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Films Update

December 7, 2007

INTO THE WILD

I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to think about Christopher McCandless and his grandiloquent, doomed gesture. Sean Penn, with his bombastic camerawork overlaid with Eddie Vedder’s warbling battle cries, seems to be celebrating him, but McCandless comes across at times as a raging egotist, more concerned with trumpeting his big adventure than with just enjoying the natural world he’s supposed to be at one with. Of course, Penn, as I’m sure Krakauer does, makes it clear that he’s really running away from rather than towards something, but I felt far less conflicted about Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man, and he was no saint. The real pleasure of Into the Wild is in the human encounters he has on his journey (reminiscent of The Straight Story), especially a beautifully sad Hal Holbrook. I also loved Jena Malone’s voiceover (used to such great effect in Lucas Moodysson’s undistributed, undistributable Container).

AMERICAN GANGSTER

Entertaining and engaging enough, I suppose, if one had never seen The Wire. Even though it’s based on a true story, Ridley Scott’s film seems greatly indebted to David Simon’s masterpiece but, even at 160 minutes, just doesn’t have the time to give us the detail that makes that show so extraordinary. Instead it’s all broad strokes, some of which are wonderful, but they don’t add up to as much. Meanwhile, Harris Savides’s Harlem streetscapes are superb, but, as in Margot, he really seems to be really pushing the limits of underlighting his interiors.

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY

[Caught up with on DVD]. Ken Loach’s compelling IRA history/Iraq allegory is his most pictorial film to date, but, considering the title, disappointingly lacking in inessential sequences of rustling barley stalks. Cillian Murphy and his sad blue eyes center this sequel of sorts to Land and Freedom, which unfolds like a less formalist version of Jancso’s The Red and the White, with reprisals begetting reprisals until the world swallows its own tail.

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