Last night on late night, there was no Letterman. Conan gave his staff at “Conaco” a performance review, Jimmy Fallon talked to Dwayne Johnson and Meghan Trainor, Kimmel talked goombahs and gangsters with Ray Liotta, and Seth Meyers talked Kangaroo parts with Heidi Klum.
The opening scene of Joe Carnahan’s latest shows a man getting jettisoned from the driver’s side window of his car in a crash, hitting the ground rolling and ending up sitting on the street with barely a scratch. That’s how this film begins, and it only gets zanier from there. The plot follows a down-on-his-luck limo driver, Stretch (Patrick Wilson), who finds out he has to pay $6,000 of gambling debts by midnight. Roger Karos (Chris Pine), a deranged billionaire, offers to cover his debt if he drives him around for the evening, an experience that gets more hellish with each passing minute.
Better Living Through Chemistry flirts with danger from its opening moments, in which a narrator first says that while each of us can’t help everyone, everyone can help someone, and follows it up by saying that our lead character would dismiss that sentiment as fortune-cookie foolishness. That character, portrayed by Sam Rockwell, who grows more Sam Rockwell-esque by the minute here, would be right to do so, but the film he occupies essentially embraces that sentiment, if to a slightly amoral extent. Better Living Through Chemistry is, seemingly, a bit desperate to both occupy the same satiric subgenre as American Beauty and to be so emphatically unique among other American Beauty-esque films that it’s unable to fully achieve either goal in the end.
The Iceman exists in a strange kind of cinematic purgatory, in which reside those movies that are both too rushed and too slow. With actors like Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, and Winona Ryder among the key players, this period piece about a particularly sociopathic Mob enforcer’s rise to some level of infamy is, at best, decent.
The Place Beyond the Pines, so called for the English translation of the Mohawk word “Schenectady,” is close to a carousel in structure, one that would not be out of place at that traveling carnival where we first meet Luke in an extended tracking shot. Round and round it goes, taking the audience on an exacting, circular up-and-down ride. Cianfrance, along with co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, lets the film linger in moments, allowing it a hypnotic, novelistic pacing.