Face in the Crowd reveals a beguiling portrait-maker

Crowd #9 (Sunset 5), 2013, by Alex Prager

Crowd #9 (Sunset 5), 2013, by Alex Prager

Alex Prager: Face in the Crowd at M+B Gallery in West Hollywood is well worth a visit; the FNB team attended the opening on Saturday night and snapped a few candids (below). The exhibition reveals an artist with an eye for sublime color and masterful compositions as well as a beguiling portrait-maker who deftly mixes kitsch and mystery with humor and poignancy.

Prager, 34, is a self-taught photographer and filmmaker who started shooting after seeing William Eggleston’s color images. A Los Angeles native, her work frequently draws on vintage Hollywood, retro advertising and neo-noir imagery. The new show features large-scale color photographs of elaborately staged crowd scenes that explore the psychological complexities of human interaction, specifically the dynamics of an individual within a mass of people.

“I’m fascinated by the experience of being involved in other people’s lives accidentally,” Prager said, noting that her work has been influenced by time spent in busy cities such as New York and London. “Crowds have always been an interest of mine. It may look like a sea of people, but there are so many interesting stories, all colliding silently.”

Prager directed hundreds of costumed actors on specially constructed sets, creating congested public spaces including an airport terminal, a city hall lobby, a beach and the Sunset 5 movie theater. The stories of the various characters within these crowds culminate in a new film, featuring actress Elizabeth Banks.

Alex Prager: Face in the Crowd will run at M+B through March 8.

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‘Laura’ and ‘Blue Velvet’ to screen at the Egyptian Theatre

Laura 1944 posterThe delightful, urbane and unapologetically posh film noir “Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger) screens tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, part of the American Cinematheque.

“Laura” makes me nostalgic for a life I never led — the adventures of a 1940s career girl living in Manhattan: landing a job on Madison Avenue, buying suits and silk stockings for work, renting a place for $40/month, meeting handsome men, dinner and drinks at the Stork Club, weekend trips to the country.

Of course, “Laura” does have a few downsides — murder and mistaken identity, for starters. Seems that turning every head and being the toast of the town, as is the case with the charming and lovely Laura (Gene Tierney), may prove very dangerous. In a series of flashbacks, we learn the details of Laura’s life and it appears that in addition to having many admirers, she attracted an enemy or two as well. You can read the full review here.

Blue Velvet posterAnd Thursday night: Thomas Ethan Harris presents a seminar on deconstructing writer/director David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” (1986). This detailed look inside Lynch’s masterpiece takes place in the Spielberg Theatre of the Egyptian.

In “Blue Velvet,” Lynch dazzles and disturbs us as he probes the evil beneath the surface of sunny small-town Americana. Twenty-eight years later, its trippy shimmer has not dimmed, reminding us of Lynch’s auteur power. You can read the full review here.

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Bleak but stylish ‘The Grifters’ lets Anjelica Huston sparkle

Grifters posterThe Grifters/1990/Miramax Films/119 min.

“I’m lucky,” actress Anjelica Huston once said. “The people who tell me they like my work tend to be the kind of people I might be friends with anyway. I have a really nice audience.”

She definitely had a really nice audience last month at the book-signing party at Bookmarc in West Hollywood for her new memoir, “A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York.”

The FNB team got off the sofa for this one and we had a lovely time. It made us think of our favorite Anjelica Huston roles and “The Grifters” from 1990 (Yikes! Was it really that long ago?) was at the top of the list. Director Stephen Frears’ bleak but very stylish neo-noir about a family that grifts together and sticks together is a far cry from all that holiday/togetherness stuff, which can sometimes be a tad saccharine for our tastes.

The cold and cut-throat mother here is Lilly Dillon as played by the incomparable Ms. Huston (daughter of John Huston, who directed the classic noirs “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Asphalt Jungle.”) Rail thin, hard as fake nails and damaged as her ash blonde locks, Lilly works for the mob by wedging bad bets at the racetrack.

