Before Mike Figgis was known as cinematic experimenter extraordinaire, he was just a guy directing some solid 90s fare (I had no idea he directed Leaving Las Vegas). His 1990 Internal Affairs is a pretty solid police corruption flick with a really strong Richard Gere performance.
Andy Garcia is the IA officer Raymond Avilla (good cop) and Gere is Dennis Peck (bad cop). Figgis plays the good-cop-turning-bad card well, and Gere’s Peck is really nasty. The more Gere I see from the 70s, 80s, and early-90s, the more I’m impressed and realize that his Pretty Woman typecast happened after several great turns. Apparently he and Garcia had some real on-set beef, and it comes through nicely.
IA has a hilarious cameo from a young, histrionic Elijah Wood-
-and another, albeit pretty solid one, from Stephen Baldwin (check out Gere’s awesome popped collar).
What sets IA apart from, say, a Tequila Sunrise, is that Figgis isn’t dependent upon a late-80s or early-90s mood and mise-en-scene, and instead keeps his attention squarely on the performance and story. There’s not much that is stylistically noteworthy, aside from a badly dated slow-motion sequence mid-shootout and a strong crosscut at the end, but it’s really just solid direction. Figgis is more interested in Peck vs. Avilla than in any Serpico-like whistleblowing, and so much of the narrative shows the two men squaring off face-to-face or in the mind/chess game that ensues quickly after the first 20 minutes.
Viva Maria! is a strange film for Louis Malle. It’s mid-60s, so it follows an incredible run of films that include Elevator to the Gallows, The Lovers, Zazie dans le Metro, and The Fire Within, and it comes immediately before some documentaries (Calcutta) and the great one-two punch of Murmur of the Heart and Lacombe, Lucien.
Of all of these, Viva Maria! is the most escapist, probably the most accessible, and easily the highest budgeted (at least from the scope and design). It features two cinematic French giants – Bardot and Moreau – as women who accidentally invent the striptease, though the narrative is much more revolutionary-minded than that.
One point of interest for recent cinematic reference: Viva Maria! features a scene in the infamous Catholic dungeons, where Maria and Maria are interrogated by means of some rickety Inquisition-era torture instruments. The sequence features hooded priests who have trouble operating through the tiny holes in their masks:
Sound like a certain scene in Django Unchained? If it wasn’t for Tarantino’s penchant for reference and revision this might be worth shrugging off.
There are some really surreal elements in Viva Maria!, making Zazie a reasonable antecedent and Black Moon (1975) an arguable descendent. These images are two of my favorites:
It’s the big-time spectacle that’s the most interesting here though. Malle has everything from true Western sequences (there’s definitely an inappropriate joke for that second image with Bardot, Moreau, and a huge gun):
To backstage musical numbers:
To train heist moments:
To prison escape sequences:
It’s a pretty impressive range and Malle handles the material well – even some of the subpar, less dramatic moments. It also feels like some Jeunet tried with Micmacs in the odd assortment of somewhat ridiculous characters.