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Monthly Archives: May 2013

‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ puts the Enterprise crew to the test

StarTrekIntoDarkness
***1/2

Star Trek is a series that has always lovingly embraced its own history, which is the thing that has kept it going for nearly half a century. This is unique in science fiction films because unlike most series in this genre, Star Trek at least has a history – or at least one worth remembering. In the case of the new movie “Star Trek Into Darkness,” this is both a blessing and a curse. Here is a prequel that plays around with our knowledge of characters and events that we know will occur later. At times the movie brushes lightly against these references, and other times hammers them home with a railroad spike.It is up to you to decide whether you think that director J.J. Abrams has used these references as an homage or a crutch, but what can’t be denied that that he has made a rousing adventure, one that is steeped in Star Trek lore, but still tells a good story on its own. That’s because of his loving respect for the characters. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Sulu, Scotty and Chekov are people that we know like family. The joy of the prequels is watching them develop into their relationships.

The plot of “Star Trek Into Darkness” involves a madman seemingly bent on cutting off the head of The Federation. He is John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch speaking thorough an effectively creepy baratone), a terrorist who has committed violent acts in both England and The United States. A Federation Ambassador Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) gives Kirk (Chris Pine) a free-hand to go after Harrison and eliminate him – not capture. What comes of this plot is much more than the trailer reveals and much more than can be revealed here. One of the joys of this story is watching it unfold piece by piece. For once, this is not an action film whose ending can be telegraphed from the first scene. More on the plot cannot be said, suffice to say that it becomes a dangerous situation that tests Kirk’s ability to command. Yes, he can reprogram a simulator, but how does he react when his enemy destroys half of his ship?

The unpredictability of this screenplay comes for what Abrams has done to the Star Trek history. By repositioning the series’ timeline, as he did in 2009’s “Star Trek,” he created a screenwriting masterstroke, altering the timeline while still respecting the history. Despite the fact that this is a prequel, we don’t have complete foreknowledge of how things are going to play out. That creates a new dynamic in the characters. In the previous film, we saw how Jim Kirk got into the captain’s chair. This time he is put to the test and has to prove that he belongs there. Spock (Zachary Quinto), via the altered timeline, is shown as a being of repressed emotional state, but one that has been severely tested. His homeworld has been destroyed and his people nearly wiped out. He’s a holocaust survivor and that pushes his repressed emotions to their absolute limit.

It should not be inferred that this is a subtle, thought-provoking movie. “Star Trek Into Darkness” is, for the most part, a clang-and-bang special effects picture that develops a crises about every 20 seconds, as if the filmmakers are afraid that too many quiet moments would send the audience to the box office to get their money back. The references to Star Trek lore range from Tribbles, to Harry Mudd, to a reference to a previous Star Trek movie that has you rolling your eyes. Yet, you’re never bored by this material. It looks, great, it moves great, it has a good story to tell. It loves its history for better and worse. What comes of this story is that the learning curve of the characters, which has been developing for two movies now, is settled in. We’re ready for a new adventure, hopefully one that leaves the tired formula of the madman behind and gets the crew on its feet to take the series back to its original purpose, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. Boldly go.

 
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Posted by on 05/16/2013 in Blog

 

“Mud” is a great American film.

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**** (of four)

“Mud” opens in a natural setting, untouched by man.  On a small Arkansas island on the Mississippi River nothing seems to live here but grass, snakes and overgrown trees.  From the sandbar of this forgotten place is a view of where the Mississippi opens up and stretches off into infinity.  It is pure, wordless poetry sculpted and molded by the mighty hands of God.  At the center of this island is something unusual, a particularly strong tree in whose high upper branches something rests that shouldn’t be there: a cabin cruiser power boat.  How did it get here?  No one can accurately explain.  Maybe it’s just further proof that, aside from being a great sculptor, God has a sense of humor.

The poetry of this location echoes the lives of two young boys Ellis (Ty Sheridan) and his best buddy Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) who bring their own small motorboat to its shore.  The opening of horizon of the Mississippi River is symbolic of the world they are about to enter, wide and uncertain.  “Mud” is the story of how they get a jumpstart into that world.  They are young, 14 years-old, teetering between adolescence and the remainders of boyhood adventure.  Ellis is observant and thoughtful, while Neckbone’s attentions are focused on the wondrous forbidden avenues of the female anatomy.  Finding the boat in the tree, the boys claim it as their tree house; but in investigating the lower deck, Ellis finds some food that looks fresh.  He coldly warns Neck, “Someone’s living here.”

