Denerstein: Resistance is futile, revel in Fast and Furious 7

The latest installment of the Fast and Furious series turns the words “beyond belief” into feeble understatement.

Oblivious to the laws of either script logic or Newtonian physics, Furious 7 makes no bones about trying to win audience favor by packaging action set pieces that go so far over-the-top, they beg to be watched with open-mouthed wonder.

The most spectacular of these high points takes place in starkly modern Abu Dhabi. There, Vin Diesel‘s Dom and Paul Walker‘s Brian drive a sleek Lykan HyperSport — lipstick red, of course — through an upper-story window of the city’s Etihad Towers. The car flies across a terrifying chasm and slams through the window of another tower.

Clearly, we’re meant to marvel at the sheer excess and spectacular audacity of such bits. We do — or at least I did, even when I first saw it one of the movie’s trailers.

But, hey, it’s not all pedal to the metal. It should be noted that Furious 7 concludes with a touching tribute to Walker, delivered in the bros-forever style that has characterized the series from the start.

If you didn’t know that Walker’s death in 2013 occurred during the shooting of Furious 7, you might conclude that director James Wan (The Conjuring) was downplaying Walker’s contribution to add a bit of freshness. No big deal.

For the record: I’ve read that the filmmakers used Walkers’ brothers — Caleb and Cody — as stand-ins to finish shooting. It’s not easy to tell where one Walker left off and another began, but I couldn’t help trying. Every time Brian appeared on screen, I wondered a little about how he had gotten there.

Each installment includes new characters, inserted the way car dealers try to pile on options.

Added to this year’s model: Kurt Russell, no stranger to action movies having escaped from both New York and Los Angeles in John Carpenter movies, plays a character called Mr. Nobody, head of a private army.

Djimon Hounsou shows up as a scowling bad guy with terrorist inclinations.

British actor Jason Statham also joins the fray; he portrays Deckard Shaw, a man seeking vengeance for damages done to his younger brother in the previous movie. Deckard wants the Fast and Furious crew to pay dearly.

Although his facial expression never seems to vary, it’s safe to assume that Deckard enjoys blowing things up. What, after all, would a movie titled Furious 7 be without a few flaming fireballs and a bit of flying debris?

Nathalie Emmanuel, familiar from HBO’s Game of Thrones, signs on, as well. She plays a gifted computer hacker who knows all about a program that enables people to track and follow anyone in the world, providing he or she is carrying some sort of electronic device.

Lots of folks want to get their hands on this program, but the story — if it can be called that — doesn’t build anything like traditional suspense: Rather, it has the feel of something written in the back seat of a speeding car on a bumpy road. It jars, bounces and sometimes even splatters.

Oh well, when things become too ragged, you can count on Diesel to deliver the kind of line that seems designed to remind the audience that mayhem isn’t the only point.

“The most important thing in life will always be family,” says Diesel’s Dom, evoking a recurring theme.

The regular crew members return, and — in varying degrees — receive their moment in the spotlight.

Of these regulars, I’d rank Ludacris‘s Tej as my favorite. Playing smart in a series such as this is no small achievement. Way to go Ludacris.

You probably should also know that the amnesia-afflicted Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) gets into a knock-down, drag-out battle with a character played by Ronda Rousey, a champion ultimate fighter in her non-movie life.

Oh, I almost forgot. Dwayne Johnson appears again, although we don’t see much of FBI agent Hobbs until he rises from a hospital bed at the end of the movie so that he can tote a major weapon into the streets of LA and spray bullets at a menacing aircraft.

I don’t want to sound like a spoilsport, but frenetic editing sometimes gives the action a near-haphazard feeling, so much so that during the movie’s prolonged finale, it’s not always possible to tell who’s fighting whom.

Still, it’s difficult to watch a movie such as Furious 7 and not be amazed by the heights (sometimes literally) to which the car chaos has been taken, and there’s enough globe hopping — from the United Arab Emirates to Azerbaijan — to create yet another level of diversion.

We all know the drill. A Fast and Furious movie exists to deliver out-sized action, cool cars and an occasional display of female body parts, curvy as a polished fender. One imagines that there are at least three general kinds of scene headings in the script for Furious 7: interiors, exteriors and posteriors.

And don’t think that just because Walker’s gone, the series is done. Trying to stop one of these franchises is like trying to halt a speeding semi-truck. Either get out of the way or go along for the ride. Resistance, I’m afraid, is pointless.

