Ridley Scott 1937-
English director and screenwriter.
The following entry presents an overview of Scott's career through 2003.
Since the release of his feature film debut, The Duellists (1977), Scott has emerged as one of the preeminent and most commercially successful directors in modern filmmaking. Known for his visual excess and stylish special effects in such films as Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), and Gladiator (2000), Scott both embraces and subverts the traditions of large-budget, Hollywood spectacle films. His movies frequently present sweeping epic storylines—often set against the backdrop of fantastic environments or major historical events—that focus on isolated characters overcoming adversity. However, several of Scott's works, particularly Thelma and Louise (1991) and Matchstick Men (2003), have also been noted for their keen psychological insight and complex characterizations.
Scott was born in England on November 30, 1937, in South Shields, Northumberland, County Durham. During his childhood, he spent five years living in Germany, where his father, who remained an officer in the British Army after World War II, was posted. Scott studied painting at the West Hartlepool School of Art and later graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, where he studied advertising and graphic design. In 1965 Scott directed his first short film, Boy on a Bicycle, which was funded by the British Film Institute Experimental Film Fund. The short featured Scott's father and his younger brother, Tony, who also became a successful filmmaker, directing such films as Top Gun (1986) and True Romance (1993). After finishing Boy on a Bicycle, Scott began working as a set designer for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He became a director for BBC Television and worked on episodes of the series Z Cars in 1966 and The Informer in 1966 and 1967. In 1967 Scott founded the commercial production company, Ridley Scott Associates, which has produced several award-winning television commercials. Scott's first full-length film, The Duellists, won the award for best first feature at the 1977 Cannes International Film Festival. He followed The Duellists with the science-fiction horror film Alien. The widespread commercial success of Alien cemented Scott's reputation as skilled director, which has since been confirmed by the continuing success of his subsequent films. Scott has won a wide variety of awards and accolades, including nominations for best director from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down (2001). Thelma and Louise was nominated for six Academy Awards in 1991, winning the best screenplay award. Gladiator was nominated for twelve Academy Awards in 2000, winning best picture, best actor, best costume design, best visual effects, and best sound. Black Hawk Down was nominated for four Academy Awards in 2001, winning best editing and best sound. In 2002 Scott was knighted as an officer of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
Though Scott's cinematic oeuvre varies in genre and narrative style, one of the core continuing elements throughout his films is an emphasis on spectacular and atmospheric imagery. The Duellists, based on the short story “The Duel,” by Joseph Conrad, is set during the Napoleonic wars. The story follows two French officers who repeatedly cross paths over a period of fifteen years, with each encounter resulting in a duel of honor. After his foray into historical fiction, Scott turned to Alien, a film that blends two disparate movie genres—science-fiction and haunted-house horror. The action of Alien primarily takes place upon a vast industrial spaceship, the Nostromo. On an isolated planet in the future, the crew of the Nostromo finds an abandoned ship, infested with a strange parasitic lifeform. The parasite eventually develops into an enormous, acid-dripping monster, who methodically kills each of the crew members. In the film's conclusion, the sole survivor of the alien's attack, a female captain named Ripley, is forced to battle the monster. Ripley's fight is complicated by an android who works for the company that owns the Nostromo, who wants to capture the alien for military research. In his next film, Blade Runner, Scott again created a narrative that combines science-fiction with another atypical genre, the film noir detective story. Loosely based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner juxtaposes a traditional 1940s pulp fiction detective adventure with a visually stunning portrait of a dystopian American future. Set in Los Angeles in 2019, the film's protagonist, Rick Deckard, is a “blade runner”—a bounty hunter who is commissioned to track down a group of violent, runaway androids who are nearly indistinguishable from human beings. These artificial lifeforms—called replicants—are only constructed to live for four years at a time due to human prejudice towards their physical and mental superiority. The leader of the replicants, Roy Batty, has come to L.A. to find their creator and force him to let them live longer. In 1992 Scott released a director's cut of Blade Runner, which significantly altered the original film. In Scott's revision, he added additional scenes, removed narration from Deckard's character, and changed the film's ending to imply that Deckard is a replicant himself.
After directing the critically-maligned fantasy film Legend (1985), Scott released the smaller, more intimate suspense-thriller Someone to Watch over Me (1987). The film concerns Mike Keegan, a detective from Queens, New York, who is protecting a Manhattan heiress from a murderous stalker. As Keegan becomes preoccupied with the woman he's protecting, their developing relationship begins to threaten his marriage and family. Highlighting the contrasts between modern American and Japanese culture, Black Rain (1989) is an action-oriented crime film in which an American detective travels to Osaka, Japan, to track down a group of gangsters. Scott followed Black Rain with one of his most popular and controversial films to date, Thelma and Louise. Using the format of the road movie, Thelma and Louise presents a compelling portrayal of two female friends who feel trapped within their prescribed roles in patriarchal American society. The film opens with Thelma, an oppressed housewife, and Louise, a cynical waitress, setting out for a weekend fishing trip. The pair is sidetracked after Thelma is almost raped, and Louise is forced to shoot and kill Thelma's attacker. Fearing that no one would believe that the killing was justifiable, Thelma and Louise set off on a cross-country trek, planning to take sanctuary in Mexico. Though they are being pursued by a phalanx of law enforcement agents, the two women begin a multi-state crime spree to fund their escape. In the film's widely-debated conclusion, Thelma and Louise drive their car off the edge of a canyon to avoid being captured by the police, choosing to end their lives free rather than submitting to the will of others. In 1992 Scott marked the five-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus's “discovery” of America with the epic film 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Focusing on Columbus's struggles with government and church authorities to finance and outfit his voyages, Scott characterizes Columbus as a visionary pioneer akin to the astronauts of the twentieth century. Scott's next film, White Squall (1996), further develops his exploration of the perils of ocean voyages. Set in modern times, the plot follows a captain and his crew of juvenile-delinquent boys who learn discipline, bravery, and comradery when their sailboat meets a deadly ocean storm. Scott continued his emphasis on strong female protagonists—as seen in Alien and Thelma and Louise—with G.I. Jane (1997), in which a woman, Lt. Jordan O'Neil, aspires to become the first female soldier admitted into the prestigious Navy SEALS program. O'Neil eventually earns her place with the rest of the SEALS in combat after saving the life of the superior officer who had earlier brutalized her.
