The year is 1969 and, in an Illinois courtroom, 8 political radicals stand accused of conspiring to disrupt the 1968 Democratic Convention. The prosecution is putting the entire anti-war movement on trial while the defendants are determined to disrupt the system, even if it means being convicted. The eight defendants come from all different sides of the anti-war movement. Jerry Rubin (Barry Miller) and Abbie Hoffman (Michael Lembeck) represent the intentionally absurd Yippies. Tom Hayden (Brian Benben) and Rennie Davis (Robert Carradine) are associated with the Students for a Democratic Society. Bobby Seale (Carl Lumbly) is one of the founders of the Black Panthers while David Dellinger (Peter Boyle) is a longtime peace activist. John Friones (David Kagan) and Lee Weiner (Robert Fieldsteel) represent the common activists, the people who traveled to Chicago to protest despite not being a leader of any of the various organizations. Prosecuting the Chicago 8 are Richard Schulz (David Clennon) and Tom Foran (Harris Yulin). Defending the 8 are two radical lawyers, Leonard Wienglass (Elliott Gould) and William Kunstler (Robert Loggia). Presiding over the trial is the fearsome and clearly biased Judge Julius Hoffman (David Opatoshu).
Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8 is a dramatization of the same story that inspired Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 but, of the two films, it’s Jeremy Kagan’s The Trial of the Chicago 8 that provides a more valuable history lesson. By setting all of the action in the courtroom and recreating only what was said during the trial, director Jeremy Kagan and his cast avoid the contrived drama that marred so much of Sorkin’s film. Kagan trusts that the true story is interesting enough to stand on its own. Kagan includes documentary footage from the convention protest itself and also interviews with the people who were actually there. While Kagan may not have had the budget that Sorkin did, his film has the authenticity that Sorkin’s lacked. Kagan also has the better cast, with Michael Lembeck and Barry Miller both making Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin into something more than the mere caricatures that they are often portrayed as being.
The Trial of the Chicago 8 was a film that Jeremy Kagan spent a decade trying to make. When he first tried to sell the idea behind the film to CBS in 1976, Kagan had Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, George C. Scott, and Dustin Hoffman all willing to work for scale and take part in the production. CBS still passed on the project, saying that no one was interested in reliving the 60s. It wasn’t until 1987 that Jeremy Kagan was finally able to revive the film, this time with HBO. It actually worked out for the best because, with HBO, there was no need to try to come up with a “clean” version for the language that was used in the courtroom or in the interviews with the actual participants. The defendants could be themselves.
Though it has been overshadowed by Sorkin’s subsequent film, The Trial of the Chicago 8 is the definitive film about what happened in the aftermath of the the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Judas and the Black Messiah is currently an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song, and Best Supporting Actor. (In a move that left quite a few people feeling confused, the Academy nominated both of the film’s leads — LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya — in the supporting category.) In detailing how, in 1969, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (played by Kaluuya) was assassinated by the FBI and the Chicago police, it tells a true story that should leave any viewer, regardless of political orientation, shaken.
What’s interesting is that, in several Oscar categories, Judas and the Black Messiah will be competing with another fact-based film about 60s activists, Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. In fact, Hampton briefly appears as a character in The Trial of the Chicago 7 and a key scene involves lawyer William Kunstler and Black Panther Bobby Seale discussing Hampton’s murder. Of course, in Sorkin’s film, the Black Panthers don’t get to say much. They appear in the background of the courtroom a few times and it’s hard not to feel that Sorkin is largely using them as props, as a way to let us know that he and the Chicago 7 are all on “the right side of history.” After the scene in which he learns that Hampton’s been murdered, Bobby Seale basically disappears from the film and the rest of The Trial of the Chicago 7 focuses on seven rich white guys debating whether or not it’s better to be serious while protesting or to try to have fun. I point this out not merely to criticize The Trial of the Chicago 7 but also to illustrate that, though they deal with the same time period and the same themes, Judas and the Black Messiah and The Trial of the Chicago 7 are as different as night and day. Judas and the Black Messiah is an angry and unapologetically political film, one that reveals just how anodyne The Trial of the Chicago 7 actually is. If The Trial of the Chicago 7 is carefully calculated to be a crowd pleaser, Judas and the Black Messiah is about leaving the audience outraged. If The Trial of Chicago 7 is about ultimately assuring the audience that the system works even if it is occasionally corrupted, Judas and the Black Messiah is a call to burn the entire system down.
