Liberty Stands Still
review by Eddie Cockrell, 25 January 2002

Palm Springs International Film Festival

In a public park, a woman stands chained to a hot dog vendor’s cart by a pair of handcuffs attached to her ankle. She’s in the sights of a man with a high-powered rifle in the window of an office building across the square. They communicate by cellular phone, and the rifleman’s game of verbal cat-and-mouse turns into a spirited, high-stakes debate about gun control, grief and responsibility. There’s also a bomb ("a really big bomb," he adds helpfully) in the hot dog cart, rigged to go off when her phone battery dies.

This is the central conceit of writer-director Kari Skogland’s ambitious and provocative new film, Liberty Stands Still. During the course of the confrontation, the basic tenets of the American action film get a fresh new workout by dint of her obvious passion for the material and some audacious casting. If the results aren’t as much of a commercial slam dunk as, say, such well-oiled political conspiracy-cum-social responsibility movies as Enemy of the State, chalk that up to some narrative implausibilities in the name of that passion, as well as audience expectations based on that casting.

The woman in question is Liberty Wallace (Linda Fiorentino), wife of genial but ruthless gun manufacturer Victor Wallace (Oliver Platt). It’s while on her way to an assignation with actor and lover Russell (Martin Cummins) as he prepares for the closing night of his most recent play that Liberty’s lured to the hot dog cart via phone by Joe (Wesley Snipes), who taunts her mercilessly but for no immediately apparent purpose. Turns out Joe’s got an agenda, fuelled by a genuine need for revenge and justice.

Generally speaking, Skogland’s narrative moves with a brisk and focused pace. If Russell’s subplot never really fits (or makes much sense) and the police occasionally appear conveniently inept, these weaknesses are swept aside by the continuously inventive ways veteran B-movie cinematographer Denis Maloney finds to circle the camera around the subjects. The exercise is massaged by Michael Convertino’s urgent score, which updates a Lalo Schifrin-era percussion-based cacophony with electronic bleats and squiggles.

The acting is fine in that taught, clipped way so conducive to the best thrillers, Fiorentino laying on her trademark sass and Platt treading a fine line between repellence and relaxation. Yet as good as Snipes is in a rare non-flashy role, his very presence represents a challenge: when one of our major action stars takes a part that requires him to do little more than squint down a gun barrel and fiddle with some high-tech equipment, the entire project is at risk. Credit Skogland’s incisive script with managing to hold audience interest by never really doing what they’ll expect it to do, right up until the downbeat yet completely logical fade.

If the world really needs a distaff version of Ridley Scott, then Skogland’s the real deal. Since 1994 she’s bounced between TV and theatrical projects, and her work includes episodes of "Family Law" and "Queer as Folk" as well as 1997’s Men with Guns (not the John Sayles film) and the 2001 Canadian thriller Zebra Lounge. She’s clearly got all the technical chops for the job, and if she’s sitting on other properties with the broad social subject matter and personal urgency of Liberty Stands Still (think of a clutch of Kevin Smith characters, all breathless enthusiasm -- but with something really smart and important to say), audiences will be hearing a lot more from her. And if she isn’t, she’s clearly in line for the kind of megabudget, action-oriented fodder that will probably never go out of style in the boardrooms or at the box office. Either way, Kari Skogland wins, and Liberty Stands Still is a noteworthy step in that direction.

Recently screened as part of the Nortel Networks Palm Springs International Film Festival, Liberty Stands Still is apparently slated for a first-quarter 2002 commercial release via Lion’s Gate Films.

Written and
Directed by:

Kari Skogland

Tanya Allen
Ron Selmour
Martin Cummins
Linda Fiorentino
Suzette Meyers
Oliver Platt
Jonathan Scarfe
Wesley Snipes

NR- Not Rated.
This film has not
yet been rated.





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