' ' Cinema Romantico: Gina Callebrese, I Love You

Friday, July 13, 2007

Gina Callebrese, I Love You

My filmmaking idol Michael Mann probably does not make films that most feminists wait for with the utmost anticipation. This is to be expected. Primarily, Mann creates films that deal with men - existential, action-seeking men - and what drives them. James Caan in "Thief". Pacino and DeNiro in "Heat". Pacino and Russell Crowe in "The Insider" (which isn't an action film, per se, but deals with male friendship and loyalty). Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in "Collateral".

(It should be noted, however, that Mann's "Last of the Mohicans", possesses two women of whom feminists should be extensively proud. Cora Munro is as headstrong as they come and Alice Munro makes, in my estimation, the most ballsy decision of any movie character in history.)

I have no doubt most feminists dismissed Mann's "Miami Vice" last year the moment they heard about it. Based on an 80's TV crime show featuring, of all people, Don Johnson? A remake with, ahem, Colin Farrell? And Jamie Foxx? Yeah, that's got feminism written all over it. But re-watching "Miami Vice" for, I think, the 5th time now (I fall more deeply in love with it on each viewing) I realized that as much macho brew-ha-ha as there is (and there's a lot) one of the most headstrong women to come along cinematically in quite some time can be found amidst all the speedboating, and mojito-drinking, and testosterone.

I'm not talking about Farrell and Foxx's love interests - Gong Li and Naomie Harris, respectively. No, I'm talking about the supporting character played so brilliantly by Elizabeth Rodriguez, who I hadn't seen before and not since. Her character, in Farrell and Foxx's vice unit, of Gina Callebrese is as tough as they come and yet she's not a typical male fantasy movie character.

The first time we see her is when the undercover sting to arrest some pimp named Neptune is going down at a Miami club. We see Farrell, Foxx and Harris standing motionless with hardened looks (this shot - so simple - is breathtaking in its own right). We see the other two male cops in the unit. One of them grooves just a tad to the Jay Z song pumping on the soundtrack. The other one is outside under the ominous night sky, hair slicked back, dressed to the hilt. These guys, despite being on the job, clearly are trying to maintain an aura of hipness, just like Farrell and Foxx. Farrell, in particular, when he displays his flirting skills with the bartendress. But Rodriguez's Gina Callebrese leans up against the wall, arms crossed, scanning the area, dismissive of these club-hopping (and probably Ecstasy-popping) dimwits all around her.

Later, after the sting has been aborted, when our other four detectives join Farrell and Foxx on the rooftop, notice how Rodriguez walks toward them. It's not a saunter, nor a formulaic ladylike gait. It's a surly march. She stalks, determined. And when we see her at the informant's condo she keeps an icy, stoic, and ultimately beautiful cool, though not without losing her "don't-you-dare-fuck-with-me" attitude. "Can't do the time, don't mess with crime," she says. Cliched? Absolutely. But then I think she's saying it to show us she cares not at all for these pedantic cop cliches.

She's not merely, and generically, one of the boys. She can obviously handle her own shit (indulge in that shot where she smacks in the clip on the machine gun a couple times, if you want). There are no expected scenes of her pounding back beers at the bar with the "boys" (though we both know she could drink 'em all under the table). Consider the scene where Gina is at the club owned by our chief villain. She leans against the bar and the chief villain strides past, throwing the briefest of looks in her direction. A conventional movie would have made her to give him a nasty look in return, or maybe grab him by his hair and slam his face into the nearest wall. Instead, she merely glances at the Naomie Harris character as if to say, "What a jackass." Quick dismissal. That's it. She's a badass, yes, but a badass with grace.

But I haven't even mentioned the most dramatic sequence of the whole movie, and it's most crucial. (SPOILERS AHEAD!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!) Naomie Harris's character has been kidnapped by who we'll term the Bad Guys. She's tied up and blindfolded in a trailer and has a bomb strapped to her neck. Through various, and inevitable, reasons the Good Guys are able to make it to the trailer park and burst into the trailer. One of the Bad Guys snags the detonator to the bomb. Rodriguez and Foxx train their guns on him. "Go ahead. Shoot me," he says. "We can all go." And then Gina says this.....

"That's not what happens. What will happen is I will put a round at twenty seven hundred feet per second into the medulla at the base of your brain. And you'll be dead from the neck down before your body knows it. Your finger won't even twitch. Only you get dead. So tell me, sport, do you believe that?"

