Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Clint Eastwood defends a wronged man

Richard Jewell brings the story of a 1996 Olympic bombing to life.
Clint Eastwood tells the story of an innocent man who was convicted by public opinion in Richard Jewell, a movie that exposes the media frenzy that turned Jewell’s life into a nightmare. Jewell, you’ll recall, worked as a security guard at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, site of a bombing that killed one person and injured 111.

It didn’t take long for Jewell to make the transition from hero to goat when word leaked that he had become a prime suspect in the bombing. Evidently, investigators — in this case, the FBI — routinely consider anyone near the site of a bombing to be a potential suspect. After discovering the bomb in an abandoned backpack, Jewell guided people to safety. None of that got him off the hook.

Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) makes for an unlikely main character. He aspires to be a policeman, but can’t find his way into that world, even losing a job as a college security guard. He’s overweight and lives at home with his mother (Kathy Bates). Jewell’s "suspicious" profile — a loner who lives with his mom — makes matters worse for him.

Watching Hauser, you may wonder whether Eastwood has cast a real person in the role. I don't say that as criticism but as praise. An experienced actor, Hauser proves entirely convincing as a man who can’t find his niche. Eager to be part of law enforcement, Jewell constantly overplays his hand. He expects the police to treat him as a willing colleague.

Jewell finds an ally in Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), an attorney who believes in his client's innocence and works to clear his name. No stranger to colorful characters, Rockwell makes for an intriguing figure, an idiosyncratic lawyer who sometimes finds his client exasperating.

The two characters who represent the government and the media don’t fare nearly so well.

Jon Hamm portrays Tom Shaw, the FBI agent who leaks Jewell’s name to an aggressively seductive reporter (Olivia Wilde).

Wilde’s portrayal of reporter Kathy Scruggs has been criticized by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the paper at which Scruggs plied her trade. Scruggs is no longer alive, so it’s impossible to hear what she has to say but a scene in which Scruggs comes on to Shaw in a bar made me skeptical. It goes way beyond calculated flirtation, making it seem as if Scruggs is propositioning the agent.

As someone who worked in journalism for almost 40 years, I never knew or heard of any female reporter behaving in such an unprofessional fashion. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen but I didn't buy it.*p>
The FBI takes it on the chin, as well. Despite evidence that suggested that Jewell couldn’t have planted the bomb, the FBI persisted in keeping him a suspect. To the end, Hamm’s character insists on Jewell's guilt.

Reservations aside, Richard Jewell clearly shows how eager reporting can ignite a storm capable of ruining a person’s life. But any journalist who investigates the Jewell case beyond what's seen on screen must ask him or herself what they would have done if they had credible information about a suspect in a crime that had captured international attention.

Watching the FBI invade Jewell’s home and remove evidence provides an abject lesson in what it means to be demeaned by an investigative process. It looks bad now that we know Jewell was innocent: Had it turned out that Jewell was guilty, however, would anyone have complained?

Jewell died a few years after the movie ends. He was 44. Eastwood’s movie leaves you wondering whether he ever recovered from his ordeal, and we feel for him. It’s possible to take issue with some of the ways Eastwood treats the story and still believe that Jewell was badly wronged, thanks in no small part to Hauser's performance as a guy who flounders as he loses control of his life.

Flaws and all, Richard Jewell serves as a reminder that when outrage reaches fever proportions, no one benefits.

*If you're interested in reading more about the Scruggs controversy try this Washington Post article.
No one disputes the fact that a ruinous media frenzy surrounded Jewell once a story naming him as a suspect had been published. That would have been no less true had the movie shown Scruggs writing a story for which she had received a credible tip and left it at that.

'63 Up' continues a fascinating journey

I'm not going to say a great deal about 63 Up, aside from stating the obvious: There's never been anything quite like it and we're lucky to have it.

The latest in director Michael Apted's long-running series continues to follow the lives of a variety of Brits, who we first encountered when they were seven. Appearing in seven-year intervals, the movies in the Up series remain essential viewing for anyone who has seen one or more of the films, which began in 1964. Apted's documentaries have become a touchstone for moviegoers; they mark milestones in the lives of the movie's subjects and also in the lives of those who faithfully have viewed them.

In 63, Apted includes enough references to the earlier films to refresh the memory of veterans or to allow newcomers easy entry.

As a study of class differences in Britain, Up has much to say. But as time wears on, the movie also allows for reflection on loss and the diminishing horizons that accompany aging.