That “someone” turns out to be an unkempt loner who calls himself Mud (Matthew McConaughey).  He befriends the boys, telling them winsome tales of his girlfriend whose hands over covered in bird tattoos; and the tale of his lucky shirt that he claims is no less than a suit of armor.  They’re impressed and agree when he asks them to bring him things from the mainland for a project that he’s working on.  He wants to get the boat out of the tree so he can take it down the river.  It doesn’t take long for Ellis to deduce why Mud is living on the island and why he needs to get away.  Mud’s basic problem can easily be deduced but the outcome of his adventure cannot.  Can they trust him?  We don’t know.  The gun in his belt might be a warning.

That description may make the opening of “Mud” sound like the preparations for a standard thriller or a bonehead comedy.  This is not the case.  Writer-director Jeff Nichols has constructed a screenplay of intricate detail, rich in characters who seem to be marching with the flow of real life.  He has a feel for the spirit of life in the rustic south (this is Arkansas).  He doesn’t compartmentalize his location but allows it to flow naturally.  There are no southern stereotypes here, no toothless hicks, no one whittles and makes cornpone comments.  These are real people living real lives.  They are not simply pawns to move around in the plot, but full-blooded souls that we come to care about.  By the end we care about them so much that when a gun-battle ensues, we find ourselves preparing mentally for one of the characters to die.  The movie earns our emotions.  It is the characters who create the plot, not the other way around.

For Ellis, this adventure is a passage into manhood as he stands at the sidelines of his dirt-poor parent’s squabbling while at the same time experiencing his first tentative steps into a relationship (his first kiss is, quite simply, magical).  At home, his mother and father squabble over finances.  His mother is passive but his father – damaged and disappointed by life – frets about the future.  In a lesser film the father might have been a mean drunk but Nichols script allows him to be a responsible man who cares deeply about his son.  There is a scene toward the end when they tie up some loose ends that is really very touching.  Again, this moment isn’t manufactured, the movie has developed these two in such a way that it has earned a scene of emotional economy.

Aside from the leisure place, this movie is also an exciting thriller, one in which we have such an investment in the hero that we become nervous for him when unhealthy forces start closing in.  We feel for this man Mud because Matthew McConaughey gives him not only ordinariness, but also a convincing amount of naiveté – he walks blindly into trouble.  This is McConaughey’s first great role in a decade.  After a brilliant start in films like “Dazed and Confused” and “A Time to Kill” and “Contact”, he slipped into a tiring series of unfunny romantic comedies that made him a laughing stock.   Now he’s back to form in the best performance he has ever given.  He’s not a wounded saint, but a man who has done the wrong thing and faces the possibility that he won’t get away clean.

What a brilliant piece of work this is.  What an exciting story it tells.  If we complain that American movies have fallen into the dust-bins of special effects and noise, we need only to look at a film like “Mud” to be reassured that the great American film is alive and well.  This is a film that is on par with “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, and the writing of Mark Twain.  Few films this year will reveal such an economy of characters, so a wondrous and exciting plot, or such an emotional resonance.  This is one of the best films of the year.

 
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Posted by on 05/15/2013 in Blog

 

‘Gatsby’ good, not great

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*** (of four)

Okay, so here’s the good news: Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” is not an embarrassment to F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is a great looking, well-acted visualization of a story that generations have been forced to read in high school, yet it is never boring nor does it ever feel like homework. The bad news is that Luhrmann can’t find a tone to get to the heart of the story – he mixes an odd combination of modern musical elements and tragedy, and misses the subtleties that made the story work.

“The Great Gatsby” is, in essence, a tragic love story. It is told from the point of view of a man who stands at the sidelines, Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire), a writer who staying in a sanitarium who tells his story to a doctor who suggests that his patient put his story down on paper (no points for guessing what his memoirs will become). Nick takes us back several years, back to 1922, just after The Great War, when he was living in a small house in West Egg, New York. Next door is a sprawling manor from which come raucous parties with hundreds of guests – bands play, liquor flows, and every sort of taboo is broken.

The host is a man so mythical that most of his party guests have never even seen him. He is Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), an eccentric millionaire so indulgent that he has his name embossed on his marble floor and his furniture. He’s a dapper sort who seems to know more than he’s telling, and he puncuates nearly every sentence with the words “old sport.” Legend has it that he fixed the 1919 World Series.

