Friday, August 19, 2011

LAMB Movie of the Month: The Long Kiss Goodnight

Directed by Renny Harlin and written by Shane Black, The Long Kiss Goodnight is the story of a small town schoolteacher whose life following a car accident changes when she starts to have memories of her old life as an assassin. With help from a private detective, the two evade people trying to kill her while they also try to save her kidnapped daughter. Starring Genna Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, David Morse, Yvonne Zima, Craig Bierko, and Brian Cox. The Long Kiss Goodnight is a thrilling yet exciting film from Renny Harlin.

Samantha Caine (Geena Davis) is a schoolteacher from a small Pennsylvanian town as lives a quaint, happy life with her daughter Caitlin (Yvonne Zima) and boyfriend Hal (Tom Amandes). Though she has no recollection of her life following Caitlin’s birth where she’s paid investigators to find any information, she seems content until driving an intoxicated man home where she has an accident. Despite her recovery, Caine starts to have awful dreams about another woman that looked like her as other things start to pop up. When a one-eyed convict named Jack (Joseph McKenna) escapes from jail to attack Samantha after seeing her on TV, an attempt on Samantha’s life failed due to Samantha’s sudden defense skills.

Mitch Hennessey (Samuel L. Jackson), a private investigator, arrives to help Samantha uncover her old identity as the two go on a road trip. Though Hennessey is a low-rent investigator with little accomplishments, he helps Samantha as they hope to meet a man named Dr. Nathan Waldman (Brian Cox) to help uncover Samantha’s true identity. Yet, an old suitcase that Hennessey found reveals to be a sniper rifle as Samantha wonders who she was as she and Mitch deal with people out to get her until Waldman arrives to help them. After refusing to believe Waldman about Caine’s true identity as Charlene “Charly” Baltimore, Samantha and Mitch decide to meet a named Luke (David Morse) for answers. Yet, the two realize it’s a trap as they learn that Luke was an intended target that Charly was supposed to kill.

After a horrific torture, Samantha escapes along with Hennessey where she regains her old identity and becomes Charly again. With Charly dismissing her life as Samantha, Mitch becomes worried where they learn that Charly’s old CIA boss Leland Perkins (Patrick Malahide) has teamed up with a terrorist named Timothy (Craig Bierko), who was Charly’s old lover. Realizing that they want to rid of her and plan a big terrorist attack near Niagara Falls, Charly/Samantha and Mitch decide to stop them while learning that Timothy has kidnapped Caitlin. With an ever bigger revelation that involves Timothy, Samantha has to embrace both herself and Charly to stop Timothy and his plans.

The film is about a woman who eventually regains her memory realizing that she used to be a trained assassin for the CIA. With the help of a wise-cracking investigator, they figure who is trying to kill her and why that leads to a climatic battle filled with gun battles, knife-fights, and explosions. Yet, it’s part of what Shane Black creates with his script about the idea that this quaint, lovely schoolteacher used to kill people for a living. The script has a lot of Black’s sense of humor and one-liners along with thrilling action sequences. Yet, it’s the first script Black wrote where the protagonist is a woman as he brings a wonderful complexity to Samantha Caine/Charly Baltimore. A woman who seems content until parts of her past including knife-play and being a bit tougher starts to appear.

Black’s portrayal to give characters like Caine and Mitch Hennessey some development and make them more than caricatures are one of the reasons why he is a cut above most Hollywood screenwriters. Hennessey may be a bit of a comic relief and reluctant partner but he’s also a man that is trying to redeem himself towards his ex-wife while finding the moment that would break him out of low-paying gigs. While some of the villains, with the exception of the Luke character, are caricatures. They do provide enough motivation for Caine and Hennessey to stop them as Black creates a very engaging yet fun script that does more with what its genre intends.

