“CONDUCT UNBECOMING” (1975) Review

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“CONDUCT UNBECOMING” (1975) Review

Over four decades ago, 1969 to be precise, a play written by novelist Barry England was first staged at the Theater Royal in Bristol, England. Set during the height of the British Empire, England’s play focused upon an Army regiment stationed in India. The play became a hit and was eventually adapted into a movie released to the public in 1975.

“CONDUCT UNBECOMING” begins with two young British officers arriving in Indian to join a prestigious regiment. Lieutenant Drake comes from a middle-class background and is eager to make the right impression. Lieutenant Millington is the son of a General and does not seem enthusiastic over the idea of a military career. He plans to leave the Army at the first opportunity. While Drake manages to make a positive impression with his fellow officers, Millington antagonizes them with his cynical behavior, causing the other officers to dislike him. A military ceremony takes place, honoring the deceased members of the regiment and their widows, including Mrs. Marjorie Scarlett, whose husband won a posthumous Victoria Cross after being killed during a battle on the North-West Frontier.

Later that evening, the regiment holds a ball. The younger officers take part in a ceremonial tradition that involves the pursuit and sticking of a pig in the mess. Lieutenant Millington tries to charm Mrs. Scarlett, but is lightly dismissed. Later, the disheveled widow bursts into the mess, claiming to have been attack. She identifies Milington as her attacker. During an evening in the mess, involving the younger officers taking part in a ceremonial tradition that involves the pursuit and sticking of a pig, Mrs Scarlett runs in claiming to have been attacked, and identifies Lieutenant Millington as her attacker. Although he is innocent, Millington sees the potential disgrace as an easy way to leave the Army and return to England. He does not bother to cooperate with Drake, who has been selected to defend him at his secret trial. But when both men realize that Millington might suffer a more serious punishment other than a dishonorable discharge and Drake discovers that another widow had been similarily attacked six months earlier, the latter officer goes out of his way to clear Millington.

I have not seen “CONDUCT UNBECOMING” for a good number of years – over a decade and a half, to be exact. I recall being very impressed when I last saw it a long time ago. I still am – to a certain extent. But there were two aspects of the movie that left me feeling a little unsettled. One of them focused upon the movie’s setting. With the exception of the first ten to fifteen minutes, most of“CONDUCT UNBECOMING” was either set in the regiment’s mess, other exterior shots or on the cantoment grounds, which could have easily been shot on a sounstage. By the time the movie ended, I felt as if I had watched a filmed play. And I never could understand Lieutenant Millington’s original attitude toward the charges against him. I mean . . . this is the Victorian Age we are talking about in which women – especially white upper and middle-class women – were put on pedestals by men. I could understand Millington’s attitude if he had been accused of assaulting the other acknowledged victim in the story – an Indian soldier’s widow named Mrs. Bandanai. But surely he should have realized that he could have suffered serious repercussion for assaulting someone as cherished as Mrs. Scarlett, right off the bat.

Despite these shortcomings, I must admit that “CONDUCT UNBECOMING” is a first-rate movie. Playwright Barry England wrote a tantalizing peek into the world of British India that featured not only a psychological drama, but also a very interesting mystery and the damages causes by misogyny and racism (in the case of Mrs. Bandanai) that was rampant during the Victorian Age (as well as now). I feel that England created a murder mystery that would have done Agatha Christie proud. I also feel that Robert Enders did an excellent job in adapting England’s play.

The movie began with a great set-up of the mystery – the ceremony honoring the dead Captain Scarlett and the other men who died with him, intertwining with with the arrivals of Lieutenants Drake and Millington at the regiment’s cantonment. The movie also had a rather creepy scene that featured the younger officers engaged in the “stick-the-pig-in-the-anal” game, which foreshadowed the attack on Mrs. Scarlett later in the evening. But what I really admired about the film is that it did not make it easy for the audience to guess the identity of Mrs. Scarlett’s attacker. For that I am truly grateful. If there is one kind of mystery I cannot abide is one that gives away the culprit’s identity prematurely.

