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Southern Discomfort

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The captain narrates in a punchy, journalistic style that gives Elite Squad an air of sociological realism—it bears a resemblance to viscerally exciting seventies urban thrillers like The French Connection, in which only the fascists could do what needed to be done. Padilha builds in checks and balances, scenes in which bope’s bloodshed is genuinely disgusting. But he reserves his true loathing for the lefty college kids who denounce cops while smoking (and dealing) dope—unconcerned with the blood shed for their high. This makes criticizing the film’s politics harder, because you don’t want to sound like the creeps.

Although it skims the surface, The Duchess is an uncommonly well-crafted historical feminist tearjerker—both anti-patriarchal and a monument to motherhood. It’s based on Amanda Foreman’s biography of Georgiana Spencer, the duchess of Devonshire, played by Keira Knightley with her long neck and strong jaw, the better to keep her erect and poised while dissolving on the inside. Like her descendant Diana, she has been married off to a wealthy and influential cold fish (Ralph Fiennes) who wants only a male heir, and who ultimately takes her gal-pal (Hayley Atwell) into the household as his mistress. Every turn is telegraphed, but Fiennes’s duke is a fascinating stiff—uneasy with his privilege but ruthless in using it. Not only is Knightley most excellent, her starved-supermodel look adds an affecting subtext: that the economic impact of male disapproval still inhibits women’s freedom.

Hounddog
Directed by Deborah Kampmeier.
Empire Film Group. R.

Elite Squad
Directed by Jose Padilha.
IFC Films. R.

The Duchess
Directed by Saul Dibb.
Paramount Vantage. PG-13.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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