Gatsby is a mystery, a man who reminds us a little of Charles Foster Kane. The difference is that that Gatsby’s Xanadu is filled nightly with hundreds happy party-goers instead of a lot of lonely, empty space. Gatsby’s Rosebud isn’t stuffed in a dusty basement, rather it remains in the deep chasms of his wounded soul. The first object of his heart is Daisy (Carey Mulligan), the woman who became the great love of his life before fate and circumstance pulled them apart. What’s keeping these two apart won’t be spoiled here for anyone who hasn’t read the book. All that can be said is that we want them to be together. That’s always the best indicator of a good love story.

There are two halves to this movie. One is a quiet love story, the other is the anything-goes hyper-activity of The Roaring Twenties. These two elements are set against one another and make for a very uneven mixture. At once, the movie pops and rattles with color and music (including hip hop), and then it quiets down into the tragedy of the love story. Just as we are getting our motor revved up from the music, we find that we have to down shift emotionally in order to get back to the slower tones of the romance.

Baz Luhrmann is a brilliant craftsman, but he mixes a strange cocktail. Fitzgerald’s book was about the dark labyrinth of Gatsby’s wounded heart, but the tone of this film suggests something that would be more at home in a lively musical. Too often, Luhrmann gives in to his flashy indulgences – if you’ve seen “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet” or “Moulin Rouge,” then you kind already know what you’re getting here. There are lots of theatrics and music – some of which is so modern that it pulls us out of the moment – what decade is this? Those two elements don’t really work together. The parties at Gatsby’s house are more like a dance club than a free-flowing parade of humanity. Who are these guests? What drew them here? What do they know of their host? The first third of the film are loaded with wall-to-wall visuals that are painted and perfected to the point that we never feel as if we’re looking at the natural world. We are told that this is The Roaring Twenties, but the visual palette suggests merely an approximation of that era.

What does work are the performances especially by Leonard DiCaprio who keeps us at arm’s length from Jay Gatsby. This is the perfect approach to the character. He remains an enigma whose story unfolds slowly until we come to understand why he is the man that he is. When his beloved Daisy comes back into his life, we feel their bond. Carey Mulligan, one of the best actresses of her generation imbues Daisy, not with fragile weepiness, but with the heart of a woman whose life – she fears – has taken the wrong turn. It’s all there in her eyes.

“The Great Gatsby” is a film that is difficult to assess. The performances and the production design are so good that you forgive the uneven narrative. This adaptation is good, not great.

 
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Posted by on 05/13/2013 in Blog

 

‘Iron Man Three’: Downey buoys a script that is – let’s face it – kind of dull.

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**1/2 (of four)

Review by Jerry Roberts.

The very best thing about Iron Man Three is the presence of Robert Downey, Jr.  If this trilogy proves anything, it is that Downey’s best natural gift is his mouth.  He has a rapid-fire speaking manner in which it takes you a second to register what he just said. Like Groucho Marx, his mouth is ready with a verbal gag almost before he can complete the thought.  He is really a wonderful comedian with the rare ability to mix the comedy with a certain amount of vulnerability.  This is a rare and precious gift at a time when most screenplays march their characters through wooden, pedestrian dialogue that only functions to move the characters from one plot development to another.  For Downey, it is such a unique gift that, while you’re watching Iron Man Three, you realize that he alone is keeping the movie from becoming a crushing bore.  By this point (this is his fourth go-around as Stark) his verbal gifts are still fresh and have become the buoy to a series that – hate to admit it – is running out of gas.

Iron Man Three is a well-made, skillful action movie – the special effects are convincing, some of the action scenes work, but they are at the service of a plot that is completely canned.  Here again is another story of a superhero battling and army of super-villains who want to take over the world while also dealing with domestic issues that no suit of iron will be able to cure. 

The suit, for Stark, has become the same prison that it was for Batman, only in Stark’s case he has become dependent on it.  How does one balance time with the girlfriend and saving the world?  He could do this because the public has fallen in love with War Machine, a new Iron Man occupied by Tony’s pal James Rhodes (Don Cheadle).  This should leave Tony more time to be with girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) but she complains that he is spending all his time in the lab building new Iron Man suits.

