A new twist on the home invasion terror propels ‘Don’t Breathe’

What if you were viewing a horror movie and you found your allegiances challenged, and suddenly you did not know who to root for to survive?

Well, welcome to “Don’t Breathe.”

Writer-director Fede Alvarez offers an initial premise in which three young people, dead-ended in a dying Detroit who go around breaking into houses and stealing things, plot to burglarize the home of a blind older man (Stephen Lang) who reputedly has a stash of cash numbering in six figures. Of course, the blind man turns out to be anything but an easy victim and it will be a delight to see the three criminals getting what they deserve.

Ah, but there is more to the story than this.

Granted, the leader of the young thieves, Money (Daniel Zovatto), is pretty much a creep, focusing his energy on obtaining things he did  not earn. But his cohorts offer a different picture. Rocky (Jane Levy from “Evil Dead,” which also was directed by Alvarez), Money’s girlfriend,  at first seems like the rebellious, ungrateful young person, desiring to get away from her home. But rather than being spoiled and entitled we see that Rocky is trapped in a family situation that is pretty bad – a mother who has become a drunken mess since her husband left, soaking up the booze with some sleazy-looking boyfriend. Also in the picture is an innocent kid sister, Diddy (Emma Bercovici), Rocky wants to rescue from this unhealthy domestic arrangement.

The third member of the group, pretty much the technical brains behind the burglaries, is Alex (Dylan Minnette), drawn into this trio of lawbreakers because he pines for Rocky’s affections, a goal he constantly is reminded by Money, that never will be achieved.

Upon casing the blind man’s house, it appears to be an easy score; the man is the only resident  in an otherwise abandoned neighborhood. The only obstacle, other than disabling the home security system, is a vicious, drooling watch dog the blind man owns.

Alex is at first reluctant to pull off the burglary, fearing such a heavy heist could trigger more intense police response, but Rocky’s enticement that this big score could finance their ticket out of this grim situation motivates him to change his mind.

While they are able to neutralize the dog without violence, the three soon discover the blind man is not nearly as helpless as they figured he would be. As things grow from bad to worse, to potentially deadly, there is a bit of a conflict of emotions. Sure, Rocky and Alex are willing participants in a crime plotted by Money, but they certainly do not deserve whatever punishment the blind man may deliver. Meanwhile, the blind man certainly merits sympathy – he was a war vet blinded while serving in Iraq; and the stash of money he has was the result of a settlement after a devastating family tragedy.

Then Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues present a bombshell of a revelation that changes the dynamics of who really is the evil one here. Yet it is a gray area morally and emotionally.

Alvarez keeps the tension and terror at full acceleration throughout. The title says it well — breathing is a good way to find yourself in the line of fire of a person, who robbed of  his ability to see, has sharpened his other senses, like hearing, and even smell.

The casting of Lang as the blind man was a stroke of genius. Bulked up despite his age, with a weathered face, he is an intimidating figure who will not hesitate to do whatever is necessary to defend himself and his home.  No matter who the viewer is favoring in this deadly cat-and-mouse pursuit, “Don’t Breathe” is guided by a smart script that leads to exhilaration as well as despair. Levy’s Rocky turns out to be a tough one, driven by a need to find the means of giving herself and Diddy a better life.

“Don’t Breathe” proves that horror can be multilayered, going beyond the violence and terror and tapping into the emotional dilemmas of deadly confrontations.

Statham is back as Bishop

For those in the mood for some basic escapist adventure, the Jason Statham-starrer “Mechanic: Resurrection” delivers on all counts.

Statham reprises his role as Arthur Bishop, first played by Charles Bronson the the 1972 original “The Mechanic,” a professional killer who wants to retire but gets drawn back into the world of deadly hits. The 2011 remake of the Bronson movie featured Statham in a plot similar to the original in which Bishop takes on an apprentice bent on avenging his father’s death, murdered by Bishop.

In “Mechanic: Resurrection,” as the title suggests, Bishop, thought to be dead, is alive and well, living incognito on a boat in Rio de Janeiro. But one morning, while enjoying a brew at his favorite local watering hole, Bishop is visited by a woman who knows who he really is and says she represents a client who wants him to sanction three people. Since the woman is backed up by some serious muscle, Bishop concludes she will not take no for an answer. So a couple of minutes of vintage Statham chaos ensues, leading to broken bodies and a death-defying escape by Bishop.

He then relocates to a little resort island off of Thailand, run by a friend, Mei (the always wonderful Michelle Yeoh), where he has a hut on the beach. Unfortunately, he is reluctantly drawn into helping a woman named Gina (Jessica Alba), who appears to be a victim of domestic abuse. Bishop dispatches the creep abuser but discovers that Gina has his picture in her mobile device. It turns out Gina is being used as bait to get Bishop to accept the contract to eliminate those three targets. The contractor, Crain (Sam Hazeldine) and Bishop have a past that has not gone well and Bishop sees this a some sort of revenge Crain is perpetrating.

