2000 in Film

28 DAYS: painfully earnest, addiction-tackling piffle (2000 in Film #15)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of April 14th, Betty Thomas’ 28 Days

All things being equal, I should be talking about American Psycho this week, Mary Harron’s satirical and disturbing adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel. Yet, no, here we are with Betty Thomas’ Sandra Bullock starring drama 28 Days.

American Psycho didn’t even come in second place at the box office this weekend. 28 Days took that spot, in the slipstream of Rules of Engagement, which itself struggled on week one thanks to Erin Brockovich. Harron’s film even ended up behind Keeping the Faith, the Ben Stiller/Jenna Elfman romantic comedy none of you probably remember as much as 28 Days, which as Bullock vehicles go is hardly her most high profile. Christian Bale’s turn as psycho killer Richard Bateman deserved better on initial release whereas 28 Days?

The honest truth is that there really isn’t all that much to say about a film like 28 Days, which is about as earnest as the day is long. It is purely designed to give Sandra Bullock, an actor coming out of the 90’s known primarily for romantic comedies and as the erstwhile female foil for Keanu Reeves in (the brilliant) Speed and Jason Patric in (the less that brilliant) Speed 2: Cruise Control, something meaty to chew on. She here must run the gamut from entitled, perky alcoholic through to recovering victim of excess who *cue trailer voiceover guy* learns lessons about herself and the people she loves by the end.

Yes, it’s yucky. Yes, it’s sentimental. Yes, it’s vacuous and yes, you will feel like 28 Days have gone by come the end of the 90 minute running time.

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2000 in Film

ERIN BROCKOVICH: A relaxed but powerful American star-vehicle (2000 in Film #11)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of March 17th, Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich

Erin Brockovich was the first true success story of the year 2000. Not only was it heavily critically appreciated, with a celebrated and eventually Oscar-winning performance from Julia Roberts, it was also a remarkable commercial hit, netting a quarter of a billion dollars world wide and in the top 15 box office films, globally, of the entire year.

It was, in a very real sense, a trend-setter in that regard. This is Roberts at the very peak of her game as an A-list Hollywood icon, able to open a film on both her name and that of the character she portrays in this simple but effective David vs Goliath story, or as Albert Finney’s lawyer Ed Masry puts it “David vs Goliath’s entire family”, given extra weight and depth by its strong through-line of female empowerment. This isn’t just a gift of a role for an actor like Roberts, it’s also a charm of a character; a real-life, genuine modern heroine who fought the system and won, a tale director Steven Soderbergh and writer Jennifer Grant never embellish. It’s a remarkable story enough based on the facts.

For Erin Brockovich to make such a powerful dent in the global box office attests to multiple things at the turn of the century; the continued, key importance of star wattage to open a movie (Tom Hanks would pull a similar trick later in the year with Cast Away), a clear audience appetite for female-driven, progressive cinema, and indeed at this stage the desire for more than just rinse and repeat sequels. In the age just before the true birth of the franchise picture beyond certain cult sub-genres, Erin Brockovich is proof that true-life pictures with the right combination of talent in front of and behind the camera, strong word of mouth based on quality, and perhaps a reactive element against the emptier big-budget blockbuster could make bank. 

It undoubtedly paved the way for the mid-2000’s fusion of pop-culture blockbuster and auteur-driven drama as typified by Christopher Nolan and, indeed, Soderbergh himself. Erin Brockovich’s legacy is a strong one.

Continue reading “ERIN BROCKOVICH: A relaxed but powerful American star-vehicle (2000 in Film #11)”