The First Deadly Sin (1980) ****

Highly under-rated. Mostly because star Frank Sinatra has the audacity at the age of 65 to play an older cop as an older guy, with none of the wisecracking or physical zap of his previous crime movies like Tony Rome (1967) and The Detective (1968). Deliberately downbeat and surprisingly compassionate with a gallery of unusual and realistic supporting characters.

Sure, we start off with a cliché, cop Delaney (Frank Sinatra) about to retire sniffs out a serial killer operating across New York. But that’s about as far as the cliches go. His boss (Anthony Zerbe) is highly territorial and doesn’t want Delaney doing work that might benefit any precinct other than his own. On top of that an operation on artist wife Barbara (Faye Dunaway) has gone seriously wrong and now she’s hooked up to all sorts of machines in hospital, Delaney sitting by her bedside reading from a book.

Unable to use the department’s facilities, Delaney is forced back on improvisation and enlists a museum curator Langley (Martin Gabel), an expert on weaponry, to find the specific type of tool the assailant is using to crack open heads. Langley is old, too, lacking in either wisecracks or physical zap, likely to doze off at inopportune moments.

Delaney isn’t above taking the law into his own hands, gaining admittance by devious means to the apartment of suspect Daniel (David Dukes) only to be told in no uncertain terms that not only has he no just cause to arrest Daniel, a high-flying executive with legal connections, but that any judge would immediately throw out the case thanks to the cop’s law-breaking.

So the movie settles into two parallel stories, both, if you like about observation. Delaney follows the suspect and he watches his wife die, in both instances unable to intervene, not able to prevent the murderer killing again unless he should happen to catch him in the act and as far as the hospital is concerned having to listen to a doctor (George Coe) tell him that doctors aren’t infallible and often get it wrong. Even his only ally, forensic expert Dr Ferguson (James Whitmore), is warning him off.

And where you might expect in another film a bit of romance between Delaney and witness Monica (Brenda Vaccaro) that doesn’t go anywhere either because he is a faithful husband and doesn’t need any distractions from a dying wife and she’s not the kind of woman that often turns up in crime pictures to form an adulterous relationship. If anything, she turns her attention to mothering Langley.

So this isn’t a fast action tough-talking crime picture of the kind audiences had been familiar with from the late 1960s/early 1970s, there’s no car chase to add entertainment heft. In fact, Delaney is an old-fashioned cop, I don’t think you even see him in a vehicle, he’s mostly pounding a beat of one kind or another.

And it’s oddly compassionate. There’s a lot of cross-cutting between the two narrative strands, and it soon becomes pretty clear that this is a different kind of killer, not one carefully planning his next murder, or taking sexual delight from the agony he inflicts, and he isn’t into abduction either, nobody corralled away in a basement or attic, night-time providing murky cover for his activities.   

What we’re actually witnessing, it turns out, is a killer’s meltdown, as he hunkers naked in a bath or hides under bedclothes in a closet. And Delaney recognizes that insanity and that this is someone who needs treatment rather than being locked up in a prison.  Daniel justifies his acts as a kind of purity. His victims are “all living inside me, I love them and they love me.”

The idea of sacrifice is embedded in the initial image of a neon-lit cross hanging above a street, the crucifix cross-referenced in several other scenes, and Xmas wet and miserable rather than Hollywoodized snow and ho-ho-ho.

So get your downbeat boots on and join the trudge and don’t start complaining this is lazy acting from Sinatra when actually he is delivering one of his finest performances. Nobody complained that Tom Hanks was lazy when he acted old in A Man Called Otto, where sorrow is similarly repressed, or that Hanks had a shade too much zest for a man his age. Faye Dunaway (Three Days of the Condor, 1975) has made an equally bold decision to play a woman who never gets out of bed and she makes no attempt, as an actress, to invoke your sympathy, there’s none of the cuteness you might expect from doomed romance. Critics, in general, have been put off by the fact that she plays a dying woman as if she is actually dying rather than about to spring into a song-and-dance.

