Movie Reviews: Casino Jack &Frankie and Alice
There are two new Oscar-worthy movies out there with such incredible starring roles that these performances overpower the films themselves: Kevin Spacey’s humorous Casino Jack, and Halle Berry’s latest drama, Frankie and Alice.
This ripped-from-the-headlines story of lobbyist Jack Abramoff stars Kevin Spacey in a performance that could either be called great or hammy depending on how you feel about the actor and the subject matter. Personally, I thought Spacey was wonderful as his smart performance totally keeps the film moving going.
Trying to turn recent events like this into comedy is a bit dangerous, but it works here. Convicted criminals Tom DeLay (former GOP House Majority Leader) and Bob Ney (former Republican House member from Ohio) are portrayed in all their arrogant shame. Our lovely ex-President Bush is also shown at his bumbling best.
What makes this film so interesting is how some of the great government wrong doings of recent years are blithely revealed in an almost stand-up comic style. Spacey has always excelled at playing damaged characters, so Abramoff is right up his alley. The supporting cast, however, is mixed. Barry Pepper is much too broad in his role as fellow crook Michael Scanlon and Jon Lovitz practically uses a sledge hammer when approaching his character. The calm in this political storm is Kelly Preston as Abramoff's wife, Pam. Preston, who is better known as Mrs. John Travolta though a fine actor in her own right, is very good in the part of the poor, suffering spouse.
On a somber note, the film's director George Hickenlooper (Factory Girl) died the night before the film's premiere at age 47 from a lethal combo of alcohol and pain killers. It is a shame because both Factory Girl and especially Casino Jack showed a real love of film and acting.
If you want to see some real political chicanery highlighted by a terrific Kevin Spacey, go see Casino Jack.
Frankie and Alice
Halle Berry's film about multiple personalities played in Los Angeles for one week to meet award qualifications, and apparently it paid off as she nabbed a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination. This true story of a woman with three distinct personalities is the latest in a long line of such dramas. For older audiences, it was Joanne Woodward in 1957 who won the Oscar for The Three Faces of Eve. Back in 1976 Sally Field won an Emmy in the TV drama Sybil, where she had as many hidden characters as the script would allow. Now we get Berry playing a young African American strip joint dancer in 1970s LA whose character split was caused by a deep, dark secret from her past.
All of these films have really good performances, but they all suffer from the supposed need for that revelation of a "dreaded dark secret" that caused all this madness. In The Three Faces of Eve it was Woodward's character having to kiss her dead grandmother before burial, and poor Sybil was the victim of sexual and physical abuse. In Frankie and Alice we get a similar plot revelation that seems to cure all Frankie/Alice's problems.
While not a psychologist, I do know that mental illness and split personalities are not caused or cured by single issues. Dramatically, filmmakers seem to think that audiences demand such resolutions, and perhaps these stories do need some simplification, but it would be nice if the plots just played out in more believable ways.
Berry is good in Frankie and Alice but those previous films were better, and there is nothing new presented here except for the protagonist being a woman of color. Check it out for Berry's performance, otherwise stick with Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve.