Daily Archives: January 11, 2017

Getting It Both Ways (AMERICAN BEAUTY)

From the September 24, 1999 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

American Beauty

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Sam Mendes

Written by Alan Ball

With Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, Peter Gallagher, and Allison Janney.

American Beauty is a brilliant satirical diagnosis of what’s most screwed up about life in this country, especially when it comes to sexual frustration and kiddie porn. Or American Beauty is a hypocritical piece of kiddie porn, brilliantly exploiting an audience’s sexual frustration and turning it into coin. Take your pick.

Paradoxical as it sounds, both of these statements may be true. American Beauty is, after all, a Hollywood movie, like The Graduate (1967) and Risky Business (1983), two somewhat comparable historical markers that gleefully conflate social criticism and fantasy wish fulfillment so you can’t tell them apart. Whether American Beauty will become a hit like those earlier movies is hard to predict, but if it doesn’t it won’t be for lack of trying. Like The Graduate, it sympathizes with rebellion and satirizes complacency, but that doesn’t stop it from taking digs at sexually deprived middle-aged women as if they were somehow the root of all evil.… Read more »

Cheap Thrills [ROAD TO PERDITION]

From the Chicago Reader (July 12, 2002). — J.R.

Road to Perdition

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Sam Mendes

Written by David Self

With Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Tyler Hoechlin, Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dylan Baker, and Liam Aiken.

It’s based on a graphic novel, which automatically precludes charges of arty pretension — something we all know is found only in literary works and foreign films, not Hollywood movies and comic books. It aims to do for Irish-American crime in the midwest what the Godfather trilogy did for Italian-American crime on the east coast (it uses Rembrandt lighting and fancy period decor, and it aims to be a grand metaphor for the American experience and family ties in general). It offers an array of primed-for-Oscars performances, two of them by former Oscar winners (Tom Hanks and Paul Newman). It recounts a classic tale of revenge, a classic coming-of-age story, and a classic account of bonding between fathers and sons. It dishes up gobs of carefully choreographed, deliberately excessive violence and bloodshed, and then, in the 11th hour, repudiates both — which calls to mind a touchstone like Bonnie and Clyde, as does its populist celebration of Good Country People.… Read more »