The film opens with Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) getting arrested for both auto theft and impersonation of a federal officer in Chicago. He’s approached by FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). Mitchell has an offer for Bill. Mitchell is willing to have the charges dropped if Bill will agree to work undercover for the FBI. Bill accepts Roy’s offer and is assigned to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. The chapter is currently led by Fred Hampton, a charismatic revolutionary who has been going around to all of the other activist groups and gangs in Chicago and building a multi-racial coalition, one dedicated to social justice and economic equality. Under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen, made up to look as grotesque as possible), the FBI is looking to destroy the Black Panthers from within.
Bill agrees to work for the FBI and infiltrate the Black Panther Party. Soon, he not only wins Hampton’s trust but he also works his way up the ranks until he’s promoted to being head of security. He also grows close to Hampton and starts to respond to Hampton’s message of self-determination. However, Mitchell insists that Bill continue to inform on the Panthers, arguing that the Panthers will kill Bill if they ever discover that he’s working with the FBI and also that Hampton himself is a dangerous radical. (Mitchell brags about how he worked to solve the murder of three civil right workers in Mississippi before then comparing Hampton and the Panthers to the KKK.) With Hampton gathering more followers and Hoover demanding that something be done to “neutralize” him, Bill is ordered to betray the man that many have come to view as being the black messiah.
Daniel Kaluuya gives a mesmerizing performance as Fred Hampton. It’s one thing to play a character who everyone insists is a charismatic leader but it’s another thing to give a performance that convinces the audience that the character is a charismatic leader before anyone else has even said a word about him. Kaluuya strides through the film, playing Hampton as a man who knows that he’s destined to change the world. The scenes where he meets with gang leaders and other activist leaders and recruits them into his Rainbow Coalition could have played like simple agitprop (just imagine if Aaron Sorkin had written or directed them!) but Kaluuya is so convincing that you never have any doubt that people actually would abandon their prejudices and their rivalries to follow him. Unlike the quippy activists at the heart of The Trial of the Chicago 7, Kaluuya-as-Hampton actually discusses what his ideology means and also why the system cannot be depended upon to sort itself out. Kaluuya’s Hamtpon challenges not only the film’s villains but also the complacency of the viewers, something that definitely cannot be said of the characters in Aaron Sorkin’s far more comforting film.
LaKeith Stanfield has a difficult role because Bill is a character who most viewers are going to feel ambiguous about but he does a good job of capturing both Bill’s growing consciousness and his growing desperation as he comes to realize that there’s no way to escape the situation in which he’s found himself. Finally, Jesse Plemons is well-cast as Roy Mitchell, who is alternatively threatening and consoling to Bill. A lesser actor would have played Mitchell as just being a straight-up villain but Plemons plays him as someone who truly does believe that he’s one of the good guys, which makes Mitchell’s actions all the more disturbing.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a powerful and angry film. One need not even agree with every bit of Hampton’s ideology to be outraged by the federal government’s efforts to silence his voice and end his life. Judas and the Black Messiah is not expected to win much on Sunday night and, indeed, by nominated both Kaluuya and Stanfield in the same category, the Academy has created a situation in which the two could potentially split the vote and prevent either one from winning. Still, regardless of what it does or doesn’t win this weekend, Judas and the Black Messiah a film that will probably continue to resonate after many of the other nominees have been forgotten.
Wyoming sheep rancher Dan Logan (George C. Scott) and his teenage son, Chris (Nicolas Beauvy), spend a night camping out on their land. While Dan stays in the tent, Chris decides to sleep outside, underneath the stars. The next morning, Dan leaves the tent to discover that all of his sheep are dead and that Chris is having violent convulsions. Dan rushes his son to the local hospital, where he hopes that the family’s longtime physician, Dr. Caldwell (Richard Basehart), can save his son’s life.
However, at the hospital, Dan is separated from his son. Two doctors that he’s never met before — Dr. Spencer (Barnard Hughes) and Major Holliford (Martin Sheen) — take over his case. They tell him that Chris was probably just exposed to an insecticide and that both Dan and his son are going to have to stay at the hospital for a few days. Dan is confined to his room and not allowed to see his son.
