The Interrupters (2011) – Mark it 8.
Steve James, director of the classic documentary Hoop Dreams, returns to Chicago to highlight an incredible group’s fight against its city's epidemic of violence. James’ camera follows a group of CeaseFire employees, the “violence interrupters,” who intervene in violent situations around the city with the goal of resolving conflicts without bloodshed. These are very charismatic figures, often with their own violent pasts which earns them respect and trust in the community. Throughout the film, we get to know three “interrupters” very well (Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, and Edie Bocanegra), seeing them do their amazing work and understanding their motivation. There are harrowing scenes to behold but the dominating feeling is a sincere sense of inspiration. These problems are not limited to Chicago but exist in my city and cities throughout the country. To know that there are people out there giving their lives to such important work helps me restore some faith in humanity.
France’s The Intouchables is a by-the-book story about the unlikely and saccharine friendship between a wealthy quadriplegic man, Phillipe (François Cluzet) and his caregiver, Driss (Omar Sy), an amiable ex-convict. Naturally, the initially odd pairing quickly learn how to work together, then how to have fun and help each other find love. Once these two men unite, every crowd-pleasing cliché is used to progress the plot just right until a rather forced and undeveloped third act twist adds a little hint of drama. Despite being a film that is precious to a fault, The Intouchables remains watchable due to the great performances by its two leads, Cluzet and Sy. The great chemistry that develops between Phillipe and Driss is clear from the opening scene on, and it remains exciting to see them on screen together throughout. However, these actors are not enough to make The Intouchables any better than average.
Shame (2011) – Mark it 6.
Visual artist turned director Steve McQueen takes us deep into the seediest sides of sex with Shame. Michael Fassbender is excellent in this tough to watch film, as a handsome and successful New Yorker, Brandon, afflicted with a terrible addiction to sex. Acts of intimacy are not special to him, but rather a compulsion that must be satisfied continuously via random hookups, prostitution, pornography, or his own hand. It is impossible to build strong relationship when dealing with such issues; a fact that becomes clear when his troubled sister (my girl, Carey Mulligan) invades his privacy to reconnect. Being NC-17, Shame is as sexually graphic as movies can get but McQueen’s careful direction and Fassbender’s pained performance never allows it to be erotic (and it shouldn’t be because sex addiction is far from “sexy”). Talented people have their fingerprints all over this film, however it is not one that is especially enjoyable. Shame’s strengths are undeniable, but it is not a film that I can heartily recommend.