Scott revisited the genre of large-scale historical epics with Gladiator, which won the best picture award in 2000 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. True to its name, Gladiator is set in ancient Rome and follows Maximus, a betrayed former general, who is forced to engage in gruesome hand-to-hand combat in the Roman Coliseum for the entertainment of the masses. Due to his skill in battle, Maximus becomes a celebrity and uses his newfound fame to overthrow Emperor Commodus, the man who killed his family. Scott further explored the suspense-thriller genre with Hannibal (2001), based on the novel by Thomas Harris. Hannibal is the sequel to Silence of the Lambs—a Harris novel that also spawned a popular film adaptation—which features a young F.B.I. agent named Clarice Starling matching wits with Hannibal Lecter, a highly cultured doctor and notorious serial killer and cannibal. The narrative of Hannibal presents Lecter as a charming anti-hero as it constructs a final showdown between Lecter and Starling orchestrated by one of Lecter's few surviving victims. Returning to the military world of G.I. Jane, Scott directed the gritty war film Black Hawk Down, inspired by the nonfiction book by Mark Bowden. Based on a true incident and told from the perspective of multiple characters, Black Hawk Down recounts a series of harrowing events in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, when United States Army Rangers made a failed attempt to arrest a group of brutal Somalian warlords, resulting in a massive street battle. In 2003 Scott explored a new film genre—the con artist film—with Matchstick Men. The story revolves around Roy Waller, an incredibly phobic and obsessive-compulsive criminal on the verge of pulling off his largest scam to date. Matters are complicated when Roy's teenage daughter unexpectedly arrives and needles her way into Roy's schemes.
Many film scholars have come to a general consensus that Scott's films typically excel in the realm of visual imagery, but are often weak in narrative and character development. Critics have been overwhelmingly impressed with Scott's cinematography and artistic design—Blade Runner, in particular, has been singled out for its visionary representation of a crumbling futuristic world. Reviewers have noted how many of the elements in Scott's films—the creature in Alien, the final shot of Thelma and Louise—have become iconic symbols often referenced in popular culture. However, some have characterized Scott's visual extravagance as a symptom of his origins in commercial television, commenting that his excessive optical effects are stylish but lacking in depth and expressive significance. Thelma and Louise has attracted a wide range of debate regarding its central themes. Some have argued that the film is a feminist tale of female empowerment, while others have countered, claiming that the film uses the trappings of feminism to create an exploitative female-fantasy adventure. Commentators have also discussed the role of violence in Thelma and Louise, with certain scholars criticizing Scott for glorifying violence as a means of conflict resolution. Several critics have also faulted Scott's military films, G.I. Jane and Black Hawk Down, asserting that the films act as fascist propaganda for the American military complex. Others have disagreed with this assessment, however, and noted that these films present a balanced portrayal of the American military.
Boy on a Bicycle [director and screenwriter] (short film) 1965
The Duellists [director] (film) 1977
*Alien [director] (film) 1979
†Blade Runner [director] (film) 1982
Legend [director] (film) 1985
Someone to Watch over Me [director] (film) 1987
Black Rain [director] (film) 1989
Thelma and Louise [director] (film) 1991
1492: Conquest of Paradise [director] (film) 1992
White Squall [director] (film) 1996
G.I. Jane [director] (film) 1997
Gladiator [director] (film) 2000
Black Hawk Down [director] (film) 2001
Hannibal [director] (film) 2001
Matchstick Men [director] (film) 2003
*Scott released Alien: The Director's Cut, a revised edition of the original film, in 2003.
†Scott released Blade Runner: The Director's Cut, a revised edition of the original film, in 1992.
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SOURCE: Greenberg, Harvey R. “Reimagining the Gargoyle: Psychoanalytic Notes on Alien.” Camera Obscura, no. 15 (fall 1986): 86-109.
[In the following essay, Greenberg discusses the qualities of the central monster in Alien, rating it among the most frightening in film history, and examines the significance of the monster as a symbol of “capitalism's depredations.”]
I admire its purity … a survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality. …
Ash, Science Officer, the Nostromo
If Hair proclaimed the Age of Aquarius, Close Encounters of the Third Kind surely celebrated its last gasp. According to Steven Spielberg's vision, our troubles would be resolved by Aquarian consciousness-raising sessions conducted by relentlessly benevolent extraterrestrials. But then a stretto of disasters put paid to the aspirations of Woodstock Nation. Three Mile Island, the plunging dollar, the spectacle of the American imperium held hostage by shabby ideologues—these and sundry other narcissistic injuries refurbished our pessimism, setting us to brood upon apocalypse.
With the situation so grim below, how could we remain sanguine about the good intentions of celestial messengers? Through that obscure feedback process by which the cinematic dream factory...
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SOURCE: Fitting, Peter. “Futurecop: The Neutralization of Revolt in Blade Runner.” Science-Fiction Studies 14, no. 3 (November 1987): 340-54.
[In the following essay, Fitting explores the contrasting messages regarding the use and misuse of technology in the film Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel on which the film was based.]
My grand theme—who is human and who only appears (masquerades) as human?
Philip K. Dick, Comment (1976) on “Second Variety”
Is it still necessary to state that not technology, not technique, not the machine are the engineers of repression, but the presence, in them, of the masters who determine their number, their life span, their power, their place in life, and the need for them? Is it still necessary to repeat that science and technology are the great vehicles of liberation, and that it is only their use and restriction in the repressive society which makes them into vehicles of domination?
Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation
1. The look of the future in Blade Runner (1982) is what strikes us first of all about the film—a look unlike the high-tech visions of so much SF in its more realistic mix of technological advance and continuing decay....