You might be surprised to learn that director Brian G. Hutton (Where Eagles Dare, 1968) came out of a self-imposed seven-year retirement to make this picture, in some respects a companion piece to the equally down beat Night Watch (1973). And he makes a terrific virtue out of keeping characters realistic. Add Martin Gabel to the principals for playing old and slow when age dictates he’s old and slow. Screenplay by Mann Rubin (The Warning Shot, 1967) from the Lawrence Sanders bestseller.

Thoughtful, brooding picture, fitting finale to Sinatra’s career. This is the last hurrah without any forced Hollywoodized hurrah.

“It won’t be the same without you,” says the reception desk cop as Delaney hands in is papers. “It’s always the same,” retorts the world-weary cop.

But please go into it with your eyes open and not in expectation of the more typical 1970s crime movies.

Incidentally, I had thought this one of the lost movies, out of circulation due to legal shenanigans, so was pleasantly surprised when it popped up on YouTube.

Deus (2022) ** / Watcher (2022) ** – Seen at the Cinema

Luckily I had been fortified in my weekly cinema outing by the wonderful Living (2022) before entering dudsville for this double bill. Both Deus and Watcher have all the hallmarks of direct-to-DVD productions which have, to use the old parlance, “escaped” into cinema distribution.

I’m probably a bit rusty about the cost of making the kind of giant spacecraft shown in Deus, billions of dollars surely, so am assuming that big projects like this will encounter budget overruns which would account for the rationing of electricity on board, resulting in the  murky lighting. And there’s not an alien in sight unless you count the robotic crew who speak in strangely monotonous tones.

Like most sci-fi films this involves a crew on a mysterious mission awaking from hibernation to investigate a distant object, in this case a sphere. The title assumes this might be about someone playing God and so it transpires, taking a leaf out of The Avengers: Infinity War (21018) playbook with a plot to wipe out three-quarters of the Earth’s population in some kind of eco good deed.

Not only has an evil genius Vance (Phil Davis), who appears only as a hologram (natch), gone to all this bother and created a heavenly apparition but in order to achieve his ends he has had to go to all the clever bother of killing off the family of Karla (Claudia Black) in a car crash so that he can have the opportunity to insert a chip in her brain to infiltrate her imagination.

Former hitman Ulph (David O’Hara) forms part of the crew and the only measure of excitement comes when, mercifully, parts of the mother ship explode. Any action or suspense is purely theoretical with writer-director Steve Stone (In Extremis, 2017) responsible for this monstrosity.

It’s a terrible thing to say I know but I was praying for the serial killer to get a move on and wipe out dull lifeless heroine Julia (Maika Monroe) in Watcher. A former actress, now unemployed,  who has moved to Bucharest with advertising executive partner Francis (Karl Glusman) she spends all her time moping around crying wolf. Naturally, everyone ignores her if only for the fact that when she claims to be watched by a man from across the street she has facilitated such voyeurism by leaving her curtains wide open.

The serial killer is known as The Spider for obvious reasons – I guess he has either a hairy back, six arms, climbs up the outside of buildings, or is the type of arachnid who bites the head off his victims or all of the above or because newspaper headline writers had run out of murderer nicknames or were simply devoid of imagination.

As with Matt Damon in Stillwater (2021) her sense of isolation, what with hubby working all hours, is increased because only a tiny minority of the population have the courtesy to speak English.   Location-wise you know where this is going to end up because next door neighbor Irina (Madalina Anea) keeps a gun in a drawer in case her ex gets antsy, making him of course the first red herring.

For a time it looked as if this was going to turn into something a lot more interesting, a twist on a twist, for in fact she is as much a watcher as the man (Burn Gorman) – a cleaner in a strip club who stares out of the window in a break from the relentless task of caring for his aged father – accused of this crime. In a very foolish gesture she appears to be encouraging him.  

You begin to hope that, to redeem this picture, the upshot is going to be that a paranoid woman shoots an innocent man. Instead, the climax is straight of Hancock’s Half Hour, a legendary British television comedy series, where the heroine survives after losing more than a good armful of blood, probably enough to fill all arms, legs and the bulk of her body.

