Tuesday, May 12, 2009
DVD REVIEW: WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU (A-)
Good for Brian Goodman (pictured above, inbetween Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo). Goodman, a character actor you've probably seen http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0329023/ many times in the past, co-wrote and directed What Doesn't Kill You (A-), an excellent but brutal Boston-set crime picture with a phenomenal lead performance by Ruffalo, who is shaping up to be one of the premier actors of his generation. The fact that this is Goodman's directing debut only makes the film even more impressive; it's got a sure-hand much in the same way that Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck's directorial debut), The Departed, and Mystic River had while working in this similar milieu. The film is very simple but extremely effective. Brian (Ruffalo) and Paulie (Hawke) have been best friends since childhood. Growing up in the rough and tumble "Southie" district of Boston has led them into a life of crime. They report to crime boss Pat (Goodman, smartly casting himself in the role), who is always taking a cut of their payouts. But when Pat goes to prison, Brian and Paulie start doing jobs on their own and not reporting in to Pat's team. Then, Brian becomes a base-head, much to Paulie's anger. And as a result of Brian's addiction, his relationship with his wife Stacy (Amanda Peet, always solid) and kids becomes very strained. All of these things lead to a climactic decision on the part of Brian and Paulie of whether or not to try and rob an armored truck, which could be the score of their lives. What Doesn't Kill You works, first and foremost, as a meat and potatoes crime movie. All of the genre's themes are there: loyalty, friendship, honor, betrayal, love, and anger. Yet none of it ever feels tired or cliched. And then when you realize that the movie is a true story, one that's based on Goodman's own life (Ruffalo is playing him), the movie becomes even more riveting. Goodman, who co-wrote the sharp screenplay with Donnie Wahlberg and Paul T. Murray, directs with a straight-forward grace and cold elegance that melds perfectly with the wintry backdrop to this always compelling story. Had Yari Film Group (the production/distribution company also behind my DVD pick last week, Nothing But the Truth) not filed for bankruptcy last year, I really think that Ruffalo could have been in the running for a best actor nomination. He's that strong. But this is no surprise; for the past 10 years he's been giving great performances in a slew of movies -- check out Collateral, Zodiac, In the Cut, Reservation Road, Blindness, You Can Count On Me, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, We Don't Live Here Anymore, and XX/XY for further proof of his estimable talents. What Doesn't Kill You is one of those scrappy, ass-kicking B-movies that transcends its genre roots and rises to the top of the crop.