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SOURCE: Cunliffe, Simon. “A Real Man.” New Statesman 115, no. 2972 (11 March 1988): 38.
[In the following review, Cunliffe explores the theme of the vulnerability of the family in the context of “the zeitgeist of AIDS-and-Reagan America” in Someone to Watch over Me.]
Ridley Scott's new film, [Someone to Watch over Me,] its title taken from a George and Ira Gershwin lyric, is a cracking good thriller. And, like other contemporary Hollywood movies, it filters its taut, suspenseful plot through the zeitgeist of an Aids-and-Reagan America—making comparison with Fatal Attraction initially irresistible.
Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger) is an NY cop from unfashionably suburban Queens: happily married; one child. He is one of the lads, a good ole blue-collar boy. So is his wife Ellie (Lorraine Bracco). Although she is not above worrying to her husband about her sagging bum, she can mouth off with the best of them and proves a dab hand with a revolver in a crisis. In contrast, Claire Gregory (Mimi Rogers), the sole witness to a brutal night-club slaying and whose protection is newly-promoted Keegan's first real assignment, is an aloof, sophisticated journalist. She lives in a luxurious apartment on the city's exclusive Upper East Side. The couple's enforced companionship traverses a path between hostility and passionate intimacy.
While, in this...
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SOURCE: Fisher, William. “Of Living Machines and Living-Machines: Blade Runner and the Terminal Genre.” New Literary History 20, no. 1 (autumn 1988): 187-98.
[In the following essay, Fisher identifies an emergent genre of “multinational, commercial avant-garde” films which he labels the Terminal Genre. Fisher comments that Blade Runner represents the highest achievement of this developing genre.]
The possibility of finding likeness in diversity has always been a safety valve on the critical apparatus—“when in doubt, subsume it under a rubric.” Now, on the other side of long debates on the subject in film studies, we understand “genre” to be a place where social experience (in the form of narrative conventions, audience expectations, and industrial practices) combines with the critic's act of “subsuming it under a rubric” in a mutually constitutive way. But the real use value of the idea of genre rests with its divisibility: as the cultural sphere continues to expand geometrically, it is always possible to generate new headings under which to marshal any film or films. Think of the recent critical interest in “cult films” or “midnight movies,” for which exhibition practices and audience constituency allow us a new generic subdivision boosting the enthusiasm of fans, the readership of film critics, and the box office of exhibitors.
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SOURCE: Ruppert, Peter. “Blade Runner: The Utopian Dialectics of Science Fiction Films.” Cineaste 17, no. 2 (1989): 8-13.
[In the following essay, Ruppert argues that Blade Runner is critical of the dominant social ideology in late consumer capitalism, observing that the film expresses ideological ambiguities which arouse the spectator's desire for an alternative to the status quo.]
Since first envisioned by Thomas More as an imaginary site that playfully maps out the possibilities for a rich and rewarding collective life. Utopia has been systematically undermined in its own form and survives today in a variety of grim and menacing visions (Orwell, Huxley. Zamyatin, and others)—visions that dramatically invert utopian images of collective well-being into images of collective dehumanization and collective extinction. Discrediting utopias as hopelessly naive and as potentially dangerous (totalitarian), these antiutopias or dystopias, as they have come to be known, see human possibilities in dark and despairing terms, and their overwhelming dominance today suggests that we have difficulty imagining our future other than in terms of some kind of catastrophe. In recent years, this corruption of Utopia, and the significant changes in social values and attitudes that it entails, has been especially apparent in science fiction (SF) films.
Films such as Alien, Blade...
(The entire section is 4484 words.)
SOURCE: Byers, Thomas B. “Kissing Becky: Masculine Fears and Misogynist Moments in Science Fiction Films.” Arizona Quarterly 45, no. 3 (autumn 1989): 77-95.
[In the following essay, Byers comments that Alien, Blade Runner, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers include several moments of “startling misogyny,” arguing that such instances of cinematic textual excess express “both the instability of male identity and the vulnerability of male hegemony.”]
The four classic science-fiction films to be discussed here—Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926), Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982)—are all marked by a common element: the presence of at least one moment of startling misogyny. These moments are startling in part because they involve either a narrative digression or superfluity, a stylistic deviation, or a violation of their films' prior encodings of the female. More importantly, each of them expresses an unanticipated level of male fear of or violence toward women, in response to a threat to men's powers of representation and control. What follows attempts to read in these moments of textual excess both the instability of male identity and the vulnerability of male hegemony.
This reading is part of the stream of response to Laura...
(The entire section is 7923 words.)
SOURCE: Cobbs, John L. “Alien as an Abortion Parable.” Literature/Film Quarterly 18, no. 3 (1990): 198-201.
[In the following essay, Cobbs asserts that images symbolizing abortion act as a central leitmotif of Alien.]
Ridley Scott's 1979 thriller [Alien] was greeted with no particular fanfare by the reviewers, and if there was a critical consensus it was that the film was at best watchable pabulum—reasonably professionally handled visually and enjoyably scary, but without significant nuance to qualify for discussion as art. Jack Kroll's comment was typical: “It's about time someone made a science fiction thriller that thrills, that has no truck with metaphysics, philosophy or theosophy and just boils everything down to the pure ravishingly vulgar essence of fright.”
Aside from its manifest violence, the only aspect of Alien that attracted much critical fire was what one reviewer called its “gratuitous sexism.” True to a two hundred-year-old tradition of gothic horror, the film relies for its most gut-wrenching effects on the spectacle of a helpless beautiful woman threatened with violence by an unspeakable, inhuman, but quintessentially masculine horror.
Significantly, one scene repeatedly mentioned as a “gratuitous” injection of voyeurism involves Sigourney Weaver's stripping down to her underwear just prior to a final attack by...
(The entire section is 2335 words.)
SOURCE: Dowell, Pat. “Black Rain: Hollywood Goes Japan Bashing.” Cineaste 17, no. 3 (1990): 8-10.