Read more Denerstein at his blog.

Denerstein: A movie on divorce in Israel that will make you scream

According to Orthodox Jewish law, a woman only can be divorced from her husband if he agrees to give her what is known as a “gett,” a religiously sanctioned document that’s necessary if the marriage is to be dissolved. If the husband refuses, the woman cannot be divorced.This religious provision, which is part of Israeli law, can lead to heartbreak and frustration when a recalcitrant husband chooses to deny his wife’s request.This is the background for the powerful Israeli movie Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem, a sobering courtroom drama about one woman’s efforts to obtain a divorce from her reluctant husband.

Ronit Elkabetz plays Viviane, a woman who hasn’t lived with her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) for three years. Viviane supports herself as a hairdresser, and still helps pay off the family mortgage.

As possessive as he is pious, Elisha won’t budge. As the movie unfolds, we learn about what appears to have been a loveless marriage in which Viviane became increasingly miserable. The couple had four children, only one of whom remains at home.

It’s instructive that the opening images are presented from Viviane’s perspective. She’s seated in the courtroom, which means the camera is looking up at the men who will decide her fate. Further elaboration seems unnecessary.

Vivian’s lawyer (Menashe Noy) persuasively argues her case, but can’t disguise his growing exasperation. Elisha is represented by his brother (Sasson Gabai). A three-judge panel is led by a rabbi played by Eli Gorstein.

Gett takes place almost entirely in an unadorned courtroom, where Elkabetz subtly and more directly reveals her reactions to the proceedings or to witnesses who testify during hearings that wind up spanning an agonizing five years.

Co-directed and co-written by Elkabetz and her brother Shlomi Elkabetz, the movie raises issues that range from legally and morally substantive to highly personal. In this context, marriage — no matter how unhappy — is deemed of greater importance than Vivian’s individual fulfillment.

What are the grounds for divorce? asks one judge.

She doesn’t love him anymore, says Viviane’s attorney.

A lack of love is not sufficient grounds for a divorce, replies the judge.

Not surprisingly, there are moments when this battling husband and wife, both originally from Morocco, look at each other with a bone-chilling contempt that amplifies the meaning of a familiar phrase, “If looks could kill.”

Elisha says his wife’s secular ways interfered with his religious observance and wrecked their 30-year marriage.

But the couple became engaged when Vivian was only 15, well before she legitimately could have known what she wanted from life.

Gett proves compelling because its clash of values is deeply felt and because the movie takes place in a hot-house atmosphere in which Viviane’s smoldering emotions are never far from the surface. Elkabetz’s performance is quietly vivid, expressing both Viviane’s long-suppressed sexuality and her mounting disdain for a lop-sided court proceeding.

It’s impossible, I suppose, for a secular American audience not to take sides in this dispute. The judges aren’t necessarily committed to saving the marriage, but they must obtain an outcome that conforms to religious law.

Still, law favors the stony-faced Elisha. At one point, the judges encourage Viviane to return home to try to work things out. She does, but the situation proves intolerable.

Without being preachy, Gett presents one of the best cases ever made in a movie for civil law, not as a means of opposing religion — those who choose to follow religious law should be able to do so — but as a way of protecting vital human freedoms for those who want to live otherwise.

 
Read more reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.

Denerstein on ‘Selma’: No biopic; it’s a great study of a landmark moment

A few observations from the fine new movie Selma: Martin Luther King sometimes ate ravenously. He had difficult conversations with his wife, a woman forced to deal with matters as ominous as death threats while wondering about his relationships with other women. Like many busy men, he spent too much time away from his family, and he became the symbol for a movement that would have gone nowhere without the hard work of many others. On occasion, he smoked cigarettes.

All that’s tactfully shown by director Ava DuVernay.

DuVernay’s movie also makes it clear that King’s rhetoric soared and inspired a nation, that he often put his body on the line to advance the cause of justice and that he understood how to move public opinion. He was the prophet who stood outside the gates of power, urging the powerful to help the long arc of the moral universe bend toward justice, as he might have put it.

For all that, Selma isn’t a King biopic: It’s an entirely absorbing look at the landmark 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.Stirring and sobering, Selma enables us to feel the urgency and complications of a moment when the wheel of history definitely was turning.

DuVernay surely knew that Dr. King already has been enshrined in the sacred pantheon of American greats. She’s interested in the man who fought for civil rights, not the icon created by a self-congratulatory culture that belatedly lauds him.

