Two things happen in the film industry every February: A certain number of films receive a second wind after sweeping through the awards circuit, and Hollywood sweeps out its trash by releasing some second-rate fodder unfit for meaningful discussion. Since the Indy has already reviewed most of the former—The King's Speech (winner of four Oscars, and currently screening at the Wilma), Black Swan (starring Best Actress winner Natalie Portman, also at the Wilma) and Inside Job (Best Documentary)—and nobody deserves the fate of reviewing the latter (mainly Ben Affleck's latest film) now's as good a time as any to look back at the movies Missoula missed since last year's Oscars.
Each of these three films didn't fit into the Wilma's already stocked lineup of indie-flavored, foreign and otherwise alternative fare. Each of these films is also newly available on DVD. More importantly, each of these films deserves a little more recognition than it received.
The Tillman Story
According to the family of former football star-turned-fallen soldier Pat Tillman, this documentary serves one single purpose: setting the record straight. And according to that same family, the record is, to use military slang, FUBAR.
Tillman's story received a history book's worth of attention after 9/11. A star linebacker at Arizona State University and eventual starting safety for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, Tillman earned a reputation as an eclectic and cerebral wild man who instantly became a fan favorite. But Tillman shocked the sports world by announcing in 2002 that he was leaving professional football and joining the U.S. Army with his brother Kevin. In typical Tillman fashion, he offered no explanation for his decision and refused any special treatment or attention. He wanted to be considered like any other soldier.
Of course, he was anything but. To many, Tillman represented an unprecedented example of patriotism—a standout from the country's biggest sport putting fame aside to defend his country. When he was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, during what was initially reported as an apparent ambush, Tillman's legacy was spun as the ultimate sacrifice for his country. His death, in short, became a propaganda tool.
What the military failed to take into account—and what The Tillman Story does a magnificent job of relaying—is that Tillman's family wasn't the sort to let a convenient narrative wash away the facts. The film follows the stupefying cover-up of how Tillman died, and his mother's relentless pursuit for accountability from military and government officials who continually buried the truth. It's a thoroughly damning account, even for those who followed the sad tale as it unraveled in the national news. I came away with a mess of emotions—none stronger than an appreciation of the Tillman family's desire to have their son's story shown in shades of gray rather than the simplistic black and white—or, in this case, red, white and blue—so many wanted to see it in.
This is easily the best film Rob Reiner has directed in 15 years, although I'm not sure exactly what that means. While Reiner has offered up such incontrovertible hits as A Few Good Men, The Princess Bride and his directorial debut This is Spinal Tap, his more recent work has included The Bucket List and Rumor Has It... Flipped falls somewhere solidly in the middle of these two extremes—an imperfect, sentimental effort with enough sincerity and strong performances to keep it from falling into a tub of cheese.
Let's get the Velveeta out of the way first: It's a love story about two eighth-grade neighbors circa 1963, wherein the script "flips" back and forth from each character's point of view of the same events. It's not quite as annoying—or repetitive—as it sounds. The girl is a headstrong loner with an eccentric family. The boy's popular, with dreamy eyes, and his family works hard to present itself as a Rockwell painting. It's not very surprising to see the perceptions flipped (sigh) as things evolve.
What saves this adaptation of Wendelin Van Draanan's novel is a series of performances from actors who, like Reiner, have been largely unseen of late. Aidan Quinn plays the girl's father, Anthony Edwards and Rebecca DeMornay are the boy's parents, and John Mahoney ("Frasier") appears as the boy's grandfather. Every scene that includes the more mature actors—and introduces their characters' complex issues—elevates the film above a simple adolescent crush.
In many ways Flipped mirrors the young love at the center of the story: awkward, sometimes regrettable, but with enough indelible moments to make it sweetly unforgettable.
I Am Love
Everything about this period drama relies on the considerable talents of Tilda Swinton. In I Am Love, the former star of Orlando and Michael Clayton is the subservient wife of an Italian textile magnate. She goes about supporting her husband with a chill and hollowness that only Swinton can deliver. It's when sex gets introduced into the staidly traditional equation—Swinton engages in a blissfully reckless affair, her daughter reveals she's a lesbian, etc.—that things get interesting.
I Am Love was nominated for Best Costume Design at last week's Oscars (it lost), and the Milan setting is rich. Many of the plot twists, especially as indiscretions surface, work to propel the story in surprising directions. But Swinton steals the show, both when she's vocalizing her character's needs—the British actress learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent for the role—and, even more so, when she's just stewing in silence.