[In the following review, Dowell contends that Black Rain is an expression of American economic insecurity in the face of a perceived Japanese economic superiority.]
One of the many television news stories after the California earthquake in October 1989 examined Japan's quake readiness. There, if a temblor strikes, children know what to do “by rote,” according to the network reporter, who would have undoubtedly said “by heart” if these had been spunky American kids or Frenchmen or Laplanders or anybody but the next generation of profit-hungry automatons eager to increase the U.S. trade deficit.
The reporter also noted that Japanese sympathy for San Francisco quickly turned to boasting about their own (higher) construction standards for bridges and buildings and their widely espoused system of readiness that extends to anchoring office desks and home bookcases. Individuals, the reporter explained, are encouraged by ominous demonstrations of potential quake damage to “get with the program.” Another telling choice of coercive metaphor, this one military, it explains Japanese cooperation and superiority as imposed by authority—and suggests, in an almost subliminal way, that the Japanese have paid a high price in personality and freedom for their current...
(The entire section is 2076 words.)
SOURCE: Moore, Suzanne. “Sun Rises in the East.” New Statesman and Society 3, no. 86 (2 February 1990): 44.
[In the following review, Moore notes how Scott portrays American individualism in contrast with Japanese collectivism in Black Rain.]
Is it really fair to compare a film made in one of the poorest countries in the world with a ＄37 million production by one of Hollywood's flashiest directors? No of course not. But Yaaba, made in Burkina Faso, a country with no filmmaking infrastructure will have to compete with Ridley Scott's Black Rain. Such is the democracy of the marketplace.
In fact this week's releases seem deliberately chosen to highlight the inequities of “the system”. First we have the big boys. Brian de Palma's Casualties of War is another hugely expensive guilt-tripping Vietnam movie. Then there is Scott's Black Rain set in Japan, Yaaba from Africa and Piravi from Kerala in India. Yaaba and Piravi will, no doubt, be lumped together as “Third Cinema” though actually Kerala has a thriving film culture unlike Burkina Faso.
Yaaba, directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo, with its clear images, its wide open spaces and faith in storytelling is a million miles away from the cluttered frames of Hollywood. Yaaba means grandmother and the plot concerns the relationship between an old woman...
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SOURCE: Scott, Ridley, and Amy Taubin. “Ridley Scott's Road Work.” Sight and Sound 1, no. 3 (July 1991): 18-19.
[In the following interview, Scott discusses the filming of Thelma and Louise, the movie's role as a feminist film, and his future projects.]
Its high spirits and dazzling good looks notwithstanding, Thelma and Louise suggests that the situation of American women is dire indeed. When Louise (Susan Sarandon) comes to the rescue of Thelma (Geena Davis) and kills the man who's attempting to rape her, few in the audience feel that murder is unjustified. And when Louise rejects Thelma's suggestion that they go to the police with a despairing, “A hundred people saw you dancing cheek to cheek. Who's going to believe us? What kind of world do you live in?”, we know she's probably right about that too.
Opening in the US on 24 May, one day after the Supreme Court handed down a decision barring employees of federally financed planning clinics from any discussion of abortion with their patients (thus drastically curtailing access for poor women to abortion), Thelma and Louise has turned out to be amazingly prescient. In a society which punishes women for their sexuality, women's reproductive freedom is as tenuous as their legal redress against crimes of rape and physical assault. David Souter, the recently appointed Supreme Court judge who cast the deciding...
(The entire section is 2083 words.)
SOURCE: Abrams, Janet. Review of Thelma and Louise, by Ridley Scott. Sight and Sound 1, no. 3 (July 1991): 55-6.
[In the following review, Abrams comments that, despite Thelma and Louise's apparent celebration of feminine freedom, the film actually expresses an oppressive attitude toward women who “take their lives into their own hands.”]
Trapped in a claustrophobic marriage to carpet salesman and giant-sized infant Darryl, Thelma Dickinson is coaxed into joining her friend Louise Sawyer, a harassed coffee-shop waitress, on a weekend spree [in Thelma and Louise]. The trunk of Louise's car overloaded with Thelma's luggage, they set off in high spirits, stopping at a bar in Arkansas on their first evening. Thelma is picked up by bar-fly Harlan; when she rejects his advances he becomes violent, and Louise arrives in the parking lot to find her missing friend being raped. After a venomous exchange with Harlan, she pulls the gun which Thelma has packed for self-protection and shoots him dead.
The women flee, Thelma distraught and Louise shaken not just by her action but by some traumatic memory which the incident has stirred. Louise calls her boyfriend Jimmy to ask him to wire her life savings in order to fund her escape to Mexico; Thelma also calls home, to allay the anxieties of the (not too anxious) Darryl. Driving to Oklahoma City to pick up the cash, the women...
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SOURCE: Marder, Elissa. “Blade Runner's Moving Still.” Camera Obscura, no. 27 (September 1991): 89-107.
[In the following essay, Marder discusses the interplay between artificial and organic beings in Blade Runner and examines questions of filmic representation regarding the relationship between human spectators and visual technology.]
In the decade that has elapsed since Blade Runner's first commercial release, Ridley Scott's 1982 science-fiction film has been retroactively hailed as one of the most powerful and influential examples of cinematic postmodernism.1 Despite the fact that Blade Runner has achieved almost canonical status in the annals of film theory,2 the discomfort displayed by its earliest critics serves as a telling index of the film's subversive depiction of a posthuman condition. Released in the shadow of the cozy humanism of E.T., which treated the alterity of the extraterrestrial with the familiarity of a domesticated pet, Blade Runner alienated its original audiences. Most of the reviews were not overly empathetic. Critics were more or less in agreement with Pauline Kael who wrote:
Blade Runner has nothing to give the audience. … It hasn't been thought out in human terms. …3
Time reviewer Richard Corliss's rendition of...
(The entire section is 8150 words.)
SOURCE: Alleva, Richard. “Over the Edge?” Commonweal 118, no. 15 (13 September 1991): 513-15.
