Tuesday, 23 November 2010

It's not often that a big, splashy film makes you smile like a demented loon for most of its length but in this case I did. Knight and Day (dir James Mangold, 2010) has the ideal set of qualities for the generations of moviegoers, like mine, that were raised on a cinematic diet of spy thrillers (think the James Bond franchise) and movies showcasing the doings of warm-hearted renegade cops (think the Lethal Weapon franchise). There's also a number of TV fantasies in the equation, particularly the 70s crime thriller The Magician, a favourite of mine as the main character, Tony Blake, lived on an aeroplane and used his significant personal fortune to fight crime across the world. It was pure fictive ambrosia for an imaginative 10-year-old.

In the movie I'm looking at today, Tom Cruise plays Roy Miller, a renegade secret agent. He doesn't seem to have been tasked with protecting genius inventor Simon Feck (Paul Dano is a convincingly awkward Gen-Y genius recluse) but that's what he does. His enemies from within his own operation work, it seems, entirely on an extra-legal basis and are therefore despicable. Spooky-looking Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard) is the primary nemesis, with his suitably sleazy night-after-the-big-soak pallour and his plausible professional demeanour. It's enough to get June Havens (Cameron Diaz) into his black SUV but we just "know" that he's as bent as a stick and applaud when Miller ambushes the convoy of cars that are spiriting Havens away to a "safe, secure" location (Miller had warned her when they first met on the flight out of Wichita that these words mean they're going to kill you, but of course she's new to the game and is abducted anyway) and frees the girl from the clutches of the corrupt authorities.

The film has everything you want from an action thriller. There is the remote Atlantic island used as a safehouse and which is only reached by high-speed boat or from the air. There's the fight on a train chugging its way across the Alps. There's the dim-lit Eastern European city with hidden winebars off dark, cobbled alleyways. There's even running with the bulls while riding a motorbike in Spain. The creators of this movie have given Cruise plenty of expensive sets on which to play out his fantasy.

There's also the relationship between Havens and Miller, who is both enigmatic and masterful. Diaz has enough innate fibre to carry off her role as a sassy West-Coast antique-car enthusiast (she's carrying car parts through the airport when the two first meet). It's the boldness of that persona that bleeds eventually into her alter-ego as a renegade, by the end of the film, in her own right. She can punch and dissemble even before she learns how to shoot a gun, something she is forced by circumstance to do. As for Cruise, his latterly public notoriety as a bit of a loose cannon is roped into the script so that he's convincingly unpredictable in the movie, where that characteristic is an asset rather than (in real life) a liability. In sum, the package has credibility from the get-go.

In fact the closeness that develops in the relationship between Havens and Miller works well within the movie's general rumble-jumble, where a posse of black-suited and -helmeted special forces types are likely to crash through the hotel window at any moment. No place is safe, except with Havens. It also fits the neat polarisation between the "good" selfless renegade Miller and the "bad" self-interested agent Fitzgerald. It all snaps effortlessly into place and it's surprising that the film didn't get more play in the media. It's far better as a piece of cinema than many others of its type, and deserves respect for its craftsmanship if not its depth.

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