Domestic bliss is only part of Stark’s problem.  The latest threat to civilization is someone calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an impressive-looking cloaked figure with his own private army that has been committing acts of terrorism on every shore.  His private army seems invincible, they attack and walk away unscathed due to new developments in genetic recomposition –  yeah, apparently that’s a thing.

Stark goes on television and makes an unbelievably stupid proclamation to The Mandarin and later finds his house under attack and Pepper missing.  That’s a problem because, while the first movie allowed Tony and Pepper time to develop a sweet romance, this one keeps them apart for most of the film.  We’re told how much Tony loves her (he narrates the story) but their scenes together are all too brief.

The presence of The Mandarin, you should know, is also all-too brief.  This character is to Iron Man what The Joker is to Batman, but there’s a problem here: He’s hardly in the movie.  You’ll be alarmed when you realize that 95% of Ben Kingsley’s performance was captured in the trailer and that the movie reveals a plot development that relegates him to a cameo role.  If you were looking for a big showdown between Downey and Kingsley, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

Much of the plot can’t be revealed here without spoilers, suffice to say the movie is entertaining without being extraordinary.  You’ll find that the action scenes get the job done, but if you’re looking for world-class plot development, you’d be best look elsewhere.  Director Shane Black, the scribe responsible for the screenplays to The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero and the Lethal Weapon movies injects a refreshing sense of humor onto a dead plot and wisely makes time for Robert Downey, Jr. to simply do what he does best, just talk.

 
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Posted by on 05/08/2013 in Blog

 

‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ is a breath of fresh air.

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**** (of four)

Review by Jerry Roberts.

At a time when most screenplays are running on empty, Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a breath of fresh air, a three-act play about the strange course of destiny that connects a small group of people and how their actions affect the lives and decisions of others who cross their path.  The script is so sharply written that it has the kind of poetic narrative that is easily found in great book but rarely found on the screen.

The movie opens with a long tracking shot of a man walking through a busy carnival to a tent where he dons a helmet almost as casually as one might put on a tie.  He hops on a motorcycle and rides it into a giant metal sphere.  He’s part of one of those acts where three motorcyclists ride around inside in circles, narrowly missing one another.  The movie ends with another man on another motorcycle trying desperately to get away from his past.  In a way, both men are trapped, both doomed, and both driving around in circles.  The journey between these two men takes years, and a lot of circumstance but when we connect them back in our minds, we see the strange circle of life that has taken place.

The man at the carnival is named Luke (Ryan Gosling), a tattooed loner who regards his job without ever really thinking about it.  While doing a show in Schenectady, New York, he runs into a beautiful woman named Romina (nicely played by Eva Mendes) whom he spent time with a year earlier.  She informs him that she is now raising his infant son.  To our surprise, Luke sets out on a course to do right by the baby and Romina.  He tries to give her money to help with the expenses.  She refuses; she has a boyfriend, a very good man who takes care she and the baby. 

Luke is determined to do the right thing and provide for his son.  He leaves the carnival and gets a job there in Schenectady.  His new boss causally suggests one day that the best way to make money is to rob small banks – not too many, just enough to make a good amount of money.  This sounds like a plot gimmick, but director Derek Cianfrance has set the scene so firmly in reality that we believe the character’s motivation.  Our minds are so involved in the story that we are shocked by a turn of events at which point the movie takes a hard left turn and the second story kicks in. 

That story features a beat cop named Avery (Bradley Cooper) whose connection with Luke is brief, significant, and ever-lasting.  Something happens that changes the course of Avery’s destiny and we find ourselves following his plight as he is wounded in the line of duty, becomes a hero, and then gets caught up in a web of police corruption that he ultimately uses to his advantage. 

What’s interesting about both of these stories is that they both feature men with a deep-seeded need for personal responsibility, but find that being an immoral criminal is much easier to pull off then being a good man.  These two men both have good hearts but are pulled by in inner need to do something right even when all around them seem to resist.

The movie is essentially a three-act play.  The first deals with Luke, the second with Avery and yet a third takes place some years later and connects both stories in a way that can’t be described without giving too much away.  Suffice to say that all the characters are connected in one way or another.  It is exciting to watch the way they cross paths with each other.  Of course, this would be nothing without perfect performances.  Ryan Gosling, the best actor of his generation, gives a quiet and effective performance as Luke as does Bradley Cooper as Avery (even better here than he was in his Oscar nominated performance in “Silving Linings Playbook”), playing a man wracked by guilt, if not a lot of common sense.  How many movies these days allow their characters to be flawed?