Her estranged son Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is a small-time con artist who says he can quit the grift any time he wants. Sure, Roy, whatever you say. Feeling a little guilty about never winning Mother of the Year and hoping she might help to set him straight, Lilly starts by paying Roy’s hospital bill after he’s in a dust-up that leaves him with internal hemorrhaging.

Anjelica Huston, John Cusack and Annette Bening play the members of a sordid trio.[/

Anjelica Huston, John Cusack and Annette Bening play the members of a sordid trio.

Roy’s not rushing back into her arms – at least not right away. He’s busy with his girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening). Myra used to be a “roper” for big-time money-bilking schemes, meaning she’d lure victims into parting with chunks of cash, falsely promising a big payoff down the line. But the roping biz has slow for Myra so she makes a living any way she can.

Meanwhile, while this strange version of a love triangle does its stuff, there’s another fly in the ointment: Lilly’s boss Bobo (Pat Hingle) who doesn’t write his staffers up – he prefers to inflict intense physical pain. When questioning Lilly after she slips up, he asks: “Do you want to stick to that story, or do you want to keep your teeth?” What a charming guy.

But charming is not what you’d associate with the mind behind “The Grifters” novel, on which the film is based. Writer Jim Thompson (1906-1977) was a troubled alcoholic who recorded his desolate vision of life on the pages of his pulpy but powerful novels. Thompson has been described as a dimestore Doestyevsky and as bringing Greek tragedy to the underclass.

“The Grifters” screenwriter Donald E. Westlake initially turned down the offer to write the script because he thought the novel was “too gloomy. … the characters all go to hell.” Director Frears (an English talent who directed Judi Dench in the terrifically funny and moving “Philomena” and directed Helen Mirren to an Oscar for 2006’s “The Queen”) talked Westlake into it, arguing that the crux of the story was not the son’s defeat, but the mother’s survival.

Lilly's long ride down the elevator, swathed in scarlet, symbolizes her descent into hell.

Lilly’s long ride down the elevator, swathed in scarlet, symbolizes her descent into hell.

Westlake accepted the challenge and wrote a sparkling, if sad and twisted, script. (“You really do like B movies,” Westlake told Frears, after hearing which scenes from the book Frears wanted in the movie. Well, the film’s producer Martin Scorsese is certainly a huge fan of B’s.)

Frears, who refers to the film as an “eccentric melodrama” said he was surprised at the film’s popularity, given its grim tone. The popularity surely stems from the fact that Frears still manages to entertain on some level and the leads all deliver searing performances. There are lots of funny one-liners, such as when Lilly addresses Roy’s doctor as they enter the hospital. She matter-of-factly informs him: “My son is going to be all right. If not, I’ll have you killed.”

Huston’s performance will make your skin crawl – Myra has long resigned herself to a lonely life that includes giving and taking violence as an inevitable part of the bargain. She’s tough, sometimes desperate, but also regal with the odd glimpse of warmth.

Bening lets her natural smarts show through, whether she’s coyly conning or clowning around in the nude. Frears says that while making the flick, he turned Bening on to the work of Gloria Grahame, gangster moll extraordinaire, and that Bening “went mad about her.” Bening brings Grahame gals into the ’90s in her own fresh, provocative way. Though Huston and Bening share only two scenes, their rivalry infuses the whole film.

The Grifters got four Oscar nods: Huston for best actress, Bening for best supporting actress, Frears for best director, and Westlake for adapted screenplay. (They lost to: Kathy Bates in “Misery,” Whoopi Goldberg in “Ghost,” Kevin Costner for “Dances With Wolves,” and Michael Blake for “Dances With Wolves.”) Huston and Bening did, however, win honors from several critics’ groups.

Cusack, who previously had played mainly all-American types, relished the chance to play a perverse cheater, who’s not above hitting women. Look out for his Chicago chum: actor Jeremy Piven in the scene with the sailors on the train.

