Underrated Movies Set in Foreign Lands With American Actors Giving Amazing Performances

  • If you’re wondering what to do this weekend, you can do a lot worse than watching one of these films.
  • Travel to France, Germany, or the Middle East with excellent American actors and fabulous foreign supporting casts.
  • My guess is some cartographically-challenged Americans couldn’t grok the foreign plots, so these movies underperformed at the box office.

Happy Friday!

You’ve made it to a well-deserved cup of joe before the weekend.

First, thank you for the fantastic feedback concerning my vaccine piece.

To quench your curiosity, the mailbag is roughly split 50/50.

Some expressed genuine concern for my well-being, and I thank you for it.  I share those concerns and won’t rest easy for another six weeks.

Some quietly admitted to taking the shot themselves, many of those for the same reasons as I had.

It’s good to know I have good company on both sides of the issue.

I’ll write more in-depth about it next week.

But as it’s Friday, I thought I’d bang out a lighter Rude today.

The Hand That Holds the Clicker is The Hand That Rules the House

Admittedly, I usually own the remote control in my house. But Pam wrested control of it two nights ago.

Netflix in the Philippines is running Interview With the Vampire, one of her favorite 90s movies.

I had never seen it, as unless it’s Dracula, I’m not interested in vampire movies.  That attitude saved me from the car crash known as The Twilight Saga, and I’m grateful for it.

But as a gesture of goodwill – and an accumulation of much-needed political capital – I told Pam I’d be happy to watch it.

As I suspected, it wasn’t to my taste… no pun intended.

Though I’m a massive fan of both Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, the movie was a bit too dreary, plodding, and gory for me.

Give me Love at First Bite any day!

As I sat there, bored out of my skull, I thought of another unsung movie I loved Brad Pitt in.

That movie is Spy Game, the first of my choices.

But before I get into it, let me tell you why I’ve made this shortlist.

Yet to Fly

I didn’t take my first plane ride until I was 22.

My parents aren’t travelers.  They couldn’t care less about seeing things.

They want their nice house and their nice things and their nice television set.

And that’s fine.

So until I was 22, my international travel was limited to what Hollywood showed me.

I loved James Bond and Indiana Jones.  Still, one of my favorite movies is The Hunt For Red October.

But as I got older, I found more sophisticated fare with international casts – common now, but a rarity in those days – much to my taste.

So here are three of my favorite underrated movies starring American leads with international casts set in exotic locations.

Ronin

Before Robert DeNiro became an unhinged political joker and unfortunate recipient of egregious alimony demands, he was simply the greatest actor on earth.

Better than Pacino, better than Hanks.  Maybe even better than Jack.

Daniel Day-Lewis was already impressive, but not the towering presence he is today.  Gary Oldman was more a supporting actor whose excellence was noted but not yet venerated.

DeNiro was The Man.

And in this movie, he doesn’t play a gangster.  He’s the good guy.  And he’s excellent at it.

He had filmed Heat with Pacino a few years before, and I thought that was amazing.  I still do.

But Ronin is his unsung masterpiece.

I saw it with my father in 1998 at the movie theater.

We were both amazed.

Directed by the late, great John Frankenheimer and co-written by David Mamet, Ronin, named for the masterless Samurai, tells a story about an ex-CIA agent who goes freelance.

DeNiro leads a team of operatives, including Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, and Natascha McElhone, trying to acquire a suitcase.

Jonathan Pryce, Skipp Sudduth, and the late Michael Lonsdale round out an amazing cast.

The performances are sublime, and the plot, though convoluted, invites you into a covert world.  The dialogue is snappy, and the relationships between the characters are pretty fleshed out.

But the real attention grabbers are the car chases through France.  Frankenheimer allegedly ordered his stunt drivers never to use the brakes.

You can feel it when you watch it.

Spoiler Alert: For once, Sean Bean doesn’t die!

The Good Thief

One of my father’s favorite All-American actors, Nick Nolte, owns the screen in this underappreciated masterpiece

Directed by Neil Jordan, The Good Thief is a remake of the original French classic Bob le flambeur (Bob the Gambler).

Nolte plays Bob, a half-French, half-American heroin-addicted art thief that needs to do one last job.

His supporting cast of Nutsa Kukhianidze, Tchéky Karyo, and Saïd Taghmaoui play their relish roles and are a joy to watch.

Nolte’s onscreen relationship with Karyo works particularly well, as the thief and the police detective who’s tasked with stopping Bob’s plan.

Set on the French Riviera, the scenery is spectacular.  But don’t expect To Catch a Thief’s refinement.  This is a gritty yet playful thriller.

Spoiler Alert: Yes, that is Ralph Fiennes playing an art dealer.

Spy Game

I’ll never understand why this movie didn’t sell more tickets.

You have two of the most handsome, iconic actors of their respective generations.  They’re spies, one mentoring the other.

There’s a woman.  There’s tension.  And finally, there’s reconciliation.

And yet, its worldwide box office was only $170 million.

The only thing I can think of is that studio heads forced director Tony Scott to leave a few pivotal scenes on the cutting room floor to save time.

If you watch this on DVD, definitely check those out.  Scott should have never deleted them.

Supporting Redford and Pitt are a stellar cast, for some of whom this movie had to be their first or second roles.

These include Benedict Wong, Omid Djalili, and Ken Leung.

The more seasoned veterans include acting sensei Stephan Dillane, Larry Bryggman, Catherine McCormack, and the inimitable Charlotte Rampling.

From the US to Berlin to China to the Middle East and back again, this film takes you on a ride around the world and through an increasingly complicated relationship between the maturing student and the master father figure who taught him (almost) everything he knows.

Wrap Up

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

If you’ve got an open time slot, I highly recommend watching at least one or all three of these films.

They’re a great antidote to the tripe Hollywood currently serves up.

Until next week.

All the best,

Sean

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