New Movie Posts: The Proposition, Bobby, The Good Shepherd, Borat, Thank You For Smoking
The Proposition is a very nicely shot, well-cast (Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, John Hurt, Danny Huston), but finally uninvolving little gothic Western written by Nick Cave. It is also yet another movie that was absurdly overpraised. Cave currently enjoys the dubious luxury of not being able to take a wrong step with critics - the surest recipe for artistic complacency and stagnation - and it's Cave's script that lets the film down. Admittedly, Cave has come up with a good, archetypal story (a criminal is sent to kill his brother in exchange for freedom), but he doesn't appear to be interested in writing real characters we can sympathize with, or even believe in. The dialogue is functional at best, at worst pretentious and heavy-handed. Cave's presence is felt throughout every scene and every line, and it feels like an intrusion. His penchant for murder, darkness, and quasi-Biblical subtexts works fine when it's the backdrop for Gothic ballads, but here it just seems indulgent, slightly sophomoric. Though it looks beautiful, The Proposition doesn't really amount to much, not least because the film - Cave's script - is so full of itself. It parades its "deeper" meanings and existential violence like some whiskey-soaked barfly trying to be deep but only succeeding in being annoying. The Proposition is somehow smug and self-enamored, and it has a kind of arrogance - it never bothers to develop its themes or characters or bring them to life. When all the blood and thunder is over, however much we may be impressed by the spectcale (critics bought Cave's malarky hook, line, and sinker), we really couldn't give a damn.
Bobby. One of the best things I have seen recently, Emilio Estevez's film came as a real surprise. It takes place on a single day leading up to Bobby Kennedy's assassination, in the hotel where it occurred. An ensemble piece with a great cast (Sharon Stone, Christian Slater, Anthony Hopkins, Demi More, Estevez, Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, Laurence Fishburne, and some impressive, lesser-known actors), Estevez (who also wrote the script) directs with sensitivity and assurance and a remarkable lightness of touch. Estevez's real gift is his empathy for his characters (and for the actors playing them), and it's hard to think of another recent movie so completely and effortlessly populated with living, breathing people. The film deftly aspires to Altman-style ensemble, and though it never quite rises above the level of slick and proficient filmmaking, it's an amazing achievement nonetheless. Every scene offers unexpected pleasures, and every performance seems to crackle with the joy of acting (with the possible exception of Estevez and Anthony Hopkins, neither of whom do much new here). The scenes are woven together brilliantly, into a seamless and flawlessly entertaining tapestry of human lives. The individual moments - engrossing when taken apart - build towards a devastating climax in which, against all odds, Estevez manages to make us feel the event as a bona fide tragedy. Rightly or wrongly, he creates the powerful sense of a more innocent, idealistic time in which the corruptability of leaders was not a given and optimism was not synonymous with naivete. And he gives us, free from the cynical/ironic distance of most movies today (vide The Proposition), the death of hope. (The heavy-handedness of Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" here may be the film's only real wrong step, however.) In its own far humbler (and consequently more affecting) fashion, Bobby stands as a worthy companion piece to Stone's JFK. Not a masterpiece, but an almost perfect gem, a tiny work of art that is all the more impressive for being so unassuming.
The reviews for The Good Shepherd (in the UK) were almost unanimously damning in roughly the same terms, that the main character (Matt Damon) was a lifeless cypher and the movie was long-winded, meandering, and dull. All pretty much true, but lugubrious as it is, Robert DeNiro's film is still just about worth a look, not least for its early Skull & Bones initiation scenes and some fairly convincing snapshots of the inner workings of the CIA. It's half a good movie that never quite comes together and goes on way too long. But it's no worse than a lot of other 2006 movies that got praised to the skies.
Borat was one of the biggest moneymakers of last year and I suppose the time had come for a tacky, raucous, tasteless and politically incorrect third world comedy. Borat is certainly all those things, but it's not really that funny - in fact, it's kind of annoying. Like Clerks, it's an example of raw, amateurish and basically crude filmmaking that was lucky enough to coincide with what audiences wanted, and subsequently soared to heights of success far beyond any actual merits the film possessed.
Thank You For Not Smoking
Very entertaining little social satire, carried by Aaron Eckhart in a career-topping role, with some mildly subversive insights and a good supporting cast (Maria Bello, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, Sam Eliott, that annoying kid from Birth and all those other bad movies). It skillfully walks the tightrope of its subject matter - a protagonist whose job is to put a good spin on cigarettes and who is basically a scumbag, but whose charm is irresistable - and manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of pastiche and pass for a semi-realistic character tale. Recommended.