Mel Gibson brings an edge to the character in this film that I don’t see in a lot of younger actors working in action or adventure movies. I remember seeing him in “The Bounty” many years ago with this beautiful face and a type of personality and edge to his portrayal of Mr. Christian that was not altogether likeable or endearing.
This same edge works in the craggier and much older face of the darker Mel Gibson. In some ways, it suits his personality to have the lines and wrinkles whereas before he simply looked too beautiful and too perfect for this world. In this film, we see elements of the older film noir detective stories that were boiler-plate studio fare in the forties and fifties. The wonderful Robert Ryan was a perfect match for the world-weary cop role and he had the craggy face that fit the bill. Here we see Mel Gibson grown into a new age Robert Ryan and the odd thing is he slips seamlessly into the role.
In watching this film, the plot of D.O.A. comes to mind. A cop who truly has “nothing to lose” finds it easier to search for the truth. This film suits Gibson as there is no female lead and no distraction from the focus of a very convoluted and at times, hard to follow storyline. (It is said to be diluted from a 6-part BBC series).
The focus of the film is one where corrupt characters float in and out of the frames, dead bodies are shown popping up in the opening frame and there is no truly “good guy.” That gives you some of the basic elements of film noir and if you liked some of the great ones like “The Big Sleep”, you should find this offering to be right on target.
This is not a complicated film. This film is really a homage to the films we once saw in the thirties and forties. They are not complicated plots, but they were meant to showcase the talents of a huge studio stable full of talented actors and actresses. Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, Doris Day and Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart all starred in light, frothy comedies designed to show off their innate charms and acting chops.
In Hollywood these days there is less of a brilliant showcase of talent, but every once in a great while, the film studios do trot out a simple comedy to spotlight extraordinary talent. In recent years, Robert De Niro was featured in “Meet the Parents,” And in this instance, Alec Baldwin gets a well-deserved chance to shine as the narcissistic lothario who is imbued with an overabundance of charm and libido and an underdeveloped conscience. This is the part he plays to perfection each week on “30 Rock” and this is what he does best. Here, he gets his chance to strut his stuff against the great Meryl Streep. And together, they do not disappoint.
This is a film about apocalyptic times. All films dealing with the advent of the apocalypse move them into the realm of science-fiction, speculative fiction and fantasy. Granted, there is a growing genre of films dealing with heavy religious themes. And all films can arguably be reviewed with some moral or religious theme overshadowing the plot or sub-plot. (Check out MovieMinistry online.)
But this film is not a religious film. There is an aspect of this film that does deal with religion. But this is not a religious film. The main character does have a Bible that he reads throughout the film. He can quote numerous passages from his book. But it is a mistake to become too involved in the meaning of his faith.
The sub-plot of all narratives dealing with the apocalypse has to deal, by the very nature of the context presented, with the breakdown of society. That is the starting point and the end point for all narratives in which a character, usually alone, is wandering through a vast wasteland of nothingness.
It is irritating in some films when there is no counterpoint to nihilism. In this case, there is no humor, no love, and no character development. And since those ingredients are the basis of all good film-making and since they are absent in “The Book of Eli”, I can conclude that this is not really a very interesting film.
Spoiler alert: I am now going to mention a part of the movie which has caused some speculation so don’t read this section if you don’t want the ending spoiled. At some point, it has been called to my attention that the character of Eli is blind. We find this out in the final scene of the film after he arrives at his final destination, the promised land of Alcatraz. At this point, the entire meaning of the film is changed for some viewers as Eli is viewed as the ultimate wanderer with blind faith. However, according to Denzel Washington, this is not the point on which to dwell. In a quote, he says, “ Because I never answered the question whether he’s blind or not. I don’t think it’s important. There’s different parties were kind of hung up. “Well, we need to show that he…” No we don’t. Maybe God gave him a Braille bible and said, “Learn it.” It’s obvious from Mr. Washington’s remark that he wants the film audience to make up their own mind on this point. There are some aspects of this film that remind us of “High Plains Drifter” where the character is suggested as kind of a ghostly avenging angel in the final frame. There are other comparisons to the Kurosawa character of “Yojimbo” and other Japanese blind-swordsman.
