Based on articles and podcast: Dirty John by Christopher Goffard
Directed by: Jeffrey Reiner
Writers: Alexandra Cunningham, Christopher Goffard, Sinead Daly, Lex Edness, Kevin J. Hynes, Evan Wright, Diana Son, etc.
Producer(s): Melinda Whitaker, Christopher Goffard, Nan Bernstein Freed, Jonathan Talbert, etc.
Cast: Connie Britton, Eric Bana, Juno Temple, Julia Garner, Jean Smart, Shea Whigham, Alan Ruck, Kevin Zegers, etc.
Composer: Mark Mothersbaugh
Original networks: Bravo (USA) and Netflix (UK)
Such is the veracious appetite journalists, writers, filmmakers, TV producers, podcasters and the audience have for true crime stories, it’s no surprise that the life of con-man, John Meehan, and his victims, was turned into a thrilling eight-part drama shown on Bravo and Netflix respectively. After decades of cons, fakery, impersonations, drug addiction, robberies, lawsuits, insurance scams, harassment, spying, stalking and consistent lying, Meehan’s criminal activities came to an end as recently as 2016. Meehan had been trained in the “art” of the con by his father from a young age. Alas, his nature could not, unlike his sister, overcome such spurious nurture and Meehan was destined for a life of crime. They say truth is stranger than fiction and that is very much the case here with some of his venomous antics quite unbelievable. However, Meehan must have had so much charm and confidence to trick the many women he deceived, his character sadly stands as a heinous example of toxic masculinity.
Eric Bana portrays John Meehan inDirty John (2018). Bana is an excellent actor and arguably, based on his breakthrough performance in the film, Chopper (2000), one who I thought would achieve possibly more critical acclaim. His career is full of sterling work though and his handsome looks and rugged charisma are perfectly utilised as John Meehan. Indeed, when we first encounter him he is meeting Debra Newell (Connie Britton) for a date. After a sticky start the romance develops very quickly. Debra is a wealthy interior designer with her own business, and her character is exceptionally kind, but somewhat gullible. Even when her kids, Veronica (Juno Temple) and Terra (Julia Garner), warn her that something is rotten about John, her desire for John overcome any doubts she may harbour. As Debra, Connie Britton gives a brilliant representation of a woman who is desperate for love and companionship. Having said that, Juno Temple steals every scene as the mouthy daughter, Ronnie, someone who is certainly way more suspicious of John than her good-natured mother.
Structured around John and Debra’s developing romance are flashbacks to John’s prior relationships and crimes. While he is shown to be a really bad man, context is given during scenes from his youth. His father, portrayed by the excellent character actor, Shea Whigham, has young John eating a Taco with glass placed in it, so he can scam the restaurant. Such twisted examples of dire parenting give reason to John’s later behaviour, however, they should not excuse his actions in adulthood. They also explain John’s dependency on narcotics. This addiction to opiates, as well as a sociopathic desire to lie and cheat, drive the character and narrative powerfully. In the scenes where Debra, having incredibly given John another chance, helps him go cold turkey, Bana’s acting levels are most impressive.
As the drama proceeds and Debra and her daughters begin to discover the crimes of John’s past they themselves become targets of his malevolence. John is a beast Debra has alas invited into her life and one feels so much empathy for her and his other victims. Moreover, even when cornered and accused John Meehan is at his most dangerous. He often savagely attacked his accusers and their family members with severe vengeance. But, the scariest part for me was that he was “qualified” to be a Certified Registered Nurse Anaesthetist; a profession he exploited to rob and feed his drug addiction. Ultimately, I can recommend Dirty John (2018), to those who enjoy absorbing crime dramas. Some shows, with such “real life” narratives, can be exploitational in tone. However, this is a high quality production with excellent acting, writing and directing throughout. It really was edge-of-your-seat viewing, with Eric Bana’s multi-dimensional acting delivering a true monster for the millennium.
Ola! Hope you’re well. Here’s another wash-up of movies I saw in the month of February at the cinema, on Blu-Ray or streamed via Netflix et al. In alpha order.
***THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD***
300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014) – SKY MOVIES
This sequel/sidequel is an adequate facsimile of the muscular and far superior original adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. It’s a teenage boy’s wet dream with bloody ultra-violence and often-topless Eva Green’s war-whore Artemesia taking centre stage amidst the carnage. Once again the Greeks and Persians go to battle but this time at sea as greased-up, muscle-ripped men-in-pants knock the crap out of each other. Eva Green aside this film lacks the star quality of the first one as well as a consistent narrative as it takes an age to establish its cardboard characters prior to the well-orchestrated battles.