Set mostly in sunny Southern California, the film looks glossy and glaring, just like its heroines. The movie is not a period piece, but Frears plays with time elements – we see Art Deco buildings and a ’50s-era motel. The characters drive ’70s cars like big old Caddys. The Elmer Bernstein score also deftly draws from a number of musical styles.

Cusack wears ’80s suits and rips people off at a Bennigans. Myra and Lilly wear a mixture of ’40s eveningwear, shift dresses, skin-tight animal prints and mini-skirts. Lilly’s wardrobe has special significance: the color red tracks her slide into total wretchedness. Frears says her long ride down the elevator, swathed in scarlet, symbolizes her descent into hell.

You know, maybe motherhood just isn’t for every woman.

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The Film Noir File: Polanski goes to Towne in ‘Chinatown’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

“Chinatown” (1974, Roman Polanski). Friday, Dec. 13. 1 a.m. (10 p.m.)

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway sizzle in "Chinatown."

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway sizzle in “Chinatown.”

A nervous femme fatale with a slight stutter. A stocky PI with a hot temper and a bandage plastered on his face.

Perhaps not the most promising characters at first glance; in fact they are among noir’s finest. Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson deliver knockout performances in 1974’s “Chinatown,” a neo-noir that ranks as one of the greatest films ever made. Certainly, it’s among the top 10 movies of the 1970s.

With an Oscar-winning screenplay by Robert Towne, directed by Roman Polanski, and produced by Robert Evans, “Chinatown” clearly has roots in classic noir, but also reinvents and subverts the tradition. The movie’s intelligence, artistry and uniquely dark vision elevate it beyond a simple homage.

Read the rest of FNB’s review here or read Michael Wilmington’s review here.

Cary Grant cracks us up in "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Cary Grant cracks us up in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Sunday, Dec. 15

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944, Frank Capra). Two sweet little old spinsters who run a Brooklyn boarding house (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) also help elderly bachelors into another, better world with their specialty: poisoned elderberry wine. Their frantic theater- critic nephew Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant, in his wildest performance ever), who’s just discovered their secret (on Halloween), tries desperately to keep them out of jail. Meanwhile two murderous professional criminals on the lam (Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre) show up to further envenom the brew.

This mad farce is not the kind of movie Frank Capra usually makes but the pace and energy (as well as the Coen Brothers-ish dark humor) never flag. The movie also has Priscilla Lane as the Ginger Rogers-ish love interest, and those three yeoman comic supporting players Jack Carson, James Gleason and Edward Everett Horton. Of the loony sub-genre comedy noir, this is a prime example: the least sentimental, least Capra-corny and maybe the craziest-funniest of all Capra’s films. Adapted by brothers Julius and Philip Epstein (“Casablanca”), from Joseph Kesselring’s hit Broadway play.

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment/ Myrna Loy as Nora Charles, Asta the dog and William Powell as Nick Charles in "After the Thin Man" (1936)

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment
Myrna Loy as Nora Charles, Asta the dog and William Powell as Nick Charles star in “After the Thin Man” (1936).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “The Thin Man” (1934, W.S. Van Dyke). With William Powell, Myrna Loy and Asta. Reviewed in FNB on July 28, 2012.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “The Unholy Three” (1925, Tod Browning). With Lon Chaney, Harry Earles and Victor McLaglen. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 12, 2012.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Pickpocket” (1959, Robert Bresson). An ascetic looking, light-fingered young man who looks like, and is, a starving artist (played by the thin, visually impeccable Martin Lasalle), lives out a Parisian Dostoyevsky tale, when he begins picking pockets at racetracks and metros. Together with Diary of a Country Priest and A Man Escaped, this is one of the untouchable black-and-white masterpieces of a true master, France’s austere film genius Robert Bresson. (In French, with subtitles.)

