Tag Archives: Leland Orser

The Guest (2014, Adam Wingard)

For most of The Guest, the script doesn’t matter. Either the acting or the filmmaking carry the scene. The first act is this fairly standard, fairly obvious—albeit beautifully produced—drama about an all American family in crisis after the death of the oldest son, a soldier, killed in action in the Middle East. Dad Leland Orser is a verbally abusive drunk who also feels inadequate for not making enough money (in rural New Mexico). Mom Sheila Kelley is just sad. And dealing with Orser. High schooler Brendan Meyer is super-smart and mercilessly bullied. Daughter Maika Monroe works at the diner to save for college and has to hide pot-head boyfriend Chase Williamson from the fam. Then Dan Stevens knocks on the door—actually, Dan Stevens knocks on the door first and then the film establishes the family and really quickly, really efficiently. The strangest thing about The Guest having script problems is the plotting flows perfectly; writer Simon Barrett basically just doesn’t have any ending and he doesn’t have enough character development. Otherwise, the script’s good.

Anyway—Stevens. He’s the dead son’s comrade and he promised to tell each family member how much the dead son loved them. Stevens is just a good, nice guy, which is apparently exactly what the family needs. Kelley doesn’t have a son back so much as a pal. Kelley’s a missed opportunity. She’s a narrative prop, moved around for effective, but her performance is great. The film really doesn’t do enough with her. She’s around a lot but she doesn’t get any character development. She’s just sad about dead son and worried about her family. She also doesn’t have a clothes dryer, which is important later on. She and Stevens are really good together. Actually, Stevens is really good with everyone—Orser, Meyer, love interest Tabatha Shaun—except the one person it turns out he needs to be really good with—Monroe.

And it’s both Stevens and Monroe’s fault, but maybe more director Wingard and writer Barrett’s. Because eventually they at least need to have some spark and they never do, which seems almost intentional and a really wrong-headed move on the film’s part. So, eventually weird things start happening—like Stevens helping Meyer with his bully problem and Shaun with a pushy ex-boyfriend—and Monroe overhears Stevens on a mysterious cellphone call and just has to start investigating. Everything about that plot development is bad—anal-retentive Stevens having his super-shady but not super-shady at all phone call in hearing distance, Monroe immediately going Nancy Drew (the character’s written differently in each act), even the direction is forced (in the wrong way). Because first act Monroe is supposed to be crushing on Stevens, whereas second act Monroe is convinced he’s the devil and then third act Monroe is aware he’s the devil but operating indifferently to that belief. It’s not a good part for Monroe, especially not in the third act; the writing is just too thin. Also the film kind of dumps Monroe in the second act as she’s Nancy Drewing to follow everyone else. Well, the guys, not Kelley.

But it’s always an engrossing thriller. Wingard, who also edits, which seems right, knows how to present Stevens for maximum effect and Stevens is the whole point. Again, why Nancy Drew Monroe if she’s not going to take point but whatever; Barrett’s script has a lot of issues. Wingard’s got a tone he’s going for and hits it; making the film around any narrative issues for most of its hundred minutes. Steve Moore’s music and Robby Baumgartner’s photography are both excellent and enable that tone. If Wingard had been able to succeed with The Guest, it would’ve been something. But not failing is something too. Though having Stevens helps. And Monroe and Meyer and Kelley and Orser. The cast is right, the script is just a little wrong.

Also, Lance Reddick as Stevens’s former CO needs to be great and then isn’t. Reddick’s the third act surprise and it’s a flop.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Adam Wingard; written by Simon Barrett; director of photography, Robby Baumgartner; music by Steve Moore; production designer, Tom Hammock; costume designer, Kathleen Detoro; produced by Jessica Calder and Keith Calder; released by Picturehouse.

Starring Dan Stevens (David), Maika Monroe (Anna), Brendan Meyer (Luke), Sheila Kelley (Laura), Leland Orser (Spencer), Tabatha Shaun (Kristen), Chase Williamson (Zeke), Joel David Moore (Craig), and Lance Reddick (Major Carver).


Give ’em Hell, Malone (2009, Russell Mulcahy)

I’ve read some reviews describe Give ’em Hell, Malone‘s genre as a mix of noir and action. Genre assignations are utterly useless, but in this case, it might actually be an amusing diversion. It’s hard to assign a genre to a picture where a bunch of characters acting like they’re in a film noir while they’re amidst thoroughly modern characters and situations (bluetooth headsets, for example).

The opening, an exceptionally violent action set piece set to Thomas Jane’s narration, is fantastic. It’s visceral hyper-violence without any glorification. It’s boring. It’s this elaborately choreographed sequence and it’s boring. It’s great, but completely disinterested with itself.

It doesn’t hurt Jane’s doing the narrating. His presence makes Malone work. He’s maybe the only leading man type today who can do genre-bending absurdity and still make it have emotional resonance.

The supporting cast is, for the most part, real strong. Ving Rhames is basically doing the same solid thing he does all the time, but French Stewart’s great in a smaller role. Leland Orser, Gregory Harrison, Doug Hutchinson, all excellent. Leading lady Elsa Pataky is iffy… but does look the femme fatale part perfectly.

Mulcahy’s direction is occasionally stylized, but always sure-footed. He only fumbles when the script does, which, unfortunately, is more often than not. Some of execution problems appear to be budgetary. They do wonders on a small budget, but not miracles.

It’s an interesting piece, nearly successful a lot of the time. Probably even most of the time.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; written by Matt Hosack; director of photography, Jonathan Hall; edited by Robert A. Ferretti; music by David C. Williams; production designer, Vincent DeFelice; produced by Erik Anderson, Johnny Martin, Brian Oliver, Richard Rionda Del Castro and Richard Salvatore; released by National Entertainment Media.

Starring Thomas Jane (Malone), Ving Rhames (Boulder), Elsa Pataky (Evelyn), French Stewart (Frankie the Crooner), Leland Orser (Murphy), Chris Yen (Mauler), William Abadie (Pretty Boy), Gregory Harrison (Whitmore), Doug Hutchison (Matchstick) and Eileen Ryan (Gloria).


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