A weekend with Aaron Eckhart

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April 15, 2013 by Hope W.

Such gorgeous backlighting!

Still from Olympus Has Fallen. Such gorgeous backlighting!

After watching Olympus Has Fallen, I had an urge to revisit Aaron Eckhart‘s films again, particularly those which I have put off watching for various reasons. So I watched four of them in succession over the weekend.

He is as handsome as they come, and I loved him as Harvey Dent, even if he was overshadowed by Heath Ledger. So I really wish he acted in more films that weren’t, well, romantic drivel (Meet Bill, Love Happens), or box-office failures (Suspect X, The Black Dahlia, Towelhead). One The Dark Knight or even fairly successful Battle Los Angeles (enjoyed that too, another gripping thrill ride) is not enough to erase his box-office track record, or his penchant for picking films that do not do well.

The Expatriate

The Expatriate (2012)

It wasn’t a bad film (an amalgamation of Unknown and Taken, I would say, both coincidentally Liam Neeson films), but the plot was rather confusing. I couldn’t tell who Olga Kurylenko was supposed to be; and when she was offed near the end of the film, I was like “That’s it?” Though I suppose you can think of it as a brilliant twist that she turned out to be the bad guy all along (until she suddenly tries to make amends at the end). It depends on perception, and whether you liked the film or not. Which I sort of did, except I had a major peeve: Why would the evil corporation here stupidly hire ex-CIA agents, who are bound to uncover their deep, dark secrets when attempts at offing them fail?

The plot also forgets itself sometimes, like the fact that Ben (Aaron Eckhart’s character) has been made unable to go back to the US ever again (though you could brush it off as him banking on them to revoke their decision due to his “great service” to the country). How were he and his daughter able to get through customs at the end? Did they carry their passports with them while on the run? (I suppose they could have dropped by their house to get it, since the evil guys are dead at the end, but in the film, they seemed in too much of a hurry to want to do that.)

And weren’t the parents of the victim in the evil corporation’s sunk ship — it’s too complicated for explanations, which is never a good thing — refusing to settle the compensation because their private investigators had dug up some dirt? But in the end the mother just accepted the evil CEO’s apologies for the death of her son. Huh??

Liana Liberato (whom I have never heard of before this movie, but will be watching out for in future) is mostly likeable as the daughter forced to go on the run with her dad. She has an insensible tantrum halfway through and stomps off, pretty much ensuring that she *will* get kidnapped and her father has to go rescue her, but though I was annoyed that this ridiculous trope came up, it is to her credit that I can understand where her anger was coming from.

The movie is intriguing, but overall, I felt it was just average. Maybe it’s just a problem of perception, but I never thought of Aaron Eckhart as a rugged hero. He just doesn’t have the look for it, unlike, say, Liam Neesom. He works fine as an army captain commanding people and shooting at aliens (like in Battle Los Angeles), or an intelligent, cunning avenger (The Dark Knight), but for me, never someone who goes around beating up people.

(I did spend the film thinking that he would make a great dad in real life though.)

Thank-You-For-Smoking

Thank You for Smoking (2005)

I’ve had this gem for years, but never got around to watching it until yesterday. Am a little regretful that I didn’t watch it earlier, because it was smart and funny! But I doubt I would have gotten the messages as clearly if I had watched it as a teenager.

Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, a charismatic smooth talking lobbyist for the tobacco companies who helps them defend their evils, while still trying to be a role model for his son. Despite his morally reprehensible actions, he still remains likeable — and that’s how cleverly the script and his characterisation have been written.

The film has a humorous style to it: freeze-frames, voiceovers, use of strange tableaus (borrowing a little from Wes Anderson’s style), a nice sunny gradient that gives it a bright feel — all which contribute to the dark humour of a film which advocates smoking (and other vices) and dismisses their ills, even after Nick is attacked by unknown assailants in the middle of the movie and slapped with so many nicotine patches that he nearly dies. To the end, he remains reprehensible by offering his services to socially irresponsible companies, simply because that is what he is best at doing, but audiences will be hard-pressed not to be glad that he got a happy ending.

I had no idea before watching it that this was Jason Reitman‘s first film! Honestly, with all the crackpot but twistedly brilliant rubbish he had Nick Naylor spout in the movie, he could have worked for the tobacco companies himself.

Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole (2010)

Based on the play by David Linsay-Abaire, this is a beautifully shot, character-driven film about a couple coming to terms with the death of their four-year-old son in a car accident. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart give understated, and therefore powerful and moving performances as Becca and Howie, which aptly convey how grief sneaks up on you whenever you think you have gotten it under control and boil over in a howling moment of sadness.

There are occasional funny moments too, like when Howie smokes pot with Sandra Oh’s character and then sits through group therapy looking dazed. He even giggles during a couple’s heartfelt confession, to the ire of everyone else. (That was, for lack of a better word, simply and frankly adorable.) But when he gets home, his mood blackens immediately when he realises that Becca has deleted a video of their son from his phone — accidentally, but he doesn’t think so — and he has a fight with her about how he feels she is trying to erase all traces of their son from their lives. It was very human, very real, and I felt for it more than I thought I would.

(On another note, how did John Cameron Mitchell go from directing Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus, which explore sexuality so unabashedly, to Rabbit Hole and ads for Dior?)

Possession

Possession (2002)

I’ve known of this film for some time — its synopsis got me interested in the book (though not in watching the movie. Hmmm), after which I found out it won the 1990 Booker Prize. But in the end, I still got around to watching the film first.

I don’t think research plays very well on screen. Much as I love Aaron Eckhart, I found myself very unconvinced by his and Gwyneth Paltrow’s modern day characters (and lack of chemistry), and I prefer their period counterparts played by Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle, whose characters had more feeling. I think the book would have been much better in exploring the intricacies of the story and their relationships. But books usually do that better anyway.

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