Ridley Scott

Recently social media was ablaze with two topics: Russia invading Ukraine and people praising a sequence from West Side Story (the Spielberg version). It was weird. I have nothing to say about the war happening in Ukraine. I do, however, have a few things I’d like to share about the odd “can-you-believe-this-Spielberg-guy?” thing that was happening.

First and foremost this notion of an artist being mainstream and popular somehow taking away from their talent and contributions is bizarre. It’s been going on forever and it makes no sense. The fact that filmmakers and Twitter trolls alike were staring slack-jawed at a sequence from West Side Story is not surprising. The fact that nearly all of them had to then try and wrap their minds around the thought that Steven Spielberg made it happen is maddening. The man has been making amazing motion pictures for forty years. He’s successful, he wins awards, everyone watches his movies. I know it’s the Internet but, come on people, start making sense!

So in this vein I’d like to take a moment to write about Sir Ridley Scott. A few months ago I was shocked to discover that he was the director of House of Gucci. For no reason other than The Last Duel had already come out and he is the director of that, as well. I’ve yet to see House of Gucci but I feel confident in saying most directors will never have a year where they have two films of this caliber appear. Ever.

Ridley Scott is probably more similar to Steven Spielberg than any other living director. They make huge films. They work constantly. Their films never reflect the effort put into making them. Perhaps this does not seem like an accomplishment but if you watch a lot of films, especially large budget films, it becomes apparent how difficult it is to make big and beautiful look effortless.

As I said Mr. Scott had two films come out this past year and, pandemic aside, neither of them fared very well. The reviews were mixed, people said little about The Last Duel until it was out of theaters and House of Gucci was given a lot of flack. Having seen The Last Duel all I can say is that audiences are incredibly spoiled. If this film had come out in 1992 people would never stopped talking about it. It is a wonderful film with fantastic performances and an it is done on an enormous scale. The only positive thing I read about the film was that “all of the money was right there on the screen”. As though it looking expensive (or that the production was lavish) was all it has going for it.

I like to try and spread the good word when I can and in this particular case I’d like to call attention to the numerous films of Ridley Scott that should receive more love and attention than they do.

To begin:

The Duelists

Full disclosure I have not seen this film. I know. This is a bold move on my part. I am including it (and starting with it) based off of a video I watched on the Corridor Crew channel. In this episode they spoke with a swordsman (I’m keeping this title!) who said this is one of the best films about sword fighting ever made. You should watch this episode as the insights into what makes a good sword fight and why this film is excellent should be seen and heard by all (they also praise Troy which makes me happy).

Black Rain

I am not sure the last time I watched this film, it’s been probably thirty years. I am sure there are aspects of it that have not aged well at all. What do I remember? Andy Garcia as the young reckless police officer who is beheaded in front of his partner. Michael Douglas being Michael Douglas. Motorcycles. Beautiful night-time images.

Maybe there is nothing more to this film than what I can remember. What I do remember is so vivid and colorful that I believe it to be worth watching.

Black Hawk Down

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Black Hawk Down. I did not expect to love it. I certainly did not see it when it came out. When did it come out? 2001. The same year that Hannibal, by Ridley Scott, was released. Which happened to be one year after Gladiator. What kind of energy drink was Mr. Scott consuming during this period? Hannibal is by far the smallest of the three pictures and I think for most directors it would be considered a “big” movie.

Black Hawk Down strikes me as being such a complicated film to make. So many actors and sequences and locations. So many things to organize and move and prepare. From a logistical perspective it must of have been incredibly difficult. As a film? It’s an easy watch. You quickly get a sense of the main characters and what they are about. Even during some of the craziest action sequences you know where you are and where the characters are. It’s impressive. Simply put: this film works.

I try not to delve into the world of Rotten Tomato scores and box office revenue when talking about films (now, I used to try and it was a mistake). It may have been well received on all fronts. What I remember was hearing quite a lot about Hannibal (and seeing that in the theater) and hearing little to nothing about this film. There was a lot of talk about the make up and prosthetics used on Gary Oldman in Hannibal and not so much about the intense crashes and firefights in this film. It feels familiar to what happened with Mr. Scott’s films this year and I find that strange.

