Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

Charlie Wilson’s War is the new Tom Hanks vehicle. Based on a true story, Hanks plays Charlie Wilson, a debauched southern senator who seems to spend half his time bedding beautiful women and the other half helping to finance the CIA’s operations in Afghanistan during the Cold War.

As this description suggests Charlie Wilson’s War is a film of two halves and one half is significantly better than the other. The first half is a frothy, fun, brittle comedy with good performances by likeable, recognisable stars. The second half, dealing with the politics, is less well handled. When the Americans decide they will help Afghanistan shoot down the Russian helicopters there is a lot of flag waving and patriotism, which, as a Brit, made me feel slightly queasy. The film could have included more about the wider political context and the repercussions these actions had, which were not all good.

Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a stand-out performance as a rouge CIA agent who helps Charlie get what Charlie wants, for which he has received a deserved Oscar nomination.

No Country for old men

I need to stop reading reviews. Every review I saw prior to seeing this assured me it was a masterpiece. I should have known then that I was going to be dissapointed. I am increasingly of the opinion that it is impossible to say what is a masterpiece on the instance of its release.

The reviews also harked on about this being a more ‘mature’ film from the Coens. This is a pose critics often adopt when a cult favourite makes something more ‘naturalist’, more ‘realist’, less enshrined in their own universe. But the idea that the Coens are finally ‘growing up’ is absurd. These are men in their 50’s!

So, the film is no masterpiece. What it is is an old fashioned thriller in a period setting (no mobile phones, no sat nat, no internet). It is very visceral, the action is painful and brusing and muscular and there is very little dialogue, but crucially, for me, there is no character development. The acting is great but you never engage with anyone. The filmmaking is of a very high standard but you are never drawn into the story in a meaningful way because you don’t care about the people on screen – you don’t know them. The story itself is oddly plodding, there are no themes that immediatley jump out at you, some might put that down to subtlety and depth, I wouldn’t.

There are things to like here but I was interested rather than engaged.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Turn and face the strange…

Todd Haynes Bob Dylan biopic eschews conventional storytelling in favour of something more rambling and abstract, as befits the man himself. The story is not drawn from Dylan’s life so much as it is drawn from his songs, though most of the major points that might have formed the basis of a Walk the Line style bio-pic are at least touched upon.

The one thing everyone knows about I’m Not There is that it’s the film in which Dylan’s shifting persona are portrayed by six different people, starting with a young, black actor, then moving onto Batman and the Joker, Richard Gere and Cate Blanchet. However, different and daring as that may sound, what the film lacks, perhaps not surprisingly, is a common voice. There is no thread trying to tie the characters together, or even a Rosebud style Maguffin to unite them. There are no characters common to more than one of the stories, no obvious bleedover where we can see elements of one present in another. They operate as separate vignettes. Perhaps those holes were left there on pupose?

Cate Blanchet has been getting most of the attention and quite rightly so. A statuesque Aussie actress would not be most people’s first choice to play Bob Dylan, but her performance as Dylan’s most recognisable and iconic persona is note perfect. It helps that her section happens to contain many of the film’s best set pieces: a Benny Hill meets Hard Days Night cameo from the Beatles, Allen Ginsberg in a golf buggey and the only straight out musical number in the whole film. Other aspects/actors are less well served. Richard Gere as a reclusive wild west hero called Billy, seemingly trapped in a bizzare fantasy town, hits a particuarly bum note.

As a whole the film doesn’t sow together to form a fully satisfying experience, but there are enough moments to suggest where else it might have gone, before retreating. As a result each audience member leaves with their own impression of what they think they saw. This will thrill some and annoy others. I was entertained throughout.