Holy Lands 2019 ****

James Caan is a bona fide film star who always kept his hand in as an actor; he gives one of his best performances in this thoughtful, tricky film from writer/director Amanda Sthers. Much like 2018’s Madame, Holy Lands is about ideological conflict, but filtered through personal relationships. Caan plays Harry, a belligerent cardiologist who moves to Israel to work as a pig-farmer. Tom Hollander plays rabbi Moshe who lives next door, and tries to dissuade Harry from his calling for obvious reasons. Roseanna Arquette plays Monica, his ex-wife who is suffering from a serious illness, while their son (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a gay Broadway director struggling to find himself, not helped by critics sleeping though his plays and then filing negative reviews. If the strands don’t all connect, that’s no great problem; whenever Caan and Hollander are on-screen, they show a great chemistry, ideal for the philosophical ruminations of the script. And if Hollander is terrific in an un-showy role, Caan is even better, as he plays,  in a signature role that reaches back to his iconic work in the 70’s, a troubled man who stubbornly refuses to accept his place in life.

The Killer Elite 1975 ***

Sam Peckinpah’s career peaked with The Wild Bunch; while his later films display flashes of genius, his greatest work was probably in the late 1960’s. By 1975, alcohol and drugs were catching up with him, and the opportunity to direct a studio film like The Killer Elite came with conditions. Those expecting an over-the-top bloody spectacle will be disappointed, but there’s still meat on the bones. James Caan models a terrific wardrobe of turtle-neck sweaters and suede jackets as Mike, a CIA operative who is double-crossed by his partner George (Robert Duvall). George shoots Mike in the knee, retiring his friend, but Mike goes through a long and painful rehabilitation process and eventually puts together a team to seek revenge. The same year as French Connection II, The Killer Elite switches focus to cover the long route back that a driven individual might take; Caan does well with the physicality, and Peckinpah’s downbeat word-view is a good fit for the bigger-picture plotline about CIA departmental rivalry. The Killer Elite has never looked better than in Amazon’s spanking print; the finale on the deck of the Reserve Fleet in California is crisp and clear even when the switching of allegiances isn’t.

Rollerball 1975 ****


Rollerball was intended as a chiding rebuke to violence is sport, but ends up being a celebration of brutality, and that’s no bad thing in Norman Jewison’s 1975 sci-fi thriller. James Caan is an ideal Jonathan E, a competitor in the sport of Rollerball, a mixture of motorcycling, basketball, wrestling, street-hockey and sudden death that’s used to appease the masses in a dystopian future. Adapted from the late William E Harrison’s novella, Rollerball is pretty astute away from the game, with a futuristic vision of rich, selfish class who destroy their environment for fun, incinerating trees and rather careless with literature. For a film that is purporting to criticize violence, the games scenes are undeniably thrilling, making the woodland scuffles of The Hunger Games look somewhat tame in comparison. And Caan rises to the challenge of making Jonathan E worth rooting for, an everyman who fights on as life gets tougher with each passing game.

A Bridge Too Far 1977 ****


Adapted from the book by Corneilus Ryan, who also wrote The Longest Day, Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1977 film is a true war epic, with William Goldman scripting an intricate, multiple character drama about the ill-fated Operation Market Garden as Allied troops attempted to push into Germany. A military disaster might sound like hard going for 175 minutes, but Attenborough and Goldman pull together a number of strong storylines, notably James Caan as a soldier who will not allow his friend to die, and Robert Redford as an equally determined Major.  Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman and Laurence Olivier all contribute memorable bits, and A Bridge Too Far is one of the few war epics that stands up today, mainly because Attenborough sees far more going on here than just troop movements.

Freebie and The Bean 1975 ****


The attitudes to race, sex and wanton property destruction have conspired to keep Richard Rush’s perfect buddy cop movie offscreen for long periods of time, but now you can experience what decades of taste arbitrators have deemed unacceptable for mainstream broadcast. A favourite of Stanley Kubrick, Freebie and The Bean stars Alan Arkin and James Cann as two cops talking down a drug-lord.  Urban chaos ensues with cars, motorbikes and truck flying in all directions; the joke is that the cops cause more problems than they resolve. Arkin and Caan’s repartee is exquisite, and  the scene where Caan busts open a tampax machine to staunch the blood from a bullethole is a stone-cold tough guy classic.