Renny Harlin’s direction is very stylish but also straightforward as he goes to basics for many of the film’s lighter moments such as the comedy and light-dramatic moments. He does manage to create some interesting compositions for some of those scenes including a scene late in the film where Mitch is lying down on the road having a smoke as Harlin shoots the scene from above with a crane shot. The action sequences has all of the touches that Harlin is known for that is bombastic and thrilling. Yet, he does restrain himself a bit to let audience see what is going on. While he creates a film where people know what’s going to happen that is typical of a lot of action films. Harlin does manage to create something that is solid and entertaining.

Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro does some excellent work with the cinematography from snowy exteriors of the scenes that were shot mainly in Ontario along with stylish camera work for some of the nighttime action scenes. Editor William Goldenberg does a fantastic job with the editing as he maintains a rhythmic yet stylish feel to the film with jump-cuts and fast-paced action while it doesn’t move too fast for the audience to see what is going on.

Production designer Howard Cummings, along with art directors Steve Arnold and Dennis Davenport plus set decorator Michael Taylor, does some very good work with the set pieces such as the homes the characters live in to the hotel lodge for the film‘s climatic showdown. Costume designer Michael Kaplan also does some good work with the costumes from the golf-like clothing that Mitch wears to the different array of clothes that Samantha/Charly would wear throughout the film. Visual effects supervisor Steven Robiner does some nice work with some of the visual effects provided such as Samantha‘s flashback scene though the final battle has a few that looks quite scratchy.

Sound editor Stephen Hunter Flick does some stellar work with the sound to capture the sounds of carolers to the chaos of the gunfights as it‘s some notable work that is expected in action films. Alan Silversti’s score is a worthwhile highlight of the film for the way it plays up the suspense and action with some bombastic moments though it does get over-used in parts of the film. Music supervisor Bonnie Greenberg does create a wonderful soundtrack that includes cuts by Santana, LaBelle, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Dan Seals and John Ford Coley, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Muddy Waters, Neneh Cherry, and Tracy Bohnam to add some diversity and humor to the film.

The casting by Mary Vernieu and Ronnie Yeskel is brilliant as it features some notable appearances from Sharon Washington as Mitch’s ex-wife, Edwin Hodge as Mitch’s son, G.D. Spradlin as the President of the United States, Melina Kanakardes as Mitch’s assistant Trin, and Joseph McKenna as the one-eyed killer Jack. Other notable small roles include Tom Amandes as Samantha’s boyfriend Hal, Patrick Malahide as the corrupt government official Perkins, and David Morse as the cool but devious Luke. Brian Cox is very good in a small role as Dr. Nathan Waldman, a former mentor of Charly who tries to help her while Yvonne Zima is also good as Samantha’s daughter Caitlin. Craig Bierko is pretty decent as the smarmy villain Timothy as Bierko gets to ham it up despite the fact that it’s a typical caricature of all villains in action films like this.

Samuel L. Jackson is phenomenal as Mitch Hennessey, a humorous yet street-smart private investigator who helps out Samantha while dealing with her true identity and the danger they encounter. Jackson brings a lot of fiery humor too his character that often has him singing a Muddy Waters tune with different lyrics as Jackson gives one of his most entertaining performances of his career. Geena Davis is excellent in the dual roles of Samantha Caine and Charly Baltimore. For Caine, she plays her as a woman that is quaint and sweet only to be scared by the dark skills she has. When she becomes Charly, Davis lets herself be loose and cool as she brings a nice complexity to her role as it’s one of better performance that is complimented by her chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson.

The Long Kiss Goodnight is a stellar yet fun action film from Renny Harlin and screenwriter Shane Black. Featuring superb performances from Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson, this is one of Harlin’s better films along with Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2. For Black, it’s one of his better scripts following the somewhat-underrated 1993 action film Last Action Hero as it features a lot of the humor that Black puts into his film. In the end, The Long Kiss Goodnight is an entertaining yet captivating film from Renny Harlin and Shane Black.

© thevoid99 2011

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