on July 3, 2003
This movie is well directed, has a great script, but what really makes it a exceptional movie is the acting. Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin both turn in the best performances of their respective careers. Moore is very beliviable as a single mom who is a strugling artist with a good heart. Baldwin gives an amazing performance as a sociopath who "works" for a mafia family. In reality Baldwin's influence is so powerful that it almost seems like the mafia family really works for him. At the very least Baldwin only takes orders from the Boss himself, he does not listen to anyone else. Everyone fears him, and rightly so, his nickname is "the teacher" because "when you see him school's out". Baldwin gives this nickname depth and meaning, he really is a teacher in a sick, sadistic way, he teaches Annie, (Demi Moore's character) the way the world really works and how vunerable she is. He teachers her that safety is an illusion of modern society. Baldwin's character's real name in this film is Vincent, but Annie never knows that, to her he is only the Teacher. The Teacher is much worse than the other mafiosa, he is cultured, very good looking, well mannered, charming, he seems like some kind of hot shot buisness man or some sort of elite member of high society. The way he speaks makes him sound like a ivy leauge educated rich guy. The last thing he seems like is a hit man for the mob and that is precisly why he is so dangerous. He is like a chamleion, he can disguise his true nature so expertly it is spooky. This is because he almost convinces himself he is someone else, to a certain extent he tricks himself into forgetting who he really is temporarily and emerses himself in the character. He is not really just a hitman for the mob, he is that but he is other things as well, he is the No.1 assassin but he is also the Counslieria (remember Robert Duvuall as Tom Hagan in the Godfather) he advises the Don on policy. The Teacher is slowly but surely taking over control of the Mafia family, he is setting up deals with Italian Mafia from Calabra, he is negotiating with Columbians, Jamacians, etc. He is turning this mafia family from a localized crime operation into an international crimal enterprise. He has vision, direction, and is pretty much a evil genuis. He has a keen understanding of human psychology and although he feels fear he uses it to make him stronger "I embrace fear Annie, it is terror that teaches us our shape." This might sound like abstarct silly philosphy but he applies it to the criminal world with lucrative results. Even within the mafia family he consults for/kills for/directs he is feared. He has no friends, he is useful to the mafia as a weapon which everyone fears but having him around is a double edged sword. The Don's son,(played by the guy who played Jackie, the first boss who died of cancer before Tony took over on the Sopranos) hates the Teacher and realizes that he is no good, bad things have a way of happening around him, people are always dying, even more so than usual. The Teacher is nothing but BAD NEWS and the Don's son realizes this instinctvly. He is manipulating the mob family for his own interests, invovling this local crime family with orgazinations that are international in nature and much more powerful than they are. He is getting the mafia in over its head, I know how weird this might sound but it is accurate. The Italian mafia from Italy and the Colombians are much worse than the American Iatalin mob, the people who run them are more like the Teacher than like the other mobsters in the family "works for". They are nothing but cold blooded killers with no morals. The Teacher is sort of like a tiger among wolves, the most dangerous predator in the jungle. The viewer never really understands what makes the Teacher tick, he seems to be building this criminal empire out of bordom. He is not really that interested in material things, he lives in a garage, dresses in jeans and t-shirts, etc. The Teacher defies catoragazation, he be anything he chooses, he can be a gangster, an art curator, a philsopher, anything. He carries a silenced pistol with him wherever he goes, he makes the other mob guys look like clowns, amatures. He has no equals, he has yet to met his match, until he meets Annie. In a strange way Moore's character understands the Teacher better than anyone else and is more able to predict his actions. She has femine insights and guile that the other mobsters lack, she realizes she can manipulate the Teacher eventually, although it is an exteemly dangerous game to play. Annie is very smart, in her own way just as smart as the Teacher and she has the distinct advantage of not being insane which is the only weakness the Teacher has, altough it is also in a way his greatest strength because it allowes him to think outside the box. Supporting cast in this movie include good performances by Ann Hesh as Annie's well intentioned but naive and nosy friend. James Gadofini of Soprano's fame plays a mob underling who was intially responsible for recruiting Vincent A.K.A. the Teacher into the mob. The Teacher is from a poor backround and grew up in the same neighborhood that all the other mobseters grew up in, although you would not know it by the way he acts, talks, etc. The facade of the Teacher is all an illusion, even when he acts as a gangster it is still an illusion, he is sort of like a serial killer but at the same time not really, he does not fit into any sort of catogary. The only time he is really himself is when he is killing someone or intimidating them, the mafia and all his criminal manuverings are merely a hobby to him, a vehicle by which to impose his will and kill people. The Teacher is one of the greatest villians ever to be put on film, almost like a Satanic pshycotherapist, if you can imagine that. Baldwin and Moore have terrific chemistry on screen together, the relationship between their characters is what really makes the film, this movie is a psycological thriller that requires that the viewer have intellect, perhaps this is why it did not make money and many people do not like it, it went over their heads. Also this movie is very realistic in its portrayl of violence and everything else, not once did I say to myself, that would never happen, etc. Some reviwers think that this movie is unrealistic because the mob could not get to a jury like it did, please, wake up and smell the coffee. The