6. Butterfly On A Wheel (2007)
Gerard Butler is Neil Randall; he has a job promotion on the cards. He also has the ideal family, with his wife, Abby (Maria Bello) and daughter, Sophie (Emma Karwandy). So, with a slick job in advertising, a loving family, and a lovely house in the suburbs. Neil and Abby have the perfect life.
Suddenly, Tom Ryan (Pierce Brosnan), a seemingly deranged kidnapper (Pierce Brosnan), abducts Neil and Abbey’s daughter Sophie. Tom demands that Neil and Abby withdraw all their money and savings from their bank account, only for Tom to burn the money and throw it off a bridge into a river below.
Tom plays puppet master, controlling Neil and Abbey, setting up various tasks for them to achieve, and testing his theory that people will do anything for their kids. Both parents do whatever Tom wishes as they fear for the safety of Sophie, with Brosnan’s Tom Ryan pushing the crazy dial-up to eleven.
The elaborate tasks keep coming, with little Sophie as a baby carrot dangled in front of two stressed-out parents. The stress and anxiety Neil and Abby feel from playing marionettes to Tom’s puppet master reveal their marriage to be more strained than expected.
The rules of the game become more complicated as Tom takes Abby away from Neil. As wife and child are both kidnapped, Neil heads to the nearest police station. Yet, Tom has all the angles covered, with the police telling Neil “to go home”, leaving Neil as a loose pawn in an ever-changing game of life and death. But Tom isn’t finished yet with Neil and has one final game to play: one last task, only this time involving murder— one final game to set his daughter free.
Butterfly On A Wheel (also called Shattered and Desperate Hours) is a pacy thriller with convoluted twists and an entertaining performance from Pierce Brosnan as a tortured kidnapper. Once the narrative reveals its hand, some may find the plot machinations too much, as if the film tries too hard to trick you. Nonetheless, Butterfly On A Wheel is an entertaining slice of hokum, well worth watching.
7. Spy Game (2001)
In 1991, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), a CIA operative, is caught during a mission and held captive in a Chinese prison. Classed as a “common criminal” by the Chinese, Bishop will be executed in 24 hours.
Back stateside, Bishop’s old mentor, Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), gets summoned by CIA spooks “to fill in a few holes” in Bishop’s professional background. Muir drags his heels in giving up information, with the film kicking back to 1975, and we see the beginnings of Muir’s relationship with Bishop – Muir, the experienced old hand, pulling the strings, with the more youthful Bishop as the hotshot protégé.
The narrative moves back to 1991. CIA spooks further scrutinise Muir, turning over his office in search of files on Bishop and tracking all of Muir’s incoming and outgoing calls from his office. They learn that Muir had been tipped off on Bishop’s capture in the Far East and had “played dumb” when questioned.
The action moves to 1976 in Berlin, Bishop’s recruitment into the CIA, before moving on to Beirut in the mid-1980s and their last mission together —Muir mentors Bishop with insightful spy talk about the “greater good” and the dangers of the game they both play. Back in 1991, aware that the CIA wished to burn Bishop, Muir plays a clever cat-and-mouse game to find a way to free Bishop from prison in China.
Released mere months after the tragic events on September 11th, 2001, war and terrorism in far-flung countries had come too close to home for cinema audiences, with Spy Game coming off a bit more far-fetched than intended.
Yet, Top Gun director Tony Scott keeps the story engaging. Muir’s cat and mouse/interrogation with the CIA spooks the most enjoyable aspect of the film. Robert Redford, resting on his fading matinee-idol looks, helps anchor the talky byplay as the film flips from different timelines.
Overall, Spy Game is an entertaining spy yarn. Brad Pitt and Robert Redford share some genuine onscreen chemistry, and the narrative flips work well, keeping the well-oiled story interesting.
8. Runaway Jury (2003)
You could easily be put off Runaway Jury by the poster, Netflix thumbnail or cover of the DVD, another courtroom drama, another adaptation of a John Grisham bestseller, another film packed with familiar faces populating tense courtroom scenes. Well, Runaway Jury certainly has some of that, but there’s more to this entertaining yet implausible thriller.
The actual court case is the ever-present hot topic of gun control in the United States. There’s an office massacre. Celeste (Joanna Going), the widow of one of the victims, hires attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) to bring a high-profile court case against an arms manufacturer.
Ruthless legal consultant Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) is on the other side of the courtroom. Fitch and a high-tech team behind the scenes, aided with hidden video cameras and insider information, tamper with the jury to get a not-guilty verdict for the arms manufacturer.
Also in the mix is John Cusack as Nick Easter, who seems to have his own agenda and is leading the jury. Another player, in cahoots with Nick, is Marlee (Rachel Weisz), who offers a price to both attorneys to deliver the desired verdict for the right price.