[In the following review, Alleva comments that Scott's skillful portrayal of two strong female protagonists elevates Thelma and Louise into “a cultural milestone.”]
Scarfed and sunglassed like Jackie Onassis, the two women drive their Thunderbird convertible through the Southwest toward Mexico. They chug little bottles of Wild Turkey whiskey, bang on wheel and dashboard to the beat of the country and western music that blares from the car radio, and sing along raucously when they're not making spontaneous whoops of joy. A casual observer might take these two for college students cutting a class on Friday for a long weekend at the beach. And, quite plainly, life must be a beach for these women. They're on the loose. Carefree. Frolicsome. Game for anything. Living on the crest of the moment. Happy.
Thus Thelma, who has just committed armed robbery. Thus Louise, who left a man dead in Arkansas.
Psychopaths? Not at all. Hardened criminals? Mere neophytes. Crazed feminists, as some of the critics of Thelma and Louise seem to think? Well, they do blow up a fuel truck because its driver got lewd with them, but when that outraged macho man proclaims them “bitches from hell,” the label just doesn't seem to fit. Hard-core retributionists in the sex wars would...
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SOURCE: Desser, David. “The New Eve: The Influence of Paradise Lost and Frankenstein on Blade Runner.” In Retrofitting “Blade Runner”: Issues in Ridley Scott's “Blade Runner” and Philip K. Dick's “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” edited by Judith B. Kerman, pp. 53-65. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1991.
[In the following essay, Desser explores how Blade Runner reworks motifs and mythic themes from John Milton's Paradise Lost and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, focusing particularly on the themes of redemption and transcendence.]
A number of critics have claimed that some of the remarkable power of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's stylish film adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, rests on the way it utilizes a fundamental mythic structure apparent in the novel, Frankenstein, and in many of its film adaptations: “the struggle with human facsimiles” (Strick 168). While this is certainly an important element in both Mary Shelley's classic gothic novel and Scott's genre-expanding science fiction film, it hardly exhausts the issue of the indebtedness of Blade Runner to Frankenstein. Shelley's Frankenstein itself borrows heavily from John Milton's monumental epic, Paradise Lost;1 in fact, Frankenstein is a...
(The entire section is 6822 words.)
SOURCE: Gray, W. Russel. “Entropy, Energy, Empathy: Blade Runner and Detective Fiction.” In Retrofitting “Blade Runner”: Issues in Ridley Scott's “Blade Runner” and Philip K. Dick's “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” edited by Judith B. Kerman, pp. 53-65. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1991.
[In the following essay, Gray notes that the plot of Blade Runner finds its origins in the hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1940s, asserting that the film is both energized by the traditions of, and contributes to the revitalization of, the detective genre.]
“You don't get anything for nothing, Sweetheart.” So might Sam Spade state the First Law of Energy. Spade's world-weary successor, Philip Marlowe, could add “You can't even break even,” a hard-boiled formulation of the Second Law (a.k.a. Entropy). Ridley Scott's Blade Runner suggests that the twenty-first century private detective may resemble Rick Deckard, a run-down, burned out bounty hunter.
Rick Deckard's Los Angeles of 2019 also is run down. Film reviewer Richard Grenier noted the signs (68). Animals are rare if not extinct. Manufacturers produce synthetic animals and, for outer space slave work, artificial humans. Bicycles glide through dim streets of what was our foremost automobile city. Steady rain suggests harmful atmospheric changes. Fire lights...
(The entire section is 4741 words.)
SOURCE: Matheson, T. J. “Triumphant Technology and Minimal Man: The Technological Society, Science Fiction Films, and Ridley Scott's Alien.” Extrapolation 33, no. 3 (fall 1992): 215-29.
[In the following essay, Matheson argues that Alien offers a pessimistic vision of man's relationship to modern society in the face of advancing technology.]
When Ridley Scott's film Alien appeared in 1979, critics were generous in their praise of the picture's technical merits but felt that however impressive its machinery might be, the film was less than an artistic or intellectual success. In the main, reviewers agreed with Jeffrey Wells that the film lacked depth and “lean[ed] too heavily on the conventions of horror films from the old days” (436). Typical was Vincent Canby who, writing in the New York Times, saw it as a “rather decent” but “modest” and “extremely small” movie and advised readers not to “race to it expecting the wit [sic!] of Star Wars” (C16: 1).
In scholarly journals, Alien has been examined more seriously, and from a number of perspectives. One article of particular relevance to this study appeared in 1982, when J. P. Telotte observed that pictures such as Alien (1979), The Thing (1982), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), and Blade Runner (1982) all contain life forms that serve as...
(The entire section is 6478 words.)
SOURCE: Wollen, Peter. “Cinema's Conquistadors.” Sight and Sound 2, no. 7 (November 1992): 21-3.
[In the following review, Wollen characterizes 1492: Conquest of Paradise as a re-evaluation of the myth of Christopher Columbus, portraying Columbus as a visionary maverick and national hero.]
Ridley Scott's film about Columbus, 1492: Conquest of Paradise revolves around the first sight of land after the long voyage. The screen is covered in clouds, which drift slowly away, like gauze curtains, to reveal a lush green tropical landscape, filled with trees, foliage and plants. Later in the film, Columbus recalls this image as one that will stay with him in all its vividness until his death. It is an aesthetic image, one designed to appeal to our delight in seeing. It is also an image with connotations of unspoiled nature, awakening in the viewer a presentiment of the destruction of the Amazon rain forest or the North American redwoods. It is an image which is certainly true to Columbus' own experience—his diary is full of expressions of wonder at the proliferation and verdancy of trees on the Caribbean islands. On the other hand, when he saw pine trees, which could be used for shipbuilding, he immediately switched into a different register, that of practicality and exploitation.
Although the curtain has drawn back to reveal the first image of America, we are aware that...
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SOURCE: Strick, Philip. Review of 1492: Conquest of Paradise, by Ridley Scott. Sight and Sound 2, no. 7 (November 1992): 41-2.