And before the Bad Guy can finish his response - bam! Exactly what she said would happen, happens. But here's why it's so crucial - Mann gave her the speech. It's an update on Eastwood's "Dirty Harry", of course. An homage. One of the manliest and macho of all movie characters, right? Both and Foxx and Farrell are present in this scene. Conventional filmmakers would have given that moment to either one of them. But Mann didn't. He gave it to Rodriguez. And that's why it's important. He knew of the three characters only one of them could have made it work. And it wasn't the men, it was the woman.

I propose an update on Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs' Battle of the Sexes Tennis Match. What we'll do is put Gina Callebrese and Harry Callahan in the same room, both with guns, staring each other down. And what's Harry got? That .45 Magnum? Please. Harry wouldn't even have time to get through half of one of his notorious retorts before Gina would put a round at twenty seven hundred feet per second into the medulla at the base of his brain.

His finger wouldn't even twitch.


Wretched Genius said...

Even during my first watching of the film I was wishing Rodriguez had more screen time. I found Naomie Harris boring, yet she got lots of time in front of the camera while Rodriguez was pushed to the background. It's just not fair.

Then again, as you stated, Rodriguez did get the single greatest moment of the whole movie, so maybe it was her trade-off.

Anonymous said...

Do you know Elizabeth Rodriguez? Have you seen her in anything else?

And you're right, she did need more screen time. Yet, maybe she didn't. I mean, how does Michael Mann do this? He did the same thing with Jodhi May as Alice Munro. He takes these small, supporting characters and turns them into something monumental.

His genius is so far beyond me it's insane.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, when I watched "Miami Vice," I must have been watching the "Crap Edition," because the movie I saw was crap. I was actually looking forward to this movie, because it looked fairly mindless, and Nick and I never agree on movies. This was going to be the time!

My excitement was ill-warranted, of course. Nick and I never agree on movies. I watched as every cliche of the police bad-boys movie was dragged out, slicked up, given a line of dialogue with the "f" word in it, and then forced to rape its own mother. When a movie bathes in cliche, it can be a wonderful thing, but when you stop and realize that the movie actually thinks it's good, that's horrifying. It was like watching "Deadwood," where rampant profanity and wooden acting stand in place of quality writing (I excuse 85% of the time Ian McShane is on screen and speaking).

The TV show was way, way worse. But it was fun in a way the movie wasn't. Fun in the way the TV show "Fastlane" was fun. If they remade "Fastlane" into a gritty, realistic dramatic powerhouse, the sound of intense blowing would be heard 'round the world. Like I heard when I watched "Miami Vice."

I am qualified to speak on this because of my 3 Oscars, 2 Golden Globes, and 14 Razzies.

Wretched Genius said...

No, I've never seen her in anything else.

And just an added note on Michael Mann: I have a family friend who produces for Working Title Pictures, and she tells me all about the celebrities she has to deal with on a regular basis. According to her, Michael Mann is a cinematic genius, which is why people are willing to look past the fact that he is an egotistical, narcissistic asshole who is generally unpleasant to be around.

And not in anyway related to Mann are the following other tidbits:

-Hugh Grant is also an egotistical jackass.

-Orlando Bloom is an overall decent guy, though he uses the fact that he's cute to manipulate people sometimes.

-Spielberg is an even bigger genius than you can imagine

-Heath Ledger is soft-spoken and nice.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've heard that about Michael Mann. It makes me a little sad. For instance, slate.com had an article about the filming of "Miami Vice" and Mann admitted - in a very roundabout way, of course - that he knowingly filmed with cast and crew during an actual hurricane warning. Not watch but warning.

I, of course, choose to pretend this article is all make-believe.

Rory Larry said...

why does a cinematic genius have to be nice? Would the works of Shakespeare be any less brilliant if we found out he was a complete asshole? Would Picasso's cubist work be less daring if we knew he was a bitter misogynist? You can separate the man from the art.

While I liked Miami Vice, I am leaning toward Daryl's opinion on this one, it wasn't cinematic brilliance.

Anonymous said...

Hey, a cinematic genius doesn't have to be nice. I agree. Regardless of his being an ass Michael Mann is still my filmmaking idol. He made "Last of the Mohicans", for God's sake. I mean, even if Benito Mussolini had made "Last of the Mohicans" I.....okay, I think I'll just stop right there.