But the idea of a blind, avenging supernatural type of superhero does change the characters intent and is clearly not the salient point of the narrative from Mr. Washington’s perspective. This film doesn’t begin to suggest any determining type of character development nor does it give us in-depth analysis of the main character’s motivations. Sometimes blind faith is what it is and in this instance, it’s best to leave it at that.
I would like to take a moment to write about the films that have affected my life. For the most part in a very positive way, but for better or for worse, the films that I remember from the past have made a distinct impression on me and have shaped my views and attitudes throughout my life.
One of the first memories I have of a film shaping my perceptions was the film “Roman Holiday”. I saw it on television as a child and even then it was dated and probably well over ten years old. But I had only known films with happy, Hollywood-manufactured endings and had taken it for granted that when boy meets girl, boy will end up with girl, and in this case, Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn were involved in a romance. The film was light and funny and yet the end was the only part I remembered. When Gregory Peck walks away from the Princess Audrey Hepburn knowing that their two lives will never intersect again, it was a stunning revelation for a small child. Happy endings are NOT always a given even in Hollywood!
Another film that affected me very much was a much lesser known film with Eleanor Parker called “Many Rivers to Cross.” It begins with a dedication to all pioneering women of the Old Frontier as they shaped the manifest destiny of our country. The film is about a young woman who sees a good looking man who wanders into their small frontier village in the wilderness and decides to marry him. He is just indulging in a mild flirtation before moving on but she is determined to catch him. The end result is a silly comedy but the point involves a completely determined woman who is a forerunner of every Martha Stewart or Hillary Clinton or Sandra Day O’Connor that has strived to live in a man’s world. This character impressed me as no other before that a bound and determined woman could do anything she wanted to do.
Then there was TheSound of Music that I remember as much for the cinematic experience of movie-going as the film itself. We saw it at one of the old movie palaces and I remember it was a special film because my mom bought us orange drinks in cups that were round and looked like actual oranges. We were in Florida so it seemed normal back then… And we sat in the balcony so any movie seems extra-special when you can actually “experience” it as opposed to simply watching it on television.
I remember seeing “Father Goose” at the drive-in which was a unique experience. Lots of the kids would come to the playground in their pajamas and I was aghast because I always came to actually watch the films, not play on some dusty playground (Everyone has their priorities, even when they’re six years old!) When I saw Cary Grant as this scruffy, burping, sock-less anti-hero, it changes the equation of what it means to be a “hero.” You start questioning, even at an early age, what the definition of “hero” should be.
Soon after this, I remember what a big deal it was to see “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Our mothers were hard-pressed as to whether to allow us to see this “racy” western. Robert Redford never takes his clothes off in the love scene but I still remember how steamy it seemed at the time.
There was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: I remember thinking that Audrey Hepburn was the ultimate definition of my conception of what a “sophisticate” would look like.
“Planet of the Apes”: This was such a campy movie and I remember one of the promotions for this film was advertising an “Ape-a-thon” where everyone got a banana at the door and you got in free if you wore an ape costume. (I was about 12 and did not get a free banana at the door)
I remember the first time they showed “The Wizard of Oz” on TV and what a big deal it was to see the film change from black & white to Technicolor. And I remember how beautiful the films were in Technicolor like “White Christmas” Never before or since has life been depicted so beautifully and so artificially colored as they were in those old films made in the fifties.
I remember the waning days of the drive-in movies when my older brother drove me to the theater once with a couple of my girlfriends. It was the ultimate in “cool” to be driving somewhere without having to ride with your parents! And later I saw “Animal House” with one of my brothers and the theater manager came out to warn anyone with small children about how raunchy this film was. Animal House was shown late at night as a double billing with some forgettable comedy and I remember my brother laughing at how accurate the scenes were if you happened to be a young college kid growing up in the sixties.
Later, when I was in college myself, I remember the controversy over “The Exorcist” and when it was shown on the college campus I attended, everyone roared with laughter when Linda Blair’s head turned around and the green pea soup spewed from her mouth. I saw one of Woody Allen’s early art-house attempts called, “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” on a college campus for the first time and it was well suited to the art-house atmosphere found in small college auditoriums. Certain films are meant for packed art houses and college campuses and college life certainly introduces you to a variety of art films.