This is a movie that is difficult to describe without spoilers, but is so specifically written that he has us hooked all the way.  Cianfrance is a great filmmaker who previously made “Blue Valentine” – also with Ryan Gosling – about the disintegration of a marriage.  This film is more plot driven, but that doesn’t mean that he hurries things along.  His script is patient enough and intelligent enough to tell the story as it unfolds rather than telegraphing everything right from the beginning.  We are held spellbound by what the movie reveals and delighted that the decision-making capacity is left up to the personalities of the characters.  This is a movie about the course of destiny and how it leads some to the path of victory and others down a path of destruction.

 
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Posted by on 05/08/2013 in Blog

 

‘Oblivion’ looks great, but the story is exaustive and frustrating.

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**1/2 (of four)

Review by Jerry Roberts.

“Oblivion” takes place in one of those crummy futuristic landscapes where everything is a desolate wasteland, humanity is nearly gone and what functioning technology still exists is trying to kill us.  This may not be too farfetched unless you stop to wonder why the only remains of the once thriving civilization are easily recognizable famous landmarks.  Sticking out of the rubble are the remains of The Brooklyn Bridge, The New York Public Library, The Empire State Building and something that might be Giants Stadium.  And, just when you think they’ve forgotten The Statue of Liberty, lo and behold, there she is!

What that really means is that “Oblivion” is a fun movie to behold.  It is a science fiction movie whose virtues are almost exclusively technical.  The movie looks great.  It is photographed beautifully by Carlos Miranda, who just won an Oscar for “Life of Pi.”  He makes the wastelands of Earth look genuine, we really feel as if we’re looking at a burned-out Earth.

The story, however, leaves something to be desired (a lot in fact).  It is quite a ride, which is not really a compliment since ride eventually becomes one of tolerance.  Here is a movie that takes about an hour’s worth of plot and stretches it just over two hours.  It starts out okay, then gets dull, then gets boring, then gets somewhat interesting before wearing out its welcome.

The ideas are all there.  The movie takes place in New York in the year 2077 after a victorious war against an alien race has left the planet a chemical wasteland.  Most of the remaining humans have moved off to a more habitable moon and what is left on earth are a few workers who service mean-looking robot drones that defend resource stations from something called scavs – short for scavengers.  Our focus falls on Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a worker bee who keeps the resource stations up and running.  Meanwhile he flies around in a ship that looks – this is not a joke – like male genitalia.  Make of that what you will.

Jack is wistful about Earth’s past, including whoever won the 2017 Super Bowl (he assures us it will be a great game – we’ll see).  Back at his work station, he lives with the only other inhabitant, Vica (Andrea Riseborough), a gorgeous redhead with a British accent who fills is leisure time with dinner, sex and use of the company pool – this is a problem you WANT to have.  They are watched over by a chipper but somewhat eerie supervisor named Sally (Melissa Leo) whom they only communicate with via a static-filled television monitor.

One day Jack gets a blip on his radar.  Something is following him.  What follows is a mystery that will be left to you.  Some of this has been spoiled by the film’s trailer and all of it has been spoiled by some rather unkind critics.  Suffice to say, Jack’s world is turned upside down.  Things aren’t what they appear to be and the movie is an unfolding mystery with one layer after another being peeled back until we understand the reasons for Jack’s tenure on Earth.  The plot can’t really be spoiled because neither can it be explained.  That would require a booklet, or a glossary, or maybe even SparkNotes.

Anyway that’s where the movie falls apart.  It opens with an intriguing mystery as Jack studies the remains of Earth, and then begins to unravel the mystery of his own definition of humanity.  Then it gets complicated, then convoluted, then tedious, until finally it begins to test our patience.  It has at least three endings too many and finally lands on the one that is probably the most predictable, not to mention sappy.  It’s not unwelcomed because after a long haul we’re just glad to be done with it.

The movie was directed with some skill by Joseph Kosinski, whose only other credit was “TRON: Legacy”, another good-looking movie that was outdone by technology and a convoluted screenplay.  He’s got all the visual fire in place.  It’s great to look at, but it is so poorly told that you start wishing that after 126 minutes that there was less of it to behold.

 
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Posted by on 05/08/2013 in Blog

 

‘To the Wonder’ is Terrence Malick’s poem of love.

