Friday, April 17, 2009

Aleksi Mäkelä's Vares: Private Eye (2004)

An interesting trend appeared in both films made and in film criticism after Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994): Troy Duffy (Boondock Saints (1999)) and Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)), for example, probably had an easier time getting his respective film green-lit; and respectable film critics and super-geeky film people, such as myself, were quick to note how Tarantino-esque those films were. Tarantino is undeniably talented and his films are influential, but I'm not one to call a film derivative if it is reminiscent of a Tarantino work. That type of criticism is in a lot of ways unfair and it also ignores the fact that there was a whole lot of cinema before Tarantino that was influential upon filmmakers. So what does a filmmaker do when he wants to make a film he most certainly knows will be judged against and labeled as similar to Tarantino? Aleksi Mäkelä answers this question in his film, Vares: Private Eye (2004).Based upon Reijo Mäki's novel, Keltainen leski (1999), Aleksi Mäkelä's Vares: Private Eye is about the titular detective, Jussi Valtteri Vares (Juha Veijonen). Vares is fond of drinking and doesn't have a whole lot of luck with the ladies, as shown in the film's splendid beginning. Vares, during military war games, attempts to rescue damsel-in-distress, Eeva (Laura Malmivaara), who quickly gains the upper hand. The two characters and the two actors have an immediate chemistry. Sadly, the film would separate the two for the first half to introduce the plethora of characters to this crime tale: the crooked cop, the gangster boss, the venomous gangster moll, and two gangster stooges. Eeva won't involve herself with Vares--she is getting married to a convict inside the penitentiary. The wedding is a front for a prison break. Here's the point in the film for the insertion of quirky characters and furious double crosses and plot twists. Vares swears off drinking until he can get his love life in order, so he has got to move quickly.A lot of the humor is delivered by the two gangster stooges, and it's mostly poking fun at Tarantino's films. The two attempt to have a pop-culture conversation in a car about Elton John's one bad song (he doesn't have one) or they shoot their television and want to watch a video (the Travolta one but the film is shot out of sequence). Eeva even dons a wig reminiscent of Mia Wallace's short black-do from Pulp Fiction, and there's a scene where characters are having dinner while the camera circles around them. Truth be told, I would have never brought up Tarantino in this review, but Mäkelä goes out of his way, seemingly, to bring him up in Vares.Vares, save the Tarantino bits, is really inspired by clever Shane Black films, such as Tony Scott's The Last Boy Scout (1991), fellow countrymen Renny Harlin's The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), and Shane Black's golden Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). No doubt that Mäkelä had the ingredients to make a film of the same caliber, but for whatever reason, Vares never dodges the Tarantino chip on its shoulder. Vares is as glossy and slick as any Hollwood production with some frenetic and impressive shots. Minna Turunen delivers an incredibly sexy performance as Ifigenia Multanen, the gangster's moll, but unfortunately, her character is hardly explored. The real interest is Vares and Eeva, but even after their reunion later in the film, the chemistry has seriously dwindled. Vares labors until the end that is reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Romance (1993), and even Jackie Brown (1997). Mäkelä had all the ingredients to make his own film.I also realize that reviewing a film from another country through ethnocentric eyes is also completely unfair, as are the Tarantino comparisons. Vares is based from a popular Finnish novel with performances by native actors. Vares even spawned a sequel, V2: Dead Angel (2007). I found these comments and have no reason to believe that they are not genuine. I can say, however, that Mäkelä is very talented and am looking forward to his next film. Here's to hoping that it is his film.

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