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50/50: Ridley Scott

Posted on the 24 May 2012 by Plotdevice39 @PlotDevices

So with my excitement for Prometheus reaching a fever pitch as the ominous date June 8th inches closer and closer, I decided to do a new article series for directors, with me ranking their 5 best and 5 worst movies.  All my opinion mind you, but I like the idea of analyzing the best of what he has done to the worse of what he has put out.  Now I realize that this is subjective and to that I say, “My Blog, My Rules”.  So if you feel slighted that White Squall didn’t make the cut, spoiler…it didn’t, then feel free to voice your criticism.  It was hard enough to pick just 5 winners and 5 losers, but I think I did a good enough job picking a variety of films that span the entirety of his career.  So below is a mixed list of winners and loser, more so the compliment sandwich of presenting a winner and then a loser and then another winner.  It lessens the disappointment.

50/50: Ridley Scott

Winner

Matchstick Men (2003)

Engaging, comedic, inventive and manic, Matchstick Men was easily one of my favorite Scott films that managed to leave action alone and focus the diverging stories on the characters.  While the veneer of a heist film is there amongst the grifting from Nic Cage and Sam Rockwell, the true essence of the film is between the character development of the OCD, manic con man Roy Waller and his estranged daughter Angela, played by Alison Lohman.  Two different stories play off of one another, one a father and daughter caper and the other story dealing with traditional con man antics and trust issues.  Still one of the better performances from Nic Cage and Alison Lohman illuminates the screen with her presence and energy.

Loser

G.I. Jane (1997)

Before I get chastised for being anti-women or something, let me be clear that the film, not the subject matter, is what I didn’t like.  I personally found the story and Demi Moore’s physicality to be monumental and incredible to watch.  She was a convincing warrior, one who you wouldn’t want to fuck with, but the story was undercut by the militaristic chest thumping of Scott’s directing and tone.  I understand that this was a controversial move to allow a woman to train for the special forces, a landmark moment in fact, but every scene, every line delivery has the sort of over the top tone that is only used in the closing of a moving speech.  It was heavy handed and clunky, setting up the story and telegraphing the ending of the film, so the whole middle act of the film is just filled with as much adversity as it can handle.  The execution wasn’t spot on, but the acting was fantastic and compelling.

Winner

The Duellists (1977)

Scott’s first film outing and one of his best works, The Duellists is about the passion and rage that builds between two feuding men over the course of 16 years.  The film stars Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel as two soldiers who clash every so often over an incident early in their military careers.  Each is wanting some form of justice and pride over the other, so they fight one another constantly, trying to best the other man.  The film isn’t so much about the fighting, rather the intensity and mindset that has locked the two men into a struggle that goes on for over a decade.  A nice commentary on the mindset of war and combat, leading the two men to forget about what it is that they are fighting for and only revel in the futility of combat.  A stunning debut film for Scott and a gorgeous film at that with beautiful settings and meticulously crafted duels.

Loser

Black Rain (1989)

For me, Black Rain is about as middle of the road as a gritty crime drama can get.  With the talent backing up the this film, I was surprised by how underwhelmed I was with this film and what Ridley was showcasing in this culture clash crime film.  The film itself, should have been better, with an established story that we have seen in other films, that could have been the basis for something great.  In the end, the film revels in the gritty nature of crime ridden city and the dark under belly of Yakuza clashes.  A shame that style wins over substance.

Winner

Gladiator (2000)

The swords and sandals genre never looked so good and presented with so much brooding intensity.  Gladiator was the sort of film that blended in some compelling dramatic turns with intense action sequences that made the gladiatorial arena light up like never before.  While the action and violence were the stuff of legends, Scott mixed in some political intrigue along with a strong story anchored by a stellar cast.  Russel Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Djimon Hounson, and Connie Nielsen all turn in superb performances, but Phoenix really stole the show with his underhanded role as Commodus.  Ruthless and uncaring, self serving and vengeful, he is the villain that drives this film.

Loser

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

I will give Scott some due here and that is his visuals and eye for the esthetics are commendable.  1492 is a gorgeous looking film with intense settings along with great cinematography.  Other than that, this film about Columbus is a bit flat and long.  It’s like sitting through a boring history lesson about Columbus from a substitute teacher that is just picking up a paycheck.  While I like historical films, there was this weird balance of trying to have some compelling foreshadowing of doom and gloom that came with his discovery and trying to have a more character driven narrative .  Not entirely one of the strongest films, but I will say it looks fantastic.

Winner

Blade Runner (1982)

This movie has everything that I love.  Fantastic acting, noir detective genre, science fiction, gorgeous visuals that have stood the test of time and a compelling story.  Blade Runner made me the science fiction fan that I am today, so much so that I rushed out to by pretty much every iteration of the films release on VHS, DVD (all various releases) and finally the ultimate Blu-Ray edition with 5 different cuts of the film.  It was, by far and away, ahead of it’s time in the visuals.  Scott crafted together a world unlike anything we have seen before, this captivating melting pot of Asian influences amongst a society with no pure identity.  Introspective in nature when dealing with replicants and what makes a human being human to begin with.  A darkly philosophical film that plays true to the hard tenants of science fiction, Blade Runner will forever be in my top ten films of all time.

Loser

Hannibal (2001)

What was missing from this film is the character interaction that made the first film.  With a superb cast, there just wasn’t that compelling cat and mouse interaction that elevates Lecter above the rest of the cast.  He still kind of toys with the cast, but not to the degree that makes him truly frightening.  Lecter in this outing seems more like a menace than a threat, still outsmarting the pursuers, but never really coming off as the sadistic mastermind he was in the first film.  The film itself is still an interesting thrill ride, but I never got that sense of fear that Silence of the Lambs did when I first saw it.  Not a strong follow-up to a classic film.

Winner

Alien (1979)

That tag line still haunts me to this day, “In space no one can hear you scream.”  I never quite felt terror until I saw Alien, the film that set us on a journey with 4 films to the series, two cross over films with The Predator character, and now Scott goes back to the science fiction genre with Prometheus.  Alien, while not the action fest that Aliens was, still set the space horror genre on edge with a menacing creature, done practically mind you, and made the notion of being trapped on a space station with a killer creature even more terrifying.  This movie could have bombed outright, but the fact that the HR Giger inspired Xenomorphs came to life from animatronics and practical effects.  It breathed life into a creature that stalked its prey and killed without remorse.  A bleak and dark film that took the horror genre to a new level.

Loser

Robin Hood (2010)

You know, there was nothing truly engaging about this film.  At first it was made out to be this all out action film with arrows being flung through the air and Robin and his Merry Men overthrowing the opposition, but it was a dull story with no development.  Robin Hood seemed like a setup for a sequel film that will probably never come, truncating character development in favor for a summer blockbuster formula.  That is a shame since Scott brought his technical and surgical eye for detail to this film and it looks amazing, but there is nothing really driving the narrative.  It’s an arrow with a single purpose to get us from the beginning to the end, whizzing by all the things that seem interesting and settling on it’s target, a lackluster story about Robin Hood.  It really is the setup for a second film in a possible trilogy, but you have to deliver something initially in order to get that payoff.

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