Saturday, July 12, 2014

Stream the Michael Hoffman/Coen Bros' GAMBIT and discover the comedic abilities of Colin Firth

TrustMovies has run warm and cool to the films of Michael Hoffman -- liking some (Restoration and Some Girls) and disliking others (The Last Station). But I find no excuse for the reception -- a bare theatrical run that provoked a pretty terrible critical drubbing -- to this remake, GAMBIT, which turns out to be quite a charming little lark about art and connivance. While the original was nothing to write home about, the new version gives a very fine actor, Colin Firth the chance to prove himself an excellent comedian in that rarely-seen-anymore deadpan British style.

The screenplay (from Joel and Ethan Coen) is smart and genuinely interesting as it explores everything from fine art and the art of scamming to the current job market and a highly unusual new security system. Cameron Diaz (above), a game and more-versatile-than-you-think actress, is charming and funny as the Texas lady who must be included in the con, while those fine British actors Alan Rickman (above) and Tom Courtenay (below, right) are used wisely, too.

It's Firth, however, who shines brightest. His singular ability to bring absolute, unwavering, British stiff-upper-lip-hood to each and every scene -- including one hilarious and hugely extended set piece in which he parades around in his underwear, still managing to keep that lip and all else intact -- is enormously funny in a way Ive seen no other actor manage it in a long while. (That scene, by the way, includes the only fart joke in a film that's actually works in a manner that subverts its own crassness.) Firth is a small miracle here, and you really must catch his act.

The much-vaunted "chemistry" that critics felt did not exist between the two stars does not exist for good reason. Instead, Firth and Diaz feint and parry, all the while trying to determine what the other really wants. The spark that indeed exists is kept from bursting into anything stronger so that we and they can enjoy the ever-changing "game."  When, at last, we realize how it is to be for these two characters, the moment is beautifully rendered by both actors. Can British reserve and American openness ever truly bond?  If not right now, maybe someday.

As director, Mr Hoffman serves the Coens' smart screenplay well, while giving the actors their rein to deliver what they do best. Everyone wins, especially us viewers. You can catch Gambit now via Netflix streaming and elsewhere, as well as on DVD.

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