[In the following review, Strick comments that, despite a dull and plodding narrative, the cinematography, soundtrack, set design, and costumes in 1492: Conquest of Paradise are impressive and skillfully constructed.]
[In Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise,] Fernando, son of Christopher Columbus, recalls how his father proved to him that the Earth is round. Convinced on this basis that the riches of the Orient could be reached by sailing West from the Canary Islands, Columbus then sought Church support for his proposed voyage of exploration. Assisted by the priest Marchena, he is interrogated by clergy at the University of Salamanca in 1491, where he comes to the attention of Sanchez, adviser to Queen Isabel. The Church refuses approval until, backed by a seasoned mariner, Pinzón, and an influential banker, Santangel, Columbus gains fresh access to Sanchez, and through him the queen. Victorious over the Moors at Granada in 1492, Isabel is intrigued by Columbus' idealism and promises of further glory, and the royal consent is given. On August 3, 1492, after confessing to Marchena that he has no idea how long the voyage will take, Columbus sets sail with three ships, the Pinta, the Niña and the Santa Maria.
His two captains, Pinzón...
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SOURCE: Alleva, Richard. “Goodbye, Columbus: Ridley Scott's 1492.” Commonweal 119, no. 20 (20 November 1992): 20-1.
[In the following review, Alleva criticizes 1492: Conquest of Paradise as a confused production that lacks a unifying vision of Columbus and his achievements.]
Perhaps it was inevitable. Making a movie about Columbus for this year of all years was bound to unnerve any filmmaker. Yet it's impossible to forgive what Ridley Scott has delivered. 1492: Conquest of Paradise exudes desperation, panic, and the sort of hysterical rhetoric that is born of desperation and panic.
The soundtrack by Vangelis epitomizes the giddiness of the movie while greatly adding to it. The composer is not without ideas but brings no taste or economy to their execution. He aims to make of the musical idiom of the American natives (or at least the composer's imagining of that idiom) an aural world that first lulls the European intruders, then traps them in a nightmare. But putting a synthesizer into Vangelis's hands is like introducing Al Capone to the Tommy gun. In both cases, the sheer volume of attack leads to terrorization. No actor in 1492 is allowed to speak without competing with a swelling sea of sound. No patch of nature can be observed by the audience in silence. Given any visual cue whatsoever (a raised eyebrow, a sip of wine, a witty epigram, the fall of...
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SOURCE: Abbott, Joe. “The ‘Monster’ Reconsidered: Blade Runner's Replicant as Romantic Hero.” Extrapolation 34, no. 4 (1993): 340-50.
[In the following essay, Abbott examines Blade Runner and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as two texts that attempt to address the implications of artificial life.]
It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery.
—Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
The “bold question” to which Victor Frankenstein makes reference in the early pages of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the question of the origin (or “principle”) of life, a question that haunted, intrigued, and consistently inspired many of Shelley's romantic contemporaries to some of their greatest poetry and philosophic arguments. Her own husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, would himself propose the question only a year after his wife's novel was first published. In his Essay on Life he writes: “What is life? … We are born, and our birth is unremembered and our infancy remembered but in fragments. … For what are we? Whence do we come, and whither do we go? Is birth the commencement, is death the conclusion of our being? What is birth and death?” (172). Because I believe this particular inquiry to be the essential thematic concern of Ridley Scott's 1982 science fiction film...
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SOURCE: Kermode, Mark. Review of White Squall, by Ridley Scott. Sight and Sound 6, no. 5 (May 1996): 64.
[In the following review, Kermode describes White Squall as a dramatically flawed hybrid of film genres that is ultimately unsatisfying.]
Connecticut, 1960. Against his father's wishes, Chuck Gieg travels from home to join the crew of the school ship Albatross in Port St. George, Bermuda [in White Squall]. He is joining a group of 13 teenage boys who have enlisted for a character-building cruise under the command of ‘Skipper’ Christopher Sheldon. Early in the voyage, Gill fails to help rescue Chuck from tangled rigging ropes due to his fear of heights. The Skipper berates Gill and forces him to climb the rigging, causing him to wet his pants. During a stop at Antigua, the boys fail to bed a prostitute, and become drunk on stolen rum. The next morning, the Albatross sails without them, but returns when they have learned their lesson.
At Curaçao, the boys meet a group of Dutch girls with whom they party and Chuck enjoys a sexual liaison with Bregitta. Frank, however, is unexpectedly whisked away for dinner by his aggressive, wealthy father, with whom he rows furiously. Frank vents his anger by harpooning a dolphin, for which the Skipper expels him from the cruise. Gill climbs the ship's mast and rings a bell in his honour as Frank leaves. Back at...
(The entire section is 938 words.)
SOURCE: Shargel, Raphael. “Gender and Genre Bending.” New Leader 80, no. 15 (22 September 1997): 20-1.
[In the following review, Shargel faults G.I. Jane for paying lip-service to a strong female protagonist, while the film's overall tone is exploitative towards women.]
Halfway through G.I. Jane, Master Chief John Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen) interrogates Lieutenant Jordan O'Neil (Demi Moore) in a rather unconventional fashion. He ties her hands behind her back, slaps her repeatedly across the face and rams her body through a door. When O'Neil tries to fight back, the Master Chief, infuriated, pummels her with such force that she can hardly stand. Not since 1971, the year of Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange, has a mainstream movie dwelt so long over the spectacle of a male torturing a female. Nevertheless, at the end of this ghastly sequence members of the audience cheer.
G.I. Jane, a movie about military training, is the latest entry in a genre that includes popular patriotic hits like An Officer and a Gentleman and Top Gun. The twist here is that the central character is a woman, the first to train as a Navy SEAL. In an intense war game the recruits are playing, the Master Chief is acting the role of a vicious POW camp captain who has imprisoned O'Neil and her unit. But the Master Chief has other motives for beating the Lieutenant so...
(The entire section is 713 words.)
SOURCE: Ashley, Robert. Review of G.I. Jane, by Ridley Scott. Sight and Sound 7, no. 11 (November 1997): 42-3.
