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Film Review: Shadowboxer

Outrageous. Implausible. Captivating.

by j. brotherlove

ShadowboxerIt’s obvious Lee Daniels isn’t interested in subtlety. After producing two controversial and critically-acclaimed films (Monster’s Ball, The Woodsman) Daniels tries his hand at directing Shadowboxer, a grimy, overstyled crime thriller starring Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding, Jr., in limited release.

At its core, Shadowboxer is a familiar story of the criminal who has a change of heart. In this case, veteran contract killer Rose (Helen Mirren as a seductive ice queen), is dying of cancer and experiencing regret about her life. Her devoted stepson/companion/et. al., Mikey (sublime Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Vivienne Westwood) attempts to understand as he eagerly carries out her every whim.

After setting up the worn out premise, Shadowboxer throws convention (and logic) out the window, transforming into an exercise of extremes: unconventional couplings, violence, frontal nudity (male and female), drugs, murder, rap music, sex, cigarette smoke and a zebra.

That may sound like too much and well… it is. During their last contract job — it’s always the last job — Rose has an epiphany which thrusts the duo into parenthood and an eventual showdown with arch-villain Clayton (played to the hilt by Stephen Dorff).

Despite its various shortcomings (lopsided screenplay, choppy sound editing), the film is fascinating to watch. To their credit, the colorful supporting cast delivers; Mo’Nique is compelling as a crack addicted nurse and Macy Gray does a great job of portraying… Macy Gray. Unfortunately, Joseph Gordon-Levitt lacks enough material to give Dr. Don much dimension (a shame since his turn as a teenage hustler in Mysterious Skin was electric).

Lee DanielsFrom the billiards rape scene to the whistle of a crack pipe, each scene is meticulously dressed in vivid colors, animal prints, faux fur and lots of crucifixes. And essentially, it’s the attention to these details which highlight Daniels obsession with defining neo-noir rather than telling a good story. It’s no wonder his directorial debut has created polarized hate-it-or-love-it reactions (most, hate it).

However, despite Daniels’ inability to drive home the apparent moral of salvation (other than the crucifixes), I still managed to love Shadowboxer. Even with half the intellect, this floundering mashup of The Grifters and Pulp Fiction is one of the most outrageous and homoerotic films since Crash (Cronenberg’s auto-porn, not Haggis’ talkathon). That’s not easy to achieve. Besides, in a culture that flocks to see superheroes fly, I can suspend quite a bit of disbelief to enjoy its excesses.

One issue most agree on is that Daniels serves as a better producer than director (although I have seen worse films by established directors). He is quoted as saying "I directed this film only as an exercise to become a better producer". Let’s hope it helps. He has a tough sell with his next film Tennessee starring Mariah Carey.

pub: 08/10/2006 | previous entry | next entry | feedback x 0 | subscribe

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