Monday, 17 September 2007

Infernal Affairs, The Prestige & A Scanner Darkly - Film Reviews

If you’re familiar with the Jack Nicholson film The Departed, which won four Oscars earlier this year, then by now you’ve already seen the Hong Kong film that inspired it, Infernal Affairs.
Originally released in 2002, the story centres on two police officers. One, named Yan, is an undercover cop who has infiltrated the Triad. The other, Ming, is a Triad member who infiltrated the police force. They were each planted by their respective organisation to gain intelligence on the other side. However, the deeper undercover they went, the more complicated things got, and they both begin to struggle with their double identities.
Infernal Affairs is a truly compelling drama. It’s multi-dimensional characters make for exceptional viewing, and the performances of the two leading actors, Tony Leung as Yan and Andy Lau as Ming are perfection itself. The supporting cast, especially Anthony Wong as Superintendent Wong, the only man Yan can trust, are also exceptional.
I know this may sound like I’m going a little over the top here, but I really can’t speak too highly about this film. Everything about it, from the performances of it’s actors, to the production to just about everything is perfect, and it’s obvious why Hollywood got hold of the rights to film their own version, but never having seen The Departed, I’m not really in a position to compare the two. Not yet anyway.
The second DVD I’m going to look at is a period drama released in 2006. The Prestige, directed by Christopher Nolan, stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as stage magicians competing with each other in a game of one-upmanship, a game which costs both men plenty during their years long rivalry.
The story starts out with Borden (Bale) and Angier (Jackman) as ringers for Milton the Magician. In other words, they sit in the audience for each show, and when Milton calls for two volunteers from the audience, Borden and Angier are the ones called on to the stage. The act also features Angier’s wife Julia. But Julia’s death while trying to perform the Chinese Water Torture Cell trick leads the two men into a bitter feud. As they try to outdo each other at every turn, there are casualties, and things get even worse for the two of them with Borden unveils his trick, The Transported Man.
Both Bale and Jackman are perfectly cast as the feuding magicians, two men who start off as friends but end up as mortal enemies because of the tragic events in their lives. I’ve been a big fan of Hugh Jackman ever since I first saw him in the first X-Men movie, and this is probably his best performance yet.
Special mention must also be made of Scarlett Johannsen and Michael Caine for their supporting roles.
In all, The Prestige is a great film, one that certainly keeps you guessing right up until the final scene, when you finally learn just how the biggest trick of the film is done. I’m not going to give away the details here, because that would just spoil the ending for you. Needless to say though you’ll probably be shocked.
Finally, we look at one of the most unique films of 2006, which introduced the world to a new way of making animated films - A Scanner Darkly.
Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, the film stars Keanu Reeves as Fred, an undercover police office in the near future, where America has lost the war on drugs, and a highly addictive drug known as Substance D is sweeping across the country. In fact, Fred is so undercover that whenever he pays a visit to the police station he wears a scramble suit, a high-tech device that constantly changes his appearance and alters his voice so that not even his fellow officers know who he is. His boss, known only as Hank, also wears a scramble suit.
Undercover, Fred is Bob Arctor, a drug user who lives in a tatty house in a poor neighbourhood with several house-mates, who are also drug users. Their time is spent taking drugs and having long, pointless conversations.
However, the twist in the story comes when Hank tells Fred who he wants him to investigate next - Bob Arctor.
So what’s so pleasing about this film? Well, from what I understand, the film was filmed normally, then enhanced with a technique called rotoscoping. I have absolutely no idea how it works exactly. All I do know is that it turns a live action film into something that looks animated, and that’s what makes this film so different and pleasing. Although we know we are watching real actors acting, we also know we’re watching an animated film. It’s like watching an extremely well-drawn graphic novel on your screen, and it’s been very well produced.
As for the performances, although I’ve never really been a big fan of Keanu Reeves, I did enjoy his performance here, probably the first time I’ve enjoyed his performance since the Bill and Ted days. Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. are beautifully over the top as Reeve’s housemates, especially the scenes when Downey’s character Barris is trying to grass up his supposedly good friend Arctor to the police, and like The Prestige, this is another film that has twists and turns that you just won’t expect.
If you’re a fan of animated films aimed at adults, then A Scanner Darkly will please you no-end.
That’s you’re lot for this DVD review column.