RIORI Vol 3, Installment 24: Joel Schumacher’s “Trespass” (2011)



The Players…

Nicolas Cage, Nicole Kidman, Ben Mendelsohn, Liana Liberato and Cam Gigandet, with Jordana Spiro and Dash Mihok.

The Story…

When wealthy diamond merchant Kyle Miller returns home to his personal Fort Knox one evening, he finds more than a lukewarm pot roast awaiting him. A typical night after work in his fortress becomes a hostage crisis of the first order.

Thieves infiltrate his home, take him and his wife hostage and proceed to dissect the house for a serious diamond score. But it quickly escalates from a battle for the Miller’s freedom and possible lives to a battle of wills. Turns out the Millers and the thieves have very divergent reasons to keep the diamonds with their rightful owners.

Namely nobody.

The Rant…

All right. Let’s talk about directing.

I guess it’s weird for after nearly a jillion installments of RIORI that your sometimes humble blogger is getting around to how a film is directed. I admit I don’t know the barest scintilla of rodent rectum about how a film is, well, filmed. I understand it involves some guy (it’s almost always a guy. Womens’ Lib only got as far as the boardroom it appears in ol’ Hollyweird), that lens hanging from his neck and possesses an imperative to shove actors around as his charges to speak and move to best move the script along. I’m paraphrasing here. Remember: rodent rectum.

I’ve heard of an old saw saying that the director is the “author” of the movie. All that prodding and chess-like moves amongst the actors, camera techs, writers and caterers converge to create a story. This concept is often referred to “auteur theory.” The whole “directer-as-author” of the movie.

I think this is all bullish*t. If you’ve ever stuck around for the end credits rolling—and watching Ferris Bueller for the umpteenth time don’t count, sorry—there is this massive list of folks that had a hand in making a movie possible. Hence the term credits. Plural. And the director’s name isn’t often listed then, save if it wasn’t dropped in the opening credits. My point is dozens of people contribute to getting the movie from stage to screen. Why does the director get almost all the credit?

I think it has something to do with creating a signature. All that pulling and poking ultimately makes the final say (pre-editing, o’ course) in what makes the final cut. But just the director? What about the scenarist? Without a good script as the baseline—you know, the f*cking story?—where does the director start?

This undoes auteur theory (and Peter Bogdanovich can go suck it) as far as I’m concerned. But the signature thing remains. I mean, when you watch a Martin Scorsese movie, be it Taxi Driver or GoodFellas or even The Age Of Innocence, you know damn well as fast that it’s a f*cking Scorsese film. There’s a signature. A feel. It’s what gets butts in the seats as endgame. An amalgam of writing and prodding. Direction. And in the final analysis, the pairing of these two elements create said signatures.

Hold on. I hear some you bitching, “Wait. What about genre directors, like James Cameron with his SF/action-adventure pics (and yes, that includes Titanic, sorry to admit if only for the third act)? Or John Hughes with his teen comedies? Or even Scorsese himself with his urban dramas, Johnny Boy? What about them, smart guy?”

Okay, first gimme back my beer. Second, genre doesn’t dictate signature, you follow? Spielberg, Zemekis and Gilliam have all tackled different genres. But they all have a unique spin and style. Comic book and SF writer Peter David (met the man once. Cool dude with a jaw that would not quit. Not that way, you perv) dropped this science once saying that not only is auteur theory bunk, but also making a film is really a collaboration between director and scenarist that “writes” a movie. If you want to properly credit the masterminds behind a movie, the opening should conclude with “A Film By Whoever and Some Other Guy.” Between such two nabobs—splat—we get either Oscar gold or Velveeta.

It depends on the meeting of the minds in how the aforementioned signature is created. Really classy directors bring aboard really sharp writers to make their vision come to life. Like Scorsese and Schrader. Or Cameron and Hurd. Or Zemekis and Some Other Guy. Banging those yin/yang heads together can make for some really good movies.

