Film Reviews:

True Lies

(James Cameron, US, 1994)

Harry works for a Government Agency, as a spy, one of an élite force that form the last line of defence against national security. His wife, a legal secretary, believes Harry is a computer salesman and for over ten years Harry has kept his secret. But while he's out saving the world from terrorists, his wife becomes involved with a car salesman. She's attracted to him because she thinks he is a spy (!) and hopes he'll bring a little bit of excitement into her dull life. Harry finds out about their 'relationship' and decides to get even with his wife. But things go wrong when Harry's real line of work gets in the way of his family when he and his wife are taken hostage by The Crimson Jihad - a radical terrorist faction that threatens to destroy major American cities with nuclear warheads it has purchased from the ex-Soviet Union.

James Cameron's latest team-up with Arnold Schwarzenegger is entertaining no end. He certainly knows how to make a visit to the cinema (where all his films must be seen to truly appreciate them) a memorable experience. Although the two and a half hour running time exposes the extremely thin plot line it is a fun way to spend two and a half hours. Surprisingly, (probably due to the excessive length) it isn't the bang-a-minute barrage I was expecting but a far more leisurely pace. This is definitely due to Cameron's own screenplay which switches between Harry's (Schwarzenegger) home life where he constantly lies to his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and his exploits as a globe trotting super agent à la James Bond. This schizophrenic approach is obviously the whole point of the exercise, but maybe it is here that Cameron fails in his aim. Because the action set pieces (stunning though they are) contrast so much with the quite lengthy domestic angle, True Lies emerges as a kind of weird fish. It isn't a total action picture (like Cameron's Terminator 2), it isn't a espionage/spy thriller (in the Bond tradition) and it's not a husband/wife relationship story either. In fact, it's much easier to say what True Lies isn't rather than what it actually is.

Being an spy thriller fan, the opening sequence, despite ripping the opening from Goldfinger (with the radio contact guidance from The Living Daylights thrown in for good measure), promised much, and while I could not say I came away from the cinema disappointed with the film, it wasn't what I expected. But then, as already explained, it probably isn't what anybody expected. Although it isn't much like a Bond film (despite the spy scenario), the Bond connections are there: Art Malik as the terrorist leader (seen in The Living Daylights) and the production designer, Peter Lamont (also a veteran of Daylights and the last Dalton Bond, Licence To Kill). The performances are good. The big guy gets to take on the kind of emotional acting usually reserved for Harrison Ford vehicles, and Bill Paxton is particularly memorable as the sleazy car salesman. Jamie Lee Curtis is a little too 'prim as pie' playing Harry's quiet wife and ends up coming over almost as a cartoon caricature but as her character develops her role improves. Her (completely out of character) striptease in sleek black underwear is only just saved from embarassing voyeurism by a neat injection of humour that completely dissipates any sexual tension.

Brad Fiedel once again provides the music for a Cameron film but here it's uncommonly forgettable. And so we come to 'the special effects' - as important a feature in Cameron's movies now as any other. Basically, they're pretty mind boggling! The irritating, techno-effects know alls in the audience (like myself) will spot the model shots and opticals but the most extensive combination so far of opticals and computer graphics does offer some breathtaking shots, mostly centred around Harry piloting a jet fighter over a city. In long shot one can clearly identify Schwarzenegger as the guy 'in' the cockpit of the fighter as he hovers along side a skyscraper, shooting the hell out of the windows. And, as if that's not enough, we then have an incredible fight take place actually on the fighter! While True Lies may not be an exceptional film it is splendid entertainment. Only Cameron could throw away the nuclear destruction of an island off the Florida Keys as a mere aside, then to move on to the real finale.

Rob Dyer