Then Playing — Don’t Look Up; Paper Moon; The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Don’t Look Up (Adam McKay, 2021). Following the inspired The Big Short and the unwatchable Vice, director Adam McKay continues his run as a satiric auteur of lefty outrage with this onion skin–thin allegory of political indifference to the climate crisis. After an astronomy grad student (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a comet, the quick calculations of her professor (Leonardo DiCaprio) determine the interstellar object is on a collision course with Earth. The two desperately try to convey to the populace that the extinction of humanity is rapidly approaching, only to be undermined by the all-American everlasting gobstopper of willful ignorance, political intransigence, and callous greed. The comedy that drives Don’t Look Up is flat and insipid, too often built around characters that are generically cartoonish and ideas that are fairly obvious but that McKay treats as if they’re feats of scathing profundity. Only a late scene around a dinner table has any resonance, finally landing on something real and usefully insightful, even if the pathway to getting there is pockmarked with narrative dishonesty. The impressive cast spins furiously, most of them overplaying at every opportunity. Meryl Streep and Mark Rylance are especially egregious offenders. Lawrence is the only one who seems interested in playing a real person. That’s like sticking firmly to the rules of chess while every other competitor in the tournament is banging the pieces together like a pack of sugar-high toddlers, but bless her for trying.

Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich, 1973). Peter Bogdanovich’s enviable of streak of winners to start his directorial career reaches its finale with this warm, clever, nostalgic gem. Set in the nineteen-thirties, Paper Moon sticks close to nine-year-old Addie (Tatum O’Neal, fully deserving of her improbable Oscar win for the role), recently orphaned by the death of her mother, as she becomes the traveling companion — and, before long, sharp little partner — to a grifter named Moses (Ryan O’Neal), who just might be her biological papa. Working from a script by Alvin Sargent (an adaptation of the 1971 novel Addie Pray, by Joe David Brown), Bogdanovich keeps the proceedings snappy and yet always grounded. Addie is cunning without being implausible precocious. When she schemes against the comely gal (Madeline Kahn) who briefly claims a seat in their jalopy, the machinations follow the bluntly effective logic of a kid. Bogdanovich’s visual framing is expert, and the black-and-white cinematography, by László Kovács, is exquisite. A director with The Last Picture Show on their resume has settled the question of which of their films should be crowned as their best work, but Paper Moon makes for a stellar runner-up.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973). The cinematic equivalent of whisky tossed back past a split lip, The Friends of Eddie Coyle casts Robert Mitchum in the title role, a small-time crook on the verge of a prison haul for a rumrunning charge. Peter Yates keeps the storytelling lean and swathed in nineteen-seventies grime, leaving plenty of space for a murderer’s row of heavy-lidded character actors to snarl and slump their ways through the proceedings. I’m especially fond of Steve Keats’s turn as a irritable broker of illegal guns. He comes across as the founding father of the nation of the brashly exasperated where Denis Leary has long served as a brigadier general in the acting army. Mitchum is terrific. He carries the wearying weight of a lifetime of malfeasance that wasn’t particularly glamorous or lucrative and shows how desperation and resignation manifest simultaneously when it’s finally clear that all the remaining escape alleys are actually dead ends.

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