However—and there is always a however here. It’s almost RIORI’s reason for being—there are some director’s signatures that are at best infamous and at worse insulting. Like “Here America. Some more mindless pap designed to make you feel ever stupider and rob you of your cash/time. Again. More nachos?” I think such sh*t directors are less than discerning when it comes to scripts. I ain’t talking the journeymen guys who show up to just get the job over and done, only later to queue up for the paycheck, well aware merch with cover the budget over actual ticket sales. Also perhaps such hacks have such a dangerously fevered imagination that their latest work may be the pinnacle—their cherry on the sundae—of their legacy. Stupid egos that desperately need deflating, but there’s nary a needle in sight.

I’m looking at you Schumacher. So have a lot of other movie fans.

Joel Schumacher is the consummate hack. He churns and burns. He cranks out derivative movie after baffling movie. When his stuff is good, it’s okay. When it’s bad (and it often is), it’s insulting and embarrassing. Here I will mention Batman And Robin and that will be all. I don’t think his output hangs on his scenarists. I don’t think he cares.

Granted a lot of directors hire on questionable screenwriters. I mean, although I enjoy quite a few of Roland Emmerich’s potboilers, I don’t think the guy gives in to lousy scripts. He just puts them into his Cuisinart and cranks out fun, for good or for ill. Schumacher on the other hand seems so blinded by his maverick and alleged talents that any ol’ scribbles will satisfy his fevered muse. See Mommy? Look how clever I’m directing! Christ.

It’s amazing how with the first shots of a movie a director makes his signature known. If you’re familiar with a given director—cinephile or no—you can figure out in second-31 what you’re in for. Again with the examples: Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with its rain. Cameron’s The Abyss with its claustrophobia. Spielberg’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark with its Amazon tomb.

Can any one of you recall an inviting opening in a Schumacher film? Probably not. But you have an indelible image of bat nipples forever scarring your brain. Now there’s a directorial signature, regardless of the writer. Regardless of anything resembling considerate filmmaking.

Hey, Mom! Lookee what I’m directin’ now…

A man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes. For affluent diamond merchant Kyle Miller (Cage), his home is more like a fortress.

Miller has been a prominent, if not the prominent diamond dealer on the West Coast millions, millions of dollars in industrial grade diamonds have passed under his monocle over the years. To say his reputation precedes him is akin to saying the Sahara is a tad warm.

With all that money and all that responsibility, Kyle’s spacious mansion serves as the hub of his business. The man needs to keep his property under tight scrutiny, and his state-of-the-art “smart house” not only provides home and hearth for him, his wife Sarah (Kidman) and teenage daughter Avery (Liberato) but also every angle of modern security systems that tech can offer.

Neither his wife nor daughter are completely aware about the delicate balance Kyle must maintain between security and “security.” Nor do they fully understand Kyle’s obsession with “need to know” information. There’s the matter of business security, but virtually blocking out the world? They suspect Kyle is hiding something beyond the diamond vault.

Actually, it’s more like they’re all hiding something. And what they’re hiding is just what master thief Elias (Mendelsohn) and his crew aim to find out.

A man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes. But with the Miller’s high-end, Fort Knox-esque compound riddled with (almost) impenetrable security protocols, their castle may just end up being their—and their intruders—prison.

On second thought, crucible seems more apt…

Like with The Watcher, there was a good idea under all the gunk in Trespass. Where the former film was cluttered with cliches and lackluster acting that brought the film down, Trespass took a left turn. Its plot was a good one, and has been applied forever before. Crime caper with psychological drama generated by a Stockholm Syndrome hostage crisis shaken and stirred with a Rashomon-like multi-perspective story device. To greater or lesser degrees, Courage Under Fire, Memento and even Clue were pretty decent examples. Despite those movies’ possessing the above criteria, regardless of genre, they made senseTrespass played out like a poor man’s Panic Room slapped together against a circus-like version of Misery. This should sound cool. It ain’t.

Before I go off on a (further) rant, let’s carefully take Trespass apart, top to bottom.

First, the core of a good idea getting lost in the shuffle. Trespass had a very good storyline, used before and mostly foolproof. Hostage crisis getting increasingly tense played against a heist that goes awry. Pretty basic stuff, until the histrionics start. Referring back to Rashomon—essentially a murder mystery—the small cast does a lot of finger pointing as to who killed whom and for what reason. All the dramatis personae have highly personal reasons to unravel the truth/mete out justice (or at least just deserts). Rather simple in the endgame.