If you're among the film's many fans, you'll approach 63 with many questions. You'll want to know, for example, how Tony, the kid with the Cockney accent, has been faring. Is he still driving a taxi? Is he as spunky as ever?

Does the well-spoken, well-educated John still ply his trade as a barrister? And where does he stand on Brexit?

And what of Lynn and her life as a wife, mother, and librarian?

A few hints: Mixed race Symon, who was raised in a group home, may finally have settled into a groove. In a constant battle with depression, Neil has loved and lost since we saw him seven years ago. Nick, who became a physics professor in the US, is dealing with throat cancer.

Sometimes heard off-camera, Apted can be chided by his subjects for asking questions they find irrelevant, but you can tell that both director and his subjects have grown accustomed to one another -- if not always entirely comfortable with a lifetime of cinematic intrusions.

Apted is 78. The next chapter of this irresistible and still evolving saga will be due when he's 85. I hope Apted is here to make it and that we're all here to see it. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The 2020 Critics' Choice nominees

And so it begins ...

The awards season is upon us. The Broadcast Film Critics Association, of which I'm a voting member, Sunday announced its nominations for the 25th annual Critics' Choice Awards. Winners will be announced Sunday, Jan. 13 in a program to be aired on the CW network.

The Irishman led all films with 14 nominations. It was followed by Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood, which garnered 12 nominations. Little Women received nine nominations. 1917 and Marriage Story followed with eight nominations each. Jojo Rabbit, Joker and Parasite earned seven nominations apiece.

I provide this year's list, which I suggest makes a good start for you to begin thinking about your own favorites for year-end honors. Here goes:

Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Uncut Gems

Antonio Banderas, Pain & Glory
Robert De Niro, The Irishman
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

Awkwafina, The Farewell
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Lupita Nyong’o, Us
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

Julia Butters, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit
Noah Jupe, Honey Boy
Thomasin McKenzie, Jojo Rabbit
Shahadi Wright Joseph, Us
Archie Yates, Jojo Rabbit

The Irishman
Knives Out
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Greta Gerwig, Little Women
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Sam Mendes, 1917
Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie, Uncut Gems
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Rian Johnson, Knives Out
Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won, Parasite
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Lulu Wang, The Farewell

Greta Gerwig, Little Women
Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes
Todd Phillips & Scott Silver, Joker
Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
Steven Zaillian, The Irishman

Jarin Blaschke, The Lighthouse
Roger Deakins, 1917
Phedon Papamichael, Ford v Ferrari
Rodrigo Prieto, The Irishman
Robert Richardson, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Lawrence Sher, Joker

Mark Friedberg, Kris Moran, Joker
Dennis Gassner, Lee Sandales, 1917
Jess Gonchor, Claire Kaufman, Little Women
Lee Ha Jun, Parasite
Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Bob Shaw, Regina Graves, The Irishman
Donal Woods, Gina Cromwell, Downton Abbey

Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie, Uncut Gems
Andrew Buckland, Michael McCusker, Ford v Ferrari
Yang Jinmo, Parasite
Fred Raskin, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Thelma Schoonmaker, The Irishman
Lee Smith, 1917

Ruth E. Carter, Dolemite Is My Name
Julian Day, Rocketman
Jacqueline Durran, Little Women
Arianne Phillips, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson, The Irishman
Anna Robbins, Downton Abbey

Dolemite Is My Name
The Irishman
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Ad Astra
The Aeronauts
Avengers: Endgame
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
The Lion King

Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

Avengers: Endgame
Ford v Ferrari
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Spider-Man: Far From Home

Dolemite Is My Name
The Farewell
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out

Ad Astra
Avengers: Endgame

Les Misérables
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire


Glasgow (No Place Like Home), Wild Rose
(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again, Rocketman
I’m Standing With You, Breakthrough
Into the Unknown, Frozen II
Speechless, Aladdin
Spirit, The Lion King
Stand Up, Harriet

Michael Abels, Us
Alexandre Desplat, Little Women
Hildur Guðnadóttir, Joker
Randy Newman, Marriage Story
Thomas Newman, 1917
Robbie Robertson, The Irishman

Friday, December 6, 2019

Bob's Cinema Diary: 12/6 -- In Fabric, Little Joe and Knives and Skin

I guess it's just one of those weeks. Three movies -- definitely on the fringe -- all involve weirdness of some sort or another. If you saw all three movies, you'd witness, among other things, a high-school girl who sells worn women's underwear to her school's principal, a female mannequin that's masturbated by a vampiric looking woman who may be a witch and a plant that emits pollen that subtly alters personalities and very likely will conquer the world. And you thought movie reviewing was nothing but fun. Oh well, I put these three movies together, although they have nothing in common but their willingness to be varying degrees of offbeat.

