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Festivale online magazine, March, 1998

Mercury Rising

This is a very atypical Bruce Willis action flick. For that matter, it's an atypical action flick.

Art Jeffries is a burnt out FBI agent. He's just finished a hostage situation in South Dakota where militiamen attempted to rob a bank. Jeffries was undercover among the militia, trying to balance keeping his cover with negotiating a non-violent resolution. A gung-ho FBI supervisor causes a blood bath and Jeffries goes ballistic. Willis is great when he's dealing with authority figures whose balls are bigger than their brains. He radiates desperation, incredulity and anger, taking our viewpoint on such fools to the max.

Movie Poster, Mercury Rising, Festivale film review
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He's given dog-work to do in the hope that he'll quit. While he's monitoring a wire-tap with a geeky rookie, he's called out to investigate what seems like a murder/suicide and missing child in the suburbs of Chicago.

What he doesn't know, but we do, is that a nine year old autistic kid called Simon had broken Mercury, the US government's unbreakable encryption code, which has been tested for "the nerd factor" by being hidden in a book of puzzles. Simon had found the 1800 number hidden in the puzzle and direct dialed the NSA. Kudrow (Alec Baldwin, the charismatic head of the project, has his career and two billion bucks invested in Mercury. He has a pat line of convincing anecdotes to justify whatever he does to protect Mercury and knows all the right people. He sends an assassin, Burrell (L.L. Ginter, who looks like a younger, buff Richard Widmark) to clean up the problem.

Needless to say, Jeffries ends up on the run with Simon. His problems are complicated by Simon's autism and, in a creative way, simplified by them. Not everyone in the NSA is on Kudrow's wavelength. The geeks in the lab have a conscience. They send Jeffries a message coded with Mercury, which Simon reads for him.

Of course there's the big climactic confrontation. Unfortunately, the set where it takes place is lit like a set rather than a real place, so the sense of location we get from the well-used Chicago settings is diminished here.

So how is this movie atypical? Because the deaths matter. Each person's murder has a tangible, intense impact on those around them. There's no body-count overkill here. Violent death is shown as the ugly, depressing thing it really is. And in a time when kids are shooting other kids, that's not a bad message to send.

Ali says:
The premise is simple, the story arc is standard Hollywood, but the characterisation is strong, and the audience are carried through from beginning to end without a single mis-step.

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Click here to buy films from one of the online stores in Festivale's on-line shopping mall Terry Frost
3rd April 98

See also: Ali's Review for cast and crew credits and official website
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Festivale Online Magazine
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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Filed: Mar-1998 : Last updated: 3-Apr-1998 : Last tested: 3-Jul-2014: Last Compiled: 3-Jul-2014
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