Trespass was decidedly not simple. The film had its expected twists and turns when it came to a mystery movie. We had that whole basic hostage crisis thing going on and a pseudo-Stockholm plight (poor Sweden) allowing claustrophobic tension. Common tropes.

We also got Schumacher’s kitchen sink storytelling gone all pear-shaped. Trespass had to be the most convoluted movie of its ilk, and to stir the soup further only in fits and starts. The movie was like an onion in reverse. Instead of peeling back the layers, Schumacher kept on adding layers only to later peel them back. And eventually cutting the proverbial onion in half come the third act. He made simple characters and their motives basic at first, then upped the ante with highly personal stakes, then tore them away and back, then laid the butter on thick, then crumbling the muffin up and descending into directing an action movie. There was such a rapid sh*tstorm of onion-flavored vinaigrette that come credit time I scratched my dizzy head and asked, “Um, what just happened?” And not in a fun way either, say like with the oddly amusing No Way Out or even the chilling Blair Witch Project. Trespass played like it had no way…okay, that’s cheesy. Well simply put, Schumacher tried to jam in too much into a film that required a scraped-to-the-metal execution. Worked for the Oscar winning Rashomon (and I’ll try to quit referring to that film from here on out. Try).

Next, the acting. Such a caper film demanded efficiency. The character’s backstories should’ve been stripped to the bone. Too much data overload and one tends to get lost. A lot of that doesn’t necessary pertain to the characters’ backgrounds per se. It’s how it’s conveyed, and a great deal of that depends on the actors themselves, or at least their acting styles. Trespass has the fortune (and perhaps misfortune) of two established Oscar winners as the leads. Despite the fact that Trespass is Schumacher’s attempt at a grim B-movie potboiler, some reliable A-listers signed on. We got Nic Cage (who has made questionable movie after questionable movie for the past 20 years ever since he got his statuette for Leaving Las Vegas) and Nicole Kidman (who looks like here she’s either chasing a paycheck or wouldn’t pony up for Swedish massage. I guess that’s sorta Stockholm-like). One has made a career of manic overacting to the edge of ridiculously entertaining. The other…is from Australia.

Speaking of chasing a paycheck, Cage hasn’t seemed to turn down a script in the past two decades either. Instead of tearing the guy a new one, I gotta face up and say that Cage is a hella fun actor. Sure most of his…okay almost all his roles have been dopey at best for years now, but he’s such a ham it’s hard not to like his work. Call it Shatner Syndrome here. His overacting is the stuff or greatness, and his exaggerated body language is almost clownish, but oddly effective (however I felt Nic’s injured, inflamed hand was a shade much). Here in Trespass, was Cage channeling H.I. from Raising Arizona in an upwardly mobile guise? How different is that character than manic, panicky, rubbery Kyle? Granted the motivations were different in Trespass, but a Cage performance is a Cage performance, tongue-in-cheek histrionics and all of that. As always, Cage is at least his most—wait for it—cagey (I regret nothing).

Kidman wanted to be elsewhere. Anywhere else besides the Trespass sound set. For such a dynamic actress, she sure was going through the motions here. From the glassy stares to the almost willowy presence to her stock damsel in distress cum mama bear stance all of it came off as dry, boring and not believable. A shame. I can understand a high-profile actor slumming once in a while for fun. I can even understand Kidman wanting to have a little fun like Cage has been (like he needs more fun in his work there, Johnny Blaze), but she sure didn’t look like she was having fun. She barely seemed awake.

Now, you wanna know what I think? I think Kidman and Cage were a ruse. Trespass was really a stage for newb actors, a launchpad. You know what a “springboard” movie is? Probably not, since I made up the term. But since I’ve seen more movies than Alex has raped, so I think I’m entitled to a few creative liberties here and there. So listen up, bitches. There is probably a proper term for a movie/role that brings attention to an actor. I’m calling it the springboard. I’m not talking about a “breakout role” here, like Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. I’m talking about an actor who rises above the dreck and stands out, maybe even eclipsing the big name stars. Mendelson did this here. His Elias was the only engaging character in all 91 minutes of Trespass. Sure, he might’ve had a young Tom Waits as a vocal coach, but Mendelsohn’s Elias infused the corny, often lame dialogue (amidst even the rest of the cast) with a degree of charm and and honesty that he was the only role that felt fleshed out, even if he was still the stock, desperate thief. Also, how he carried himself screamed desperate criminal (and the electrical tape thing was a nice touch). He and his fellow villains may be stock, and Mendelsohn comes across as a poor man’s Gary Oldman, but hell, at least the whole lot are interesting, if only for being campy. Like I’ve said, though: it ain’t the notes, it’s how they’re played. Mendelsohn gave us a good jam session in Trespass, and I’d like see him in more movies (just not like this one).