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**** (of four)

Review by Jerry Roberts.

If you know Terrence Malick’s work, then you pretty much know what you’re walking into when you attend his movies.  His films don’t look, walk, talk or even sing like anyone else’s.  He is a cinema artist whose work is quiet, poetic and breaks away from the standard narrative, cutting down just enough plot and dialogue so they don’t seem intrusive.  With this stylistic approach, he is at work in a sea of mostly cookie-cutters. Other directors tread safe waters of action and romance while Malick is satisfied to let our expectations wade just a bit. We become lost in his tapstry of images.  If you’re willing to give yourself to his lyrical canvas, you find his work engrossing.  If not, you’ll find it frustrating and boring.  It is strictly up to you.

“To the Wonder,” his latest film, is an engaging cinematic poem that explores the mysterious chasms of the human heart.  Wherein his last film “The Tree of Life” contrasted the evolution of the universe with his memories of growing up in Texas, this one tries to encompass the evolution of a relationship from courting, to settling in, to marriage, and eventually to its breakdown; all told with stunning images and a winsome soundtrack.  What dialogue exists is heard in passing.  We hear only what we need to hear, the visual canvas tells the story.

There isn’t a lot that we need to be told in “To the Wonder” because, having experienced the rise and fall of relationships in our own lives, we recognize the situation.  We meet Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko), lovers who are spending time in Paris.  He’s an Oklahoman; she’s a single mother from the Ukraine.  We catch up with them after they have already fallen deeply in love in Paris at the pre-historic island of Mont Saint-Michel.  Neil brings Marina home with him to Oklahoma, to an area where he works, overseeing the construction of a Southwestern suburb – moving from an ancient European preserve to the modern Middle-American world of rapid reconstruction (she is a stranger in a strange land).  The sparseness of the dialogue symbolizes the lack of communication between them.

They settle into a life together, but then real life comes calling.  They can’t marry by sacrament of the Catholic church (she has an issue concerning a former marriage), among other normal everyday problems that occur in a relationship.  What happens in their union is not surprising given what we know of them.  They argue, they make mistakes, they reunite, they break-up, they make-up.  They love each other from the depth of their being and their reaction to one another startles us.  There is a moment when he becomes angry with her leaving her stranded by the side of the road, but what he does next is surprising.  You don’t see it in other films.

What is surprising is the way in which their story is told.  Malick breaks away from the phony, Hallmark version of romance that is obtrusive in most Hollywood romances by telling us just enough about these people to allow us to care deeply about them.  Ben Affleck, who has reinvented himself as a director and a much more focused actor, uses his screen-presence to great effect.  He is the masculine part of this equation.  Olga Kurylenko (seen this month in the Tom Cruise adventure “Oblivion”) is an extraordinarily beautiful Ukranian actress, possessing a face and an essence that Vermeer might have captured on canvas.  We’re less familiar with her than we are with Affleck, and that make her much more of a mystery to us.

Their story is compelling, but it is only part of a larger canvas.  Another story happening around them focuses on a Spanish priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who has come to Oklahoma, making him another stranger in a strange land.  His eyes tell us everything that we need to know.  He is a servant of God, devoted to his work but whose heart is feeling the pangs of emptiness.  All around him are people in joy and pain.  He officiates a wedding, later he visits inmates at a prison.  He visits the sick and the elderly, but there is doubt in his eyes.  He wonders about his placement in God’s service, has he given himself to the cloth at the expense of a joyful life?

There is also the suspicion that he is feeling confined by his vows.  He can officiate, and comfort but as a priest he is unable to have a life of his own.  He sees lovers getting married but he knows that he can never experience this.  Bardem, in his best work, is an actor who can speak volumes without speaking a word.  It’s all there in his face.  In mainstream films, he plays villains as in “Skyfall” or his Oscar-winning performance in “No Country for Old Men”, but this role proves that he can also be quietly and powerfully introspective.

Malick’s films are not for everyone.  There has been a mixed reaction to this film from critics who charge that he has made a film of empty images.  You might agree or disagree depending on your point of view.  This is not a popcorn movie by any stretch of the imagination.  It is a work of art, a symphony of images with very few words.  It is one of those movies that, on the surface seems baffling and incomprehensible, but the deeper we look the more it reveals.

 
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Posted by on 05/08/2013 in Blog