“CONDUCT UNBECOMING” also benefited from a first-rate cast. The movie featured solid performances from the likes of James Faulkner (who portrayed Millington), Michael Culver, Rafiq Anwar, Persis Khambatta and James Donald. Christopher Plummer gave an interesting performance as the intimidating Major Alastair Wimbourne. Although there were moments when I found his performance a little theatrical. I certainly cannot accuse Trevor Howard’s performance as theatrical. He gave an appropriately poignant performance as the regiment’s aging commander, who finds it difficult to accept a possible scandal within his command. Richard Attenborough proved to be equally complex as Major Lionel E. Roach, who seemed to live and breathe the regiment. I was surprised to see Stacy Keach in this cast as Captain Harper, the officer charged with prosecuting Millington. He did an excellent job in developing his character from the hard-nosed, blindingly loyal officer, to one who finds himself appalled by the possibility of a serial attacker. Susannah York gave a superb role as the enticing Mrs. Scarlett, who seemed first amused by Millington’s attempt at seduction and later, angry over what happened to her. But the film actually belonged to Michael York, who more than carried his weight as the main character. I was impressed by how he managed to dominate this film, while retaining his character’s quiet and reserved nature.

Would I consider “CONDUCT UNBECOMING” a classic? I do not know. I certainly would not consider it a candidate for a Best Picture nomination. And it certainly had its flaws. But due to its first-rate story, solid direction from Michael Anderson and an excellent cast led by Michael York, I still would consider it a very good story that is worth viewing time and again.

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“THE BOURNE LEGACY” (2012) Review

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“THE BOURNE LEGACY” (2012) Review

Following the success of the 2007 movie, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”, Universal Pictures announced its intentions to release a fourth movie featuring the amnesiac CIA assassin, Jason Bourne. However, their plans nearly folded when actor Matt Damon announced that he would not do a fourth movie.

Damon’s announcement failed to put a final kibosh on Universal’s plans. Instead, the studio and writer-director Tony Gilroy went ahead with another movie about the CIA assassination programs in which Jason Bourne had participated. Instead of bringing back director Paul Greengrass, Universal and Gilroy (who had written the first three movies) hired Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner to portray a second CIA assassin – Aaron Cross. With Gilroy in the director’s chair, the results led to the fourth movie called “THE BOURNE LEGACY”.

The movie’s title came from Eric Van Lustbader’s 2004 novel, but its plot is completely different. “THE BOURNE LEGACY” introduced a third black ops program called Operation Outcome. Unlike Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar, Outcome was specifically created by the U.S. Department of Defense and it enhances the physical and mental abilities of field operatives through pills referred to as “chems”. The movie opens with one of its operatives – Aaron Cross – engaged in a training assignment in Alaska. After Cross traverses rugged terrain to a remote cabin, he meets its operator, an exiled Outcome operative, Number Three.

During Cross’ time in Alaska, the Blackbriar and Treadstone programs are publicly being exposed (during the events of the previous film, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”), leading the FBI and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to investigate CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy, Blackbriar supervisor Noah Vosen, Treadstone clinical researcher Dr. Albert Hirsch and CIA Director Ezra Kramer. Kramer requests help from Eric Byer, a retired Air Force colonel responsible for overseeing the CIA’s clandestine operations. Byer, who had originally recruited Cross, discovers potentially damaging video on the Internet in which the lead researchers for Treadstone and Outcome – especially Hirsch – appear at professional functions in public. To prevent the Treadstone/Blackbriar investigation from finding and revealing Outcome’s top-secret scientific advances, Byer decides to end Outcome and kill its agents and medical personnel. He sees this sacrifice as acceptable because the government has already separately initiated next-generation “beta programs”.

Byer attempts to kill both Cross and Number Three by sending a drone bomb to destroy the cabin. Number Three is killed and Cross manages to survive, due to being outside when the bomb dropped. Byer makes another attempt to kill Cross with a second drone and unbeknownst to him, ends up killing a wolf pack. Cross learns of a massacre at Outcome’s private research lab, conducted by a chemically brainwashed scientist. The sole survivor is geneticist Dr. Marta Shearing, whom Cross later saves from CIA assassins. He hopes that Dr. Shearing can help him wean or “viral” off the chemicals and at the same time, save both of them from being killed by Byer and the Department of Defense.

When Universal first leaked news of a fourth movie with Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, I did not exactly embrace the idea. As far as I was concerned, three was enough. When Damon announced that he would not reprise the Bourne role, I felt a surge of relief. As much as I had enjoyed the third BOURNE movie, I felt it was a bit of a comedown after the first two movies. Then I heard news that Universal and Tony Gilroy was going ahead with a fourth movie . . . without Damon. Again, I dismissed the idea of going to see this new BOURNE movie, until I learned that Jeremy Renner had been cast in the lead. Since I am a fan of Renner’s, I decided to go see this fourth film. However, I did not believe I would enjoy it as much as the first three.