In Fabric

Director Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy) has a following among those who like his brand of cinema, which -- honesty compels me to say -- defies easy description. Know, though, that logic takes a back seat to bizarre imagery, strange ideas and a near thorough disregard for credibility. Consider: The elements in In Fabric are unified by a dress that brings those who own it or are associated with it to unhappy ends. In Fabric is such that you may find yourself blanching and laughing as you puzzle your way through Strickland's catalog of bizarre images. The movie divides into halves. In one, a bank clerk named Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) acquires the dress. A single mother living with her grown son (Jaygann Ayeh), Sheila buys the dress from a vampiric-looking salesperson (Fatma Mohamed) at Dentley & Soper, a department store that's having a sale. Sheila's bosses at the bank where she works are two gay men (Steve Oram and Julian Barratt) who rip her performance to shreds, all the while taking care to be ever so solicitous. In the second half of the movie, a washing-machine repairman (Leo Bill) winds up giving the dress to his bride-to-be (Hayley Squires). It may be impossible to watch In Fabric without simultaneously scratching your head. It's also necessary, if grudgingly, to appreciate a masturbation scene involving a mannequin. I'd be lying if I told you I knew exactly what Strickland was getting at (something about rampant, greedy consumerism, I suppose), but say this: It's unlikely that you'll see anything like In Fabric this year. Some will consider that a good thing. Others will play along because Strickland paves the pathway to horror with chuckles. The movie, by the way, also includes what may rank as the worst first date in cinema history.

Little Joe

It's possible to argue that director Jessica Hausner's Little Joe is too quiet for its own good, but it's equally possible to be grateful that her movie won't clobber you over the head. Hausner's movie focuses on Alice (Emily Beecham), a single mother who names a breed of plant she has created after her son Joe (Kit Connor). The plant -- a single red flower perched atop long stem -- is supposed to elicit feelings of happiness from those who own one. The plant was developed at Alice's place of employment, a blandly futuristic company at which bio-engineers grow and market flowers. Chris (Ben Whishaw) works with Alice and also tries to begin a romance with her. Everything looks rosy (pardon the pun) until it becomes apparent that Alice's creation has the power to alter personalities. Given a plant by his mother, Alice's son, for example, suddenly decides that he wishes to live with his father, an option he had previously rejected. It takes time for Alice to accept that a plant significantly could alter someone's outlook, in part because the changes are almost imperceptible. The quietly creepy Little Joe may not be profound, but it deftly sustains a mood of discomfort as it delivers (quietly, of course) its message: One interferes with natural processes at one's peril. Put another way, you might want to see Little Joe as an example of what can be achieved on screen with lab coats, a serviceable premise, and a director who allows her movie to sneak up on you. Or you can think of Little Joe as a horror movie that refuses to raise its voice, something I welcomed.

Knives and Skin

In Knives and Skin, director Jennifer Reeder creates a world-apart feeling as she examines small-town hypocrisies from a female point of view. The best thing about Reeder's movie -- at least for me -- are songs periodically delivered by an all-girls choir. Very haunting. A story that revolves around a teenage girl who goes missing often seems to be operating in a dream world. Since we know from the outset what happened to the girl (Raven Whitley), there's no real mystery. Rather, the disappearance provides a way for Reeder to lift the lid on small-town probity. The characters include a self-impressed high school football player (Ty Olwin), a father (Tim Hopper) who conceals the loss of his job from his wife and a steadfast sheriff (James Vincent Meredith) with domestic troubles of his own. His wife (Kate Arrington) cheats on him. We also meet classmates of the missing girl and the girl's mother (Marika Engelhardt), a woman who loses her grip. Lest we miss the point that perversity lurks beneath the surface, a girl at the town's high school sells worn women's underwear to her perverted high school principal. Reeder may be aiming to expose the weirdness sometimes and sexism that's rampant in this small town. But, for me, mood trumped meaning and Knives and Skin wore thin.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Up, up and away -- some of the time

Aeronauts reunites Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones for an adventure that's fine so long as it doesn't touch the ground.
After their joint appearance in The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite for a story about a scientist who enlists the help of a balloonist with a flair for show business.