What Dan doesn’t know is that both he and his son have been unwittingly exposed to a secret army nerve gas. Though the experiment was only meant to be performed on the animals that were grazing on Dan’s land, Dan and Chris were accidentally sprayed. When Dan discovers the truth about what’s been done to him and his son, he sets out to try to get revenge with what little time he has left.
Fresh from refusing an Oscar for Patton, George C. Scott made his feature film directorial debut with Rage. (He had previously directed The Andersonville Trial for television.) As a director, Scott sometimes struggles. Rage is so relentlessly grim and serious that even the most experienced director would have had a difficult time making it compelling. The scenes in the hospital are effective claustrophobic but they’re also often dramatically inert. The only humor in the film comes from Scott’s overuse of slow motion. When even simple scenes, like throwing coffee on a campfire, are shown in slow motion, it goes from being ominous to unintentionally humorous.
As a director, Scott did make a very wise decision by casting himself in the lead role. No one was better at portraying pure, incandescent anger than George C. Scott and the film picks up once Dan discovers what’s been done to himself and his son. Once Dan sets off to get revenge, Rage becomes an entirely different film, one that is about both a father’s anger and the cold calculation of a government that views him as just as a subject to be tested upon. The final scene is especially effective and suggests that Scott could have become an interesting director if he had stuck with it.
Scott would direct one more film, The Savage Is Loose, before devoting the rest of his distinguished career to performing.
During the Christmas season, Mongo (Joe Don Baker) returns home. However, Mongo hasn’t just come back for the holidays. Mongo is professional killer, one of the best in the business. His older brother, mob boss Mike Nash (Charles Cioffi), has a job for him. He wants Mongo to wipe out a rival gangster. Mongo’s willing to do it but he expects to be properly compensated for his trouble. Family is family but Mongo’s a professional and a professional has to get paid. Lt. Pete Tolsted (Telly Savalas) and his partner, Gordon (Martin Sheen), are the two cops who know that Mongo is bad news and who are determined to discover why Mongo is back in town. Meanwhile, Mongo is falling in love with the naive Vicki (a very young Sally Field), a young woman who has fled West Virginia and is looking to restart her life in the big city.
This made-for-TV movie may not contain any huge surprises but it’s worth tracking down just for the cast. Joe Don Baker, Telly Savalas, Martin Sheen, and Sally Field, all in the same movie and all at the top of their considerable game? That’s more than worth the effort. Joe Don Baker, in particular, is good. Unfortunately, Baker doesn’t always get the respect that he deserves an actor. It’s true that he’s appeared in his share of bad films and his range is limited. But whenever he was cast in the right role — like in this movie or the first Walking Tall — he was a force of nature. What’s most interesting about Mongo is that he doesn’t really like his work and he resents that it’s something that he’s been trapped into doing but, at the same time, he’s so good at it that it’s hard not to wonder what other career he could have possibly found as much success in.
Mongo’s Back In Town was released theatrically overseas under the title Steel Wreath. (Maybe someone realized that Mongo’s Back In Town makes the movie sound like a screwball comedy.) It can be viewed, under its original title, on YouTube.
In this television film, Emilio Estevez plays the world’s worst son but his behavior makes sense because he also has the world’s worst father (played by Estevez’s real-life father, Martin Sheen).
When teenager Danny Caldwell (Estevez) gets arrested for crashing into a police car while driving drunk, his mother, Sandy (Jane Alexander), wants to bail him out and bring him home. However, Frank Caldwell (Sheen) is an old-fashioned disciplinarian and he decides that his son needs to spend a night in jail in order to teach him a lesson. Even though, as a juvenile, Danny is given a private cell, he still snaps when the older inmate in the cell next door starts coming onto him. After smashing the man’s head against the cell bars, Danny picks up a battery charge and is sucked into the system.
While Frank and Sandy struggle to get Danny released from jail, Danny falls deeper and deeper into despair and anger. It’s an overcrowded, busy jail and Danny is often left in isolation for both his safety and the safety of the other prisoners. Even though the warden (Kenneth McMillan) is sympathetic to Danny and can tell that he’s not really a hardened criminal, there’s only so much that he can do for him. Meanwhile, on the outside world, Frank stubbornly refuses to admit that he made a mistake by leaving Danny in jail overnight. When a job opportunity presents itself in another state, the unemployed Frank misses some of Danny’s hearings so that he can interview for it, leaving Danny feeling abandoned all over again.