As played by the gifted British actor David Oyelowo, Dr. King never wavers about his goal — in this case gaining voting rights for black people in the Jim Crow South. He strategizes, looks for the best ways to dramatize each protest and bring repression to the forefront of American consciousness.

On occasion, he’s beset by doubt, not about the cause, but about what he’s asking others to sacrifice.

The first attempt to cross the bridge, of course, resulted in brutal attacks on 600 peaceful marchers by state and local law enforcement officials. DuVernay doesn’t flinch from that violent reality, either.

These bridge scenes are mini-masterpieces of tension in which DuVernay makes terrific use of silence to create a sense of fearful anticipation. She allows us to feel what it must have been like for the marchers to see armed men — some on horseback — awaiting them on the other side of the bridge.

In Washington, a frustrated Johnson expresses annoyance with King for insisting on a voting rights bill so soon after Johnson had pushed a Civil Rights Bill through Congress. Eventually, the movie suggests, Johnson unleashed J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI (Dylan Baker) in an attempt to embarrass King with a purported recording of a sexual encounter. The recording was delivered to Mrs. King.

You may have read that this Johnson/Hoover alliance, along with other matters concerning LBJ, has been disputed by some. Don’t let these criticisms sway you from the movie. Selma recognizes the scope of a movement that climbed the ladder of power. It shows disagreements that sometimes tore at the civil rights movement from within, but also how its force rippled all the way to the White House. I’d argue that DuVernay appreciates the difference between a president and someone who’s pushing that president to act.

History, of course, is seldom as tidy as we’d like in to be. Young black activists from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee had been working in Selma before King and his Southern Christian Leadership contingent arrived. Initially, they viewed King as a celebrity interloper, a man who wanted to cash in on the grunt work they’d been doing.

King knew they had a point, but also understood that the movement needed a figure head and a voice. He thought he and his colleagues were best suited to calling attention to a movement based on a three-part approach that already had produced results: negotiation, demonstration and resistance.

The days leading up to Selma were full of stark contrasts. Perhaps that’s why DuVernay begins in 1964 with Dr. King receiving the Nobel Prize in Oslo. He shares a fancy hotel room with his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo).

Oyelowo’s subtly tuned performance picks up the irony of the situation — he’s enjoying comfort in Norway while many were suffering at home. Oyelowo lets us know that King realizes that his work isn’t finished. His eyes are on a bigger prize than any that could be awarded in Europe.

DuVernay takes us from Stockholm to the Birmingham bombing that resulted in the death of four black girls. She then shows us obstacles put in the way of Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey), a black woman who’s trying to register to vote in Selma. Cooper is given a ridiculous qualifying test in which she’s asked to name every county judge in Alabama.

Working from a screenplay by Paul Webb, DuVernay evokes a potent feeling for the time — its ugliness, its idealism, its internecine battles, its heroism and breadth.

King may have endured his dark nights of the soul, but he also was a great man, and his speeches (adapted here from originals) still produce goose bumps. It doesn’t take a perfect man to speak to the conscience of a nation. It takes a man who’s brilliant, brave and right about the justness of his cause.

Many of the supporting performances are spot on. Tim Roth, for example, makes a convincingly appalling George Wallace, the Alabama governor who thought he just might be shrewd enough outfox Lyndon Johnson.

Selma also introduces the supporting cast that surrounded Dr. King, figures such as Andrew Young (Andre Holland), Diane Nash (Tessa Thompson), Rev. Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce) and John Lewis (Stephan James).

As you look at DuVernay’s images of the march, you’ll be reminded of an important truth. Prominent figures are seen leading marchers across the Pettus Bridge. But when demonstrators finally headed for Montgomery, it wasn’t the people in the front of the line who turned a protest into a movement. It was everyone who marched along — taking the rest of the country with them.

Selma serves as a look at a fascinating collection of real-life characters, as an ultra-dramatic rendering of a tumultuous moment and perhaps as a goad: The march may not look the same today, but there’s still much to overcome.

[More Denerstein at Denerstein Unleashed.]

Denerstein’s Top Ten-plus movies of the year

Denerstein’s Top Ten-plus movies of the year

What kind of a movie year has it been? Let’s be guided by the spirit of the season and be generous. Call it a year of small triumphs, which means that no gargantuan movie emerged to dominate the big-screen landscape. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless you happen to be a major studio hungering for the imperial clout of a bona fide blockbuster.