Kingdom of Heaven

This is another film that I have not seen. In trying to recall why I did not watch it at its release I have two thoughts: 1) Alexander had come out the year before and was savaged. There was a general sense of these epics being overblown and not good. 2) Orlando Bloom burnout. After the Lord of The Rings and Pirates of the Caribean Films (and all of the tabloid nonsense) there was a feeling of needing a break from Mr. Bloom (at least for me).

This is another film that Mr. Scott released a director’s cut of and I can’t help but wonder if that did not hurt its reputation as well. I have no doubt that watching this film will be a masterclass in all aspects of filmmaking, I’ve just not done it yet.

A Good Year

A great example of what happens when a director subverts expectations, A Good Year is a lovely film that people do not seem to respond to. I don’t get it. The scale is small, the performances as wonderful – there is nothing to find fault with in this movie.

I’m not sure how faithful an adaptation this is to the book, the could be part of the issue. As I have not read the book I am not burdened with this problem. Of the many wonderful things in this film I find Russel Crowe to be my favorite. He has not played many roles like this and it is wonderful to see him play a relatively normal person (Rough Magic, Breaking Up, The Sum of Us and Mystery Alaska are other films where he shines in a “normal” role).

I am not sure if there is a definitive Ridley Scott movie. I am sure for some people it would be something from the Alien franchise. For me I tend to equate it with larger productions with multiple locations and violence. Neon signs. This film has none of those things. It’s lovely though and quite human.

Body of Lies

This is a film I want to watch whenever I see the poster or icon on a streaming service. I want to watch it right now looking at this poster. I think it is an incredible movie that was largely ignored. Made just before Leonardo DiCaprio began his interesting run of films starting with Inception, it sees him playing a role he had not really done before. That coupled with Russel Crowe in yet another atypical role makes for an interesting combination.

I love this film because it does not take a side on the issue of terrorism or how a country should respond to it. Perhaps this is why it was not well received. I think if you watch this film with an open mind you’ll find that the Russel Crowe character makes as many valid points as the Leonardo DiCaprio character does. I think if you are really paying attention you’ll see that Mark Strong’s character might make the most sense of all.

So what does all of that nonsense mean? This is such a well-made film. It’s divided into sections that could feel unrelated to one another but don’t. Whereas the different sections of The Hurt Locker feels like different films with some of the same characters, Body of Lies manages to maintain several threads of plot while veering off into different directions. The first twenty minutes feel nothing like the section with the blossoming love story. Russel Crowe with his family, which is truly like something on Mars, is grounded in the reality of what all of the characters are dealing with. The film is cleverly constructed and the characters, though typically apart, are always connected.

I think this is one of Ridley Scott’s best films and it amazes me that it does not receive more praise or attention.

Robin Hood

This film is another great example of people bringing their own baggage to a movie and ruining their good time. I tried to watch this with my wife, who grew up on Errol Flynn, and it failed miserably. I think we made it twenty minutes before she paused it to explain everything wrong with the movie. A few weeks later I watched it alone and thought it was great.

Again, it’s Ridley Scott, so the sections that are big and battle-filled are absolutely in his wheel-house. Cate Blanchett is wonderful as always. Russel Crowe delivers. The story isn’t the same as every other version of Robin Hood, which is a good thing. In many ways this is similar to Guy Ritchie’s version of Sherlock Holmes. It is not a familiar retread and if you go in expecting something different I believe you will be pleasantly surprised.

This post took on a life of its own. What began with my confusion regarding people on the Internet reacting to Steven Spielberg became a mini-appreciation post of Ridley Scott. I did not see that coming. I am glad it did, as seeing the comments and reviews of his most recent films I could not help but feel people have begun dismissing his works. To operate at the highest level as an artist – which I believe both Mr. Scott and Mr. Spielberg do and have done for a long time, tends to bring expectations and a sense of familiarity to the work. It feels similar to when spectators become accustomed to the excellence of professional athletes and take their weekly feats as something to be expected.

If anything I am glad to have written these words as a reminder to myself. I continually watch new and lauded films and television shows. Many of them disappoint. Many are chasing trends or fads and they feel lesser because of it. I am happy to reminded of these filmmakers and their films because they stand outside of these trends and they rarely disappoint.

Author: John Ryan Sullivan

I am a writer and filmmaker.

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