For obvious reasons, the casting of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez as father and son works very well in this film. Not only is there the obvious family resemblance but both Sheen and Estevez project the same attitude of anger and resentment towards the world. If Danny has a chip on his shoulder, it’s because he inherited from his father. In The Custody of Strangers does a good job of showing how being imprisoned can often turn someone who made a mistake into a hardened criminal but, even though it’s mostly critical of the criminal justice system, it doesn’t let Frank off the hook either. Frank may say that he was just trying to discipline his son but the film makes clear that what he actually wanted was for jail to do his job as a parent. The results are disastrous and the film ends on a note of ambiguity. After what Danny has been through, it’s clear that he’ll never be the same person again.
Sheen, Alexander, and Estevez all give good performances in In The Custody of Strangers. The only ray of hope that the film offers is the kindly warden and he’s also the film’s biggest flaw because it’s hard to believe that, with everything else going on in the jail, he would have had time to take such a benevolent interest in just one inmate. In real life, Danny Caldwell would have been even more lost than in this movie.
Adapted from Stephen King novel, 1984’s Firestarter is a film about a girl with a very special power.
Back in the day, a bunch of college students needed weed money so they took part in a government experiment. Half of them were told that they were being given a placebo. The other half were told that we would be given a low-grade hallucinogen.
Surprise! The government lied! It turns out that everyone was given the experimental drug! Some of the students ended up going crazy. One unfortunate hippie clawed his eyes out. Meanwhile, Vicky (Heather Locklear) gained the ability to read minds. She also fell in love with Andy McGee (David Keith), a goofy fellow who gained the ability to mentally control people’s actions. They married and had a daughter named Charlie (played by a very young Drew Barrymore). Charlie, it turns out, can set things on fire! She’s a firestarter!
Well, of course, the government can’t just leave the McGees out there, controlling minds and setting things on fire. Soon, the McGees are being pursued by the standard collection of men in dark suits. Vicky is killed off-screen, leaving Charlie and Andy to try to find some place where they’ll be safe.
Good luck with that! This is the government that we’re talking about. The thing with films like this is that the government can do practically anything but it never occurs to them to not all dress in dark suits. I mean, it just seems like it would be easier for all of these secret agents to operate if they weren’t automatically identifiable as being secret agents. Anyway, Andy and Charlie are eventually captured and taken to The Farm, a really nice country estate where Andy and Charlie are kept separate from each other and everyone keeps talking about national security.
Running the Farm is Capt. Hollister and we know that he’s a bad guy because he wears a suit and he’s played by Martin Sheen. Working with Hollister is John Rainbird (George C. Scott), a CIA assassin who kills people with a karate chop across the nose. When Charlie refuses to show off her firemaking abilities unless she’s allowed to talk to her father, Rainbird disguises himself as a custodial engineer and proceeds to befriend Charlie. Of course, Rainbird’s plan is to kill Charlie once she’s displayed the extent of her powers….
Stephen King has written that he considers this film to be one of the worst adaptations of one of his novels but, to be honest, I think the movie is actually a bit of an improvement on the source material. Firestarter is probably the least interesting of Stephen King’s early novels. Supposedly, Charlie was based on King’s youngest daughter and, reading the book, it’s obvious that everyone’s fear of Charlie is mostly a metaphor for a father trying to figure out how to raise a daughter. Unfortunately, instead of concentrating on those primal fears, the book gets bogged down in boomer paranoia about MK-ULTRA experiments.
The movie, however, is just silly enough to be kind of charming. For example, consider the way that Andy grabs his forehead and bugs out his eyes whenever he uses his powers. Andy’s powers may be slowly killing him but he just looks so goofy whenever he uses them that you just can’t help but be entertained. And then you’ve got Drew Barrymore sobbing while setting people on fire and George C. Scott growling through all of his dialogue and even Martin Sheen gets a scene where he gets excited and starts jumping up and down. (And don’t even get me started on Art Carney and Louise Fletcher as the salt-of-the-Earth farmers who try to protect Andy and Charlie….) Some of the special effects are a bit hokey, as you might expect from a film made in 1984 but occasionally, there’s a good shot of something (or someone) burning up. It’s all so over-the-top and relentlessly dumb that you can’t help but be entertained. You can even forgive the fact that basically nothing happens between the first 10 and the last 15 minutes of the movie.
