Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

November 6, 2009

Arrested development

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 5:12 am

November 06, 2009

Cast: Neil Nitin Mukesh, Mughda Godse, Manoj Bajpai

Director: Madhur Bhandarkar

Despite its grim setting, director Madhur Bhandarkar’s Jail is his least cynical film in years.

Neil Nitin Mukesh stars as Parag Dixit, an innocent man implicated for a crime he didn’t commit. Much of the film is centered around Parag’s frustration and helplessness as he struggles to stay sane and alive amidst hardened criminals.

Like the director’s earlier films, CorporateTraffic Signal and Fashion, his latest too is a slice-of-life drama about the characters and the way of life within the world he’s chosen to set the film in. This time though, Bhandarkar ditches his trademark exposé approach and settles for an emotionally-manipulative tone instead.

The script of Jail packs in every cliché you expect to see – distraught family struggling to raise money to pay lawyer’s fees, jailor venting about his thankless job and meager salary, even a hit-and-run accused who gets off easily because of his influential connections.

But despite the clunky writing, it’s a relief to see Bhandarkar empathasise with his characters rather than exploit them for cheap titillation like he’s done in earlier films. In a very simplistic and roundabout fashion, Jail is about hope and making the right choice, but the film is too formulaic to make a hard-hitting statement.

Of the cast, Neil Nitin Mukesh plunges sincerely into the central role, but is at best adequate as the anguished victim. Mughda Godse is unselfconscious as Parag’s distressed girlfriend, but has very little to do in a stereotypical part. Arya Babbar plays it broad and is convincing as the top aide of an underworld fixer, but the same sadly can’t be said for poor Manoj Bajpai who glowers and glares as Nawab, Parag’s only ally in prison. Bajpai’s solemn turn adds to the dreariness, making Jail too long and too slow in the end.

Because it’s well-intentioned and settles for a hopeful message, you stay with the film despite the fact that it’s never quite compelling. I’m going with a generous two-and-a-half out of five for director Madhur Bhandarkar’s Jail. It’s got its heart in the right place, but sometimes that’s not enough.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Separating fact from fiction

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 5:05 am

November 06, 2009

Cast: Matt Damon, Lucas McHugh Carroll, Eddie Jemison

Director: Steven Soderbergh

The Informant, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is based on the true story of the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in US history. But those expecting The Insider Part 2 might be a little taken aback by the film’s brazenly comic tone.

Matt Damon put on 30 pounds and a moustache to play Mark Whitacre, a top exec at an agricultural conglomerate that’s engaging in a multinational price-fixing scam. Set in the early 80s, the film tracks Whitacre as he volunteers to spill the beans about his company’s malpractices to the FBI, and even agrees to help them with their investigation by becoming a sort of secret agent himself, wearing a wire and conducting meetings in conference rooms rigged with hidden cameras. Even as the feds crack the case, they’re shocked to discover that Whitacre himself has embezzled over $9 million from corporate coffers.

A dark comedy that breezily unfolds itself to reveal Whitacre’s outrageous lies, The Informant is that rare gem of a movie that surprises you at every turn. The film’s biggest strength is Matt Damon’s comic tour de force as the slippery fish that’s hard to figure out – is he a noble man driven by a good conscience, a pathological liar, a wannabe secret agent, or a mentally sick person? The answer’s not so easy to arrive at. It is to the actor’s credit that he never loses sight of the man behind the lies, and plays Whitacre as a mysteriously odd fellow.

Packed with appropriately deadpan performances from a superb ensemble cast, The Informant is in the end, a sardonic comedy about an unsympathetic hero.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Informant. Soderbergh takes a serious story about unforgivable crimes and serves it up in a style that can only be described as hilarious. Watch it, because films like this are hard to find.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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