A weekend with Aaron Eckhart and his movies

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Aaron Eckhart in Olympus Has Fallen
Aaron Eckhart in Olympus Has Fallen. (Such gorgeous backlighting!)

After watching Olympus Has Fallen, I had an urge to revisit Aaron Eckhart’s movies again, particularly those which I have put off watching for various reasons. So I watched four of them in succession over the weekend.

He’s as handsome as they come, and I loved him as Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, even if he was overshadowed by Heath Ledger. So I really wish he acted in more films that weren’t, well, romantic drivel (Meet Bill, Love Happens), or box-office failures (Suspect X, The Black Dahlia, Towelhead). One The Dark Knight or even fairly successful Battle Los Angeles (enjoyed that too, another gripping thrill ride) is not enough to erase his box-office track record, or his penchant for picking films that don’t do well.

The Expatriate (2012)


When a former CIA agent finds himself suddenly targeted for termination, he is propelled into an all-out, frenzied run for his life with the only person left who needs him alive: the 15 year-old daughter he barely knows. The result is THE EXPATRIATE, a stylishly intricate, non-stop espionage thriller that unravels an international conspiracy. Starring Aaron Eckhart, Liana Liberato & Olga Kurylenko.

Movie Review

It wasn’t a bad film (an amalgamation of Unknown and Taken, I would say, both coincidentally Liam Neeson films), but the plot was rather confusing. I couldn’t tell who Olga Kurylenko was supposed to be; and when she was offed near the end of the film, I was like “That’s it?” Though I suppose you can think of it as a brilliant twist that she turned out to be the bad guy all along (until she suddenly tries to make amends at the end). It depends on perception, and whether you liked the film or not. Which I sort of did, except I had a major peeve: Why would the evil corporation here stupidly hire ex-CIA agents, who are bound to uncover their deep, dark secrets when attempts at offing them fail?

Aaron Eckhart and Garrick Hagon in The Expatriate (also known as Erased)
Aaron Eckhart and Garrick Hagon in The Expatriate (also known as Erased)

The plot also forgets itself sometimes, like the fact that Ben (Aaron Eckhart’s character) has been made unable to go back to the US ever again (though you could brush it off as him banking on them to revoke their decision due to his “great service” to the country). How were he and his daughter able to get through customs at the end? Did they carry their passports with them while on the run? (I suppose they could have dropped by their house to get it, since the evil guys are dead at the end, but in the film, they seemed in too much of a hurry to want to do that.)

And weren’t the parents of the victim in the evil corporation’s sunk ship — it’s too complicated for explanations, which is never a good thing — refusing to settle the compensation because their private investigators had dug up some dirt? But in the end the mother just accepted the evil CEO’s apologies for the death of her son. Huh??

Liana Liberato (whom I have never heard of before this movie, but will be watching out for in future) is mostly likeable as the daughter forced to go on the run with her dad. She has an insensible tantrum halfway through and stomps off, pretty much ensuring that she *will* get kidnapped and her father has to go rescue her, but though I was annoyed that this ridiculous trope came up, it is to her credit that I can understand where her anger was coming from.

The movie is intriguing, but overall, I felt it was just average. Maybe it’s just a problem of perception, but I never thought of Aaron Eckhart as a rugged hero. He just doesn’t have the look for it, unlike, say, Liam Neesom. He works fine as an army captain commanding people and shooting at aliens (like in Battle Los Angeles), or an intelligent, cunning avenger (The Dark Knight), but for me, never someone who goes around beating up people.

(I did spend the film thinking that he would make a great dad in real life though.)

See for yourself when you rent or buy it here.

Thank You for Smoking (2005)


Satirical comedy follows the machinations of Big Tobacco’s chief spokesman, Nick Naylor, who spins on behalf of cigarettes while trying to remain a role model for his twelve-year-old son.

Movie Review

I’ve had this gem for years, but never got around to watching it until yesterday. Am a little regretful that I didn’t watch it earlier, because it was smart and funny! But I doubt I would have gotten what it was saying as clearly if I had watched it as a teenager.

Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, a charismatic smooth talking lobbyist for the tobacco companies who helps them defend their evils, while still trying to be a role model for his son. Despite his morally reprehensible actions, he still remains likeable — and that’s how cleverly the script and his characterisation have been written.