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) – AMAZON PRIME
I’ve said this before but Lucio Fulci’s films are horror classics and should be given more respect in my view. They have creepy music, horrific images and tense atmosphere that are the stuff of nightmares. If surrealist genius Luis Bunuel had directed horror films they would have resembled Fulci’s oeuvre. With a dreamlike narrative City of The Living Dead unleashes hell when a priest commits suicide in Dunwich causing a series of memorable horror moments including characters: being buried alive; throwing intestines up through the mouth; bloody-eyed zombies wreaking havoc; brains impaled on a lathe and many more horrible deaths.
CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009) – NETFLIX
This stupid but highly entertaining movie-come-live-action-videogame once again has Jason Statham getting up to all kinds of shenanigans to keep his ticker (in this case an electric heart contraption) going or he dies. Cue the killing and torture of gangsters aplenty in a high-octane offensive speedy comedy-actioner.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014) – BLU RAY
Eric ‘Chopper’ Bana finds another functional film on his CV as director Scott Derrickson fails to reach the horror heights of his previous film Sinister (2012) in this cop-meets-exorcist thriller. Some decent scares along the way and Sean Harris is excellent as the man-possessed, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
IT FOLLOWS (2014) – CINEMA
IT FOLLOWS is a very good film with great music and well-constructed composition of shots plus a really good central premise. So, basically a curse is passed sexually between suburban teens and if you have it an entity hunts you down to a grisly death. I very much enjoyed it and felt very tense throughout. The problem is there’s so many bad films around when a good one comes along the critics go crazy for it. In short: a fine teen frightener compared to much of the crap around but it was too subtle especially at the end when I wanted a bloodier finale. However, the Director is definitely one worth following.
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014) – CINEMA
Having seen four kind of serious Oscar-worthy films in January I watched the spy-action-comedy-Bond-parody KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014) finding it bally brilliant fun. While I like some of the more serious comic book adaptations this is a blast from beginning to end with jokes and violence aplenty. Pitch perfect pace and delivery by cast and crew as the script hybridizes kitchen sink, action and spy genres. I was especially pleased they didn’t squeeze out the bloody action and make it a 12A as the Marvel, DC and Peter Jackson films have done in the last few years. THAT scene in the “Church” is a case in point and is certainly one you won’t forget in a hurry. To quote the parlance of our age: “The film is well sick, bruv!”
JOE (2013) – NETFLIX
Nicolas Cage is outstanding and on very restrained form as the working class lead of this depressing character study. It shares similar traits with MUD (2012) where McConaughey’s criminal bonds with local kids but this is a whole different beast as it features: alcoholism, dysfunctional families, inner rage and general abuse against humans. Overall, existential despair prevails in a genuinely gruelling experience that very much haunts the viewer.
ONLY TWO LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013) – BLU RAY
Jim Jarmusch’s elegant vampire film is so slow-moving I ended up finishing it the day before I started watching it. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are the best thing about this character study about the inertia of immortality. I enjoyed many of the rock and music references and the subtext of virulent human blood killing off the undead but it was too ponderous overall to recommend to anyone. For hard-core Jarmusch fans only.
OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013) – NETFLIX
A terrific cast including: Bale, Harrelson, Saldana, Defoe and the always impressive Casey Affleck feature in this steely drama. It centres on two brothers (Bale and Affleck) just trying to get by in a run-of-the-steel-mill Pennsylvanian town. Tension comes from Affleck’s gambling losses which culminate in his taking up bare-knuckle fist fighting to pay off debts. Woody Harrelson chews up the scenery as the dominant nemesis and while some of the narrative turns don’t quite fit it’s pretty gritty and Bale is on good form as the brother trying but failing to maintain a normal existence.
PREDESTINATION (2014) – CINEMA
I think most time-travel films are paradoxical by nature and holes can always be found in the logic but as a time-travel/thriller genre film Predestination worked really well providing an intriguing gender-political angle too. The nature of the loner and finding love for others and oneself was also an interesting theme plus the inevitability of fate was there in the subtext too. It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. Even though I enjoy seeing stuff blown up on screen I do love a brain-twister too.
Thus, if you like any of the following: TimeCrimes (2007), Looper (2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Time After Time (1979), Back to the Future (1985), The Terminator (1984), Doctor Who etcetera… then do watch this one. It’s a fine low-budget time-travel film starring Ethan Hawke and breakout performance from brilliant Sarah Snook.
