Movie Review Roundup: Tag, Mississippi Burning, Brubaker, Changeling, No Sudden Move

I just got back from Utah last night, and you know what that means: lots of time sitting on a plane or a bus with nothing much to do other than watch movies. (Well, technically I suppose I could write, but my headspace is nowhere near capable of writing when I’m flying.) I watched five movies in total, and I’m here to tell you all about them. (More or less.)

First up, we have Tag, a movie loosely based on a real-life game of tag that went on for years and years, as the group of friends grew up and got jobs and just kept playing. It starred Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, and Jon Hamm, and it was diverting but ultimately nothing more than a bit of fluff. Fine for distracting a librarian as he trekked across the country, but not much more than that. It felt like it was trying really hard to be raunchier than it needed to be. I think there could have been something really fun there if they had leaned into being more of a family movie than an adult comedy. Instead, they threw in lots of drug references and language. 5/10.

From there, I decided to try something a little more weighty. I’d heard good things about Mississippi Burning, and I was in no way disappointed. The film (from 1988) loosely depicts the true story of three missing civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964. Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman play FBI agents assigned to investigate the case, which quickly uncovers deep-seated racism in the town. The director (Alan Parker) uses the movies as a vehicle to explore that tension. I found it compelling. It won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, and it was nominated for six others, including Picture, Director, Lead Actor, and Supporting Actress. 9.5/10, though be aware that there are some very disturbing depictions of racial violence. (I was also discouraged to see how much of the language and ideologies expressed in the movie back in 1988 are still thriving 33 years later.)

Next up was Robert Redford in Brubaker. The 1980 movie is again based loosely on history, this time the career of Tom Murton, who unveiled a huge prison scandal in Arkansas in 1967. Redford plays the part of the new prison warden (based on Murton), who comes find out what’s wrong with the prison and try his best to fix it. The actual depictions of prison life were vivid, but I felt like the movie was quite heavy-handed in its Message. Characters seem to be either Good or Evil, and that fell flat for me. That said, it was still a solid movie in most other respects. 7/10

On the way home, I started with Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, because apparently after Tag, all I wanted to do was watch historical movies. This one stars Angelina Jolie as a mother whose son goes missing in Los Angeles in 1926. After weeks of searching, the police find him, but when they present him back to Jolie, she immediately sees he’s not her son. Unwilling to admit their error, the police insist she’s mistaken. It’s the sort of thing you’d think has to be made up, and it only gets away with it because we know it isn’t. I very much enjoyed it. 8/10

And finally, I watched Steven Soderbergh’s new No Sudden Move, starring Benicio Del Toro and Don Cheadle. This one follows the tangled mess that’s left over when an underworld robbery goes south. The movie was definitely twisty turny, actually to the point that it felt too convoluted. In an ideal world, reveals in films like this feel obvious in hindsight, but there were several steps where I was just confused by a twist, not enlightened. (Also, it has Brendan Fraser in a supporting role. It felt like forever since I’d seen him in a movie. He put on a ton of weight, whether for the part or not, I don’t know.) I thought I’d finally watched a non-historical movie, only to discover at the end of the film that actually this one had some roots in real world events as well. Go figure. 7/10

And that’s that! Movies: the one thing that get me through airplane travel.


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