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “Crime and Punishment, U.S.A.” (1959, Denis Sanders). Like “Pickpocket,“ this is another ’50s film modernization of Dostoyevsky’s themes of guilt, spirituality and redemption. And we can only thank God that the movie’s young star, George Hamilton wasn’t, after this, typecast as a Dostoyevskian anti-hero.

Eleanor Parker is most famous for playing the Baroness in Robert Wise’s “The Sound of Music” (1965), but film noir fans remember her from “Caged.”

Eleanor Parker is most famous for playing the Baroness in “The Sound of Music” (1965), but film noir fans remember her from “Caged.”

Tuesday, Dec. 17

ELEANOR PARKER TRIBUTE

Eleanor Parker, the notable auburn-haired Hollywood star of the ’40s and ’50s, passed away Monday at the age of 91. TCM will pay tribute to legendary leading lady on Tuesday, Dec. 17, with a 14-hour marathon, featuring seven of her films.

Parker earned Best Actress Oscar nominations for her performances in “Interrupted Melody” (1955) and John Cromwell’s classic prison picture “Caged” (1950) in which she co-stars with Agnes Moorehead and Hope Emerson. She was especially admired by film noir fans for her leading role in “Caged” as a brutalized prisoner. “Caged” plays at 11:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.). Reviewed in FNB on July 13, 2012.

Check the TCM web site for the full list of titles and times.

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‘Kill Your Darlings’ tells noirish backstory of beat poets

Kill Your Darlings posterKill Your Darlings/2013/Killer Films/104 min.

Thinking about the 1940s, an era largely defined by World War II vets and the women they came home to, it’s easy to forget the generation just after – the post-war crop of young people on the cusp of adulthood as the long battles finally ended and the course of history forever changed.

I was reminded of that watching “Kill Your Darlings,” a dark story about poet Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), the relationships he forged with other beat-generation writers while at Columbia University and his connection to a 1944 murder.

As a student, Ginsberg clashes with academic convention. On the personal front, he quickly falls under the romantic spell of fellow student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a feline beauty: polished, urbane, subversive and jaded. Through Carr, Ginsberg meets the rugged and dynamic, as well as older and more established, Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and the bizarre, dope-addicted literateur William Burroughs (Ben Foster). On the fringe of their circle is Carr’s mentor-turned-stalker (and one-time lover?), academic David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall).

Director and co-writer John Krokidas masterfully renders the period and its prejudices, and elicits exceptionally good performances from his energetic cast – they are all memorable, especially Ben Foster as Burroughs. Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Ginsberg’s mother Naomi, is also a standout. Though it doesn’t play as a thriller (it’s not trying to, particularly), “Kill Your Darlings” tells the tense, disturbing, sometimes-moving backstory of a few inspired and reckless geniuses who redrew the boundaries of literary expression.

“Kill Your Darlings” opens today in LA.

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Film noir events crowd the calendar this month

There is much to entice noiristas this month in Los Angeles and elsewhere. So much, in fact, that I’ve compiled this handy list.

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame star in "The Big Heat."

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame star in “The Big Heat.”

Tues., Oct. 8 @ 1 p.m.: “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang) plays on the big screen at the Bing Theater, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Additionally, “The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema,” featuring the work of cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, runs at LACMA through Oct. 11. “Luis Buñuel and Gabriel Figueroa: A Surreal Alliance” runs Oct. 12-19.

Wed., Oct. 9 @ 7:30 p.m.: Writers Bloc hosts a conversation with Valerie Plame, memoir author and former CIA Operations Officer. At the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater at New Roads School, 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90404.

Also starting Oct. 9: The Aero and Egyptian theaters host the inaugural Beyond Fest, “an international buffet of badass cinema” that showcases recent horror gems along with classics. In-person guests, live music. Beyond Fest runs through Oct. 31.

