Black Rain Reviews
performance from Michael Douglas. Underrated to a degree!
The story is centred around Japan and the Yakuza. Conklin (Michael Douglas) is your standard gruff, rebellious cop with family issues, who also has no time for little things like rules and regulations. His partner Charlie Vincent (Andy Garcia), is his opposite and much more down to earth, calmer and generally more approachable, he tends to keep Conklin in check. The duo witness a murder by Yakuza gangsters and manage to capture their leader, its now up to this polar opposite duo to escort their prisoner back to Japan and hand him over to the authorities there. Naturally once they arrive the bad guy escapes via a blunder by the American duo and now they have to track him down through the Japanese neon lit underworld.
OK so first off its very clear that Ridley carried on with his 'Blade Runner' vision in this movie, heck this could even be a sequel of sorts, visually. Everything looks very familiar in this thriller, the streets of Osaka are dark (often at night), always neon lit and often rain soaked. There always seems to be plumes of smoke swirling around as the two officers run around, every shot inside a building seems to have silhouettes of blinds against a blue night sky, shadows of ceiling fans (lots of shadows in general), lots of reflections on glass, street steam or smoke, lots of discreet blue-collar eating establishments and of course loads of various neon lighting. This whole movie seems to set in a very murky, sodden Japan where the sun never shines and every building interior is a dimly lit office, with flashing neon signs being the only view through the venetian blinded windows. That's not a bad thing of course, hell no, its a Ridley movie and its all looks as slick as an oil spill. The problem is we saw all that in his replicant chase movie, plus that whole noir angle isn't exactly original, but I guess Ridley set the bar with the genre so...
I do love the character of Conklin though, or at least his look. I've never been a huge fan of Douglas because he kinds looks like a narrow eyed, slimy creep to me, but here he nails the role. The movies poster says it all really, it almost looks like a manga comic cover, it has a very strong graphic novel vibe about it if you ask me, really striking. The pose, the shades, the colour palette and the blurry Japanese neon signed street image behind Douglas, it all looks very bold, very sleek, imaginative and ultimately, oddly futuristic. This Conklin guy is a typical 80's badass, the stereotypical unshaven, trench coat wearing, unkempt anti-hero. He doesn't give a shit about procedure, he'll bend the rules to get his man and he's clearly a bit of a male chauvinist. On the flip side Garcia simply hams up his Italian American heritage by playing the most corny Italian American ever, and he's virtually done the same thing his whole career.
It interesting to see how hero/anti-hero characters have changed over the years. These days its all muscles and martial arts, who's the most buff, who's got the biggest biceps etc...its all very vain and disgustingly wholesome. Back in the day these characters were more mean and moody, dirty, they smoked, they swore, they drank, they had wiry frames, and maybe slapped the odd female around for good luck (not saying that's good). They were just more gritty realistic badasses, God how I miss them!
The Japanese cast are of course epic as Japanese actors normally are, there are many familiar faces here from the chiefs to the henchmen (Al Leong anyone), and they are all perfect in their roles. Sure we've seen Yakuza and gangsters portrayed on screen a gazillion times before, but the Japanese actors are so disciplined and scarily realistic in their performances, they nail it every time. In all honesty though, despite the great performances, stunning location work and Ridley's eye for artistic detail, the movie is actually quite dull to be honest. It really does play out very much like 'Blade Runner' with Conklin meandering around various well lit locations tracking down his prey. He has lots of angry conversations with his fellow Japanese officers in various locales (he's an angry kinda guy), he munches on noodle meals in smokey neon lit locales with his fellow Japanese officers (well mainly Ken Takakura), he talks to blonde dames in dark moody neon lit locations (Kate Capshaw), and he drives around the city...at night...with lost of reflections of neon signs everywhere.
Things only tend to get exciting when Conkers finds his way into a steel foundry (which literately gave Ridley carte blanche to go nuts with lots of shiny, glossy, steam soaked imagery) and there's a shootout and chase. Then the big finale sees two Yakuza gangs and Conkers n co all going ballistic with an even bigger shootout. These days its nothing spectacular lets be honest, back in the day these final showdowns in quirky places were the bread n butter of action flicks. Every action thriller had a big final shootout somewhere unusual with lots of henchmen getting nailed and then finally the main boss getting nailed by the hero (see 'Beverly Hills Cop'). And in all honesty this isn't even a great final action sequence, the motorbike chase was pretty cool and the way Conklin looks like he's gonna kill the main villain but doesn't is a nice little twist, but they ruin it with the cringeworthy vomit-inducing award ceremony.
Its an odd beast this, a pretty standard action cop thriller but made with Ridley Scott's exquisite attention to detail and lavish visuals. Its too much like Ridley's previous works really, we know about the visuals but even the musical score has eerily similar elements to 'Alien' at times, not to mention the steel foundry sequence which felt like a combined scene from 'Alien' and 'Alien 3' (curious huh). It is a solid movie but at the same time it feels too self-indulgent, Ridley clearly couldn't stop himself from doing more 'Blade Runner' stuff which just feels too much of the same thing. End of the day its just a simple action thriller, it didn't really need all the sheen and polish because we can all see its just a simple action thriller underneath all that gloss. Kudos to Ridley for going the extra mile and really making another visual gem, but I don't think this is his best genre.