The last vivid memory I have of films in the past that affected me greatly was watching horror movies like “Halloween.” I was young enough to remember sitting in a movie theater and watching a large part of that film from an angle where I was crouching down in my seat as far as I could go and my friends around me were doing the same thing. It scared the living daylights out of me. “Jaws” was another defining moment in my movie-going past when the first run of a packed audience was so terrifying that there was an actual moment when someone yelled, “Is there a doctor in the house?” as someone was screaming uncontrollably at one point. Such was the suspense engendered by this film.
All of these films bring back memories of some point in my young life or development that I associate with growing up. These films have helped to shape me and made me think about who I am as a grown woman and as a human being living in modern times. Films from the last 100 years have worked on our psyche and different films affect different people in a variety of ways. Such is the nature of the human mind, where some small event or phrase or moment on celluloid can affect another human being so much. That is the beauty and the wonder of film and it’s why we keep going back to experience it again and again.
One of my favorite Noir actors is featured on Turner Classic tomorrow. Robert Ryan will star in several Film Noir features but probably the best of the films being shown is “On Dangerous Ground” with Ida Lupino. Ryan was not a conventionally handsome actor and later played hardened characters in films like Bad Day at Black Rock, but in the late forties and early fifties, he starred in some of the great “Film Noir” classics.
Robert Ryan had this craggy face and deep voice with a dull and kind of plodding honesty in his delivery that never wavered. His was the type of character that was often seen as the second banana. He was one of the protagonist’s buddies who always backed him up in battles of the Old West or World War II.
Set your “Tivo’s” to record if you are a fan of ‘Noir films” because there are quite a few featured including “Clash by Night” with Marilyn Monroe, “The Racket” with Robert Mitchum and “Born to be Bad”, also directed by Nicholas Ray.
Tomorrow evening on Turner Classic they are going to feature one of the best pairings of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the Shakespearean comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew.” And later that night they are airing a very rarely seen but wonderful film with Burton and one of the greatest actors of all time, Peter O’Toole called “Becket.” Must-see for all serious film buffs!
This latest offering to come down the pike brings back memories of the old “Death Wish” series with Charles Bronson. Here is a vigilante movie made for our time. Which speaks very ill of the times we live in. Mainly because there is so little that is new here and the six-degrees element of sameness in this film makes for a disjointed mish-mash of ideas from the production all the way through to the direction and execution in this film project. My thoughts were basically why did they make this movie where we cannot root for any one person and there is no hero or anti-hero worth caring about?
This film is one where the dialogue was so inane at one point it became laughable when the mayor was talking facetiously about handing out guns to the meter-maids to stop the crime spree. I agree with most of the film critics who have reviewed this. The movie seems pointless and there ain’t much more to be said about it.
What to say about Moore’s latest film? He is a master at marketing his work and the subject is so vast that no one could come close to pinning down the true causes of our economic downturn in a two-hour (plus) documentary. This film is tiring partly because the editing needed to be much tighter and more concise to get the point across. Moore saves some of his best footage for the final half hour and by this point we are spent from going through foreclosures and listening to stories of pay inequality for pilots, and then listening to a type of scam the banks have perpetrated with life insurance policies and then watching Moore being kicked out of various and sundry Wall Street banks.
He includes a scene where his own father is shown the remains of the building where he once worked in Flint. This is a poignant moment best edited out or kept as an outtake or a podcast on his web site. I’ll state again, the editing should have been tighter and more precise. Someone should have told him to lose his“babies” as they say in writer’s jargon. The babies in this case being the extraneous elements in the storyline of film or words you fall in love with that the editor has ruthlessly cut in order to make a story flow.
At times when someone has a great deal of success, (Woody Allen comes to mind), the film does not flow when the ego gets in the way and in this case, the work suffers (along with the audience).
Mr. Moore has some very good points to make and I would recommend this film as a rental to anyone who would like a better understanding of “what went wrong.” Where I diverge from his thinking is when Michael Moore equates capitalism with all that is evil. As a friend who is a devout Christian once pointed out to me, the problem is not with the acquisition of money, it is the LOVE of money.
Greed and the love of money are at the root of the evil found in some of the people shown. But calling for the abolishment of the capitalist system of government seems to be a bit off the mark. At any rate, this is not Michael Moore’s best film but it is his longest film and it is worth viewing on the small screen but not worth a trip to the theatre.