The year in Colorado? That’s another story. Film commissionerDonald Zuckerman helped land a Quentin Tarantino production — with a boost from a $5 million incentive package. Tarantino began shooting his western, The Hateful Eight, in Telluride this month.

No disrespect to Tarantino, but Colorado’s real 2014 triumph involved documentaries. In April, four documentaries with deep Colorado roots made their way to the increasingly important Tribeca Film Festival in New York City: Silenced (about whistleblowers), Keep on Keepin’ On (about the relationship between jazz musician Clark Terry and a young blind pianist),Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary (about the Lego phenomenon) and a work in progress about endangered species from the same team that made The Cove, a 2009 documentary about the abuse of dolphins in Japanese waters.

Keep on Keepin’ On has made the 15-film short list of documentaries eligible for an Oscar nomination. The five finalists will be announced on Jan. 15.

And, no, you don’t have to be a jazz lover to receive a feel-good, inspirational boost from a movie that reminds us of the importance of mentorship in developing young talent and of the rewards of friendship at any age.

To add to the continued aura of importance surrounding Colorado documentaries, two of Colorado’s Oscar winning documentarians — Denver’s Daniel Junge and Boulder’s Louie Psihoyos — will have films at 2015’s much-watched Sundance Film Festival next month.

Both Junge’s Being Evel (about daredevil Evel Knievel) and Psihoyos’s Racing Extinction (the film that showed in rough form at Tribeca) will be in competition for best documentary.

A quick reminder: Junge won an Oscar for the 2012 short filmSaving Face, and Psihoyos took home Oscar gold for The Cove.

The ascension of documentaries aside, most moviegoers still judge the movie year by what’s available at the nation’s multiplexes and art houses.

Let me say something about what my 10-best list (see below) isn’t. It isn’t a slam at movies that aren’t on it. I very much admired the work done byEddie Redmayne (as Stephen Hawking) and Felicity Jones (as his wife) in The Theory of Everything.

Along with just about everyone else, I thought that Benedict Cumberbatch was exceptionally good in The Imitation Game, the story of the gay mathematician who helped crack the German Enigma Code during World War II.

I was swept away by the austere, black-and-white imagery of the Polish film Ida, about a nun who learns she’s Jewish before taking her final vows, and I’m still thinking about the performance given byAgata Kuleza, who played Wanda, the nun’s Jewish aunt and a fading Communist big-shot.

I wouldn’t say that Get On Upwas a great movie, but I can’t believe that Chadwick Boseman, who played James Brown, didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination in the best actor category. Perhaps the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will rectify the situation, but I doubt it.

It’s difficult for me to think of a movie that had more visceral charge than Whiplash, the story of an aspiring jazz drummer (Miles Teller) tormented by a driven but sadistic teacher (J.K. Simmons). Director Damien Chazelle gave the movie’s musical segments the drive of an action movie.< I loved the work done by James Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan and Jeff Goldblum in Le Weekend, a clear-eyed look at love and failure.

Mathieu Amalric‘s The Blue Room might have been the most adult thriller of the year. Both James Gandolfini and Tom Hardywere fine in The Drop, an underrated adaptation of a Dennis Lehane short story about men and the mob.

I’m eager to re-visit Listen Up Philip. This look at the life of an arrogant young novelist featured fine performances by Jason Schwartzmanand Jonathan Pryce, as well as strong supporting work from Elisabeth Moss as Schwartzman’s increasingly independent girlfriend.

Julianne Moore will break the hearts of those who see her as an Alzheimer’s afflicted college professor in Still Alice.

The following two movies are likely to turn up on lots of people’s year-end lists. Not mine. I remain in a minority as far as Birdman is concerned. It failed to make a believer out of me. I often have trouble relating to Wes Anderson‘s movies, but The Grand Budapest Hotel was a visual treat and deserves praise for the way Anderson embedded wit in the movie’s engaging cascade of images.

When it came to big-ticket, mainstream fare, I had decent enough times at Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Edge of Tomorrow.

Keep in mind that there’s nothing a critic does that’s more personal than a year-end list, and that not every movie on the list qualifies as perfect.

These are the movies that I remember fondly and, in some cases, am still thinking about or (heaven help me) regard as “important” for one reason or another.

Here, then, the list:

1. Boyhood

Director Richard Linklater‘s 12-year portrait of contemporary childhood offered the best depiction yet of the fragmented lives that define more and more American families. Linklater focuses on Mason — played by Ellar Coltrane — from ages six to 18. Linklater obtains great work from Coltrane throughout, as well as equally rich contributions from both Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as Mason’s estranged parents.

