North Country
2005. Rated R. Director: Niki Caro. Renner plays Bobby Sharp, supervisor of "the powder room" at the iron mine.

Yellow or red?

A dramatization of the first class action lawsuit filed against a company for sexual discrimination in the workplace (Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines). Renner's character is introduced twenty minutes in, and his first line is, "So Harlan, which one of these girls is going to be my bitch?" Subtlety, thy name is not this movie.

To be fair, the conditions at the mine were egregious and warranted a pretty frank portrayal on film. And the acting by Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, and various others (including Renner, who brings some nuance to the role of a vile sexist jerk), is quite decent. This could have been a gripping story. But for some reason, the filmmakers were not satisfied and decided to throw in a traumatic past for the protagonist that had, at best, an implausible connection to the film's present-day events and served only to tip the story over into the maudlin. They also made a couple of really dodgy narrative choices in the process. A film on the topic of sexual discrimination should not have the main character's father sweep in and single-handedly change his sexist co-workers' opinions with one impassioned speech. And it should absolutely not take away her voice just as she is about to describe being raped as a teenager and replace it with a flashback scene of her being brutalized. Really... not good.

It's possible that I wouldn't be so bothered by all this if I hadn't read up on the real story afterward and discovered that a lot of the movie's details were invented to make it more conventionally structured and dramatic. For example: the real-life counterpart of the main character had to talk to not one, but 50 lawyers before one would take up her case; she was not alone in filing suit (the movie makes much of her being the lone troublemaker among a crowd of women afraid to rock the boat); and the lawsuit actually took a full 14 years to come to a conclusion! Imagine the courage and pure cussed persistence it took to keep going over all that time and create a legal precedent for all American women to combat discrimination in the workplace. I would really like to see a well-made movie about the people who did it. Too bad this wasn't it.



28 Weeks Later
2007. Rated R. Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Renner plays Doyle, an American soldier

Doyle and Andy in the park

The sequel to Danny Boyle's "fast zombie" classic, 28 Days Later. The infected have succumbed to starvation, leaving England full of corpses and silence. An American military base is established on London's Isle of Dogs, and the few survivors are cautiously gathered into protective custody. Robert Carlyle plays a man who's made it this far by less than honorable means; he is reunited with his two children at the military base, and some fraught discussion leads to the children heading off on a hunt for their mother that unsurprisingly ends in disaster. It is a zombie movie, after all.

"28 Weeks Later" advances the story of the rage virus apocalypse in some interesting ways, and I appreciated the mercilessly downbeat ending after the first film's oddly happy denouement. Renner also gets to play the most heroic character of his career, as one of the few members of the military to break ranks and help civilians escape from a deadly lockdown. However, it all seems like more of a vignette than a complete narrative. Characters get even less development than in the first movie, so it is difficult to care about their fates, and I couldn't help laughing at how one particular infected kept popping up over and over again, almost like a zombie version of the Terminator. Some might say that the whole genre is over the top enough to be ridiculous, but I really don't think the director was going for laugh out loud funny with this one. Oops.



Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
2011. Rated PG-13. Director: Brad Bird. Renner plays William Brandt, an IMF "analyst"

Brandt hovering in a cooling shaft

The fourth in a series of action movie spy capers starring Tom Cruise, this film is fluff from beginning to end. Early on, the Kremlin is bombed in a way that falsely implicates the United States, and the "Impossible Missions Force" is disavowed as a result. So the latest incarnation of the team (Cruise, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, and Renner) have to go it alone in their attempt to save the world from nuclear armageddon. Plenty of fanciful technology is used to move the plot along, and set piece follows set piece to the inevitably triumphant conclusion.

There is some breezy charm here. I enjoyed Simon Pegg's performance as the unexpectedly promoted geek Benjy, and Renner has some humorous moments as Brandt is forced to take part in craziness for which he was not prepared. (The line "Next time I get to seduce the rich guy" was a gift to Renner slash fans everywhere.) But I'm afraid I was underwhelmed by Paula Patton and Cruise himself, and I found the overall plot so clichéd that I could not invest in it emotionally. It's not that I mind light-hearted romps; I just want them to be genuinely funny and/or charming. This film wasn't enough of either for me.