Runaway Jury takes you behind the curtain on how both attorneys pick their jurors—Wendell Rohr, who plays by the rules, and Rankin Fitch, who plays by his own rules. Hoffman’s Wendell Rohr is a real boy scout and being the “good guy” is the less interesting of the two attorneys. On the other hand, Rankin Fitch is the mean bad guy who will go to any lengths to win his case for his clients, including jury rigging, bribes and blackmail.
Roommates as far back as the 1960s, Runaway Jury was the first and only time Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman appeared onscreen together. Here, they both offer interesting characterisations: Hoffman’s Wendell Rohr, literally and figuratively repeatedly pointing the finger at the gun culture in America, is a more muted Atticus Finch, Hackman, in one of his last screen appearances, is the opposite, overflowing with bravado, and being the bad guy, gets a better slice of the dialogue.
Overall, Runaway Jury is a silly yet enjoyable thriller with star turns by an impressive cast and a barmy storyline.
9. Perfect Stranger (2007)
A few years after receiving an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, Halle Berry’s career became somewhat of a mixed assortment of terrible superhero films (Catwoman), an extended role in the second X. Men film, and a decent slice of action in Bond flick Die Another Day. A few years later, nothing much had changed, with Berry’s career shifting from preposterous thrillers (Gothika) to lame TV movies.
Just as preposterous was the 2007 thriller Perfect Stranger. Berry plays Rowena Price, a street-smart investigative reporter that the movies and filmmakers love – she cares about the “truth”. She enjoys drinks with the lads, a journalist who’ll go the extra mile for an exclusive story – enough clichés for screenwriter Todd Komarnicki to build his workmanlike screenplay around. But wait, there’s a twist ending. It’s not up there with Shattered or The Sixth Sense, but more mid-table, languishing near 2005 stinker Hide and Seek.
So, without giving away anything, the plot focuses on Berry’s Rowena Price trying to figure out who murdered her childhood friend Grace Clayton (Nicki Aycox). Grace was having an affair with Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), a powerful advertising executive, which only leads Berry’s sneaky reporter to take a job at Harrison Hill’s ad agency, peeking at his computer files, sharing kisses with him and searching for answers.
Also in the mix is Giovanni Ribisi, who plays Miles – a work colleague of Rowena’s who’s a dab hand with computers. Miles is also secretly obsessed with Rowena. He has one of those creepy shrines that serial killers have in movies, filled with jagged photographs and perverted imagery. Soon, Rowena discovers this creepy shrine with explicit pictures of Miles and Grace, leading her to believe that Miles has something to do with Grace’s murder.
So, the meandering plot continues, leading to a twist ending, which is the only thing anyone remembers about the film. Is it any good? Halle Berry is excellent throughout, with an assured screen presence and the best thing in the movie. But it’s the type of thriller we’ve all seen before. Yet even with its familiar tropes and clichéd narrative, Perfect Stranger is still an enjoyable thriller (and Bruce Willis is always great).
10. Urban Justice (2007)
Steven Seagal rose to fame in the late 1980s and early 90s with a string of classic action fare, including Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death and Under Siege. Yet, by the mid-1990s, Seagal’s star was seemingly beginning to wane, with his career dipping its toe into the direct-to-video market with 1998’s The Patriot. His film career survived briefly before Segal’s career plunged headfirst into the DTV market, where, with some notable exceptions (Machete), it has lingered ever since with career lows like The Foreigner, Out of Reach, and Attack Force. Among those turkeys was Urban Justice, if not a return to form, a reminder to audiences of what we liked about Seagal in the first place.
Seagal is Simon Ballister, whose son, Max (Cory Hart), is murdered. Simon arrives at his son’s funeral, rents a cheap apartment above an off-license, and begins snooping around the neighbourhood, searching for the truth behind his son’s murder.
Unlike other Seagal direct-to-video efforts from the period, Urban Justice is much more streamlined in plotting, with many more action sequences. Unlike so many of his direct-to-video efforts, where Seagal relied on stand-ins and obvious stunt doubles, in Urban Justice, you can tell that Seagal, and the filmmakers have tried to make an effort. Seagal is back to being a badass circa 1991; gone is the muddled storytelling and poor dubbing; Urban Justice is the best on offer from Seagal’s direct-to-video era.
With Urban Justice, imagine Seagal from his early ’90s heyday in Out for Justice, now a little more grizzled and beefed out in a cool leather jacket. Even when the cheap music score keeps reminding us that we are watching a film destined for the video store rather than the big screen, Urban Justice still entertains with its classic revenge plot, well-choreographed fights and Seagal turning in a seasoned performance.