Monday, February 17, 2020
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Based on the DC comic series by Jordan B. Gorfinkel and Chuck Dixon and the Harley Quinn character created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is the story of an anti-hero who teams up with other women to protect a young thief from a Gotham crime boss who wants to take over the crime world of Gotham and get rid of Joker’s former flame. Directed by Cathy Yan and screenplay by Christina Hodson, the film explores the character of Harley Quinn following her break-up with the Joker as well as trying to find herself and be part of a team with different women who all feel out of place with society as Margot Robbie reprises the role of Quinn. Also starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, and Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis/Black Mask. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a dazzling and exhilarating film from Cathy Yan.
The film explores the journey of Harley Quinn following her break-up with the Joker as she tries to find herself only to realize that all of Gotham’s criminal underworld want her dead as she makes a deal with the mob figure Roman Sionis to retrieve a diamond in exchange for protection. Yet, the diamond is in the hands of a young pickpocket who had swallowed the diamond as it leads to chaos but also Quinn gaining a conscience to protect this young girl leading her to get the help of three other different women who get involved with this young girl. Christina Hodson’s screenplay is largely told from the perspective of Quinn who narrates the film and breaks the fourth wall at times but also play into the events that lead to her trying to find herself and embrace the idea of not needing the Joker. The first act establishes the events in Quinn’s life that lead to her break-up with the Joker as it doesn’t become known to the criminal underworld despite her sullen behavior until she destroys a major symbol of their relationship where everyone discovers the truth.
Among those that discovered a key evidence of this breakup is Gotham detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who has spent years building a case against Sionis as well as wanting to capture Quinn but is often passed over for a promotion as well as not getting credit for the work she gets. Sionis’ club singer/chauffeur Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) turns informant when she learns that the young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) had stolen a diamond that Sionis wants as Montoya tries to protect Cain. The second act revolves around Quinn taking Cain as well as learn of the bounty on Cain for half a million dollars while it’s open season on Quinn who is trying to not get killed. It is also the moment where Quinn learns about Cain where she hopes to use her as a deal with Sionis but then becomes conflicted and gets to know Cain. Adding to this growing chaos is a mysterious assassin known as the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) whose family was killed by various mobsters including Sionis’ right-hand man Victor Zsaz (Chris Messina) as she would find herself involved in protecting Cain as she, Montoya, and Lance would team up with Quinn to deal with Sionis who hopes to rule Gotham.
Cathy Yan’s direction is definitely stylish as it play into this crazed world of crime and mayhem as it relates to the chaos that Harley Quinn surrounds herself in. Shot on location in Los Angeles, Yan plays up into a world that is separated into camps where one is the criminal underworld and the other is the streets where not much is happening and people are struggling as Quinn is in the center of both as she was part of the underworld but is living in an apartment above a Chinese restaurant with her new pet hyena named Bruce. While there are some stylish compositions that includes a hand-drawn animated sequence that narrates Quinn’s life with the Joker, Yan does manage to create some straightforward compositions as well as emphasize on the characters where she does manage to allow audiences to get to know Montoya, Cain, Lance, and the Huntress though it does remain Quinn’s story.
With some second unit work from Stahelski in some of the action scenes, Yan does manage to keep things simple when it comes to characters interacting with one another such as a scene of Quinn and Cain watching cartoons and eating cereal or all five women just talking to each other. Yan also uses medium shots in some of those interactions and close-ups that either play to some moment of drama or for something funny. Yan doesn’t go for anything serious as the film’s climax that involves the formation of the Birds of Prey and going up against Sionis and his gang as it is balls-to-the-wall action with all sorts of outlandish moments. The mixture of humor, action, and suspense is key to the film’s success with Yan also creating something where women take charge and allowing its central character to realize that she doesn’t need a man to define her. Overall, Yan crafts a riveting yet thrilling film about an anti-hero who tries to protect a young pickpocket from a mob boss with the help of three other women.
