The Silent Partner (Duke, 1978) and Blackhat (Mann, 2015)

Christopher Plummer is a great actor. If you aren’t convinced or want further evidence, watch The Silent Partner, a very good movie, turned great movie thanks to Plummer’s phenomenal turn as Harry Reikle, a tough criminal who matches wits with Miles Cullen (Elliot Gould), a meek bank teller.

The Silent Partner is all over the map in terms of mood and genre, but it still manages to feel cohesive. It’s comedy, romance, thriller, and horror film all wrapped together. It stays together due to the writing from Curtis Hanson (he of LA Confidential) and the acting. Daryl Duke’s direction is fine, if at times verging on the overly silly or dramatic. Still, the film moves.

There’s some great late-70s costume and production design, like here, with Cullen in a bright blue plush robe, under an electric lamp, with a fishtank in the foreground:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.03.04 PM Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.03.20 PM

Then there are other moments that I’m not sure are supposed to be funny. Here’s Cullen at a wedding:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.04.35 PM

When the film cuts to his reverse shot, the background is surprisingly beach and ocean:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.04.52 PM

It’s not inherently funny for any reason but it made me laugh out loud. Look at those two shots again. There seems to be a real disconnect between them, as though they aren’t in the same location (later shots prove that they, at least in part, are). Maybe that first wide should’ve been further back to get some sand in the foreground. Either way, the cut is funny. In another movie that make contribute to a general sense of disaster. Here it’s par for the course.

There’s slapstick comedy coming from this guy in the black suit, who hits on anything that moves:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.05.22 PM

Horror, evident in frames like this one:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.07.10 PM

And then a sense of bank satire:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.06.44 PM

But Gould and Plummer keep doing their thing and The Silent Partner keeps you guessing. Plummer’s Reikle is calmly maniacal:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.04.04 PM 

Has Elliot Gould’s secret smile ever been more apparent or in use than in this film? He plays it to the hilt:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.03.42 PM

Look at the design of this bank. Whether on-location or designed, the yellow mixed with that ceiling is fantastic:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.05.38 PM

That yellow is pretty consistent throughout the film. Here’s another great location that feels like it’s from a spy film:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.05.57 PM

The conclusion of The Silent Partner is awesome. If for no other reason because it features Christopher Plummer in drag in a well-staged action sequence:

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 11.06.24 PM

I wonder if the tonal shifts work here and not in other films also because of the non-showy direction. Duke changes mise-en-scene a little bit, but things are pretty uniform throughout. The camera isn’t flashy, nor is the cutting.

Blackhat

I love Heat. I’d wager I’ve said that before on this blog. And though it’s directed by Michael Mann, Blackhat is no Heat.

A tech-thriller starring Chris Hemsworth as Nick Hathaway, MIT grad-turned inmate-turned government agent, starts strong and fizzles.

I really wanted to like Blackhat but you have to wonder if it ever underwent a rigorous edit. There are so many stray one-liners here that I cannot believe made the final cut. It feels a little lazy that way.

The same is true for some structural editing decisions. I don’t have stills to back this up, but here’s an example. Hathaway is approached by a government agent while in prison. They’ll hook him up on his sentence if he’ll help them find an evil hacker. He plays hardball: commute my sentence. This is shot as a 1-1 conversation in a visiting room. The stooge is flustered. Hathaway tells the guard he’s ready to leave.

What’s the next shot? Well, since we’re really just trying to get Hathaway out of prison so the movie can start, it should be Hathaway leaving prison. We put two and two together and come out with the missing middle piece: somewhere along the line the various governmental agency heads talked it out and agreed to his terms.

Instead of cutting right to that prison exterior, there’s one quick shot in between: the suit calls his boss and says something like, “we’ve got a problem.” Small moment, sure, but it’s unnecessary and interrupts the flow. It also plays like silly TV. Is that suspense? It’s not. This is actually something that The Silent Partner really doesn’t do (thankfully) in a critical cement mixer scene.

There are more than a few issues with Hathaway. On one hand, I really like the casting of Hemsworth. Go anti-stereotype. Why can’t an MIT computer whiz also be attractive and really built? But how come Hathaway is a genius, irresistible to women, able to take on four attackers with only restaurant furniture as weapons, a crackshot with a pistol, and an unbeatable negotiator? When did he become invincible? He’s actually…flawless. Even when he gets hurt it’s merely a flesh wound, and onward we move.

There’s a similar vibe to the overall film. Following a really well-choreographed opening bit that takes pains to visually explain the hacking process – and really succeeds – it continues as a tech-thriller for about 45 minutes. Then, around the midpoint, it’s as though all parties involved were kind of like, ‘forget this tech stuff. Someone hand me that screwdriver.’ And then it becomes Die Hard.

The irony, I think, is that Michael Mann is so good at staging action scenes that those second half scenes – total tonal switch (not the good kind, ala The Silent Partner) aside – are really well put together. There’s a fight at a restaurant that’s brilliantly staged, a long chase-shootout that’s expertly blocked, and then another two that are equally as thrilling.

As individual set-pieces those scenes are awesome. But in the context they don’t add up.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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3 Responses to The Silent Partner (Duke, 1978) and Blackhat (Mann, 2015)

  1. John Charet says:

    Great post:) A few things I would love to elaborate on. Although it has been a long time since I have seen The Silent Partner, I totally agree with you on your thoughts. Interesting to note that Curtis Hanson was (If I am not mistaken) one of the screenwriters of Samuel Fuller’s White Dog (1982) which would only get it’s US premiere in 2008 close to 11 years after Fuller’s death in 1997. I thought Blackhat was pretty mediocre. My favorite Michael Mann films would be Manhunter, Thief and The Insider. Heat was good but not great (just my opinion though). No denying Chris Hemsworth is prefectly casted, but as you imply one wonders If it was compromised by the studio. Anyway, I think I left this on another blog post of yours, but on my site http://www.cinematiccoffee.com, I just posted my Best Films of 2014 entry. Here is the link below and when you get the chance, please leave a comment on the blog to let me know what you think:) Keep up the great work as always:) and once again, here is the link below:

    http://cinematiccoffee.com/2015/01/18/the-best-films-of-2014-etc/

  2. John Charet says:

    Thank you for responding to my blog entry:) I just left a reply to your comment on my site:) Keep up the great work as always:)

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