There were more murders in Chicago in 2008 than there were deaths of American soldiers in Iraq. This is when the story made national news, but before that, director Steve James was in the city to follow the non-profit organization CeaseFire. The Interrupters follows three “violence interrupters,” volunteers who step into the fray to hinder retaliatory violence before it erupts. James ignores statistics and instead watches–with devastating precision–the effects of cyclical violence. This is a testament to courage and the possibility of redemption for the individual and society as a whole. The fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s documentary branch failed to recognize it (as they did with James’ Hoop Dreams) is a disgrace. It’s one of the best films of 2011. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Michael Shannon’s slow-burn performance anchors Take Shelter. Shannon plays Curtis, an ordinary working class man who begins to have terrifying, lucid dreams that revolve around a massive storm. He’s convinced they’re a prophecy, but then again, they might simply be the first stages of insanity. His wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) slowly comes to realize something is amiss with her husband as his behavior becomes more and more erratic. The ending (which I would be remiss to reveal) is disappointing, if only because it offers an answer, but it is a chilling study of a man gradually, inexorably walking toward a precipice. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The Rum Diary is a kind of origin story of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. This version of Thompson is named Paul Kemp, and he’s played by Johnny Depp (who, of course, played another one-note variation of the Thompson persona in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). The plot–what there is of one–follows Kemp’s allegedly wild and wacky adventures in Puerto Rico while working for a local newspaper. There’s very little about Kemp’s (and, hence, Thompson’s) growth as a writer. It’s all about incidents, and they aren’t too entertaining, either. My review is here. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.