Maika Monroe (It Follows, 2014) has gone with the erroneous assumption that the less acting she does the more she will appear withdrawn. I felt sorry for Karl Glusman (Greyhound, 2020) in his first leading man role, given nothing to do. Oddly enough, Burn Gorman (Pacific Rim, 2013) has the best scene, demanding an apology from his accuser.

I’m not quite sure what debut director Chloe Okuna did to the original screenplay of the more experienced Zack Ford (Girls’ Night Out, 2019) to grab the main writing credit but it was far from enough.

Like The Banshees of Inisherin, too much appears to be expected of both writer-directors who might have benefitted from a stronger producer challenging their concepts and helping shape the finished material.

Titane (2021) *****

Perhaps the most unforeseen development of this startling picture is that ruthless serial killer Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) develops a caring relationship with an anguished fire chief father (Vincent Lindon) when masquerading as his long-lost son.  Even when it becomes increasingly clear he is harbouring an imposter his naked need for familial intimacy forces continued acceptance. Of course, given Alexia has been impregnated by an automobile, the cinematic wild ride is hardly over. Not just that the father is inclined to pump himself full of steroids to maintain his failing virility and the firemen let off steam by dancing, with no homoerotic overtones, of dancing among themselves.

But tension never slackens due to the off-the-wall off-the-scale opener that saw her enter the realms of the serial killer and the fact that her nipples start leaking oil. A relationship that could have been creepy and/or unbelievable becomes incredibly tender especially when the so-called boy, as teenagers will, causes his father major embarrassment only this time by revealing a more feminine side to his dancing.

While exploring similar territory to David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996), this shifts into a completely league. With the exception of what she undertakes to create the transformation into a boy, binding her breasts and breaking her nose, the violence is less about self-harm  than straight-out murder, weapon of choice being a handy hatpin. The most bizarre aspect about the enterprise is not the victims mounting up, but the hilarity the film engenders. When Alexis discovers that she has chosen the wrong locale for one of her killings and with a shrug of frustration has to embark on hunting down an entire household you can’t help but laugh. And the meet-cute with a female model is one of the funniest ever put on the screen.

We never find out what has turned her into a murderer especially as she is not gender-specific in this department. A car accident as a child that resulted in her being fitted with some metal has clearly created some affinity with vehicles and she earns a living as a bikini model who drapes herself over motors at car shows to the delight of leering men. Automobiles are more generally seen as expressions of male eroticism so it’s something of a twist that Alexia takes such love to the ultimate extreme.

Outside of superhero and fantasy movies, it’s rare to find a picture that creates its own world and maintains it in consistent fashion. What we learn about this vicious killer is that she needs care as much as anybody else. As the movie shifts from her selfish enjoyment to filling a gap in the fireman’s life it takes us on quite a different journey to that initially suggested.

Director Julia Ducournau (Raw, 2016) presents an unflinching vision that may be too brutal for most tastes. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but looks like being ignored by the Oscar fraternity. But the surface is deceptive. If the ending comes as a shocker then you haven’t been paying attention because enough hints are provided as to the potential outcome. And it also means you’ve been ignoring the film’s development which is heading in the direction of togetherness and paternal understanding rather than individual insanity.

In her movie debut Agathe Rousselle is quite astonishing, giving herself up to the needs of a picture that forces tremendous physical demands. It’s a tour de force in what it means to be a committed actor, action driven by character. Oscars have been handed out for a lot less and what makes her characterisation stand out is the transition from woman trapped by a fetish whose only emotional outlet is murder to someone accepting love without question or vicious rejection.

Vincent Lindon (Rodin,2017)  is at the other end of the career scale, with nearly three decades in the business, highlighted by a previous Cannes and Cesar win for The Measure of a Man/ La Loi du Marche (2015). His is a thankless role, at the very least a willing dupe, as much a self-harmer judging from the bruises on his exterior, as likely to be lost and flailing in his jab – a sequence of a forest fire is outstanding – as in his empty emotional life. Hats off also to Lindon, as one of France’s biggest stars, for supporting this project. Without his involvement, funding would have been more difficult.

Titane is a true original with surprising emotional depth.

Discover WordPress

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The Atavist Magazine

by Brian Hannan News

The latest news on and the WordPress community.