The best performance in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is by someone never seen on the screen.
Computer-aided acting whiz Andy Serkis plays Caesar, a chimpanzee who leads a revolt of brainy apes against humans out to destroy them in Rupert Wyatt’s smart sci-fi thriller. He portrays Caesar as a thinking, feeling chimp with sparkling green eyes that convey pain, compassion and sorrow.
The chimp outshines all the humans in “Planet,” including James Franco’s lackluster turn as a scientist who does risky genetic testing on apes in order to develop a cure for his dementia-plagued dad (John Lithgow).
Aping primates in movies has come a long way since 1968, when Charlton Heston co-starred with men in monkey suits in the original “Planet of the Apes.”
Today, performance-capture technology allows filmmakers to create digital characters that realistically reflect an actor’s movements and facial expressions. And Serkis, who also played computerized creatures in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong” remake, has mastered the technique.
Though it features rousing scenes of apes swinging from the Golden Gate Bridge and climbing San Francisco skyscrapers, “Rise” isn’t just a special-effects triumph. It’s one of the few modern spinoffs of a classic film that often surpasses the original.
After his initial ape experiment for an international drug company goes awry, Franco’s scientist secretly tests a new brain-enhancing virus on Caesar, a baby chimp he raises as his own.
Caesar quickly demonstrates extraordinary intelligence --he learns sign language and can solve complicated puzzles -- but as he grows bigger and stronger, he also becomes dangerously aggressive. Banished to a primate center where he’s locked in a cage or cooped up in a plastic jungle, he revolts against an abusive handler (Tom Felton) and leads his fellow apes to freedom.
The resulting war ends with a spectacular showdown on the Golden Gate where the apes overturn a bus and use it as a shield against cops wielding clubs and machine guns.
Like the original, “Rise” ends with a shock that virtually guarantees a sequel.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” from 20th Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***1/2
Sex slaves and United Nations peacekeepers don’t belong in the same sentence.
Yet their connection is horrifyingly visible in “The Whistleblower,” a true-life thriller about an American peacekeeper in postwar Bosnia who uncovers a sex-trafficking operation involving diplomats, police, private contractors and UN personnel.
Larysa Kondracki’s first feature explores a disturbing world of filthy rooms, gruesome torture and slimy traffickers who view their captive young women as cash cows. “The Whistleblower” is a hard movie to watch, both for its subject matter and its dramatic flaws.
So much attention is paid to the heroics of Kathy Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), whose real muckraking inspired the movie, that the sex-ring victims come across as interchangeable figures with Russian accents. While that’s probably all they are to their sadistic bosses, it would have been nice to develop a few of their stories.
“The Whistleblower,” from Samuel Goldwyn Films, is playing in New York, Washington and Los Angeles. Rating: **1/2
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(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)