ROCK ‘N’ ROLLA (2008) – SKY MOVIES
Guy Ritchie’s big budget upgrade of Snatch (2000) is a shiny and stylish gangster folly full of British talent including: Tom Wilkinson, Toby Kebbell, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler and Idris Elba; with Thandie Newton keeping the testosterone levels down in a decent knockabout bit of fun.
SELMA (2014) – CINEMA
This is political storytelling of the highest order with David Oyelowo brilliantly portraying one of the greatest humans that ever lived: Martin Luther King. Tom Wilkinson is also superb as political rival Lyndon B. Johnson as the two lock horns over King’s pursuit of the equal rights vote for African-Americans. This is a moving story of injustice and violence at the heart of America’s recent past as King and his brothers and sisters fight the good fight for one of the most basic of democratic rights. Lives were lost and blood was shed but above it all Martin Luther King is shown to be a majestic force in the righteous fight which culminates in a ground-breaking march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, 1965. I was very ill watching this but it is fantastic filmmaking with sterling performances and an in depth examination of a vital part of American history.
THE VILLAGE (2004) – SKY MOVIES
M. Night Shymalan’s recent films have been panned and bombed at the box office and very much lost the plot. Some might say that that the rot set in with The Village but I really like this movie. I like the design, colour, pace, acting, direction, horror, romance and central premise. Arguably it hangs by a thread in regards to plausibility but on a re-watch it was genuinely tense and had so much atmosphere I was captivated by the whole narrative. Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard shine as two lovers trapped in the village by the threat of strange beasts and the elders who know an incredible secret.
My Top Three Bestest Films that I enjoyed for February were (in alpha order):
Getting on stage and making a room full of strangers laugh spontaneously through a joke, impression, improvisation, song etc. is arguably one of the mightiest challenges facing a performer. But for many successful stand-up comedians the thrill of reducing a room to shakes of laughter is not enough; hence why so many have attempted to transfer their undoubted comic and acting artistry to the silver screen. Plus there’s more dough involved in making movies. As a massive fan of both cinema and stand-up comedy I thought it interesting to look at some of the best dramatic performances committed to celluloid by stand-up comics.
Eddie Murphy – 48 Hours (1982)
Before Eddie Murphy single-handedly set about making his very own list of the worst movies ever made he took his raw, rap, crack and pop stand-up persona and committed to screen great performances in Trading Places (1983) Beverley Hills Cop (1984) and Walter Hill’s rock hard-boiled 48Hours (1982). Buddied-up with Nick Nolte’s life-frazzled cop, Murphy was perfectly cast as cool convict Reggie Hammond. Murphy is tough, uncompromising and funny: spitting out classic dialogue such as “I’ve been in prison for three years. My dick gets hard if the wind blows” – with a verve that is sorely missing from virtually all his film output of the last 15 years.
Woody Allen – Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989)
Arguably, Allen’s recent movies have not been up to the quality of his earlier “funnier” films but I like them nonetheless as he has consistently produced work rich with great lines, ideas and characters. In the 1980’s Allen’s films matured and more often than not centred around familial, human and sexual relationships. As well as writing and directing Allen also acted in most of his films using his Jewish, neurotic, angsty persona to comic and dramatic effect. In Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) he delivers another fine performance drawing out pathos, empathy and pain as a documentary filmmaker who is trying to make sense of life and why we are on this planet. The film is multi-stranded with a wonderful ensemble cast including Alan Alda and Martin Landau on particularly great form.
Whoopi Goldberg – The Color Purple (1985)
Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe where her work and would then be cast in Spielberg’s adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning The Color Purple (1985). While Goldberg would earn an Oscar for her over-the-top turn in potter’s-wheel-ten-hankie-weepie Ghost (1990), but it is her first ever screen appearance which will stay in the memory. Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered and beaten by life but whom amidst the misery and abuse retains a strength and desire to not let life destroy her. Goldberg brings a tremendous innocence, fortitude and compassion to the part; and considering it is her first ever movie role it is an amazing achievement.