Uno de los elementos que más me apasionan de Black Rain es la fotografía con esos tonos grises y oscuros y los juegos de sombras que contrastan con lo colorido de las ciudades japonesas. Adoro especialmente un plano descriptivo que cambia momentáneamente la escala de grises por un intenso rojo de atardecer. Pura poesía visual.
Por otro tenemos las interpretaciones, que aunque tenemos a dos histriónicos Andy García y Michael Douglas, la contrapartida del gran Ken Takakura es suficiente para sostener la película. Además sus personalidades son intencionales: una forma de reflejar lo diferente de estas dos culturas.
Sin duda una joya de los ochenta.
The visual quality of Black Rain is fairly rough. The actual quality of the camera used is somewhat poor because there is a lot of blurry fuzz imposed on the screen which is clear particularly in scnees which are lit clearly. I'm not sure if this is due to the quality of the DVD release or if it hasn't been appropriately remastered to fit in with today's expectations, but either way a $30 million film should really not look as murky as Black Rain does. It really detracts from the experience, and while it is easy to ignore during some of the scenes where the backdrop is mostly a simple few shades of grey and therefore featuring a rather blank colour palette which is actually quite consistent in Black Rain, as a whole it was always something which bothered me. An entire film with this much blur and grain is never a good thing, and while it doesn't make it difficult to actually comprehend what is going on, it does stand in the way of making the visual experience of Black Rain the great thing that it had the potential to become. A lot of the film is good looking, but it is stuck underneath the camera's poor visual quality which detracts from the experience.
Black Rain is a film which comes into comparison with the similarly themed crime thriller from 1985 entitled Year of the Dragon. While I didn't particularly like Year of the Dragon, it at least made the effort to balance the obsessive nature of the protagonist with focus on his personal life and his involvement in the crime world. Black Rain is a lot more shallow as it is bereft of thoughtful characters and instead is very stylishly focused. They both have similar stories, although Year of the Dragon told it's better and did it with more thought. In Black Rain I'll admit that the cinematography of the film is nice because it is consistently atmospheric in the most appropriate manner and the scenery of the film is great because it gives everything a sense of legitimacy, as well as the fact that the action scenes in the flm are a lot better and significantly more exciting. But all of this cannot disguise the fact that the story is a mostly predictable one which is lacking in narrative creativity. Ridley Scott gives the film a certain edge, but it is all in terms of style because the story in Black Rain is only memorable as being one which viewers will remember from countless other films which range from being better to worse. The only consistently good thing in the movie was the musical score because it easily brought the mood of the film into perspective and encourged the atmosphere.
Though Ridely Scott helmed the role of director on Black Rain, the film did not hit as hard as I was expecting. It ended up one of his more generic efforts which is a shame because while he does make it a stylish feature, he doesn't maintain a grip on the story. It doesn't go all that far or break much new ground but rather goes over a formula with a different setting to it. The cultural aspects of the film are interesting to a certain extent, partially because the scenery of the film is beautiful, but the clashbetween Japanese and American culture is never explored enough for it to be that interesting. Ridley Scott seems to take the setting for granted because he fails to dramatise or emphasise the maximum potential of the film, and while this would largely be in part to the lacklustre screenplay that Craig Bolotin and Warren Lewis make him work with, he doesn't seem tobe able to add his own touch. Black Rain is a largely forgettable effort from him which shows no sign that he is the director, and it would have succeeded a lot more as a guilty pleasure crafted by Cannon Films if they had the budget and the scenery. The action scenes are on par with Canon Films in terms of quality, but quantity is where it comes up short. And while this didn't bother me as the film was more of a crime drama than a straightfoward action film, a few more shootouts and motorbike chases could have made the film easier to enjoy. But as that is not the case, Black Rain is not an impressive movie.
But despite all of this, Michael Douglas' lead role in Black Rain is one of the best parts about it. While the character is not sketched to be all that deep, Michael Douglas does justice in the part because he delivers the two neccesarry aspects to the part: He stands firm and strong as a good action hero and brings the right level of grit to the role to elevate it beyond its scriptural limitations. Michael Douglas seamlessly steps into the role and brings his natural persona with him but adds in a touch of gritty tension which makes him an edgy protagonist, and in the process he is able to render himself the driving force of the story. His fearless confidence is just great because it ensures that he is energetically involved with the story on a consitent basis, and the level of tension he puts into the part never drops off. His performance makes the film more enjoyable because he is a compelling and heroic protagonist easily, and he shares a firm chemistry with Andy Garcia. He is a seriously welcome lead in Black Rain.
And Garcia's supporting performance is a decent touch as well.
But despite decent acting, a mostly strong visual style and some great action moments, Black Rain stretches its formulaic premise for too long and lacks enough surprises or originality to truly justify itself.