[In the following mixed review, Ashley observes that Scott's direction expresses ambivalence about the patriotic message in G.I. Jane.]
Lt. Jordan O'Neil works for US Navy intelligence [in G.I. Jane]. Her boyfriend is a high-ranking intelligence officer. Senator Lillian DeHaven is leading a campaign to force the Navy to allow women into their elite combat unit, the Navy SEALS. Needing to find a candidate who can get through the punishing training programme and still look good for PR purposes, DeHaven chooses O'Neil. She agrees and heads for the Salem training camp.
O'Neil's instructors and fellow trainees are extremely hostile towards her, especially Master Chief John Urgayle. At first she puts up with being treated as a special case, suffering humiliating practical jokes, but soon she shaves off her hair and insists on the same rough treatment as the men—treatment which has already broken several recruits. By coincidence, her boyfriend is ordered to monitor her case for the Navy.
Surviving the initial stages, O'Neil is put in charge of the trainees' first fake mission. They must take a tropical island post manned by their instructors, who will torture any captives they take. O'Neil's orders are disobeyed by a macho recruit and her unit is...
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SOURCE: Turan, Kenneth. “Russell Crowe's Muscular Performance, Stylish Battle Scenes and Rich Atmosphere Help Cut through the Shortcomings of Ridley Scott's Gladiator.” Los Angeles Times (5 May 2000): F1.
[In the following review, Turan offers a generally positive assessment of Gladiator, noting that the film spends “too much time on predictable plot twists.”]
Gladiator delivers when it counts—but then and only then. Like an aging athlete who knows how to husband strength and camouflage weaknesses, it makes the most of what it does well and hopes you won't notice its limitations. With someone like Russell Crowe in the starring role, it doesn't have much to worry about.
An intensely masculine actor with the ability to be as thoroughly convincing in a tailored suit (The Insider) as in a suit of armor here, Crowe has a patent on heroic plausibility. Whether it's as commanding general Maximus, adored by the armed multitudes, or a friendless man fighting for his life in a “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” plot, Crowe brings essential physical and psychological reality to the role. Even Spartacus himself might want to echo Billy Crystal's Oscar night wail of “I am so not Spartacus” after seeing what Crowe is up to here.
If Crowe is well suited to be this film's star, the same can be said for Ridley Scott as its director....
(The entire section is 986 words.)
SOURCE: Felperin, Leslie. “Decline and Brawl.” Sight and Sound 10, no. 6 (June 2000): 34-5.
[In the following review, Felperin asserts that Gladiator is Scott's best work to date, observing that the film functions as an allegory that expresses an implicit criticism of the contemporary American mass entertainment culture.]
The Encyclopaedia Britannica imperiously dismisses the Roman philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius as “a historically overrated figure, presiding in a bewildered way over an empire beneath the gilt of which there already lay many a decaying patch.” In Ridley Scott's magnificent new action film Gladiator the patch has become a serious infestation of dry rot that no amount of gilt, indigo or porphyry can disguise. The damage is carved on the performers themselves, many of whom seem to have been cast for their interesting facial scars as much as for their acting ability. As we watch the story—of Maximus (Russell Crowe), a Roman general demoted to a gladiator-slave who eventually revenges himself on the emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), murderer of Maximus' family and of his own father Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), and the ruin of Rome—it seems fitting that most of the awesome buildings we see are computer-or effects-generated. For all their seeming solidity, they're illusions standing in for ephemeral structures, projections of the melancholic...
(The entire section is 1170 words.)
SOURCE: Cooper, Brenda. “‘Chick Flicks’ as Feminist Texts: The Appropriation of the Male Gaze in Thelma and Louise.” Women's Studies in Communication 23, no. 3 (fall 2000): 277-306.
[In the following essay, Cooper argues that Thelma and Louise effectively undermines traditional Hollywood misogyny by appropriating the cinematic “male gaze” that has been utilized in the past to subjugate, objectify, and trivialize women.]
When Thelma & Louise (Scott, 1991) hit cinemas in the summer of 1991, it was met simultaneously with harsh criticism as well as enthusiastic acclaim by women spectators. In the years since its release, Thelma & Louise has generated such acclaim and controversy that Premiere magazine called it one of 10 movies that have “defined our decade” (“10 movies,” 1997, p. 63). The story of two women forced into a series of crimes and victimized by a series of men along the way, Thelma & Louise was denounced by some women critics for the “lunatic” portrayal of its female protagonists. Sheila Benson's scathing review in the Los Angeles Times described the movie as nothing more than “bloody, sadistic or explosive revenge for the evils men do,” and asked her readers: “Are we so starved for ‘strong’ women's roles that this revenge, and the pell-mell, lunatic flight that follows, fits anyone's definition of...
(The entire section is 11976 words.)
SOURCE: McDonald, Neil. “Dr. Lecter, I Presume.” Quadrant 45, no. 4 (April 2001): 59-62.
[In the following review, McDonald compares the novel Hannibal to Scott's film adaptation, noting that the film achieves a moral and dramatic complexity that is lacking in the novel.]
Filmmakers saving a major writer from betraying his own creation? Unbelievable! Not really, because this is what screenwriters David Mamet and Steve Zaillian and director Ridley Scott have done in Hannibal for Thomas Harris, the author of the original novel.
When the book was published in 1999 director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ted Tally—both of whom had won Oscars for Silence of the Lambs based on Harris's earlier Hannibal Lecter novel—took one look at the new work and bailed out of the planned sequel. So did Jodie Foster. It was not that Harris had written a turkey. Far from it, much of Hannibal is very good indeed, a combination of contemporary thriller and Jacobean tragedy with passages of near-cinematic writing that are a gift to any filmmaker. The problem was the resolution, where Clarice Starling, Harris's feisty heroine from Silence of the Lambs, becomes virtually the bride of Hannibal Lecter:
Hannibal Lecter, did your mother feed you at her breast?
