that guy for a second, and in the end we find that we were right. That's more about Al Pacino's prowess, probably.

With all these threads, you'd think that any two or three would resolve in the end. You'd think.

Who Are These People?

The relationships between and among all the characters are vaguely rudderless, but none are as inexplicable as Ben Cahill's marriage. Charlotte is an ER nurse who works as many long hours as he does, in theory because they need the money. But why, if he's such a big shot lawyer? Alice Eve's performance as Charlotte is so stone-faced and monotone ("catatonic" as described by one of the reviewers) that I was positive she'd turn out to be a ghost in the end. Misconduct cribs from so many other movies, why not crib from The Sixth Sense. But she's not a ghost. Other characters see her and interact with her. Later I read that the Japanese director, Shintaro Shimosawa, is known for horror. That explains a few things. Japanese horror movies don't have the same A-B-C story progression that American viewers expect, and they rarely make sense in the traditional storytelling way. The accepted storytelling tropes -- the Chekhov plot point principle, the mystery's red herring, characters with actual motives -- none of these are necessary in Japanese horror. How much better would Misconduct have been if it turned out to be an insane psychological thriller where Josh Duhamel was the only one who interacted with Charlotte, because she wasn't really there, and in fact it was he who acted out everything Charlotte did, in the end. Like Norman Bates, because why not, if we're cribbing.

The real ending (which is nothing like what I just said) is just...I tell you what, I don't even know what to say about the ending. And I honestly can't decide whether to advise my movie-loving circle of friends against watching Misconduct, or beg them to watch it, so that next we meet we may collectively unpack this mountain of dreck.∎

Misconduct Reviews Elsewhere

These are some of my favorite pieces written on the 2016 would-be thriller directed by Shintaro Shimosawa. By all means, enjoy yourselves.

The plot is gossamer thin, the twist would take a two-year-old about as many seconds to see coming and it's a miracle there is any scenery left by the time Pacino and Hopkins were done.
- Jamie East (The Sun UK)

A meandering mess, the story lurches from one contrived intrigue to the next.
- Nathanael Hood (The Young Folks)

It shamelessly cribs from 90s potboilers (a last-minute twist is stolen from a notable film of the decade) and Pacino is hammier than a hog roast, but it's too lurid to be dull.
- Benjamin Lee (Guardian)

Terrible thriller wastes great actors in a ridiculous story.
- Sandie Angulo Chen (Common Sense Media)


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