Sunday, October 12, 2008

Body of lies

Body of lies is an ok movie with moments of greatness. Further evidence which brings Ridley Scott's current streak full circle. Take away Scott's characteristic attention to detail, and it could have been made by anyone.

I'm a very big fan of Scott the visionary, not the workman. Just look at the resume: Blade Runner, Alien, 1492 and Thelma and Louise, those movies have no peer. American Gangster, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Kingdom of heaven exhibited a lack of consistency that leaves me wondering Scott "knew better" but chose not to go the extra mile to greatness. His output increased while the quality has not, and takes little chances. That's too bad considering what he's capable of. One wonders if Scott is content in letting things materialize this way, rather than the visionary gusto that categorizes his best work. Maybe that's the whole point. Earlier efforts like The Kingdom explore hollywood middle east in more satisfying ways.

Body of lies represents workman-like Scott to the fullest. It is well made, engaging, and never boring. What is lacking is a clear agenda, and dramatic momentum to leap the story to satisfaction.

Trust no one, deceive everyone. The movie promises that. By sticking so rigidly to formula (the love story feels patched on), it pleases no one.

Leo Dicaprio is characteristically intense (shades of his Departed performance here) as a man who is once again caught up in a web he has no idea he's weaved into. His performance keeps Body of lies watch able enough to be mildly satisfying, even if the casual viewer is wondering if the story's going anywhere. Russell Crowe does exactly what the part calls for, and it's an interesting parallel to the one he played in the far superior Insider. His character here represents the beaurocratic obesity that heroic guys like Dicaprio clearly despise. That's an interesting dynamic that the movie spends far too little time dwelving into.

Other than the negatives, there's much to recommend here. Lenser Alexander Witt and Arthur Max's production design ground the movie in realism, among the supporting performers bring more to the movie than the script (By Departed's William Monahan) realizes. This brings me to the conventions of Scott's working style. Remember Black Hawk Down and sections of Hannibal? Scott seems to fetishize ethnic profiling, as evidenced in these movies. The arabs are stereotypes, and lack dimension. Part of the problem is the film's lack of identity. It's neither a political thriller like Syriana nor is it an action movie. Transplant the conventions of those genres and you sorta get the idea. It's got the adherence to action movie conventions while trying to branch out of it. Anytime something interesting is about to happen, Scott rolls out an action sequence that feels obligatory instead of organic. One fresh character is the suave Hani, played by new comer Mark Strong (Rocknrolla). This part is where the film shines, and Strong's performance keeps things interestingly contrasted to Dicaprio's pleading intensity.

Body of lies is neither bad enough to condemn nor good enough to praise, and doesn't fall in the middle either. It makes for a frusttating experience. Scott and co surely are capable of better, and the question of whether his best work is behind him is valid. Is he content with the current wave of cranking out a film a year rather than attempting something more ambitious?

Based on box office receipts, I suspect the latter. Perhaps the criticism is too harshly.

The question remains, does he still want to?

The law of diminishing returns kicked in five movies ago. It's time for a new frontier, Scott.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Blindness is a good movie. Stopping short of great, it's a mostly fascinating allegory of human nature at it's most desparaging
when chaos erupts and people are confronted with the unexplainable. Just don't call it entertaining, for those coming to see this wanting all their answers solved are in for a doozy. The Film is an intellectual exercise, one that confronts the viewer and puts them right where the characters are: A world falling apart.

Along with Children of Men, and to a lesser extent, 28 Days Later, Blindness can be considered part of the new sub genre dubbed "Apocalypse Porn". It's neither a thriller nor is it an action film, which makes it harder to categorize.

Blindness's premise is simple: In an unspecified city, people a blind epidemic starts to occur. Stripped of their sight with an unresponsive government at hand, chaos erupts and the bleakness takes over. Fernando Meirelles, whom directed the excellent City of God, is less interested in the Psycological aspects of blindness (the movie just begins when the first person is infected and doesn't explain anything) than the despair it brings to a group of people. This is something the Director, a native of Sao Paulo, understands all too well. The movie's subject matter offers endless visual possibilities, and this, along with is talented DP C├ęsar Charlone, device a visual device as bold as the storytelling. White is the dominant color, and is effectively used as a framing device to transport the narrative.

Julianne Moore (em, Children Of Men) is the only person who can see among the blind, and along with her Doctor Husband (and delegating Mark Ruffalo) is forced to survive in situations that are harrowing beyond belief. The government, in fear of the escalating chaos with no answers to solve it, takes a group of the infected and hauls them together to fend off for themselves. Power plays ensure, as the screws of survival tighten and despair takes it's hold. These sequences are among the most harrowing seen in a recent movie, as the blind cope with the relentless abuse of power by another sector who use fear and intimidation as a dominating tactic. Allusions to the real world are not coincidental. This material is what's polarizing viewers and clueless reviewers whom don't like their cage shaken. The movie's centerpiece, where the woman are forced to make the ultimate sacrifice for survival, and men put them there. This scene really pissed off my partner, whom as a woman has every right to a perspective man don't share. The scene shows human nature at it's most primal, and how men force woman into making sacrifices by the use of fear and abuse to dominate others.

To put this scene into real life perspective, one must understand it's implications. In her own words:

They (the men) chose to let the women save their asses with the cost that outstrips any reasonable explanation. and men always do that!!! not just in the movie, but in the real life and that's what pisses me off. Men always let women sacrifice the most. and even in that situation, man still finds time to turn around and cheat on somebody who's the only person there for him. Once you see the scene you'll understand what this means.

I suspect the removal of a reportedly incessant voiceover (Danny Glover, in eyepatch) pulls the rug under the viewer even more, adding to the unpleasantness. The third act of the film is so bleak and heavy that the movie barely recovers by the time the optimistic resolution comes. This, along with the music and a few pacing issues, detract an A movie to a B rating.

Regardless of the uneveness, it's a powerful film about the effects of humanity responding in the urge of a crisis no one can see. Being stripped away from our vision also strips us of our senses as we confront survival, according to the film's material.

Blindness is engaging and intelligent enough to provoke some hard reactions and frustration. See it with your eyes wide open, no pun intended.