Shadowboxer (USA; 93 min.)

directed by: Lee Daniels
starring: Helen Mirren; Cuba Gooding, Jr.; Stephen Dorff
Bruce says: "Mixed genre films are tricky business; they are difficult to carry off and equally difficult to digest upon a single viewing. SHADOWBOXER is a black comedy, thriller, romance and crime drama all rolled into one unique package. To first-time director Lee Daniels credit, he has created a film that is easy to follow and comprehend in spite of the obvious obstacles. The plot is very dense and Daniels manages to move things along without the whirlwind feeling of CRASH.

"Rose (Helen Mirren) and her step-son Mikey (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) are professional assassins who specialize in teamwork. The famous hit team is nearing the end of its career because Rose has terminal cancer and won’t be available for hits much longer. When a handsome but ruthless mobster (Stephen Dorff) orders hits on several of his key employees plus his pregnant wife, a third party contracts Rose and Mikey for the rub-out. Ever efficient, they enter the mansion and kill the employees with little effort. Rose wends her way through the large house finding the bedroom where Vickie (Vanessa Ferlito) is lying in bed. As Rose readies to fire, Vickie gets out of the bed, visibly pregnant. Suddenly her water breaks. Rose lowers her weapon and rushes to help Vickie. As Mikey arrives Rose orders him to assist in delivering the baby. His compliance is an act of love.

"The three adults flee the mansion and take the baby to a doctor friend (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The doctor and his nurse/paramour (Mo’Nique Imes-Jackson) make sure that all is well. Rose, Mikey and Vickie move to a remote location and create their own extended family. The only key to there whereabouts is through Neisha who is a friend of both Vickie and the nurse who tended to the infant’s needs. Telling more would ruin the viewing experience.

"Cinematographer M. David Mullen, most famous for his brilliant efforts on NORTHFORK, does a beautiful job of creating a mood that counterbalances the grim plot, giving the film a lyrical quality. The lyricism is enhanced by string instruments, solo and ensemble. Fear not, this is not a hit-man version of ELVIRA MADIGAN. Film editors William Chang (2046 and IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE) and Brian A. Kates (TARNATION and THE WOODSMAN) have a lot do with the film’s fine balance. Many scenes are filled with humour, violence and hip-hop jolts (e.g., raping the Virgin Mary) which keep the viewer on guard.

"Mirren and Gooding are true professionals; they make every one of their moments together believable. Stephen Dorff is a wicked villain, a role he has played before and should avoid less he become hopelessly typecast. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, astounding as the lead character in Greg Araki’s MYSTERIOUS SKIN, is an actor to watch, for he is equally good here. Mo’Nique Imes-Jackson is a hoot as the nurse.

"Lovely by-products of the central themes include the mixing of race and age among the various couples in the context of both romance and friendship. Of course, the key relationship in the film is that of Rose and Mikey. She is older and white; he, younger and black. In two nicely filmed lovemaking scenes she approaches him and undresses him. Whether her gestures are maternal or simply ritualistic – those patterns lovers slip into over time - we cannot tell, but they seem natural, uncontrived. My only wish is to have had some closer shots of them during some intimate moments where we only view them from afar. Rose’s parting gesture is to create a new family for the man she is leaving behind. Her lack of selfishness adds a moral undertone which keeps the otherwise very dark film afloat. 4.5 cats"