DVD Movie Review: Tomboy (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Derek Winnert 15.04.2017

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Tomboy (UK Rating: 15)

The 76-year-old legendary Director, Walter Hill, is back after 2012's Bullet to the Head with a very quirky, not to say downright peculiar, crime thriller. If it somehow feels a bit weird, awkward…and even pervy, that's because it is. Hill says: 'Is it lurid? Yes. Is it low-brow? Well, maybe. Is it offensive? No. I'm just trying to honour the B movies that we grew up with.'

The story and screenplay are by Hill and journalist-writer Denis Hamill. Hill optioned the first draft of Hamill's screenplay, Tomboy, a Revenger's Tale, back in 1978, revised and abandoned it for years. It has a very interesting premise and a first-class cast to deliver it.

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Sigourney Weaver (Avatar, The Cold Light of Day) relishes her big star part as vengeful nutty rogue surgeon, Dr. Rachel Jane, who avenges herself on the killer of her brother, bearded contact assassin Frank Kitchen, by getting him abducted and operating on him to turn him into a woman! After waking up to find he's undergone gender reassignment surgery, Frank is told he can't really have a second operation to turn him back into a man, and so instead searches for Dr. Rachel for his own revenge.

The film could easily have been told chronologically and better told that way, probably, but instead it has an unusual flashback structure; admittedly a noir flashback structure, which is right and proper as it is in neo noir territory, both story-wise and visually. It starts where it probably shouldn't, with Dr. Rachel in a straitjacket, being interrogated by another doctor, Dr. Ralph Galen, to find out just what the heck is going on.

Luckily, Weaver being the superb actress she is, and Tony Shalhoub being the fine actor he is, as Dr. Ralph, their talky multiple scenes manage to be quite riveting. It feels more like a play than a film, but then weren't movies called photo-plays once upon a time? Yes, they were. Photo-play is a dated term for a motion picture. Nowadays, since they are called movies, films have to move, and Director Hill gets a move on in his flashbacks, complete with quite a bit of action, and some directorial flourishes like the occasional comic book images of the characters. Above all, though, the flashbacks are pure noir, involving, and even quite exciting.


 
There are two other main characters: the hero/heroine's nurse girlfriend, Johnnie (played by Caitlin Gerard, Magic Mike, The Social Network), a woman with secrets, and the not very accurately named Honest John Hartunian (Anthony LaPaglia, TV series Without a Trace). Yes, it is weird and confusing, but that is the point.

There's a slightly experimental feel about the movie, which is good, especially from an old guy of a director. Hill is well fired up, ensuring his well-chosen actors and crew are well fired up, too. Top billing goes to Michelle Rodriguez (Machete Kills, various The Fast and the Furious movies) in her second film this week, and this underrated talented actress is as effective here as she is in Fast & Furious 8. That is remarkable because it is quite a schlep for an actress to play both a male killer and a sex-op female version on the same character.

Her throat must have been sore for weeks after all that vocal growling involved with her role. Although a tough-seeming broad, Rodriguez isn't exactly convincing as a man - that would be too much - but she does it well, anyway... and she is very convincing as a sex change, on the gun-happy vengeance trail.

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The conclusion might come as a surprise to some, and although those who have seen too many movies will predict the ending, it's is satisfying anyway. Despite all Hill's efforts, and those of Rodriguez and Weaver, the movie stays in the good rather than great category, but that's quite okay. As for the transgender issue of the script, Hill says: 'I wouldn't make a movie that would hurt transgender people. Some of them have had a tough time of it, and the last thing I want to do is make anyone's road harder. But look, I understand the concern.' Weaver and Rodriguez reunite after 2009's Avatar, while Weaver reunites with Hill after 1979's Alien, where he was producer and scriptwriter. Does it make the film any better? Not particularly.

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Some might be offended - and for various different, possibly valid reasons - by Walter Hill's lurid and lowbrow B-movie crime horror thriller, Tomboy, but it's only a movie, and a weird but harmless old-style mad doctor movie at that.

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