Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From "The Valley" to "The Backwoods"

Ahh, the late 90s. An interesting time, to say the least for Hollywood. The Clinton Administration was in its scandal-ridden endgame, the "Towers" had not yet been hit and "globalization" not global terror was the main issue. Greed, to some extent, was still considered "good"

And its greed on the part of a pair of grifters (Charlize Theron and  James Spader) that drives the first half of this hard-hitting yet "heartful" caper from John Herzfeld. Withthe not-so-willing co-operation of a pre-Housewives Teri Hatcher, and more help on the side from Danny Aiello as a hitman, the pair are trying to pull offa trciky but lucrative bit of insurance fraud, one that involves murdering their collaborators husband. Eric Stoltz, Robert Carradine, Jeff Daniels, Marsha Mason, Glenne Headley (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and a B-List "cast of thousands" round out the roster, and all of them are very good, great fun to watch as the plot careens and blasts its way to its near inevitable ending. One is reminded, especially in Spader's case, of just how solidly he built that bridge between "mainstream weirdo" and art-house hero. Theron, thin as a rake but achingly beautiful, puts her own considerable acting chops to a role that unfortunately diminishes over the course of the movie. Aiello and Headly shine as the "matched misfits" of the piece. The whole thing zips along so neatly that you forgive the director for his cheeky bit of rah-rah at the very end. A rollicking bit of entertainment that is so of its time, its timeless.

A world away from the smoggy freeways and canyons of greater LA, the forests of Northern Spain hold just as much Paddy Consdine and Virginie Ledoyen are a couple in disintegration - we learn that the recent loss of a child (miscarriage?) is but a part of their troubles. They end up in Spain's Basque country atthe urging of their friend - Oldman - who's established a cabin out in the wild Northern woods and who, of course, has his own issues to deal with.

On a hunting trip not too far (In this piece, all distances are "relative") they discover a child being horribly confined in a barn, cold, hungry, scared half to death. That event sets in motion a riveting sequence of pursuit, conflict and resolution involving - among others - a family of local roughnecks, one of whom takes too much of a fancy to the grieving mother, and is not the type to be denied his proclivities.

The two male leads are in top form here, but Considne's character undergoes a metamorphosis from wimpy follower to ruthless leader that would have been hard to swallow but for the sincerity of the interplay between him and the other characters. Oldman displays total commitment as always, and Aitana Sanchez Gijon, as his hen-pecking but devoted lady-friend comes across more convincingly than her counterpart.

Notwithstanding this, and the "strange" ending, Backwoods delivers for viewers in search of compelling action psychodrama, with healthy but considered doses of all those elements .

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