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique does brilliant work with the film’s colorful cinematography with the usage of vibrant colors for some of the daytime scenes along with stylish lights and moods for some of the interiors and nighttime exterior scenes in the film. Editors Jay Cassidy and Evan Schiff do excellent work with the editing as it emphasizes a lot on style with elements of jump-cuts and stylish montages as well as allowing shots to establish exactly what is going on in the action and humor. Production designer K.K. Barrett, with supervising art director Kasra Farahani plus set decorators Jennifer Lukehart and Florencia Martin, does amazing work with the sets from the apartment that Quinn lives in as well as Sionis’ nightclub and the abandoned amusement park where the film’s climax takes place. Costume designer Erin Benach does fantastic work with the costumes from the colorful clothing that Quinn wears as well as the black leather of Huntress, the tight pants of Lance, and the casual look of Montoya as the clothes help flesh out the personality of the characters in the film.
Hair designers Adruitha Lee and Nikki Nelms, with makeup artist Miko Suzuki, do terrific work with the look of Quinn’s hair as well as Lance’s hairstyle and the look of Zsaz. Special effects supervisor Mark Hawker, along with visual effects supervisors Yael Majors and Greg Steele does wonderful work with the visual effects as it help play into the colorful visuals as well as bringing some grit and over-the-top style to some of the action scenes. Sound designer Paula Fairfield and sound editor Katy Wood do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as the way weapons sound and such as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Daniel Pemberton is incredible for its mixture of orchestral music with rock and jazz as it help play into the humor and action while music supervisors Gabe Hilfer and Season Kent create a chaotic yet fun soundtrack of music that ranges from pop standards, classic rock, classic soul, and modern music from Heart, Barry White, Ohio Players, Halsey, Megan Thee Stallion with Normani, Lauren Jaurengi, Charlotte Lawrence, and many others.
The casting by Rich Delia is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Francois Chau as a rival mob figure of Sionis, Dana Lee as the owner of Quinn’s favorite Chinese restaurant in Doc, Steven Williams as Montoya’s former partner/superior Captain Erickson who often takes credit for her work, Bojana Novakovic as a club goer Sionis humiliates, Ella Mika as a young Helena Bertinelli, and Ali Wong as Montoya’s former girlfriend/district attorney Ellen Yee who is reluctant to help Montoya but often puts Montoya in trouble in favor of saving her own ass. Chris Messina is superb as Sionis’ right-hand man who is also a fierce killer as he is also a major target of the Huntress. Ella Jay Basco is fantastic as Cassandra Cain as a teenage pickpocket who steals a diamond that Sionis wants as she copes with having a price on her head while trying to understand Quinn whom she would see as a big sister. Ewan McGregor is excellent as Roman Sionis/Black Mask as a mob figure with a narcissistic personality who hopes to rule Gotham as he wants this rare diamond to have that power to buy off anything and anyone he wants to.
Rosie Perez is brilliant as Renee Montoya as a police detective who often feels spurned by others as she often speaks in 80s cop clichés while is someone who is cynical but believes there is hope as it relates to Cain while is reluctant to help out Quinn. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is amazing as Dinah Lance/Black Canary as a singer who sings at Sionis’ nightclub while also working as his chauffeur as she is a street-smart woman who knows Cain as they live in the same apartment building while also carries a weapon that she inherited from her late mother. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is incredible as Helena Bertinelli/the Huntress as a crossbow assassin who is the daughter of a revered Mafia figure who was killed along with her entire family as she goes on a quest for vengeance while reluctantly helping out Quinn as Winstead maintains a low-key demeanor to her role. Finally, there’s Margot Robbie in a phenomenal performance as Harley Quinn as the former psychiatrist turned insane criminal who is trying to find herself following her break-up with the Joker where Robbie brings that air of charisma and energy into the character but also someone who is conflicted in wanting to create trouble but also wanting to help this young pickpocket where Robbie brings that humanity to the character as well as someone who is willing to be a team player as Robbie has great rapport with her other female cast members.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a sensational film from Cathy Yan that features a great leading performance from Margot Robbie. Along with its ensemble cast that include top-notch performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, and Ewan McGregor as well as colorful and dazzling visuals, high-octane action, a witty sense of humor, and an energetic music soundtrack. It’s a film that refuses to take itself seriously while also being this off-the-wall and thrilling action-adventure comedy with some suspense and drama with a woman teaming up with a bunch of other ladies to take down some bad guys. In the end, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a phenomenal film from Cathy Yan.
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