Based on a real character, Redmayne's James Glaisher hopes to convince Britain's rigid scientific establishment that meteorology should be accepted as a legitimate scientific pursuit. In the 19th Century, predicting the weather evidently was not considered possible.

Director Tom Harper's movie begins when Jones' Amelia Wren arrives late for the balloon launch that's aiming to break the height record for balloon ascendance.

Harper immediately sketches personality details for each member of his adventurous duo. Amelia is the daring one; Redmayne's James takes a more cerebral approach to balloon flight. He's less interested in thrilling the gathered crowd than in collecting atmospheric data.

Amelia understands the importance of grand gestures. To make sure that the onlookers are adequately thrilled, she throws her cute little dog off the rising balloon. The crowd gasps. Not to worry. The dog is attached to a parachute.

Amelia, by the way, is a fictional stand-in for Glashier's real partner, Henry Coxwell. Perhaps to give the movie some feminist charge, Amelia disregards the advice of Antonia (Phoebe Fox), the sister who thinks Amelia should stay home and tend to domestic matters.

Amelia's backstory also involves the guilt she feels about her late husband's demise. Vincent Perez plays Amelia's husband, also a balloonist, in one of the movie's many awkward flashbacks.

None of this provides viewers with much reason to see The Aeronauts. But audiences may wish to seek out this adventure because of its aerial sequences, one of which -- a true stunner -- arrives when Amelia must climb to the top of the balloon to deal with a failure that needs to be righted before the balloon can descend.

At a height of 35,000 feet, both Amelia and James are in danger of freezing to death.

There isn't much else to say about the Aeronauts. One might summarize this way: Balloon footage (good); the rest (meh).

One note: If you haven't seen Harper's Wild Rose, the story of an aspiring country singer from Scotland, you ought to give it a look. It was released earlier this year.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Can a divorce really be amicable?

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver play a divorcing couple in director Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story.
In a divorce, it eventually becomes clear to one or both partners that the person in whom they had placed their trust no longer is the person they believed them to be. Suddenly, the most intimate person in one's life becomes an unfamiliar antagonist.

This isn't true of every divorce, but it's the underlying dynamic that drives Marriage Story, the latest movie from director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, The Meyerowitz Stories. The always insightful Baumbach tells the story of two creative types who love each other, but whose marriage has run out of gas. Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) has decided that her acting chops have sustained the career of her husband (Adam Driver), an acclaimed experimental theater director. Driver's Charlie reaps the rewards and adoration. She's an also-ran.

Eventually, the situation proves intolerable for Nicole -- that and the fact that Charlie has slept with a member of the Manhattan theater company he runs.

To pursue her career, Nicole moves to her hometown, Los Angeles, a city that Charlie loathes. She eventually lands a big role in an important TV show.

For his part, Charlie's career begins to stall and he can't accept the idea that his family, which includes a young son (Azhy Robertson), no longer can call itself New York-based.

Baumbach begins the movie with a nifty bit of trickery. We hear the content of letters in which each of the spouses lists the good points about their mate. The movie then undermines what seems an expression of love and goodwill by telling us that these letters were written at the suggestion of a mediator after the couple agreed to divorce.

The movie is less the story of a marriage than the story of a break-up. What appeared to be a good marriage was fraught with difficulties, the most important being Charlie's self-absorption. Early hopes for an amicable divorce eventually wind up in the hands of lawyers.

Laura Dern portrays Nicole's lawyer, a shark who knows how to find blood in the water and move in for the kill, isn't afraid to soften her hard edges. Ray Liotta turns up as Dern's male counterpart, another lawyer whose strategy involves biting into the nearest jugular. Liotta's character takes over after Charlie tries to do business with a reasonable, realistic lawyer, a terrific Alan Alda in full mensch mode.

Baumbach works hard to turn Marriage Story into an equal opportunity movie for each side. He evidently doesn't have a taste for the kind of drama that rips us apart, and he introduces comic elements that stem from Nicole's mother (Julie Hagerty) and her sister (Merritt Wever).

