The Princess Bride (1987). A delightful film in every way. A fine cast (Cary Elwes, Robin Wright (her film debut), Mandy Patinkin (his best performance), Wallace Shawn, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Andre the Giant (perfectly cast), Christopher Guest, and cameos from a wide range of comedic talents, led by Billy Crystal and Carol Kane), hamming things up just enough, which is harder to pull off than one might think. Rob Reiner’s unobtrusive direction allows William Goldman’s screenplay (adapted from his novel) to sing in all its silliness. I can’t imagine there has ever been a better screenwriter than Goldman, as his range is as impressive as the quality: Harper, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hot Rock, All the President’s Men, Marathon Man, A Bridge Too Far, Magic, Misery; thirty-one in all.
The Insider (1999). Michael Mann is a master stylist as a director, and is generally able to keep his glossy approach from overwhelming the film itself. The Insider is a prime example. Based on—and pretty faithful to—an article by Marie Brenner about how the tobacco cover-up was broken, the screenplay by Mann and Eric Roth does a good job of staying on the right side of melodrama, shooting more for outrage over the situation than sympathy for the protagonist. (Not that he doesn’t deserve it.) Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, and Christopher Plummer put on an acting clinic, and Pacino keeps things reined in for one of his better performances. (Plummer is eerie as Mike Wallace.) Worth watching—or re-watching—on its merits as a film, even more so as an exploration of how moneyed interested game the system.
Appaloosa (2008). Robert B. Parker turned to Westerns when the Spenser series started to run out of gas. (Not that he stopped writing Spensers.) Appaloosa was the first, and Ed Harris apparently fell in love with it, as he produced, directed, starred in, and co-wrote the screenplay. A solid Western of the male-bonding genre, as Harris’s Virgil Cole roams the West with Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), hiring on as the law for towns that need it. No one wrote man-to-man laconic dialog better than Parker, and Harris wisely kept a great deal of it. The only weak point is the casting of Renee Zellweger as Allie French, the stray woman in town, who hooks up with Cole, unless someone more promising is available. (And breathing.) That character is the weak point of the book, and Zellweger does the part no favors. Diane Lane was originally cast, but dropped out in pre-production (per IMDB); I could have believed Cole doing uncharacteristic things for Diane Lane.
A Walk Among the Tombstones (2013). Something about this didn’t work for me. It’s hard to put my finger on. Liam Neeson was great, as always. No one does the tortured soul better than he. The filmmakers worked in Matt Scudder’s back story very well. Casting and acting were good throughout. The plot was compelling. Something about the premise never quite registered with me. Maybe it’s as simple as the core story revolving around killing women in gruesome manners yet again. We’re told how the bad guys come into the information they have that sets the plot in motion, but something about it never quite rang true for me. This is often a problem when adapting novels, where the author has time to lay things out; movies are more compressed. (Note: I have not read the book, so I don’t know if I’d have the same problem there.) It’s a situation where the whole is less than the sum of the parts. I liked it, but thought I’d like it more.