For those who like their movies off the beaten path, I have two to recommend right now.
‘Shadowboxer‘ is the first film directed by Lee Daniels—who went on to make ‘Precious’. Helen Mirren is cast as a hit man—or hit woman, if you prefer. She and Cuba Gooding Jr. do their work with cool efficiency, but on their latest and supposedly final assignment she suffers a moment of guilt and instead of pulling the trigger, sets herself an enormous challenge—at great personal risk.
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If I told you more about the story, or about Mirren’s unique relationship with Gooding I’d be doing you a disservice. This film got some pretty bad reviews when it opened but I like it. It may not be the most plausible film in the world, but I think it’s creating a kind of heightened reality and is meant to be more of a fable than a slice of life.
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On the other hand, “Eastern Promises” was a critical smash. It marked a fruitful reunion between director David Cronenberg and actor Viggo Mortensen, who fared so well with A History of Violence. Violence figures prominently in this story, too. Naomi Watts plays a London nurse who’s present when an underage mother dies in childbirth. She searches the girl’s purse for clues to her identity, and follows a trail to a Russian restaurant run by the genteel Armin Mueller-Stahl. There is more to him than meets the eye, which also might be said about his volatile son, Vincent Cassel, and Mortensen, a low-level driver who becomes involved with Watts. Cronenberg shot his film in London but you won’t see any picture postcard views—it’s a dark, claustrophobic and brutal world he creates, so real you can almost smell it.
These are strong, original, and provocative films, worth checking out if you haven’t seen them before.