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SOURCE: Thomson, David. “The Riddler Has His Day.” Sight and Sound 11, no. 4 (April 2001): 19-21.
[In the following essay, Thomson discusses Scott's major strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker, focusing particularly on Hannibal.]
In a recent interview for American television's 60 Minutes, Ridley Scott was about as enthusiastic as his gruff, laconic manner (and advanced age) would allow. He confessed that he was having a tremendous time, better than ever, getting up every morning to make movies. Could there be anything more fun in life? In fact, the man is 61; in effect, he seemed half that age. Is that the secret to carrying on in his very tricky business with his energy and panache—and with such pleasing results? Or are we observing a medium that promotes survival if a man acts half his age? And never gives a hint of that betraying defect—growing up—which is the one disqualification worse than growing old?
As one surveys the American film scene, it's hard to imagine that we will find ourselves celebrating 60-year-olds a decade or so from now. Age, experience and maturity are already anathemas; it can't be long before they cease to exist. People will remember Robert Altman as the last of an aberrant strain. More and more, the old are expected to behave like restless colts, or get out of sight. So it's quite remarkable to see the brindled veteran from South Shields...
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SOURCE: Newman, Kim. Review of Hannibal, by Ridley Scott. Sight and Sound 11, no. 4 (April 2001): 48-9.
[In the following review, Newman offers a negative assessment of Hannibal, arguing that the plot is not compelling and the characters are underdeveloped.]
Ten years after the consultations with serial killer Hannibal Lecter that led to triumph over murderer Jame Gumb, FBI agent Clarice Starling is involved with a bungled shoot-out that leaves five dead [in Hannibal]. Paul Krendler, Clarice's long-time enemy in the bureau, gains leverage over her as she is blamed for the operation. Wealthy paedophile Mason Verger, disfigured by Hannibal, is buying evidence—and law-enforcement officials, including Krendler—in the hope of taking revenge on his mutilator. Hannibal, on the point of being appointed chief librarian in an archive in Florence, writes a letter of sympathy to Clarice, who works on a scent on the paper to track him down.
Florentine cop Pazzi, investigating the death of the academic whose job Hannibal is after, is prompted by the FBI's request for surveillance tapes from a local perfumerie to identify the fugitive. Learning of the huge reward Verger is offering, Pazzi sets out to trap Hannibal, only for the killer to execute him in the same manner as Pazzi's ancestor, who assassinated Juliano de Medici, was despatched. Clarice, who had warned Pazzi not to...
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SOURCE: Stephen, Andrew. “War Comes Home.” New Statesman 131, no. 4574 (11 February 2002): 22-3.
[In the following review, Stephen criticizes Black Hawk Down for feeding into many dangerous American myths about foreign policy and military intervention.]
Even going to the movies is different here in the US nowadays. Waiting for the main film to begin last Monday, I watched two ads for soon-to-be-released films with gung-ho US militaristic themes. Then followed the silent invocation “God Bless America”, in appropriate colours, flashed up in huge letters on the screen. It reminded me of Fox Television's coverage of the Superbowl the day before: not only was there a staggering amount of patriotic schmaltz beforehand, but once the game was under way, statistics were presented by a frequently repeated little series of automated logos starting with what appeared to be a US soldier pressing a button.
It's all enough to make one feel very much a foreigner in America these days.
But back to the movie I went to see. It was the ＄90m blockbuster called Black Hawk Down—the chic film to see here at the moment (Dick Cheney, never in military service himself, held a private and hitherto unpublicised screening for friends), and one that made more than ＄60m in its first fortnight. It lasts 143 minutes, the vast majority of which are taken up by bombs, bullets,...
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SOURCE: Dargis, Manohla. “A Veteran of Epics Directs Smaller Men.” Los Angeles Times (12 September 2003): E14.
[In the following review, Dargis characterizes Matchstick Men as “a minor interlude between Scott's usual major endeavors,” noting that Scott seems more comfortable directing epic-scale productions.]
A self-consciously modest film from an immodestly talented director, Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men comes equipped with a major star (Nicolas Cage), a ripe second banana (Sam Rockwell) and the regulation pretty face (Alison Lohman).
The script was co-written by Ted Griffin, who hatched Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven and like the earlier film hinges on some likable grifters after a serious score. It has the sort of cheerfully amoral characters and zigzag plotting that should make it float, but in contrast to the Soderbergh, it merely drifts.
A natural-born filmmaker, Scott has a visual style that in its balance of pointillist detail and sweeping scale can complement whatever large-scale story he's chewed off or prove the principal salvation of weak material.
Equally important, the director has the confidence—or naive faith—in his ability to tackle difficult, unwieldy, seemingly impossible subjects. He's one of the few filmmakers working in Hollywood who can see into the future, as he did in Blade...
(The entire section is 895 words.)
Coleman, John. Review of Legend, by Ridley Scott. New Statesman 110, no. 2855 (13 December 1985): 30-1.
Coleman dismisses Legend as a “limp” Hollywood fable, noting that the film presents “[n]o coherent world of any kind.”
Corliss, Richard. Review of Legend, by Ridley Scott. Time 127 (12 May 1986): 98.
Corliss criticizes Scott as a “master of artifice,” arguing that Legend “is as simple as a bedtime tale.”
Frost, Linda. “The Decentered Subject of Feminism: Postfeminism and Thelma and Louise.” In Rhetoric in an Antifoundational World: Language, Culture, and Pedagogy, edited by Michael Bernard-Donals and Richard R. Glejzer, pp. 147-69. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.
Frost presents a discussion of Thelma and Louise as a postfeminist film.
Guthmann, Edward. “Matchstick Men Strikes a Nerve; Cage a Mass of Tics as Anxious Con Artist.” San Francisco Chronicle (12 September 2003): J5.
Guthmann calls Matchstick Men a “clever look at con artists” but comments that the film has difficulty balancing its comedic and dramatic elements.
Hofmeister, Timothy P. “Achillean Love and Honor in Ridley Scott's Black Rain.” CML...
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