Thurs., Oct. 10: The 49th Chicago International Film Festival opens with a gala screening of “The Immigrant.” This year’s fest is dedicated to the late great Roger Ebert. The CIFF runs through Oct. 24. The fest’s After Dark slate of titles never fails to intrigue.

"Sunset Blvd." will screen Oct. 19.

“Sunset Blvd.” will screen Oct. 19 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

Sat., Oct. 12 @ 6 p.m.: Redcat in downtown LA hosts a panel discussion on the controversial French filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot and his contribution to 1960s aesthetics. Screening of “La Vérité” (1960 Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Language Film).

Sat., Oct. 12 & Sun. Oct. 13: The Vintage Fashion Expo premieres at its new home in Los Angeles at The LA Convention Center.

Thurs., Oct. 17 @ 7:30 p.m.: Writers Bloc hosts a conversation with Norwegian author Jo Nesbø (“Headhunters”) whose new novel is Police: A Harry Hole Novel. At the Goethe-Institut, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

“Moonrise” plays Oct. 21 at the Billy Wilder Theater at UCLA in Westwood.

“Moonrise” plays Oct. 21 at the Billy Wilder Theater at UCLA in Westwood.

Sat., Oct. 19 @ 2 p.m.: Illustrated presentation on “The Corner” and screening of “Sunset Blvd.” (1950, Billy Wilder) at the Egyptian Theatre (part of the Egyptian’s 91st anniversary weekend). Los Angeles historian Marc Chevalier will discuss the social nexus of Hollywood in the golden age: Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights (now West Hollywood). Followed by “Sunset Blvd.,” which features Schwab’s Pharmacy as a location.

Mon., Oct. 21 @ 7:30 p.m.: “Moonrise” (1948, Frank Borzage) at the Billy Wilder Theater at UCLA in Westwood. A luminous and rarely screened crime drama starring Dane Clark, Gail Russell and Ethel Barrymore.

Tues., Oct. 22 @ 1 p.m.: “Shockproof” (1949, Douglas Sirk) plays at LACMA’s Bing Theater. Written by Helen Deutsch and Samuel Fuller; starring Cornel Wilde and Patricia Knight.

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Alfred Hitchcock by the numbers

This terrific chart appeared in The Guardian in August; copyright Adam Frost and Zhenia Vasilev.

hitch_10 copy4

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‘Chinatown’ screens to mark aqueduct’s 100th anniversary

Chinatown posterThe Natural History Museum in downtown Los Angeles will mark the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct by hosting a screening of the neo-noir masterpiece ”Chinatown,” directed by Roman Polanski and written by Robert Towne. Doors open at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27; the screening starts at 7 p.m.

David Ulin, book critic of the Los Angeles Times, will moderate a brief panel discussion with history professor William Deverell, cultural commentator Sandra Tsing Loh and Christine Mulholland. They will discuss the facts and fiction in Polanski and Towne’s iconic look at greed, power, lust and the rise of modern Los Angeles. This event is free, but space is limited. RSVP HERE. Use the Exposition entrance. You can bring a picnic or buy dinner from on-site food trucks.

We love this film so much we reviewed it twice: FNB’s review and Mike Wilmington’s review.

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Film Noir Blonde’s beauty picks for fall 2013

Guerlain's 2013 collection clearly channels film noir. Love the berry-colored lips and nails.

Guerlain’s 2013 collection clearly channels film noir. Love the berry-colored lips and nails.

Try pairing a half-moon manicure in this sumptuous shade with nude polish on the toenails.

Try pairing a half-moon manicure in this sumptuous shade with nude polish on the toenails.

Bond No. 9's latest New York City swoon: Perfumista Avenue.

Bond No. 9′s latest New York City swoon: Perfumista Avenue.

Designer Tory Burch said her mother's vanity table inspired her new fragrance and beauty collection.

Designer Tory Burch said her mother’s vanity table inspired her new fragrance and beauty collection.

Phylia de M, a hair restorer/thickener, is receiving rave reviews.

