Black Hawk Down

"Black Hawk Down" (2001)
A common complaint about Scott's career is that he's nothing more than a technician; that his films, while handsome, frequently lack soul. We don't always buy that posit, but a viewing of "Black Hawk Down" certainly gave us pause. The photography by Krzysztof Kieslowski collaborator Slawomir Idziak is astounding, and Pietro Scalia's cutting is world-class, but Scott can't decide if he wants to make an aesthetic marvel or an immersive docudrama, and the two cancel each other out. His storytelling instincts, normally so good, fail him completely, and it's almost impossible to follow the film's geography, or to distinguish between the starry cast — only Eric Bana, fresh from "Chopper," makes an impression. Even putting aside the film's deeply questionable shoot-em-up politics, it's a curiously uninvolving film, overdosing on bluster and bravado, but without truly engaging with the audience. [D+]

Matchstick Men

"Matchstick Men" (2003)
When people say that Nicolas Cage lost his way after his enjoyable Jerry Bruckheimer-produced '90s action flicks (which he did), they fail to take into account his strong turn in this sharp, fast and engaging con man/father-daughter tale. The actor's mannered and manic character, hounded by phobias, struggles throughout the picture, with Cage portraying a wonderfully nuanced inner conflict. His empathy for his newfound daughter is at odds with his inherent neuroticism, and his fierce, on-the-ball skills of deception. Sam Rockwell is aces as usual, and Alison Lohman still bears the burden of this stellar performance she hasn't been able to top. The contrivance at the end does make the picture feel a little slight, but it's an absorbing, taut and well-written ride, and one of the director's most underrated pictures. [B]

Kingdom Of Heaven

"Kingdom of Heaven" (2005)
You may think you've seen, and been disappointed by "Kingdom of Heaven," but you haven't had the full experience of just how tedious it can be until you get into the protracted director's cut. Yes, the extra 45 minutes restores entire plotlines and gives the film room to breathe, but it also just makes the slog of an experience (who cares if inherently dull gaps are filled) even longer. Yes, Edward Norton courageously plays his non-existent character behind a mask the entire length of the picture. Congratulations? Hopefully one day we'll see a Final Cut with Bore-lando Bloom's performance digitally removed and replaced by Paul Bettany, Scott's first choice for the part; there's a reason that Bloom hasn't toplined a new blockbuster in five years. Deeply flawed, it's like the more solemn, vastly less entertaining version of "Gladiator," with a completely shallow theme of faith that feels empty. Original version [D], Director's Cut [C-]

A Good Year

"A Good Year" (2006)
This 2006 picture is perhaps Scott's most fascinating work, if only because it seems to swim against the tides of his basic intuitions and the very fiber of his nature. Putatively a romantic comedy, the picture is actually more of a character study about a tried-and-true asshole (a British investment broker) who eventually discovers he has a soul when he inherits his uncle's French chateau and vineyard — the very place where he spent his childhood and a locale that contains his most cherished memories. The movie is a complete 180 from everything the filmmaker has ever made because, for once, he shies away from genre and actually tries to dig for some true humanity. So on paper, we ideologically love this film and it's actually quite entertaining and engaging for its first hour or even more. It's great to see Scott attempting something different and succeeding, at least early on. But sadly, it cannot resist some pretty bad pedestrian cliches in its devolving third act and the romance between Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard, which only really comes to the forefront in the last half of the second act, is remarkably unbelievable and superficial. It's also extraordinarily notable for being one of the few films that make otherwise excellent actresses like Cotillard and Abbie Cornish seem completely talentless. [C]