Brief reviews (spoiler-free) of "Half Nelson", "Unforgiven", and "Army of Shadows" after the jump:
"Half Nelson" - A
Much like “Show Me Love”, the reason I love “Half Nelson” so much (though it’s obviously a vastly different kind of movie) is the way it turns a story that could have been formulaic and predictable into something far more special. It’s in many ways more inspiring than the numerous “based on a true story” films made each year about teacher-student relationships, mainly due to its realism. The story of a drug-addicted teacher (Ryan Gosling) who forms a bond with one of his young students (Shareeka Epps), “Half Nelson” argues that the path to salvation isn’t nearly as uncomplicated as the typical Hollywood formula would have you believe. It’s at times harrowing, but so incredibly well-made and well-acted that it never feels anything less than exhilarating.
"Unforgiven" - A
This film takes everything viewers expect out of a Western and throws it out the window. That’s what gives it so much power. Gone are the noble gunslingers played by actors like John Wayne. They’re replaced by a dark blend of brutal former killers (represented by Clint Eastwood’s tremendous lead performance) and young wannabe gunfighters seeking various things: fame and money being the two most obvious. Even law enforcement officials in this world are vicious: as seen in Gene Hackman’s stunning portrayal of Little Bill (which earned him a well-deserved Oscar). “Unforgiven” is a turning point in the genre’s history, but it’s also a truly brilliant film in its own right: featuring breathtaking camerawork and brilliant dialogue in addition to the stellar acting.
"Army of Shadows" - A
Jean-Paul Melville’s riveting portrayal of French Resistance fighters is without question one of the greatest films ever made. I suppose one could call it a historical piece, and a fine one at that. But it’s also a dark, stunningly tense thriller made all the more captivating by its controlled cinematography. There are several extended sequences of suspense that would make Hitchcock proud, and they’re all impeccably shot for maximum impact. The film never truly gets inside the heads of its characters, which would be an issue in a different movie. But that’s a deliberate choice here, as who can really know what most of these people were thinking while they were fighting their war from the shadows? “Army of Shadows” doesn’t really care. It’s content merely to depict the reality of their situation, and it does so with true brilliance and captivating intensity.