Bruce Almighty; Dark Blue; Animal Factory

 Bruce Almighty

Film director, Tom Shadyac, is a practising Catholic. For some moviegoers, this might be something of a surprise because Shadyac is best known for broad, popular comedies with Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams. He made The Nutty Professor, Liar, Liar and Patch Adams. Bruce Almighty, is another Jim Carrey comedy. But it is also a film about God, God's providence, human free will and prayer.

Carrey is Bruce Nolan, a television reporter, who feels that he is being passed over at the station, that exasperating things always happen to him, that God has something against him. It's the kind of feeling that many of us have from time to time. What is God doing to us?

Bruce gets his answer when God calls him to a warehouse and appears to him, not in clouds and trumpet blasts, but as a janitor-electrician who seems to find doing some manual work a relief to all the thinking and guiding he has to do. Morgan Freeman is an actor with great dignity and gravity with a beautiful speaking voice and he brings those qualities to his portrayal of God. God also has a fine sense of humour and some witty one-liners. God gives over his powers to Bruce for a week to see if he can manage things any better.

What Bruce discovers is that he is rather self-centred and that he uses his powers, often in petty ways to annoy people, just for himself. When God arranges a meeting with Bruce on top of Mount Everest so that they can admire creation, he urges Bruce to think beyond himself and to think about people's prayers. Bruce is somewhat overwhelmed, especially when he finds that one of the most constant of people praying is his girlfriend - who has the significant name, Grace. Bruce begins to see the world rather differently, through God's eyes.

Perhaps this makes the film sound more serious than it is. All this reflection on God and prayer is set within a funny comedy. Fans of Jim Carrey now know that he can do clowning slapstick comedy but, after The Truman Show, that he can do more witty and thoughtful comedy as well.

People often say that they should make more positive films and films with moral and religious values. Tom Shadyac has been able to combine truly important themes with a popular comedy.

Dark Blue

Hard action, hard hitting and hard sounding, this is a very interesting film about police work and police corruption in Los Angeles. The setting is 1991. The film opens with footage of the Rodney King beatings by a group of police. The action of the film takes place during the trial of these police and their subsequently being found not guilty. This acquittal sparked off riots and looting as the African American population expressed anger at the verdict.

The story is by James Ellroy, author of another book about police corruption, LA Confidential, which was made into a very successful and Oscar-winning film. Dark Blue is even more gritty, focussing as it does on a staunch, 'redneck' officer played by Kurt Russell in one of his best performances. His grandfather was a policeman when Los Angeles was a frontier town. His father was a respected officer. He has tried to live up to his father's expectations but his views and his disgust at criminals have taken him into a dangerous vigilante path, especially under directions from his father's partner, a bent chief of police, played all to believably by Brendan Gleeson.

Things come to a head when his apprentice partner (Scott Speedman) is investigated for a fatal shooting during a surveillance. Ramrodly upright officer, Ving Rhames, who has ambitions to be the first African American police chief, is unrelenting in his pursuit of corruption, especially in the context of the King incident.

This makes for strong courtroom style drama as well as the portrayal of violence in the streets and the manipulation of evidence to frame known criminals and their cold-blooded execution. When it becomes too much for his partner and he himself becomes a target (as well as his wife leaving him), Russell has to reassess his life and values and make a decision with integrity.

Impressive direction from Ron Shelton, better known for his sports films including Bull Durham and The Tin Cup.

Animal Factory

There have been many prison films, tough, harsh, frightening films. This is one of those, although its material is generally familiar and does not offer anything particularly new. Its strength is in its performances. Willem Dafoe is always credible as someone with a dark side. Here he is the 'boss' amongst the prisoners, serving a 25 year sentence, well ingratiated with the wardens, able to deal drugs and to influence any faction in the prison. Edward Furlong is a rich kid drug dealer, sentenced to the prison, who teams up with Dafoe and his clique, learning the ways of the prison, being protected, but flaring up in anger and endangering his parole. One of the difficulties is that Furlong is either miscast or does not give a persuasive performance because his character does not seem to fit his behaviour - almost too nice for the violence, surliness and attacks on authority. The rest of the cast make quite a believable job of portraying harsh criminal elements.

Steve Buscemi, no slouch at portraying seedy villains, directed the film and plays one of the prison officers. The title of the film seems very pessimistic and we are shown how prison can turn men into animals. However, there are elements that offer some hope for redemption - or, at least, of accepting one's fate.

LONDON - 7 July 2003 - 960 words

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