Then Playing — Free Guy; Attica; Inside Daisy Clover

Free Guy (Shawn Levy, 2021). This high-concept comedy about the dawning sentience of a non-player, bystander character in a Grand Theft Auto–style video game is inane chaos. Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, who evolves into heroism from his assigned role of bank robbery casualty, with his trademark cartoonish affability tinged with snark. That Reynolds is perpetually game for whatever antics are hurled at him doesn’t make his schtick any less tedious. Free Guy is built on familiar beats of progress and setback until the bombastic finale that relies on cheap corporate synergy to load in pop culture signifiers in place of actual invention. To a degree that’s almost startling, even in this time of pervasive major studio indifference to art, the whole endeavor is product posing as cinema. Shawn Levy directs capably and anonymously.

Attica (Stanley Nelson, 2021). Stanley Nelson’s crafts a measured, densely detailed documentary about the 1971 inmate uprising at Attica Correctional Facility, located in the Western portion of New York state. Combining ample archival footage with modern-day interviews with people associated with the incident — including incarcerated participants and family members of prison personnel who were taken hostage — Nelson meticulously tracks through the five days the prison was held by men protesting the abusive treatment they received at the hands of guards and, really, the prison apparatus overall. Nelson could easily bring his own politicized rage to bear on the material, but he largely operates with restraint, correctly confident that the bare facts are enough to clarify the viciousness of the state’s response and the blatant bigotry that informed it. The film doesn’t flinch in its depictions, which means it gets especially tough to watch in the latter portion, after officials regained control of the facility and acted with wrathful cruelty. Attica is a vital act of preservation, showing how justice can be a veneer for retribution.

Inside Daisy Clover (Robert Mulligan, 1965). Set in the nineteen-thirties, this surprisingly tough-minded drama follows Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood), a teenage girl from an impoverished background on the Santa Monica boardwalk, as she ascends the treacherous ladder of showbiz success. Working from Gavin Lambert’s screenplay adaption of his own novel, Robert Mulligan gives the familiar saga real zest on screen, sometimes through lively staging spiked with satiric intent and more often by simply letting Wood cut loose in the title role. She’s flinty and shrewd as her character goes through a tumbledown existence, even after elevated to calculated fame as a Hollywood ingenue. Inside Daisy Clover also boasts a small parade on dandy supporting performances, led by Ruth Gordon, as Daisy’s off-kilter mother, and Christopher Plummer, beaming menace as the studio boss who shepherd’s Daisy’s career. The film also features Robert Redford’s first eye-catching role in a major feature, and it’s remarkable to see how decisively he could deliver the easy charm of a movie star turn right from the jump.

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