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“Real Men and Reel Men”-Biopics

“Captain Phillips”  and “Pain and Gain”  has apparently nothing in common. Both of them, are excellent movies, one by Brit Paul  Greengrass, is a harrowing thriller, an inspiring one, the other is a superb black dramedy,  a film noir, suprising and comi-tragic, made by Michael Bay, whos  previous works weren’t my cup of tea, to put it mildly. Still, they have two common aspect. One they’re biopics, second- they successfuly present the American Manhood and the American Ethic in their true and false spectrum.

Richard Phillips didn’t design himself as a heroic, he was just a cargo skipper at the wrong place and time. His ship “The Maersk Alabama”, was cut off from a convoy, and as luck would have it, a bunch of Somali pirates headed by Abdulahi Muse, manage to kidnap the ship.

Lucky for Phillips, he manage to hide the crew, and convince the pirates to take him as a hostage, for one week, Phillips, and Muse start a relationship, moving from supicion, dislike to a sort of admiration for one another. All the while the US Navy does its best to thwart the kidnappers  from reaching Somalian territorial water and coast.

And here the movie, beside giving us a thrilling sea chase, also manage to do something else- Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, a Somalian US actor, do a beautiful performances, none upstage the other, everyone gives a minutiae portrayal of men caught on  a conflicting issue, each is having difficulties, both at the home front(Phillips is worried about his son, Muse is actually a  slave to a Somalian Warlord), each gives a sensitive performance, each supply us with the right emotions, and   I for one left the theater with a satisfaction of seeing a biopic which is truly a biopic. Tom Hanks as Phillips, prove again, that the right director, and the right script can allow him to be the actor he really is. His breakdown at the end of his rescue is a shining example of acting, and the capable hands of Greengrass, whose impressive works includs not only the Jason Borne two installments, but also:”Bloody Sunday”,about the  30th January  1972 DerryBloody Sunday occurences in Northern Island, and “United 93” about the fate of the 9/11 third plane, which crashed in a filed at  Shanksville,Pennsylvaia, rather than crash at the White House, due to the bravery of its passangers. Having a histrical accuracy, and the abilty of making thrillers, Greengrass deliver a first rate dynamic thriller, who manage to do something only few American thrillers, and historical pictures manage to do to me- excite and enriching me.

“Pain and gain” is another biopic. If the first excells the American heroics of the ordinary men, this film is about illusion, stupidity and the American dream gone sour, and prove impossible. Based on articles by Pete Collins. Its protagonists are:Daniel Luggo(Mark Whalberg) a bubble gum idiot, an ex con, jailed  due to a fraud schems which includes using fake medicare, yet he’s cruel and smart enough to implement a plan of his, Inspired by  Johnny Wu(Ken Jeong),a Chinese-American guru who spouts all sorts of mambo-jambo on “doers” and “undoers”, fuelled by Hollywood’s American Dream success stories of Don Corleone and Rocky, Daniel, whose workinbg as a body builder instructor at Sun Gym in Miami, Fla., enlists tweo more friends, one Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), whose excessive use of steroids render him impotent, and using the money for improving his sexual prowess, and , Doyle(Dwayne Johnson),an ex con turn religious who left his shelter at the curch, due to altercation with a  closet-homosexual priest.

The trio, with the unwitting help of a Roumanian striptease Sourita Louminata (Israeli actress Bar Pali in a very funny performance complete with a credible Roumanian accent) , try to kidnap and rob a Latino-Jewish shady businessman and a Lugo client at the gym, named Victor Kershaw (Lebanese-American Tony Shalhoub of “Monk” fame), beliving him to be rich enough to supply them with cash, suprisingly enough the scheme works, but the trio fearful that Kershaw might call the police attempting to kill him, in a number of ways including an unsuccessful attempt of running him over. What follows next gets bizzare by the moment, despite the fact that yes, this is a true story.

Another business scheme costing another victims,  only this time a combination of individual stupidity, unsatiable greed, and especially a formidable nemsis in the guise of a retired  private eye named Ed Du Bois III(Ed Harris), who oddly enough believe Kershaw’s tale. Thus the undoings of the gang brings them eventually to jail and for Lugo and Mese a death sentence, for Doyle a new shot at religion and  for Lumita a disillusion slap of the American  Dream.

All actors excell and brings us a comic and dark vision of American manhood at its bizzare and terrible nightmare. They help to bring the disturbing vision of America going insanely wrong, of a capitalist dream gone busting. Mr. Wahlberg and Messers Johnson and Mackie deliver performances which are both funny, dark, sinister and farcial at the same time.. You’re laughing, but the laughter stuck midway through the movie, and gradually they manage to transfer the movie from an overt black comedy to a dark parable of American way of life.

So  are the rest,  a bemused and tenacious Harris, an obonoxious pathetic Shalhoub, a gullible Paly, a hillarious Rebel Wilson, all contribute to the general atmosphere which gives us a funny-dramatic film noir based on facts. By the way, in life the gang was less funny and more ferocious, but that’s movies.

 

 

 

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