Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rage Against the Dying of the Script: "It's the Rage" (2000)

Also known as "All the Rage," and based on the play of the same name by Keith Reddin, this film is not an obvious plea for gun control- nor a successful one.

The huge, big-name cast does an incredible job in a film that is Altmanesque without the actors falling over themselves trying to impress an overrated director. The following basic plot outline is going to get confusing, but here it goes. Warren (Jeff Daniels) "accidentally" shoots his business partner in the opening scenes. This is a catalyst for his mentally abused wife Helen (Joan Allen) to finally leave him, hired as an assistant to the crazed billionaire Morgan (Gary Sinise). Warren's lawyer Sullivan (Andre Braugher) has problems of his own- with his gay lover Chris (David Schwimmer), and a little street tart named Annabel Lee (Anna Paquin). Annabel has a crazed brother named Sid (Giovanni Ribisi), who she eggs on with lies and feeds off of his homicidal behavior. Warren is shadowed by retired cop Tyler (Robert Forster), and young detective Agee (Bokeem Woodbine). Josh Brolin is great as Tennel, who changes his name to Fennel to honor the herb, and falls in love with Annabel after leaving Morgan and hiring Helen for his old job.

The plot is all over the place, as this core group of characters interact without knowing the full relationship each has with each other. The characters' encounters are not forced, and the editing keeps it interesting as the film does not dwell on one storyline. In each situation, the majority of characters purchase guns. The guns then play an integral part in the film's finale, as misunderstandings and obsessions kill some of these people. To get a clue on who does die in the end, read some of the hinting headlines during the opening credits.

The film is very difficult to describe, since the plot is so different and the mystery essential to the film. I can point out two great scenes, both involving Ribisi. One scene has Chris and Tyler meeting at a shooting gallery, and talking about killing while Sid flips out in the background and takes out all of his hostilities on paper targets. Another scene has Sid almost pulling a gun in a bar, where five other major characters are seated. Their hands go to their firearms, too, in a self defensive reflex.

Many reviews point out that this is an anti-gun film that beats its viewers over the head with its message. I did not see it like that at all. I felt the characters were too kooky and loony to have any relation to them other than as characters. If the film had played it straight, showing the carnage that guns can cause, then the point might have been better made. Instead, this film just reminded me to avoid anyone named Sid with a Robert De Niro fixation, billionaires named Morgan who try to close themselves off from all outside information, and mentally ill men named Chris who need to satisfy their inner child by berating their in-the-closet lawyer lover. The ending credits tell what happened to the characters, and guns play an important part in their lives, but watching this did not change my mind on gun control laws, or the people who own guns, one way or another.

The cast is first rate. Daniels plays his absolute most unlikable character to date. He should be cast in bigger villainous roles. Joan Allen is good as his wife, who decides to see the world after her husband threatens her for the last time. Forster, who has made some really bad films in his day, proves "Jackie Brown" was not a fluke. Braugher is such a major talent, he should be up for the same roles as the aforementioned DeNiro. His presence has kept him on TV for years, I wish he could get that one juicy role that would keep him in film forever. Woodbine, in a small role, is very effective, and does not disappear behind all the bigger name talent. Paquin is good as the aptly named Annabel Lee, playing a street punk naturally. David Schwimmer makes you forget Ross on "Friends," his final screen minutes are both funny and chilling. Josh Brolin is another pretty face who shows there are some acting chops behind the veneer. His speech about changing his life just like Helen is hilarious. Gary Sinise is bug eyed and psychotic, but reins enough emotion in to be sympathetic. Some saw him as playing a Bill Gates-type character, I just saw his character as sheltered and a little crazed (his final destiny is also very un-Gates-like). Ribisi comes along late in the film and completely steals it from everyone else.

Stern's direction does not uncover this film's stage origins. He opens it up without being obvious about it. The dark color scheme works well her, cinematography is grand. Reddin's screenplay does call attention to itself, and the wacked out characters, once too often. His politics are confused, and so is some of his writing. If he thinks all gun owners are homicidal and paranoid, like most of the group here, he is mistaken. Again, playing it straight might have made this more effective and compelling.

"It's the Rage" should not be seen to glean insight on violence in America today, the focus is too narrow for such a broad subject.

"It's the Rage" should be seen for some incredible actors showing independent film makers how to squeeze powerful performances out of an unpowerful script. On the acting alone, I slightly recommend this film. (* * *) out of five stars.