mob has gotten to plenty of juries and continues to do so. Informers in the legal, justice, and law enforcement systems enable the mafia to know what the cops are planning ahead of time. This movie is distrubing in that the forces of law are either corrupt of inept, but that is the truth and anyone who thinks diffent is a fool. The kid who plays Annie's son in this movie does a very good job as well. The plot of this movie is basically that while The Teacher is elimanting all restance to his rule, he kills another mobster and also kills his 12 year old kid. The mob don is brought to trial on charges that he ordered that killing as well as other RICO charges. As soon as Annie decides to serve on the jury The Teacher selects her as the one to turn into their tool to get the don off. He comes up with a brillant plan no normal mobster ever would have thought of, instead of just trying to get Annie to vote Not Guilty he uses her to get an acquital, he makes her convicne all the other jurors to also vote not guilty. He selected her because he saw how intelligent she was and because he could sense her inner strength, he is a good judge of character. He decides to transform her into his tool, he teachers her to be agressive, dominant, manipulative, etc. He teachers her to become almost a feminine version of himself, but in the end he teaches her to well, because she turns the lessons the Teacher taught her on the Teacher himself. That is what makes this movie interesting, the transformation of Annie's character by the Teacher to the point where she becomes confident enought to take on the teacher himself and teach the the teacher a lesson he will never forget. Their is a horrible, filthy death scene in this movie where someone is forced fed pills that will kill them, this scene is really, really, really sick. The way the Teacher approaches the whole situation is insane yet ingenious, he acts like Annie's coach or something, breaking her down and then building her up. When he threatens he does so in very sublte ways that are much more intimaditing than outright threats, he always phrases his indimaditing statements as if invisible forces are going to hurt Annie and her son and he the Teacher is the only one who can protect her and her son from these forces. For instance, "this is a very dangerous time for Oliver right now (Annie's son) we could lose him just like that!" and he slaps his hands together. Every scene between the Teacher and Annie is framed as a lesson, and in a sick way it is a lesson, a lesson in how evil works, a lesson in fear. Another great scene is one where he says "I'm here to teach you what you love Annie, the suits want you to love the law, but can the law protect Oliver from Drunk Drivers?" He says while driving a car right toward Oliver. That scene is the best scene in the movie by far, it is very intense. "Who will protect you?" The Teacher screams, "The Teacher will protect me." Annie screams back over and over. Whoa!!! That scene is nuts! Maybe the reason this movie was not popular with most people is because their is no clear cut moral message, if this movie has a message it is do not volunteer for Jury Duty, or maybe the message is dont depend on the FBI or the courts for protection. The only justice in this movie is street justice, vengeance and retribution. The Teacher is like a beautiful, charming, but venemous and deadly viper. Annie has a keen understanding of physchology as well and uses it to her advantage. Differences between The Teacher and the Don lead to explosive consquences. This movie is dark and disturbing, suspensful and shocking. One of the most underated movies of all time
on July 31, 2000
Alec Baldwin comes on quoting from the Tao Te Ching, making me think he's my kind of anti hero. He's urban, sophisticated and seemingly very safe since he's an art curator, or seems to be. Demi Moore as Annie Laird, a gifted and original sculptor (she sculpts works of art that you feel with your hands by reaching up into them: it's all tactile), is thrilled when he offers to buy her work and sell it to the Japanese. Wow. She has arrived as an artist.
Thus we have an intriguing and original premise for a thriller. One almost wishes that there weren't this little matter of her agreeing to serve on the jury in the case of a Mafia boss on trial for murder..
I will gloss over the excellent, if unlikely, plot since it would be preemptive to reveal any of it, and concentrate on Demi Moore who is gorgeous, strange and riveting.
It might seem impossible to give an "heroic" performance in a thriller, since the point of a thriller is pure entertainment, but this movie manages to look into the nature of good and evil a bit more than most, and Moore plays her part like our dream of a true heroine. Her character has strength and cunning; she's sharp without pretension. I always thought Moore was better than her reputation, but somehow she always seemed a little on the not entirely bright side, the kind of actress who would never presume to play Shakespeare. But now I think she's a "natural," like a gifted athlete-I'd almost say an "animal"-as an actress, which is probably why some people don't like her. She can project the beautiful woman, an ordinary woman, or herself as a matronly woman with just a turn of her head. She can display a wide range of emotions and be, by turns, both a masculine and a feminine entity; but she is not androgynous. The role she plays here is, in a sense, the feminine counterpart of many Harrison Ford roles, the ordinary person elevated to heroic action by compelling circumstances. I would not say that Demi Moore is a great actress, but she is close, and I could be wrong.
Alec Baldwin combines megalomania with a seductive cynicism. He fills the screen with his presence like something you can't get rid of. He is so compelling you want to push him away or just give up. And he is charming-evil, but charming.
Brian Gibson's direction is unobtrusive and clever, and he pays attention to detail. The script is relatively free of the implausibilities that usually mar the genre, and the editing is crisp without jarring. The story practically transcends the genre by making us feel the evil of violent crime and how it perverts society, the sort of revelation not usually attempted in a thriller. I was especially delighted to see the Mafia demeaned and defeated, even if it's only by a new breed of international criminal. This is a superior thriller.