Thursday, March 20, 2008

2007 Films in Review (Part 4 of 5)

Part 1 (w/ intro) here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.
NOTE: Spoilers Abound

Knocked Up
It’s almost hard to remember quite how funny this movie was. What tends to come to mind are all the scenes with Seth Rogen’s slacker roomies, but they really were the side dishes in this one. The heart of the movie is Rogen’s relationship with Katherine Heigl and her sister’s family, and it’s where Judd Apatow has shown his finest chops. There are aspects that seem haphazardly made up, like the random trip to Vegas, but we accept them because the characters are dealing with real-life problems. Sure, they may be exaggerated caricatures, but they react to their predicaments in very human ways. While we don’t hear people quoting lines left and right, I have to imagine this movie will be remembered for years to come.

Eastern Promises
After last year’s A History of Violence, and now this, we may be seeing the next phase in the evolution of David Cronenberg. He’s gone from straight up horror to bizarre to dramatic. I can’t help but be curious about his upcoming work. In this one, he takes us deep into a world few of us know anything about. Mortensen’s performance is what stands out the most. In another year, he may have won the Oscar for Best Actor. The film tackles a big subject with a lot of implicit hierarchy going on behind the scenes, but, much like Cronenberg's last output, it feels small and intimate. There are really only four characters that matter here – five if you count the baby. Those that appear affable turn sinister, and by the end, everything we believed has been turned on its head. Despite Mortensen’s nomination, this will likely be the ’07 movie that people return to with surprise at how good it is. It slipped through the cracks to a degree, but is a tense story that really delivers.

Away From Her
What a patient, sad movie this is. It cuts right to the heart of what love is all about, or at least what it should be about. In her directorial debut, Sarah Polley does an excellent job throwing us right into the story. There’s no wasted time here. Julie Christie garnered much attention for her capable performance as an Alzheimer afflicted woman. But Gordon Pinset’s is even better, hitting all the right notes as the suffering husband who at times feels that he deserves to suffer. There have been several movies made about Alzheimer’s, but so far, this is the gold standard in terms of showing how it affects everyone involved. In sum, it’s a movie for anyone with even the most modest ability to sympathize, which is why we watch movies in the first place, right?

No Country for Old Men
This film was so close to being perfect. Immediately after watching it, I knew something was missing. I couldn’t place what it was. So I read the book. Many have said that it is a word-for-word retelling of the story. That is a true assessment, save for two things. 1) The book does give us more information about the demise of Llewellyn Moss. Perhaps a minor point, but one that bugged me in the theater nonetheless. 2) Tommy Lee Jones was miscast as Ed Tom Bell. I know that many will disagree with me on this, but hear me out. He walks the part to a degree, but there is a big problem here. Tommy Lee Jones is far too worldly a man to be playing Bell. The entire point of this story is that Bell believes himself to be a coward and finds that the world has passed him by. He’s a smart man, but when portrayed by a Harvard man, the epiphanies don’t play truthfully. Perhaps Jones is just too recognizable. Maybe it’s too hard to separate his face from Marshal Sam Gerard’s. The performance is well played, but Bell is a man who has intentionally avoided deep thought and introspection throughout his life, and is just now forced to examine himself in the face of a new, terrifying level of criminality. It’s hard to imagine that Jones, the way he portrays this character, has avoided all of that. I felt this notion when I left the theater and after reading the book, I understood it. The acting performances are excellent, and it’s a tense, entertaining, and incredibly rewatchable film – one that will be held up when people discuss the excellence of 2007 – and rightly so. But it just missed being what it could have been.

Part 5 here.

1 comment:

PMaz said...

I may have already mentioned this, but the opening scene in "Eastern Promises" was probably the first time I looked away from the screen in years. Still, great movie!