Now it be time for the technical stuff here, so let’s go to the tool bench. I said earlier that Trespass felt like Schumacher’s attempt at a B-movie potboiler. A deliberate attempt. He sorta succeeded here. Trespass possesses all the trademark cheese that comes with a low budget thriller, and these were good things believe it or not. Actually, the weak stuff balanced out the better stuff pretty well. It all resulted in some dumb fun, with the emphasis on dumb.

Trespass played out like a 21st Century take on Ten Little Indians. Except instead of murder, we got vengeance. Everyone in the cast—everyone—has their own motives to keep the diamonds where they are (even though the diamonds are a sort of Maltese Falcon seeing that REDACTED). I’ll tell you this, the body count is low, but in the tradition of most B-movie fodder, there is so much over emotive folderol the cheese level got raised to Pepper Jack Velveeta and whatever violence goes down it’s less cringe and more “Huh?” I figure there’s a time for Tim Roth’s dying words and one for a cream pie to the face.

The dialogue is incredibly lame and overreaching, but dotted with enough clever shots that the final result in overall corny, but not outright insulting. In other words, we got you the best knock-knock joke you’ve never heard. Curious? Where you going? Kinda funny sh*t, intentional or otherwise. And what makes it really funny is how overwrought it all was. Schumacher was attempting towards an intense, desperate measures duality thriller. How our cast expressed themselves played out like a fifth grade play, but so goofy you couldn’t help but play along in turn (check out some of the select quotes below).

I think the critic at AllMovie missed the point here. He lacerated this trifle. True, Trespass is a crappy movie, virtually branded with The Standard on its reel (or whatever they use these days. Holograms?). But maybe seeing this gunk required the proper lenses. Is there such a thing as a comedic thriller? Maybe, if you count every Friday The 13th installment after the one with Corey Feldman (it’s true. Look it up if I don’t believe you). Overall, Trespass falls under the aegis of the “Saturday Afternoon Movie.” You could crash in front of F/X come 2 PM and waste some time. You’d never drop ten bucks to see this stuff in the theatre. But maybe you could point your soon-to-be former friends.

So it goes. No worries. The next time out, Schumacher will get ever more clever and lure you in again. Maybe next time it’ll be Henry Ibsen with robots.

*spit take*


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. You want a good, amusing diamond heist film? Try…anything but this. There is such a thing as trying to be too clever, cushioned by cheeze or…Gotta go. Mom’s pounding at the door, screaming about abusing creative license. And my REDACTED.

Stray Observations (No notable moments, just quotes)

  • “Mom’s being arbitrary and inflexible.” Hooked On Phonics worked for Avery.
  • “I stay stupid, you go to jail.” Stay stupid, Nic. Keep staying stupid.
  • “What’nd he good??”
  • “That’s the way you want it, yuppie?” Who uses the term “yuppie” anymore?
  • “Or the kid.”
  • “Hey buddy, cuz I want to tell you a story.”
  • “You have an assh*le for a doctor.” Not a bad thing for a proctologist though.
  • “Don’t ya just love surprises?”

Next Installment…

RIORI is gonna take a break for a while so me and the fam can take in some guaranteed fun films—ones that don’t (and shouldn’t) bear much scrutiny—for a change. I need to educate the wifey on the wonders that are the key James Bond flicks. Also, since the 8-year old has been pestering me about The Force Awakens, I feel obligated to introduce her to the original trilogy, as well as the prequels (shaddap).

So Merry Xmas for now. See you next year. When we return—and maintaining a sense of continuity, at least at my end—Star Wars fans asked what went askew with the prequels? It might’ve been a virulent Attack Of The Clones. Let’s misuse The Force now, dig it.


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