Will Ferrell – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Ferrell cut his comedy fangs in The Groundlings, an LA improv group, and would later take his comic creations onto Saturday Night Live. Hilarious turns as hick racing driver Ricky Bobby in Talledega Nights (2006) and more famously as Ron Burgundy – the king of unreconstructed male chauvinist stupidity – in Anchorman (2004) would cement Ferrell’s success as a movie actor. Famous for stupid haircuts, overcharged yelling and screen-mugging Ferrell toned it down as tax inspector Harold Crick in Marc Forster’s moving dramedy, Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Ferrell’s Crick is a lonely individual, a man of routine and commonplace whose life is turned topside down when he hears his every move being narrated by Emma Thompson’s meta-omnipotent author. As he struggles to find ‘the voice’ Crick begins to question his whole existence and this gives Ferrell the opportunity to live a character with depth and emotion hitherto unseen in his previous screen caricatures.
Jamie Foxx – Ray (2004)
While Chris Rock arguably takes the stand-up comic kudos between these two graduates of influential American sketch show, In Living Color, Foxx’s film career has flourished with a series of fantastic movie performances. But it was playing Ray Charles in Ray (2004) that Foxx left Rock’s movie career, in comparison, eating the proverbial dust sandwich. Of course it won him the Oscar but it was more than just an impression of Charles as Foxx gave this musical genius a flawed humanity and pain that moved both the audience and the Academy. Foxx threw himself into the role with abandon musically and dramatically, showing Charles’ darker addictive side as well as his magnetism, humour and incredible drive. Unsurprisingly, the same year, Foxx was also nominated for his sterling work in Mann’s urban noir Collateral losing out in that category to the king-of-expositional-voiceover Morgan Freeman.
Robin Williams – One Hour Photo (2002)
A running trope in this list finds many of the acts turning their manic comedic persona on its’ head and internalizing the mania or psychosis with understated performances. Indeed, I have read articles which link certain mental states with the comedic mind and in Robin Williams you could not get a more manic, fevered, out-of-this-world performer. After a slow start cinematic success would arrive eventually and I could have chosen Good Will Hunting (1997) or Good Morning Vietnam (1987) or Dead Poet’s Society (1989)as these were great roles for Williams. But in 2002 he took a couple of darker turns in Nolan’s pre-Batman thriller Insomnia and a lower-budget thriller called One Hour Photo. The latter found Williams playing a solitary Photo Technician who takes an unhealthy interest in one particular family. Yet Williams’ character is no ordinary psycho but rather a pained individual longing to be part of a family unit. The actor terrifies the audience with his obsessive nature but at the end the performance humanizes the character rather than making him a one-dimensional lunatic he could so easily of been.
Jim Carrey – Man On The Moon (1998)
Carrey is an absolute force of nature as a stage and sketch performer and brought that dynamic physicality, silly voices and zany gurning to great effect in films such as: Dumb and Dumber (1994) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994). As he gained further success he would stretch his acting muscles with more dramatic and riskier roles. He was ideally cast as Intergender Wrestling Champion of the world Andy Kaufmann and (best known for his role in U.S. sitcom Taxi) and also doubled-up by playing Kaufmann’s alter-ego Tony Clifton (with Paul Giamatti.) Kaufmann was arguably the very first anti-comedian; gaining laughs or at the very least trying to get laughs from being deliberately unfunny and antagonistic. Carrey takes on all the incarnations with much skill and humour and rather than be just a very good impression he zones his usual mania, creating a complex character whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The film was criticized by some for taking liberties with Kaufmann’s life and it was a relative failure at the box office, but Carrey deservedly won many awards and nominations for his diverse performance.
Billy Connolly – The Debt Collector (1997)
Connolly’s performance in Mrs Brown would be the most obvious choice for Scotland’s imperious stand-up comedy legend, however, I’m not a fan of films about the Royal Family and the brutal Debt Collector is more to my taste. The Big Yin is compelling in this grim, gritty thriller inspired by career criminal turned artist/novelist, Jimmy Boyle. Connolly’s working class and artistic background also resonates in the Nicky Dryden character trying to go straight; only to be pursued relentlessly by Ken Stott’s obsessive cop. Connolly’s raconteurial, larger-than-life stand-up style is in complete contrast to the serious character of Dryden who having escaped the mean streets of snooker halls of Glasgow is now a feted figure on the art scene. Stott’s vindictive cop cannot abide Dryden’s success and sets about bringing Dryden down. The scenes between Connolly and Stott are the stand-out in this dark, violent tale which is unflinching in tone and certainly darker than anything Connolly has been in before or since.