In 1973, a customized 1934 Ford three-window coup appeared on the cover of the November issue of Custom Rod. The car had been created by legendary customizer Pete Chapouris and it was called The California Kid. The cover caught the attention of television producer Howie Horowitz, who thought that maybe the car could become a star.
A year later, the car starred in it’s own made-for-TV movie. Naturally, that movie was called The California Kid.
The California Kid takes place in 1958 in the small town of Clarksberg. Clarksberg is known for being a town that does not tolerate speeders. Sheriff Roy Childress (Vic Morrow) lost his wife and daughter to a speeder and, ever since, he’s become a fanatic about making sure that people respect the speed limits. He’ll give a ticket to anyone who he sees going too fast. He’ll even impound your car. And if you don’t learn your lesson or if you try to outrun him, he’ll get behind your car, give it a push, and send both you and your vehicle plunging over the side of a mountain.
That’s what happens to Don McCord (Joe Estevez), a Marine who was just trying to get back to back to his base on time. After Don and his car go over the side of a cliff, the official ruling is that it was an accident. However, Don’s brother, Michael (Martin Sheen, real-life brother of Joe Estevez), doesn’t buy that. Determined to prove that his brother was murdered, Micheal rolls into town, behind the wheel of the California Kid.
The California Kid is a typical 70s car chase movie. There’s not much going on other than the sheriff chasing the Michael and the California Kid. Martin Sheen coasts through the movie, doing the James Dean impersonation that he perfected in the previous year’s Badlands and Vic Morrow plays his thousandth sadistic authority figure. The supporting cast is full of familiar names who don’t get to do much. Michelle Phillips plays the waitress who falls in love with Martin Sheen. (It’s always a waitress.) Stuart Margolin is Morrow’s deputy and keep an eye out for Nick Nolte, playing a mechanic. Interestingly, The California Kid was written by Richard Compton who, a year later, would direct Notle in his first starring role in the 1975 car chase film, Return to Macon County. Of course, the real star of the movie is the car and the California Kid earns its star billing. The movie might not be anything special but there’s no way you can watch it and not want to drive that car.
This is a made-for-TV movie so you won’t hear any profanity and the characters are all as simple can be. However, there are enough shots of cars going over cliffs to keep chase enthusiasts entertained.
The year is 1972 and it is Thanksgiving week in small town America. The Colliers are getting ready for the holidays. Maurine (Kathy Bates) is intent on preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal. Bob (Martin Sheen) is keeping an eye on his car dealership and wondering why kids today are not as respectful as they once were. The two Collier children are coming home from school. The youngest, Karen (Kimberly Williams), is hoping she can keep the peace because she knows that her older brother, Jeremy (Emilio Estevez), has returned from Vietnam a changed man. Suffering from severe PTSD, Jeremy is haunted by flashbacks and angry at everything, especially his father. The only reason he even attended college was so he could be near his girlfriend (Carla Gugino) and even she has told him that she no longer feels comfortable around him. When Jeremy returns home, his family first tries to ignore the problems that he’s having adjusting to civilian life but Jeremy is determined not to be ignored.
Emilio Estevez famously agreed to appear, for free, in the third Mighty Ducks films in return for Disney agreeing to produce and distribute The War At Home. Unfortunately, this heartfelt movie has never gotten the attention that it deserves. While Estevez’s direction is never subtle and the script , which was based on a play, is often heavy-handed, The War At Home is redeemed by the powerful performances of Estevez, Bates, Sheen, and Williams. Bates is especially good as the perfect homemaker who is revealed to be smarter than anyone realized. The War At Home is a good but overlooked film that is still relevant today.
Four former high school basketball players and their coach gather for a reunion in Pennsylvania. Twenty-five years ago, they were state champions. Now, they are all still struggling with the legacy of that championship season. George (Bruce Dern) is the mayor of Scranton and is in a fierce race for reelection. Phil (Paul Sorvino) is a wealthy and corrupt businessman who is having an affair with George’s wife. James (Stacy Keach) is a high school principal who is still struggling to come to terms with his abusive father. James’s younger brother, Tom (Martin Sheen), is an alcoholic who can not hold down a steady job. The Coach (Robert Mitchum) remains the Coach. All four of the men still want his approval, even though they know that he is actually an old bigot who pushed them to cut too many corners on their way to the championship.