Aaron Eckhart as tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor in Thank You for Smoking
Aaron Eckhart as tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor in Thank You for Smoking

The film has a humorous style to it: freeze-frames, voiceovers, use of strange tableaus (borrowing a little from Wes Anderson’s style), a nice sunny gradient that gives it a bright feel — all which contribute to the dark humour of a film which advocates smoking (and other vices) and dismisses their ills, even after Nick is attacked by unknown assailants in the middle of the movie and slapped with so many nicotine patches that he nearly dies. To the end, he remains reprehensible by offering his services to socially irresponsible companies, simply because that is what he is best at doing, but audiences will be hard-pressed not to be glad that he got a happy ending.

I had no idea before watching it that this was Jason Reitman’s first film! (He’s best known for Juno and Up in the Air, but he also directed Young Adult, Tully and The Front Runner.) Honestly, with all the crackpot but twistedly brilliant rubbish he had Nick Naylor spout in the movie, he could have worked for the tobacco companies himself.

See its brilliance when you rent it or buy it here.

Rabbit Hole (2010)


Becca and Howie Corbett are a happily married couple whose perfect world is forever changed when their young son, Danny, is killed by a car. Becca, an executive-turned-stay-at-home mother, tries to redefine her existence in a surreal landscape of well-meaning family and friends. Painful, poignant, and often funny, Becca’s experiences lead her to find solace in a mysterious relationship with a troubled young comic-book artist, Jason — the teenage driver of the car that killed Danny. Becca’s fixation with Jason pulls her away from memories of Danny, while Howie immerses himself in the past, seeking refuge in outsiders who offer him something Becca is unable to give. The Corbetts, both adrift, make surprising and dangerous choices as they choose a path that will determine their fate.

Movie Review

Based on the play by David Linsay-Abaire, this is a beautifully shot, character-driven film about a couple coming to terms with the death of their four-year-old son in a car accident. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart give understated, and therefore powerful and moving performances as Becca and Howie, which aptly convey how grief sneaks up on you whenever you think you have gotten it under control and boil over in a howling moment of sadness.

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as grieving parents Becca and Howie in Rabbit Hole
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as grieving parents Becca and Howie in Rabbit Hole

There are occasional funny moments too, like when Howie smokes pot with Sandra Oh’s character and then sits through group therapy looking dazed. He even giggles during a couple’s heartfelt confession, to the ire of everyone else. (That was, for lack of a better word, simply and frankly adorable.) But when he gets home, his mood blackens immediately when he realises that Becca has deleted a video of their son from his phone — accidentally, but he doesn’t think so — and he has a fight with her about how he feels she is trying to erase all traces of their son from their lives. It was very human, very real, and I felt for it more than I thought I would.

(On another note: how did John Cameron Mitchell go from directing Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus, which explore sexuality so unabashedly, to Rabbit Hole and ads for Dior?)

Rent it or buy it here.

Possession (2002)


Roland Michell is an American scholar trying to make it in the difficult world of British Academia. He has yet to break out from under his mentor’s shadow until he finds a pair of love letters that once belonged to one of his idols, a famous Victorian poet. Michell, after some sleuthing, narrows down the suspects to a woman not his wife, another well known Victorian poet. Roland enlists the aid of a Dr. Maud Bailey, an expert on the life of the woman in question. Together they piece together the story of a forbidden love affair, and discover one of their own. They also find themselves in a battle to hold on to their discovery before it falls into the hands of their rival, Fergus Wolfe.

Movie Review

I’ve known of this film for some time — its synopsis got me interested in the book by A.S. Byatt (though not in watching the movie. Hmmm), after which I found out it won the 1990 Booker Prize. But in the end, I still got around to watching the film first.

I don’t think research plays very well on screen. Much as I love Aaron Eckhart, I found myself very unconvinced by his and Gwyneth Paltrow’s modern day characters (and lack of chemistry), and I prefer their period counterparts played by Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle, whose characters had more emotion. I think the book would have been much better in exploring the intricacies of the story and their relationships. But books usually do that better anyway.

Want to see it anyway? Rent it or buy it here.

This is how cheesy movie trailers used to be in the early 2000s.