Richard Pryor – Blue Collar (1980)
Paul Schrader wrote existential urban Western Taxi Driver (1976) but also directed some compelling dramas. Blue Collar is probably his best film and it is my favourite Richard Pryor performance. Pryor had reinvented himself as a stand-up comedian shifting his persona from likeable TV friendly gag-man to a snarling, coked-up, angry social satirist. He would roughen out the edges of this act to become the slick, effervescent and honest performer who turned the dramas and stories of his life into comedy gold. Pryor would be a natural comic force on silver screen and formed a fine double act with Gene Wilder. However, Blue Collar is the best film I saw him in as it combines the humour, drama and social commentary that Pryor himself included in his act. Set in Detroit it highlights the hypocritical machinations of Union practices at a car plant. Pryor provided some humour but his character shows an anger and energy throughout which may or may not have been fuelled by his Olympic coke-taking. Egos clashed among cast (including Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel) and crew and it shows on screen in a fiery examination of the working class man and his lot.
Jerry Lewis – The King Of Comedy (1983)
To be able to steal the acting honours from Robert DeNiro at the height of his golden acting period takes some beating. But that is what old-school-crazed-slapstick-movie-mad-man Jerry Lewis did in Scorcese’s dramedy about obsessives. DeNiro is funny, embarrassing and tragic as the bottom-runged comedian but Lewis’ performance as hangdog, lonely and jaded chat-show host Jerry Langford stole the show. Langford, a successful TV presenter, remains at the height of his career but lives a seemingly lonely life with just his work for company. On the surface a decent guy but underneath he’s a jaded workaholic. DeNiro’s Pupkin enthusiastic, aspirational, hero-worshipping comic stalks him and becomes Langford’s own worst nightmare. There are so many painful scenes of toe-curling embarrassment in this movie notably when deluded Pupkin invites himself to Langford’s country retreat. When Langford is left at the mercy of Sandra Bernhard’s unhinged harpy Lewis’ performance is one of raging deadpan as he simmers with rage until he bursts like a pustule on escape and leaps down the road with tape around his ankles like bicycle clips. A truly under-rated gem of a performance and film.
Eric Bana – Chopper (2000)
Australian actor Bana started off in stand-up and TV sketch shows and was a novice dramatically speaking when cast as violent-criminal-turned-best-selling-novelist Marc Brandon Read. Given his comedic background Bana’s rendition is very funny but ultimately there is a dark drama and bloody violence too in the representations of this powerhouse of the Melbourne underworld. His creation is a paranoid, angsty, neurotic monster capable of terrific rage one moment then over-powering guilt the next. It’s a rounded version of a split-personality both interested in robbing drug dealers but also with his own myth, persona and media representation. There’s some terrific dialogue and Aussie banter between Chopper and the various low-lifes he encounters; and some visceral violence, notably when Chopper gets his ears cut off to navigate a route out of jail. The film holds a mirror up to a twisted society which creates celebrities out of killers and those who act outside of the law and it is to Bana’s credit that he makes this monster funny and likeable despite his actions deserving the contrary.
Mo’Nique – Precious (2009)
I wasn’t aware of Mo’Nique’s background as a stand-up comedian when I first saw this heartwrenching drama, but after witnessing her incredible performance I did some research and found she worked her way up from the open-mic circuit of Baltimore to the lofty heights of Best Supporting Actress. Her character Mary Lee Johnson is an emotionally-damaged-dysfunctional-car-crash-human-bully who puts her daughter Precious (equally brilliant Gabourey Sidibe) through all manner of abuse and neglect. As horror after horror befalls the story’s heroine her mother sits on the sofa barking, castigating, demanding; making her life a living hell. It’s a monstrous creation but one which is not without compassion as shown in one of the final scenes in the film where Mary Lee Johnson, in tears, asks, “Who was gonna love me?” And the strength of the performance is that we almost feel bad for this woman. Almost.
Steve Martin – The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Steve Martin’s film career is quite similar to Eddie Murphy’s inasmuch as his early films matched the brilliance and energy of his stand-up career only to find him moving later to more sub-par-Hollywood-generic-remakes like Bilko. But you can’t blame a performer wanting to make a living and Martin is one of the great Renaissance Men. He also wrote of one of the greatest books I’ve read about comedy: Born Standing Up. As an actor he’s always really funny playing downtrodden man-children or idiots happy to send himself up gaining laughs from crazed anger while remaining totally unthreatening; e.g. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). In David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner he played against type with a sinister turn in this cold, twisting thriller. Martin underplays throughout with intelligence and handles Mamet’s crisp dialogue with aplomb. It’s a fine film and performance utilising his linguistic skills expertly and I have no Clouseau why he didn’t go darker more often.