Originally a 55 minute film for BBC released in 1992, Alex Cox had hoped to expand it into a full length feature film but BBC was not interested. However in 1993, Japanese investors gave Alex $100,000 to shoot the film but the film went over budget allowing no funds for production. Alex decided to make The Winner (1996) in order to get funds which worked and he was able to complete Death and The Compass in 1996. See more »
Let's just say I'm looking for a more rabbinical explanation.
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I respect Alex Cox the filmmaker, I really do. He's like the kid at school who you think at first is just trying a little too hard to be "different", a literary punk-rocker who has dipped more than his feet into spaghetti westerns and science fiction and fringe-culture and come out into the world ready to take s*** on... but then you see what he can actually do, the talent and raw feverish artistry and moments of true absurd hilarity capable of him, and you are ready to see whatever he has to offer. But there's two sides to his proverbial coin: he can either really hit it out of the park (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, Walker arguably) or just try just a little too hard and pull way too many pretentious rabbits out of the hat (Straight to Hell). Death and the Compass falls into the latter category, and while I respect its (mostly) original approach to tackling a detective-killer story, it too falls on its face and its weirdness becomes oddly dull.
It has a strange enough set-up and already irreverent style to follow: a detective, Erik Lonnrot, is after a killer with a hell-fire voice, Red (something), and it seems that the killer is leaving disturbing clues with his victims: scrawled in blood on the walls are messages that, according to eyewitness Alonso Zunz (Christopher Eccleston looking as if he just walked off Shallow Grave without changing his look) has religious significance in the Kabbalah. We follow Lonnrot on his case, and his methods of going after the perp, which include following at first a triangular and then compass-shaped pattern on the map- this despite the protests of the flabbergasted Commissioner Treviranus (Miguel Sandoval), who also looks back in flash-forwards sitting at a desk and speaking to the audience in garbled but sad descriptions of his former employee and colleague after the fact of the case.
Oh, Cox has his moments of creativity and interest, such as a shot where we see the entire scope of the harrowing depths of the police station where Eccleston's character is taken in by handcuffs ("For his own protection" says Lonnrot in case of getting lost in the wrong room) and we're followed in a long tracking shot- maybe the best or just most curious- where we're taken through very dark hallways with very little direction, lost in the maze of turns and oddities among the characters. And it's never something that isn't fascinating to *look* at, with Miguel Garzon's cinematography a morbid delight. But The plot goes through hoola-hoops to keep things so off-beat it might as well be beat-less all-together. The performances, save for a confident Boyle and for Eccleston at the very end, are pretty bad, especially Sandoval who just seems to squirm in his seat reciting the goofy dialog given to him to speak at the audience.
While the murder plot itself contains an intention for the audience that this isn't something we've seen before, that it's in a society with a good many rioters and architecture suggesting Alphaville's next decrepit wave, it too fizzle's out very quickly. What's the conflict here? I was never that much engaged with Boyle's own personal mission to find this killer, and only mildly caught up in the few flashes of deranged scenes of the killer (and/or killers) going after people like in the building early on (Cox himself has an amusing cameo). And just when I started to think it was leading up to something spectacular, with Boyle and Eccleston in that big ("not as big as you think") building in the South section of the city, it suddenly gives us a "TWIST" that we know in the back of our minds is coming but hope isn't, and it deflates any of the humdrum mystery it's been leading up to. For all of Cox's uncanny touches as a filmmaker, for all of his opposition to spoon-feeding the audience with a 'conventional' approach, which I do respect, Death and the Compass ultimately cuts one off at the brain-stem; it's masturbatory.
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