Like the previous three movies, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” is not perfect. One, I never understood the need for Tony Gilroy to create a third black ops program for the franchise. Considering that Treadstone and the current Blackbriar programs were in danger of exposure by the end of “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”, I was surprised that Gilroy did not simply make Cross a Blackbriar operative. In other words, I found the addition of a third black ops program rather irrelevant. Unfortunately, the movie also featured the continuing presence of CIA Director Ezra Kramer. His presence in the third movie struck me as writing blooper on Gilroy’s part. His presence in this fourth movie is a continuation of that blooper. For some reason, Gilroy decided to utilize Paul Greengrass’ shaky cam style of filming . . . much to my annoyance. My biggest problem with “THE BOURNE LEGACY” was the ending. I found it vague, rather sudden and anti-climatic. When the movie ended with Cross and Dr. Shearing somewhere in the South China Seas and Pamela Lundy in trouble with Federal authorities for revealing the details of the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs, the first words that left my mouth were “Is that it?”. As far as I was concerned, the BOURNE franchise required a fifth movie to tie up the loose plots.

Despite the ending, despite the continuing presence of Ezra Kramer and despite the Greengrass filming and editing style; I enjoyed “THE BOURNE LEGACY” very much. Who am I kidding? I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I would rank it second of the four movies. I feel that Gilroy did a slightly better job of meshing the plot from “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” with this film, than meshing the third film with the second one, “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”. A throwaway discussion between Kramer and Noah Vosen regarding Pamela Lundy in the third film finally came to fruition by the end of this movie. The movie also explored – during most of its 135 minutes – Cross’ difficulties in dealing with his dependency upon the “chems”. Like the other three movies in the franchise, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” featured some first-rate action sequences. My favorites include Cross’ use of the wolf pack to distract the second drone bomb from himself, the massacre at the Operation Outcome lab that featured a chilling performance by Željko Ivanek, and the long chase sequence in Manila, the Philippines. But my favorite sequence featured Cross’ rescue of Dr. Shearing from the CIA assassins.

The best thing that Tony Gilroy ever did for this movie was to avoid making Aaron Cross into a Jason Bourne 2.0. He did this by creating Cross as a completely personality – verbose, more extroverted and an acute judge of character. But what really made Cross worked as a character was Jeremy Renner’s performance. Some critic once said that what was the point in watching a BOURNE movie without Matt Damon. Well, the first BOURNE production I ever saw was the 1988 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain. And he was great. I also enjoyed Damon as Bourne, but . . . honestly? I did not really miss him, due to Renner’s performance.

The movie also benefited from Rachel Weisz’s excellent performance as Operation Outcome medical researcher, Dr. Marta Shearing. Weisz’s Shearing was a quiet, intense personality, whose ordered life was thrown upside down by her brainwashed colleague and later, the CIA. Weisz was exceptional in the scene featuring the CIA assassins’ murder attempt on her. More importantly, the actress and Renner proved to have a superb and somewhat humorous screen chemistry. Another excellent performance came from Edward Norton, who portrayed the ex-Air Force colonel Eric Byer. What I liked about Norton’s performance was that he portrayed Byer without the occasional frantic behavior that marked David Strathairn or Chris Cooper’s performances. Stacy Keach, whom I have not seen in several years, portrayed a high ranking Federal official named Mark Turso. I cannot recall ever seeing him in a villainous role (at least not to my knowledge), but I must admit that I found his performance very impressive. Oscar Isaac, whom I last saw in “W.E.” and “ROBIN HOOD”, gave an effective and subtle performance as the other Outcome agent, Number Three. It was nice to see Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn and Albert Finney again. But they were not on the screen long enough for me to judge their performances.

Like I had earlier stated, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” was not perfect. But I did enjoy it very much. And I am happy to announce that Universal has recently decided to green light a fifth film with Jeremy Renner reprising his role as Aaron Cross. His performance, along with Rachel Weisz and the rest of the cast, made this movie very enjoyable for me, along with a script that I believe was slightly better than the first and third movies. I only hope that the fifth movie will prove to be just as entertaining.