Although Gina is alluring, Bishop at first is not falling for her. However, it is her plight that lures him back into his deadly profession. Gina is running an orphanage in Cambodia that Crain has threatened to destroy if she cannot get Bishop to accept the sanctions.

Of course, the kills will not be easy. The three targets are surrounded by heavy security both in manpower and formidable, technically complex fortifications. Bishop is under tight deadlines to carry out the killings, and they all must look like accidents.

From here, the script by Philip Selby and Tony Moser, based on a story by Selby, Rachel Long and Brian Pittman, offers a fascinating look at how Bishop cases the locations and plans his attack, using all kinds of gadgetry that would have had Bronson’s Bishop salivating.

Bishop is methodical and cold and he carries out the work while racking up an astounding body count. Pressed into having to work fast, it takes awhile before Bishop realizes the motivation behind Crain’s need to have these three men eliminated. This leads to an abrupt change in strategy in dealing with the final target, a weapons dealer named Max Adams (Tommy Lee Jones, collecting an easy paycheck and having a lot of fun in the process).

“Mechanic: Resurrection” is a high-energy romp as only a Statham movie can carry out. And in a nice turn, Alba’s Gina proves to be tough when she needs to be.

A smart cops and robbers spin in “Hell or High Water”

Jeff Bridges has fit comfortably into a niche of playing grizzled, often slovenly and somewhat flawed characters, well past their prime but with some wisdom still to offer.

He is at his best playing Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton in “Hell or High Water,” a well-written and extremely entertaining little film that deserves more than the limited release it has received.

Even better, Bridges is surrounded by an able cast, even down to the smallest of roles in this story about an aged lawman rolling quickly toward retirement but hoping to solve one final case of two robbers hitting various branches of a major bank in west Texas.

The robbers themselves are Toby Howard (Chris Pine in a nice departure from his Capt Kirk role in the “Star Trek” reboot), and his brother Tanner (Ben Foster) an ex-con and loose cannon. Toby, divorced and father of two sons, has just finished being caretaker for his gravely ill mother. Upon her death he has inherited a small ranch that is in danger of being foreclosed. To prevent this, he enlists Tanner in helping him commit robberies, taking only small, untraceable bills, in hopes of eventually amassing enough funds that they take to casinos and win nice pots — all this to save the ranch, which he wants to pass on to his sons.

In this collaboration, Toby only wants to take money, not hurt anyone, a decree Tanner cannot seem to abide by. Donning ski masks and in possession of a several stolen cars they can ditch after awhile, their robberies are slowly but surely netting more cash and vexing local law enforcement.

Enter Hamilton, who is wrapping up his Ranger career and is known for his keen intuition.

The superb script is the work of Taylor Sheridan, an actor whose credits include Deputy Chief David Hale in “Sons of Anarchy” and Danny Boyd in “Veronica Mars.” He also scripted the recent “Sicaro.” It is no surprise that Sheridan grew up in Texas. His screenplay appears to capture all the nuances of the life of Texas citizens. He also personally witnessed the heartbreak of people losing their properties and how lenders could exploit desperate people. These are themes he addresses in “Hell or High Water” that he insisted in an interview are social rather than political issues.

Hence, Toby garners sympathy as a man driven to crime to save the only thing that may help keep his fractured family from completely falling apart.

The modus operandi of the of the brothers earns the grudging respect of Hamilton, who can appreciate that at least the two bank robbers are not leaving a growing body count in their wake. But Hamilton is a sworn Ranger who cannot abide in allowing these men to continue to break the law, whatever their motivation.

Aside from the story line that is leading to an inevitable confrontation between the lawmen and the robbers, “Hell or High Water” is laced with gritty, realistic dialog and wit, although some of the humor is not politically correct.

Hamilton does not hold back in making cracks about the heritage of his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), mix of Native American and Mexican. Parker shows an immense patience with the continual taunting by Hamilton. But underneath it all, the sense is that Hamilton would take a bullet to save his partner’s life.

Parker does wonder if Hamilton has lost his touch in sniffing out what the robbers will do next, and of course Hamilton does not hold back in gloating when he is proven correct.

Sadly and inevitably, the situation evolves violently as the Rangers close in on the brothers. In the end, Bridges and Pine only share a few minutes of screen time together that initially seems disappointing. But Sheridan, along with director David Mackenzie, made the right call in keeping it low key and minimal. It almost seems like the passing of the baton. Bridges, whose career has spanned six decades and who himself played characters that broke the law (“Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” which earned him the second of his six Academy Award nominations), steps aside with his dignity intact and allows Pine a shot at building a rich career.

“Hell or High Water,” despite some decent per-screen box office tallies, likely will not be in theaters long. But it is well worth checking out once it hits the rental market along with online platforms.

 

 

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