Brad Ingelsby

American Woman

First Hit: This film grew on me just as Debra (Sienna Miller) grew into a strong, thoughtful person in this story.

I was somewhat reluctant to see this film and for a stupid reason. I always equated “American Woman.” the film’s title, with the 1970s, Guess Who song, “American Women.”  I first heard this song while in Vietnam, and it is about the downsides of American government and society.

However, this film is about the growth of Debra from her early thirties until about her mid-forties. In this time, we learn she was a sixteen-year-old mother to her daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira), she’s close with her sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks) and has a love-hate relationship with her mother Peggy (Amy Madigan).

Opening this film, Debra is getting ready for a date. She’s yelling for her daughter to come in and help her dress. We hear a baby crying in the background, it’s Brigit’s young son Jesse (Aidan McGraw as young Jesse and Aidan Fisk as older Jesse). Brigit burst into Debra’s room, and we can immediately tell what kind of life this family is living. Debra is trying to look sexy and hot in a too tight turquoise color dress, and Brigit looks slovenly in a baggy too large sweatshirt, hair disheveled, and her attitude is rebellious.

Katherine lives across the street from Debra with her husband Terry (Will Sasso) and their children. Katherine and Terry spend a lot of time taking care of Debra’s needs. Peggy lives nearby, and when she’s in the room with Debra, the tension is the focal point. The way they talk with each other is filled with sarcasm, resentment, and pain.

Brigit goes out with her baby’s dad Tyler (Alex Neustaedter) who everyone thinks is a punkish, loser, and drug user. She never comes back home from the date and Debra’s left to care for her daughter’s baby boy.

The film takes us through approximately sixteen years of Debra, Katherine, Terry, Peggy and Jesse’s lives together. While mourning the loss of Brigit together, they are also raising Jesse the best they can.

Through this time, we watch Debra start to make wiser choices in her life. One such opportunity is her realization that Ray (Pat Healy), the man she had invited to live with because of financial reasons, is unhealthy, and finally kicks him out in a theatrical kitchen scene.

We see her develop a positive relationship with Chris (Aaron Paul), which quickly develops into marriage. As an audience member, we root for them because Chris has a very positive relationship with Jesse. But when she discovers he is having an affair, watching her end this marriage, we see how far she’s come and grown. She does this with mindfulness, although she is deeply hurt. Much different than the breakup with Ray.

During this time, she has gone to school, graduated, and works as a human resources supervisor at an assisted living facility. A place her mother ends up in.

This film is about how events of deep pain can help someone to begin to choose another way to live. How taking on the responsibility of raising someone else’s child can assist in guiding us to a better life. It is about Debra thoughtfully taking charge of her life. It is about making amends, as shown in the scene when Debra and Tyler talk late in the story; it’s powerful.

Miller is terrific at embodying this role. This is a role she can hang her heart on and say, I did this. It is a career role. Hendricks is equally great as the sister. Her ability to cajole, support, and give space to Debra is powerful. Paul was excellent as Chris, the man who did really care but made a big mistake. Sasso was outstanding as Debra’s brother-in-law. His kindness and support are felt throughout the film. When he follows Debra, who is searching for her daughter, we see his support. Neustaedter was very strong as Jesse’s father. When he eventually finds himself having the ability to talk with Debra positively was beautiful. Madigan as Katherine and Debra’s mom was perfect. She did the dance of caring in her limited way with perfection. Healy was scary excellent as the abusive, controlling boyfriend. Fiske was great as the older Jesse. I loved his scene at the prom and subsequently telling Chris about his first girlfriend. E. Roger Mitchell as the police detective Sergeant Morris was excellent. His level of compassion when bringing Debra to where her daughter was killed was utterly somber. Brad Ingelsby wrote a powerfully strong screenplay. Jake Scott brought out excellent performances by all, and this story is about an American Woman who is willing to grow and become a powerful example of strength.

Overall: This film surprised me with its depth of character and compelling storyline.

Run All Night

First Hit:  The action is very strong, the acting is good and it’s hard to see older men attempt to move their bodies athletically.

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) and Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) have been lifelong friends. They've been criminals for most of their lives.

Shawn has been the brains while Jimmy has been the muscle. Although Shawn has no problem killing someone, it’s been Jimmy that has racked up the kills and they haunt him. He left his wife and boy early on because he did not think he would be a fit enough father to be around his son Michael (Joel Kinnaman).

Michael resents his father and has chosen a life that, although difficult, is honorable. Shawn, on the other hand, has a boy named Danny (Boyd Holbrook) who is partly in the family business but keeps screwing up. When Danny kills a couple of crooked Albanians, Mike gets caught up and Jimmy kills Danny. This splits Danny and Shawn’s close relationship and now they’re out to kill each other.

Neeson is very good at showing determination and completing his appointed task with no feelings. Harris was very strong as the guy who has pulled the strings for years. Kinnaman was excellent as the bitter son. Holbrook was also very good as Maguire’s son. Common as professional hit man Andrew Price, was great. Brad Ingelsby wrote a strong script and Jaume Collet-Serra did a great job of creating a mood of NYC in this Irish community.

Overall:  The story of redemption of a difficult life was well done.

Out of the Furnace

First Hit:  Although there is some very good acting, this film floundered and was unorganized.

Unorganized for me means that there seemed to be two different films or storylines, mashed together by the supposed storyline written by Brad Ingelsby and Director Scott Cooper.

This story line is revenge. However, some of the shots by Cooper were fantastic. For instance, the opening shot, where the camera starts from high and moves into the back of a car sitting in a drive in movie theater is really good. The shot shows the types of cars/trucks while the sense of segregated community (separated by their older cars) but all watching the same film.

The second scene is inside the car where the next bit of dialogue and action sets up the angry uncaring life of Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). He comes from the hills in New Jersey where law and order is defined by who is toughest and meanest, not the police. This view of Harlan and his cohorts is one film. 

The other film is about Russell Baze (Christian Bale), his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), and Russell’s love Lena Taylor (Zoe Saldana). The mashup is Rodney’s struggle to find a life after a number of tours of Iraq. Being angry and lost he gambles, gets into debt to John Petty (Willem Dafoe) who is indebted to Harlan. This is where the stretch doesn't work.

I won’t move the storyline any more here, but despite the wonderful individual performances the story felt disjointed and forced.

Harrelson was in the vein of his roles in “Natural Born Killers” and “Zombieland”; dark, caring only about himself, and mean. He does this well and I like it. Bale is fantastic as a guy trying to do right by his family and girl while be caught by his wish to take care of his brother. Affleck is strong as a smart good looking guy carrying the struggles and demons he builds through war and family life. Saldana is wonderful as a woman who wants stability and family in her life. Dafoe is very good as the guy who owns a bar but makes book on the side. Forest Whitaker is intense and wonderful as a friend of Baze and as Police Chief Wesley Barnes in a small steel town in Pennsylvania where the Baze’s live. Sam Shepard is strong in a minor role as a Baze relative.  Ingelsby wrote an interesting script but it was either this script or the direction of Cooper that had it go off track.

Overall:  In parts, great. As a whole the film was mostly incongruent.