An attempt at farce in which Wever's character serves Charlie with divorce papers is overwrought to the point of annoyance. And there are two instances of characters doing musical numbers that easily could have been cut from a movie that doesn't quite know when to end. But I guess you could say the same about Charlie and Nicole's marriage.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Emotions break in inventive ‘Waves’

Director Trey Edward Shults plunges us into a family drama in which style surpasses story..
From its opening shots, it's clear that Waves -- a movie about the difficulties faced by a middle-class black family -- refuses to be ordinary. Director Trey Edward Shults creates an illusion in which it feels as if the movie's images are enveloping us. A simple shot of a girl riding a bicycle pushes us into a world that surrounds us and begins to work its ways on us, jarring us out of indifference.

Shults (Krisha) takes a dare with his movie. First, he bets that a white director can capture black life in South Florida without dipping into the treacherous waters of cultural appropriation. Second, he divides his movie into halves -- focusing first on the family's son, a championship wrestler played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. In the second half, Shults draws attention to Emily (Taylor Russell), the family's daughter.

The pace and concerns of the movie's two halves are radically opposed. Initially, Shults barrels his way through the story of Harrison's Tyler, a high-school wrestler whose future looks so promising, we can't help but think that the rug will be pulled out from under him. We wait for tragedy and it eventually arrives with shocking force.

The second half of the movie deals with how Tyler's sister adjusts after the devastations of the first half. The movie proceeds to draw a slightly different picture of the family's father (Sterling K. Brown), the owner of a construction company who pushes his son hard in the first half and who softens with his daughter in the movie's final chapter. We also gain new insight into the family's mother (Renee Elise Goldsberry).

Shults keeps the movie's emotional life close to the surface as he pushes into the teen world Tyler occupies. The first indication that Tyler may be headed for trouble occurs when he injures his shoulder. He doesn't tell his hard-driving father. He begins swiping pain pills that his father uses for a bum knee.

Tyler's father insists that his son perform: "We can't afford the luxury of being average," he says. "We have to work 10 times as hard as others."

It's one of the ways in which race becomes part of the movie's fabric, a realization that ordinary striving isn’t good enough for black achievers. Over-drive becomes a necessity.

Somewhat predictably, the kid who couldn't possibly fail becomes mired in drugs and alcohol. He also breaks up with his girlfriend (Alexa Demie) when he learns that she's pregnant. She refuses to get an abortion. Tyler begins to see his golden future circling a drain.

In the film's second half, Emily meets a boy (Lucas Hedges) who brings her out of her shell. I'm not sure the relationship really computes, but it forces Emily to extend herself, to begin to see beyond the borders of the world in which she was raised.

Hedges' Luke has father problems of his own and the script (unwisely, I think) branches out to include them.

Shults knows how to italicize the emotions in a scene and as a visual stylist, he immerses us in whatever location his camera finds.

I know people who question whether a white director should have made this movie, even one that brims with cinematic invention. A shot in which the camera revolves around a couple in a moving car is dizzying, as is much of the rest of the movie.

The two leads -- Harrison Jr. and Russell -- totally commit to Shults' approach, but I can't say that I totally bought Shults’s movie. When you step back from it and consider the story, Waves looks an awful lot like a conventional melodrama. I leave it to others to judge whether Shults' grasp of a black milieu is credible. He was smart to set his story in an integrated high school environment and that helps him.

Still, I wondered whether Shults wasn't guilty of piling woe on his characters.

Heaven forbid Tyler should have admired his father and had sense enough not to get his girlfriend pregnant. Suppose he had gone to college followed by medical school — all the time negotiating the tensions of being black and successful in a country that hasn’t fully faced its racist past, much less its present.

And what if Emily’s foray out of her grief and confusion arrived when she met a young black man who reached out to her? Or maybe a black female classmate?

But, hey, I’m just thinking out loud about a movie that I found visually exciting, disorienting and a bit troubling — all at the same time. Let me put it another way: I was caught up in the movie but when I reflected back on it, I thought more about Shults' vision than I did about the characters. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

A road movie with a political theme

Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya create a memorable duo in Queen & Slim, a movie about a black couple that takes flight after the accidental shooting of a racist cop.
Jodie Turner-Smith brings tons of presence to the screen in Queen & Slim, a drama about a black man and woman who take to the road after they're involved in the accidental killing of a racist cop. Tall and lean, Turner-Smith isn't always behind the wheel but she drives the movie.

As the other half of the fleeing couple, Daniel Kaluuya, familiar from Get Out, has the less showy role. He plays a young man who finds himself mired in a situation that rapidly spins out of control. After the police shooting, Kaluuya's character naively tells Turner-Smith's character that he's not a criminal. You are now, she replies.

