Saturday, June 26, 2010

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Good Night, Great 'Knight'

Ooh, Knight and Day felt so good going down. Tasted like a refreshing Dr Pepper as it washes down the deliciousness of a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (this is my favorite meal at my favorite restaurant -- seriously).

I'm always  ready to watch Mr. Tom Cruise, ever since junior year of high school when Ms. Walz pointed out the subtleties and nuances of his performances. Saw Mission: Impossible III and Magnolia and immediately knew that I was going to be a lifelong fan. Knight and Day serves as a reminder that Cruise is dedicated to always keeping the audience entertained without compromising the film or the character. Some people ham it up, but Cruise knows what works. Here, he's riffing on his action persona by playing it lighter. Refreshingly, though, he never winks at the audience, never plays it as Tom Cruise having fun in a ridiculous action movie. This really is Roy Miller, and he really is an awesome secret agent who may or may not be a little unhinged. Me, I love that.

Look, I'll always have time for the self-aware ridiculousness of The A-Team, but I'm glad we at least get one action-comedy that's not both a postmodern deconstruction of the genre and a celebration of violence. It's been fun for a while to see Shoot 'Em Up and G.I. Joe and bask in their cartoonish indulgences. And I truly appreciate the more serious approaches of Casino Royale, the aforementioned Mission: Impossible III, and the masterful The Dark Knight. But seeing a movie that refuses to wink, yet refuses to be serious? Rare, especially when they manage to make it work.

The "they" in this case: director James Mangold, who balances this tricky tone quite ably. Writer Patrick O'Neill, who, thank the Lord, managed to craft a female lead that does more than just squeal about the unpleasantness of the situation. Now, does she squeal and handle a gun poorly? At first, yes. But she brings a lot to the table, believably holds her own against the agents attacking and protecting her, and eventually becomes a great heroine. And she's not one of those crazy I NEED TO GET MARRIED WAHHHH heroines, either. So, okay, thank you Patrick O'Neill for writing her, and thank you Cameron Diaz for playing her so magnificently. Sometimes I forget how much I like you, and then Knight and Day comes out and I'm on Team Diaz all over again.

Now, my roommate didn't think the editors let the dramatic beats breathe enough, but I didn't notice that. What I did notice, however, was that Quincy Z. Gunderson and Michael McCusker actually let me see what was happening! No quick cuts, no thousand and one inserts of whatever; actual action sequences that one could follow! I knew who was winning! I knew who was losing! I was aware of where everyone was in relation to everyone else! What's sad is how rare that's become, that I have to single out the fact that the audience can follow what the characters are doing. But I love it!

The supporting players are an able team of character actors. Peter Sarsgaard is the agent tracking them down, Jordi Molla is an arms dealer hunting them down, Viola Davis is the head of the agency, and Paul Dano is the key to the whole thing. Maggie Grace and Celia Weston also make brief appearances, with Weston reminding us in a single scene why we love her so dearly. Dano, by the way, plays the role of young genius fantastically, a little unhinged, a little naive, a lot fascinating. We don't get to spend much time with them, of course, because it's all about Cruise and Diaz, but at least they didn't skimp on giving us interesting characters and great actors to play them.

Y'all know I love me movie scores. John Powell does a fine job here, making especially great use of the accordion. Let me mention how much I love the accordion: a lot. I think that instrument classes up a score like no one's business. Think of Amelie or Gosford Park; hell, think of the disastrous Tony Randall film The Alphabet Murders, where the only thing you can recommend is the accordion-heavy score by Ron Goodwin. It's a great instrument, too often used only used to let Americans know the characters are in France. I've certainly never heard it used to such great effect in an action film before, but Powell delivers.

It's not a perfect movie, no. I but Diaz as a chick who knows cars, yet I don't buy her as a mechanic. And the green screen effects were a little disappointing for a movie of this caliber. And though I liked most of what cinematographer Phedon Papamichael gave us, I did find some of his lighting choices questionable and unmotivated. But overall? A great ride, one that I truly adored.

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