Linklater shot the movie in 39 days over 12 years, employing the same cast throughout. As a result, we watch young people grow and mature until time deposits them — uneasily, I think — on the cusp of adulthood.

2. A Most Violent Year

The third film from director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call and All is Lost) casts Oscar Isaac as Abel Morales, an ambitious and emotionally controlled man who’s trying to make his mark in the heating-oil business in New York City. Abel’s wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) keeps the books. Unrecognizable after playing a folk singer in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Isaac gives a singularly focused performance as a businessman who’s trying to be as straight as he can in an industry rife with corruption. Chastain makes a major stretch as a Mafia princess who sometimes wishes her husband would play dirtier, and Albert Brooks gives an admirably understated performance as Abel’s attorney. A slice-of-life movie set in 1981, A Most Violent Year never resorts to melodrama as it assays the meaning of ethics in a morally compromised world.

3. Leviathan

You’ll see the Polish movie Ida on many 10-best lists, and there’s no question that director Pawel Pawilkowski‘s drama — shot in beautifully composed black-and-white images — is worthy. Look for it to win an Oscar as best foreign-language film. For me, though, the work of Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Return) stood out more. In Leviathan, Zvyagintsev immerses us in a small Russian coastal town that serves as a microcosm of a faltering society. Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) works as a mechanic in a fishing village in northern Russia. A corrupt mayor conspires to take Kolya’s property. The land grab sets the stage for an unvarnished portrait of a society in which no amount of vodka can still the pain inflicted by a boundless corruption and betrayal.

4. Selma

Watching director Ava DuVernay‘s Selma recreation of events in Selma during the Civil Rights era proved moving and evocative, a reminder of a time when moral lines were drawn with unshakeable force. DuVernay builds her movie around David Oyelowo‘s portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but reminds us that we needn’t canonize King in order to admire him. DuVernay also doesn’t flinch from portraying dissension within the civil rights ranks, either. The performances — notably from Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King — are memorable, and the bravery of those who lived in or traveled to the South to rid the nation of Jim Crow proves incredibly stirring.

5. Snowpiercer

South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho (The Host) whips up one of the wildest and weirdest movies of the year, a dystopian adventure that turns a speeding train into a metaphor for a class-bound society. Finally, an action movie with starkly powerful political overtones, a wild sense of humor and an unrecognizable and ferociously funny Tilda Swinton. Alfred Hitchcock made the classicStrangers on a Train. Bong has made a movie that might be calledStrangeness on a Train, and moviegoers are better off for it.

6. Nightcrawler

Those who were looking for a Network-style criticism of the sensationalized approach to TV news probably were disappointed, but Nightcrawler was about more than a crime-hungry media. Writer/director Dan Gilroy created one of the year’s most memorable characters, a frightening autodidact who gave Jake Gyllenhaal an opportunity to find his inner freak — and to give his best performance to date. Gyllenhaal plays a freelance TV news photographer who seems to have been assembled from all the worst elements in contemporary society: the bromides of self-help manuals, the instant knowledge provided by heavy Internet browsing and coldhearted ambition. Credit Rene Russo with one of the year’s best supporting performances as a news director desperate to boost her station’s ratings.

7. Starred Up

Not many performances could come close to challenging whatTom Hardy accomplished in the 2008 movie Bronson, the story of a notorious British prisoner — at least not until Jack O’Connell hit the screen in Starred Up. O’Connell found himself as the center of a scorching drama about Eric, a 19-year-old prisoner who survives by smashing just about anything and anyone in his path. Ben Mendelsohn plays Eric’s father, another prisoner. Psychologically astute and entirely gripping, this prison drama hits home with the force of a cold shiv in the ribs. I’m of course, speaking metaphorically, and not from experience.

8. American Sniper

It’s astonishing that Clint Eastwood — now in his 80s — would even want to direct a movie as sprawling and difficult as American Sniper, a tautly realized war movie that rips its way through Navy SEAL training and winds up in Iraq. There, Chris Kyle becomes the war’s most dangerous sniper with more than 160 kills. The war footage is tense, but Eastwood also explores the impact killing and repeated tours of duty had on Kyle, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. A bulked-up Bradley Cooper — certainly not the actor I would have imagined in this role — gives his strongest performance yet as Kyle. Working from a real story, Eastwood doesn’t lecture us about the horrors of war, but lets us draw our own conclusions about war, SEAL culture and the toll of combat.