Though Cannon film may have been best known for producing action films with actors like Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, and Michael Dudikoff, they occasionally tried to improve their image with a prestige picture like That Championship Season. Not only is this film based on Jason Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play but Cannon also hired Miller himself to direct. (Before Miller was brought in, That Championship Season was nearly directed by William Friedkin, who directed Miller in The Exorcist.) While no one knew the text better than Miller, this was also his directorial debut and sometimes, his inexperience shows. The first half of the movie does a good job of opening up the play but the second half takes place almost entirely in the Coach’s house and is very stagey, never escaping its theatrical origins.
One thing That Championship Season has going for it is an excellent cast. Dern, Sorvino, Keach, and even Sheen rarely got roles with as much depth as the ones that they got here and four of them make the best of the opportunity. As for Robert Mitchum, he was known for being a mercurial actor but here, he gives one of the better performances of the latter half of his career. Because of the efforts of the ensemble, That Championship Season is one of the better Cannon prestige pictures, though Chuck Norris is still missed.
(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR! This could take a while. She recorded the 2001 high school film O off of Cinemax on July 6th.)
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
O (Mekhi Phifer) is one of the only black students attending an exclusive high school in South Carolina. Despite a past that involves petty crime and drugs, O appears to have his life on the right track. As the captain of school’s basketball team, O is the most popular student at his school. Everyone looks up to him. Everyone wants to be him. He’s even dating Desi (Julia Stiles), the very white daughter of the school’s very white headmaster (John Heard). At a school assembly, Coach Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen) describes O as being like a son to him. When O is awarded the MVP trophy, he shares it with his teammate, Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan).
Watching all of this with seething jealousy is Hugo Gaumont (Josh Hartnett). Hugo is a teammate of O’s. In fact, he even thought that he was O’s best friend. That was before O shared his award with Michael. Making Hugo even more jealous is that he happens to be the son of the coach. For every kind word that Duke has for O, he has a hundred petty criticisms for Hugo. Whereas O has overcome drug addiction and is proclaimed as a hero for doing so, Hugo is secretly doing steroids, trying to do anything to improve himself as a player and hopefully win everyone’s love.
So, Hugo decides to get revenge. Working with a nerdy outcast named Roger Calhoun (Elden Hansen), he manipulates O into thinking that Desi is cheating on him with Cassio. He also tricks Cassio into getting into a fight with Roger, leading to Cassio getting suspended from the team. To top it all off, Hugo gets O hooked on drugs, once again. Finding himself consumed by a violent rage that he thought he had under control, O starts to obsess on determining whether or not Desi has been faithful to him…
If that sounds familiar, that’s because O is basically Othello, transported to modern times and involving privileged teenagers. Even though the whole modernized Shakespeare thing has become a bit of a cliché, it actually works pretty well in O. Hugo’s obsessive jealousy of the “cool kids” feels right at home in a high school setting and director Tim Blake Nelson and writer Brad Kaaya do a fairly good job of transporting Shakespeare’s Elizabethan melodrama to the early aughts.
(Actually, O was filmed in 1999 but it sat on the shelf for two years. After a spate of school shootings, distributors were weary about releasing a film about high school students trying to destroy each other.)
Admittedly, O has its share of uneven moments. Martin Sheen, playing the type of role that always seems to bring out his worst instincts as an actor, goes so overboard as the coach that he threatens to sink almost every scene in which he appears and Rain Phoenix is miscast as Hugo’s girlfriend. Even Julia Stiles struggles a bit in the role of Desi. However, both Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett are perfectly cast as O and Hugo. Phifer brings just the right amount of arrogant swagger to the role while Hartnett is a sociopathic marvel as Hugo. Tim Blake Nelson’s direction is occasionally overwrought, relying a bit too heavily on a groan-inducing metaphor about taking flight and claiming the spotlight. However, both Nelson and the film deserve some credit for not shying away from directly confronting and portraying the source material’s cultural and racial subtext.
O is hardly perfect but it is always watchable and, at its best, thought-provoking.