Los Angeles is a world the movies love to visit. Whether it be the glamourous, smokin' rich fantasy landscapes or the grim latino neighborhoods, it's safe to say the city of angels itself has inspired hundreds and hundreds of filmmakers to place their cameras in whatever part of town textures their story the best. In Havoc, director Barbara Kopple goes back and forth between the two aforementionned microclimates with mostly successful results... but in the end, it's not her directorial hand you'll be remembering, but the very good performances she is able to draw from Bijou Phillips, Freddy Rodriguez and especially Anne Hathaway. It's not a bad thing per se, having a couple of splendid performers overshadow your actual film, but one wishes this Thirteen-like downwards spiral made good use of all the unexpected star turns in its hands instead of merely going through the motions behind them. Kopple can stage interminable streaks of authentic establishing shots all she wants, I still won't be willing to slap everything that's happening with a 'credible' label.
You see, Havoc is mostly satisfied in telling ''rich'n'bored white girls flee their comfortable suburbs to get a taste of all the dangerous downtown experience they can get''. It's not a foolish statement (and sadly, heaven knows it's all true), but it seems like this gritty plunge into these insecure though reckless lives isn't bothered to go very deep. Perhaps it's because of the short 86-minute running time (which nevertheless feels like 110), but I was personally dissapointed to see that the only character motives Stephen Gaghan's screenplay provides is something along the lines of ''girl has distant parents, etc''. And by making some key roles speak out loud about what they are & how they feel & why they act this way and yada yada yada, Gaghan ends up speaking about his characters much more than speaking through them. The situations seem real, but the suffering is artificial. Throughout the film, I felt more emotionally disconnected from what was going on than not, and just like Matt O'Leary's filmmaker character and his weird docu-drama subplot, I absorbed nearly everything on an intellectual level. For a film meant to make us connect with the ones in who chose that dangerous lifestyle, it is mostly a failure in approach.
If there are (and more than just occasionally) electrical sparks flying from the screen during Havoc, it must to be because of some of the performers are resolutely in ass-kicking mode. We all know by now that Anne Hathaway can be one hell of an actress when she's not trapped in a lightweight piece of Hollywood crap (that's thanks to Jonathan Demme's spellbinding Rachel Getting Married), but I truly think that confused but clever Allison Lang was her first great role back in 2005. If I didn't quite buy her at first, it's because she suggests just the right amount of insecurity under her tough-girl allure and just the right amount of rebellion under those wondrous chesnut eyes. It's not a coincidence that they sparkle a whole damn lot in Havoc, especially in the scenes she shares with the threatening (though unequestionably intriguing) role that Freddy Rodriguez embodies so well. Also, with less screentime but just as much striking scenes as her co-star, Bijou Phillips' perfect line delivery and body language was almost enough to drive me to tears. The supporting performers, though, don't fare quite as well. It might be because they, too, sport a cooler-than-thou wigger aura, but even the reliably terrific Joseph Gordon-Levitt is mostly unconvincing here. And that's to say nothing of Mike Vogel's so-so take on the deeply irritating white-gangsta-from-hell part.
But I am willing to forgive a lot of Havoc's flaws for its uncompromising vision of a universe films rarely visit with this little bullshit. It's a raw, tense, erotic and at times arresting behavioral observation, and if the delivery is downright phony at times, you can put your eyes on three magnetic and sincere performances if you weren't already doing so. Despite a rocky start and a rather abrupt conclusion, Havoc has a solid 40 minutes that knock it out of the park, almost entirely validating its existence.
You might wanna see it.