Other times, some blazing combination of scriptwriting and acting will make a performance burn through the screen, like the comedienne Mo’Nique’s Academy-Award-winning portrayal of an abusive Mom in “Precious.” In each of those films, the director very carefully develops a certain mood in the film, which the sensitive viewer cannot help but apprehend.
“Just Wright” has a smooth mood. The super-successful rapper Common plays New Jersey Nets basketball player Scott McKnight, who seems to be a good guy in addition to being a star player who can carry his whole team to the playoffs. (Those who actually watch NBA basketball will recognize that Common’s court skills are right there with the best guys at the local Y, but this is Hollywood, so a bunch of real NBA stars stand around and let him cut through them, which only makes the contrast that much starker. A 6”1” guy doesn’t routinely get clean-look jumpers from the paint in an NBA playoff game.)
Scott McKnight loves his mom (a solid role for the veteran Pam Grier), does charity work, employs his best friend from high school as his agent, and seems to be a genuinely nice fellow. But he’s just as susceptible as the next guy with a lot of money to the arresting blandishments of a truly beautiful young woman. The gold-digging Morgan (Paula Patton) sets her sights on him, and he’s hypnotized by the brown-eyed lovely, even though the girl he has much more in common with, Leslie (Queen Latifah) continues to be his “friend.”
Queen Latifah’s part is the most winsome of all, because she’s loyal to her parents, she works hard, she’s cheerful most of the time, she puts up with an old car because it reminds her of her grandfather, and she’s a passionate sports fan: the girl next door, right? Ah, but she’s no raving beauty, particularly compared to Morgan, so Leslie has to be content with just being the physical therapist to the injured NBA star. But we all know where this is headed. Leslie knows just how to motivate the injured star, getting gritty in the sweaty gym, and Morgan cares only about the glitter and the glamour of the fine restaurants, clubs, and boutique shopping. Leslie even encourages Common on his jazz piano, where Morgan just asks him to close the door. Is that a clear enough contrast? It’s all very predictable, and played very straight, and sticks closely to formula, but you want to root for the romance, anyway, because at least it seems based on something other than physical attraction: actual personal interaction and character development. But it’s all so smooth and seamless that it’s practically old-fashioned in its restraint and reserve.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (“Man som hatar kvinnor,”literally “Men who hate women”) has a rough mood. This Danish film noir is based on the book released after the death of its writer, Stieg Larsson, and became an instant success in Denmark. The successful journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) suddenly finds himself with time on his hands after a scandal, and accepts the commission of a rich stranger to live on the grounds of a large family estate, where there have been a series of mysterious disappearances. Mikael is being stalked by the gothic-looking freelance photographer and hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), who in turn discovers that Mikael is being stalked by shadowy thugs who obviously don’t want him to discover the truth. Before we’re through exploring the dark side, we’ll have bondage, rape (of both genders), racism of Nazi proportions, incest, revenge, sadism, voyeurism, psychopathic personality disorders, and one tiny, struggling little reluctant romance. That’s an awful lot of darkness for even a glimmer of light. But the images are stark and memorable, even plowing through the subtitles. This film is only for the very adventurous adult moviegoer. But it’s going to receive its critical acclaim, despite being very difficult to watch.
Noomi Rapace’s performance is like Mo’Nique in “Precious” — you can’t take your eyes off the train wreck of her character. No restraint or reserve here.
Rough or smooth. Take your pick.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, Texas.