Maybe Kaluuya’s character needs to rethink his personalized license plate: It reads, "Trust God."

The two meet on the blind date that opens the movie, which unspools in ways that may remind you of other movies -- from Bonnie & Clyde to Thelma and Louise. But director Melina Matsoukas, working from a screenplay by Lena Waithe, isn't following the customary map. Queen & Slim is a road movie set against a backdrop of racially motivated injustice.

An episodic approach includes a stop in New Orleans where the couple seeks refuge with Turner-Smith's character's uncle (Bokeem Woodbine), a man who lives with several women. Bokeem's character has an improbable backstory that later comes to light.

A white Florida couple (Flea and Chloe Sevigny) adds a late-picture stop. They want to help the couple escape to Cuba where they hope to find safety.

Matsoukas, who directed Beyonce's Formation video, grounds the movie in black community support for the movie's two main characters. They inspire protests proclaiming the sanctity of black lives.

A major miscue involves the way Matsoukas juxtaposes a sex scene between the two protagonists and protests against police brutality.

There may be more going on here than one movie can handle, a story of mismatched love (she’s a no-nonsense attorney; he’s an ordinary guy), a traditional road movie, a cry of social protest and a movie with a taste for anecdotal side trips.

The points in Waithe's screenplay can be made bluntly, a defensible choice considering the subject matter but the movie piles a lot on its plate as it moves toward a finale that you'll probably anticipate before it arrives.

Queen & Slim doesn't always work. I'll say this, though: When shots are fired in Queen & Slim, they carry a violent, harrowing shock. That's more than you can say for lots of movies. This time, the violence is felt.

A lawyer takes on a major corporation

Mark Ruffalo stars in Dark Waters, a movie that uses a deliberate approach in creating a drama of betrayed trust.

Making a movie about a complex legal case that spanned 17 years can't be easy. Director Todd Haynes and star Mark Ruffalo accomplish the daunting task in Dark Waters, the story of an Ohio attorney who takes on DuPont, one of the world's leading chemical companies.

Ruffalo portrays Rob Bilott, a Cincinnati-based attorney who specializes in defending companies like DuPont. After some initial foot-dragging, Bilott agrees to represent a West Virginia farmer (Bill Camp) whose cattle are being poisoned by toxic waste that has been dumped near his acreage. Bilott's target: DuPont.

Those familiar with Haynes' work (Wonderstruck, Carol, Far From Heaven) know that he can be as much stylist as a storyteller. But here, Haynes works in an unassuming fashion. He's wise enough to know that a story that impacts so many people needs little embellishment.

Dark Waters moves beyond the plight of a single farmer to encompass the drinking water of an entire town. The chemical in question also was used in Teflon, a non-stick coating familiar to most Americans.

Early on, we meet the head of Bilott's law firm. Tim Robbins portrays an attorney who eventually buys into Bilott's mission, a stance that doesn't please all the partners. Some of them view Bilott as a traitor who's biting the hands that feed the firm.

And Tim's wife ( Anne Hathaway impressive in a smallish role) isn't blindly supportive; she resents the fact that the case takes Bilott away from his children.

Among the supporting cast, Victor Garber also stands out as the head of DuPont. Initially cordial, Garber's character turns vicious when his company's interests are threatened.

But it's Ruffalo who carries the movie; he creates a portrait of an attorney who couldn't be less slick. As a church-going ordinary guy, Bilott feels no need to put self-righteousness on display.

Bilott's case against DuPont involves the use of a chemical called PFOA. It takes lots of heavy research to discover what the chemical is and how it has been used. Persistence trumps genius-level legal maneuvers.

You might say that everyone involved with the production -- from cinematographer Ed Lachman to Haynes -- serves a story that rightly has been compared to movies such as Norma Rae, Erin Brokovich and The Insider.

That's not to say that Dark Waters lacks atmosphere. The movie makes its case while capturing the bleak environs of a failing West Virginia farm and the grayness of Midwestern environments that have seen better days.

Basing the movie on a 2016 article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine, screenwriters Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan do a fine job capitalizing on the inherent drama of a tale involving betrayed trust.

The film reinforces a sobering conclusion: In the end, we can't rely on the government or on corporations for protection. We have to hope that people such as Bilott will take on fights that initially look futile.

Don't expect an explosive movie. Dark Waters gradually insinuates itself into consciousness in ways that make you shudder; it presents a clear case of a company that put its own interests ahead of the general good.