Phylia de M, a hair restorer/thickener, is receiving rave reviews.

Kate Winslet for Lancome is inspiration for any femme fatale.

Kate Winslet for Lancome is inspiration for any femme fatale.

Add a pop of bright color to emphasize your eyes with Lancome's Art Liner 24H.

Add a pop of bright color to emphasize your eyes with Lancome’s Art Liner 24H.

After a five-year hiatus, Jo Malone is back with Jo Loves. Gift-buying dilemma now over.

After a five-year hiatus, fragrance guru and former florist’s apprentice Jo Malone is back with Jo Loves. Gift-buying dilemma now over.

Dior first introduced Dior #9 in 1953. This classic red was recently relaunched as #999.

Christian Dior first introduced Dior #9 lipstick in 1953. This classic red was recently relaunched as #999.

Dior's New Look photographed for Vogue.

Dior’s New Look photographed by Serge Balkin for Vogue.

Chanel's gorgeous Cast a Spell collection is new this fall.

Chanel’s gorgeous Cast a Spell collection is new this fall.

When Marilyn Monroe was asked what she wore to bed, her answer was Chanel No. 5.

When reporters asked Marilyn Monroe what she wore to bed, her answer was Chanel No. 5.

Looking forward to a spritz of Estée Lauder's Modern Muse and, I hope, a surge of creativity. ;)

Looking forward to a spritz of Estée Lauder’s Modern Muse.

Since the '90s, Lorraine Massey has been helping those with hard-to-tame tresses embrace their inner curl. But her products are new to Space NK in Brentwood. Cheers, Lorraine!

Since the ’90s, Lorraine Massey has been helping those with hard-to-tame tresses embrace their inner curl. But her products are new to Space NK in Brentwood. Cheers, Lorraine!

The nice girls at Space NK in Brentwood recommended Life Daily Fix Foot Cream to heal my dry cracked heels. Perfect for a post-yoga slather. Take that, Warrior 3 and Reverse Half Moon!

The nice girls at Space NK in Brentwood recommended Life Daily Fix Foot Cream to heal my dry and cracked heels. Perfect for a post-yoga slather. Take that, Warrior 3 and Reverse Half Moon!

Lipstick Queen founder Poppy King says she had vintage Hollywood in mind when she created her Velvet Rope lipstick collection. Shown here is Star System, a nude with A-list oomph.

Lipstick Queen founder Poppy King says she had vintage Hollywood in mind when she created her Velvet Rope lipstick collection. Shown here is Star System, a nude with A-list oomph.

Laura Mercier's Dark Spell Collection looks truly divine.

Laura Mercier’s Dark Spell Collection looks truly divine.

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Hitchcockian thriller ‘Prisoners’ calls for multiple viewings

Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman star in "Prisoners."

Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman star in “Prisoners.”

Prisoners/2013/Warner Bros./153 min.

Tense and absorbing, “Prisoners” ranks as a solid three-star flick. When two 6-year-old girls go missing, one of the fathers – a carpenter and hunter named Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) – quickly reveals himself to be a brutal vigilante, intent on beating information out of a mentally disabled man brought in for questioning and then released (Paul Dano).

Jake Gyllenhaal, as the obsessive cop assigned to the case, pursues another suspect and eventually Jackman chases yet another – all of the suspects, we learn, share a shattering connection. Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello and Melissa Leo round out the cast. Aaron Guzikowski wrote the screenplay.

Québec-born director Denis Villeneuve thoughtfully tells a complex, Hitchcockian tale and elicits memorable performances from the cast, especially from Gyllenhaal (perhaps his best work since “Zodiac.”)

On the downside, there are some rather drafty plot holes, the pacing is slightly off and, while Jackman is very watchable, the script’s characterization of Keller Dover proves more facile than fascinating. Still, it’s engrossing enough that you might feel like watching it twice to catch all the clues. And the ending is superb.

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