9. Two Days, One Night

Belgium’s Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre and Luc) are cinema treasures, having given us movies such The Child and Rosetta.Two Days, One Night may not be the brothers’ most powerful movie, but it continues the Dardenne’s unwavering commitment to telling stories about ordinary people. Marion Cotillard plays a woman who has been laid off from her job after her employer asks his employees to vote: Either they all give up bonuses or one of them will lose a job. Desperate and worried, Cotillard’s character asks her fellow employees to reconsider. Once again, the Dardennes have made clear the agonies of people facing difficult situations, crises they did nothing to create.

10. Locke

One man alone in a car? Sounds like a formula for cinematic disaster, but Tom Hardy helped make director Steven Knight‘s movie into a small treasure by giving us a telling portrait of a British construction manager trying to behave honorably. Hardy’s Ivan Locke takes a drive he doesn’t want to make — from Birmingham to London. He abandons his family and the most important job of his career in an effort to do the right thing by a young woman with whom he had an affair. During the trip, Hardy makes and takes calls from his character’s BMW’s hands-free phone, and Knight and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos defy the odds by keeping the story visually alive.

More to the point: I couldn’t let 2014 pass without acknowledging Locke in a significant way. He’s capable of embodying ferocity and tenderness into a single character, and he’s not likely to win any awards this year. He should.
So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it — at least until I change my mind. Some of the movies on my list won’t be making their way around the nation until January. So stay tuned, and have a happy New Year.

Denerstein on the final installment of The Hobbit

Denerstein on the final installment of The Hobbit

I give up. Why resist director Peter Jackson‘s final installment of The Hobbit; a.k.a., The Battle of the Five Armies.

If there were a quiz, I confess that I wouldn’t be able to name the five armies nor would I be able to say I deeply cared about which one of them prevailed at the end of Jackson’s massive, three-part Tolkien extravaganza.

A sense of proportion pushes me into agreement with those who argue that The Hobbit might have been more admirable if Jackson had made one movie instead of three — or at most, say, two.

It seems unfair to have asked us to spend almost six hours on the two previous movies that set up this final chapter, which clocks in at a fleet two hours and 24 minutes, almost a short when it comes to Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Say this, though: Jackson certainly hasn’t underestimated Tolkien’s audience appeal. He has given the Tolkien fan base ample reason to support his efforts, which are chock full of CGI marvels, complex storylines and — in this case — a battle that becomes the big-screen equivalent of the 100 Years War. That’s a snarky way of saying that the damn thing lasts for about 45 minutes.

Now, if that battle — which follows a bravura opening in which an entire city is burned by a fire-breathing dragon — weren’t something to see, Jackson would deserve to be scorned. But in both its larger and smaller fights, Jackson presents battles that have the power to awaken those who have suffered through mid-picture torpor.

The movie begins with an attack by the dragon Smaug on peaceable Lake-town. Smaug is well on his way to torching the entire place when Bard of Bowman (Luke Evans) figures out how to slay the dragon.

Bard (or is it Bowman?) then leads the survivors to a mountain redoubt to seek shelter from a pending attack by the Orcs, who are marching as relentlessly as only Orcs can toward the same mountain fortress.

Meanwhile, other groups also are en route to the mountain, and Jackson introduces us to a variety of familiar Tolkien characters — of interest to the faithful and of no consequence to anyone else.

Now, the dwarves already have occupied the mountain, which also contains an ungodly amount of treasure. Thorin (Richard Armitage) has taken charge of the dwarves and is busy orchestrating things for his own, ambitious ends.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continues to be a “can’t-we-all-get-along” kind of Hobbit, and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) shows up to add the customary gravitas.

It takes a while for all of the various factions to realize that they must join forces against the Orcs.

Enough about the plot, which the uninitiated might best approach with a scorecard listing all the various players.

Here’s what redeems Jackson’s opus: Significant characters die, and we feel the sorrow of their passing. The tone of the final segment is full of nobility, and, at times, a tragic sense of heroism.

The great battle is followed by a kind of idyll in which Bilbo returns to the Shire, where he attempts to resume normal life. Suddenly, the movie’s dark palette is flooded with lush greens.

Personally, I’m happy that the whole business has concluded, and I hope that Jackson finds other ways to express himself. I was touched by this operatic finale, but I’ve had all I can stand of Hobbits, Orcs, Dwarves, wizards and trolls.