Thursday, April 19, 2012

Malice Review

I've avoided this review because I knew it would require two entries. How can I recommend a drama/thriller without discussing its strengths? If it has a big twist, how can I avoid spoiling the experience for a new reviewer?

The most impressive thing about Malice is how perfectly it deked anyone who saw the trailer. I won't spoil your viewing experience. I want everyone to be able to see a movie with a blank slate; I just hope you all have the tools to think about a movie instead of simply watching it.

That aside, Malice was a huge surprise because it became a movie that I did not expect it to be. The top-to-bottom quality didn't hurt, either. For one thing, the cast is freakishly-skilled: Bill Pullman, Nicole Kidman, Alec Baldwin, George C. Scott, and Bebe Neuwirth. A small drama would have to be very expensive to do better.

The story is also neat and twisty: a specialist surgeon boards with a new university dean and his teacher wife. The woman is suddenly dying, and the surgeon steps in - after tossing darts and downing scotch at a bar.

What happens to a couple after a miscarriage leaves the woman barren? When the husband makes life-altering choices for his unconscious wife? How does a marriage heal when suspicion complicates a recent tragedy? Has the medical industry encouraged doctors to do whatever they like? What does it mean to cut into people in order to heal them?

The trailer for 1993's Malice addresses all these issues, but they're not necessarily what the movie is about. Anyone who rents this flick is in for a collective character-actors' showcase with a strong sucker-punch.

Baldwin is an actor that I expected to become as popular as Cruise or Smith. A handsome and fit young man, Alec was a fiery actor capable of being funny, or weak, or mean-yet-comic, or sleazy. Alec Baldwin's professional versatility and charisma made him seem like the next big star. Why was he never as popular as Mel Gibson?...

Here, he plays beautifully off of Bill Pullman. Pullman's an odd actor, especially since so many people know him from ID:4 or Spaceballs. Bill has been a great presence in movies like Scrooged, Ruthless People, The Serpent and the Rainbow and Lost Highway. And let's not forget about my beloved Zero Effect.

Pullman and Baldwin set up a chemistry that helps sell the drama throughout. A running plot about problems at the local school is... difficult to discuss without spoiling things. I will say it serves its purpose in the movie very well.

Malice received decent to mediocre reviews. I was shocked to read some people trashing it - even tho some movies you hate may have their fans, you don't expect something to get slammed unless it has massive, obvious problems. Malice, then, might be a case for the importance of marketing.

I'm the kind of person who would be happy to walk into a musical and end up with horror/comedy. So long as the material is good, I usually don't care about my expectations, or whether I'm really watching a romcom, dramedy, horror, or chick-flick. Quality always trumps the details, to my mind.

This is a way longer clip than I usually use.

And Malice is a movie that you can say starts out loose and tightens as time goes on. The plots advance to create a web or maze that gets more and more focused. The same can be said for the tensions at play here - this movie is generally good at evoking the emotions it wants to evoke.

Maybe the entire story plays out best on a big screen. Maybe it all only works when you have a butt-shaking sound system and are gazing up at the big image of all these events. For me, the deep cast sells everything - Anne Bancroft is not just a very attractive older woman, she fills her role with so much realism, you can almost smell her perfume.

I think Malice should work for any smart viewer. Anybody should be in the mood for a twisty film with a dark and moody disposition, a good sense of humor, and a gift for creating explosive tension.

To be honest, these minor pictures are probably the best showcase for Kidman's talents as an actress. I can't understate how important the cast is to making Malice work, and I wish that all these actors - Kidman, Neuwirth, Pullman, Baldwin - pretty much got their pick of movie projects. Malice is a fun, twisty drama/thriller (driller?) and I suggest you watch it for yourself. Enjoy!

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