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End Of The Trail., 6 December 2016
7/10

As 1944 rolled along, so did the Allied forces -- Russians in the east, British, Americans, and French in the west. The noose tightened around Germany and commanders tried various tricks to save cities, often backtracking, unsure what to do except follow orders from higher authority and make the best of a hopeless situation. For the most part, the demoralized Wehrmacht stood fast. But for the army trapped on a small peninsula jutting into the Baltic Sea, surrounded by Russians and bombarded daily, certain gray areas in between "fighting to the last man" and "getting the hell out" were exploited.

One of the participants, a corporal, describes shooting his friend in the leg -- a wound being the only way out alive. Some 4,000 German soldiers died on that peninsula. The reenforcements arriving by sea were now young boys, barely trained, and sometimes ran from the fighting. The commanding general would occasionally visit the area and everyone disappeared because of the general, Schörner, found anyone sitting around or sleeping, he would say they were needed at the front, so get going at once. Finding a lone soldier behind the front, walking down the road, Schörner had the man executed on the spot. Niccolo Machiavelli would have approved. After all, Schörner hadn't had everyone under his command execute each other.

The Wehrmacht had changed during the last years of the war. The younger recruits were now thoroughly politicized with Nazi ideology, as opposed to the old breed Prussians, for whom common sense still mattered.

And of course, as in most countries at war, every slight victory was made into a turning point of the war by the propagandists controlling the media. Until the very end, Berlin radio kept grinding out hopeful messages to a disbelieving public. There happens to be an exemplary feature film on the subject, "Aimée and Jaguar".

The Wehrmacht finally collapsed after Hitler's suicide. It's generally recognized by historians of all stripes, as the most efficient and deadly military tool ever at the disposal of a crazed leader.

Crimes Against Humanity -- A Question., 4 December 2016
7/10

After interrogation, all the German generals who had been captured during and after the war -- eighty four in all -- were sequestered in a comfortable estate with nothing to do but chat. Their chats were recorded around the clock by British intelligence and the transcribed contents contribute to this excellent study of the Wehrmacht, its character, and its conflicts. The excerpts are supplemented by newsreel and combat footage, commentary from German participants and a few experts, and the judicious use of reenactors. This episode begins during the German retreat through Russia in 1943.

The revelations can be interesting. Here is General Reichenau, a Prussian of the old school, complete with monocle, riding breeches, swagger stick, black boots, the whole panoply, and a member of the Nazi Party to boot. On learning of Hitler's plans to attack France in 1939, Reichenau argued that the army was in no position to undertake such a task. Hitler was intransigent. So what did Reichenau do? He figured he could spoil Hitler's plans by spilling the beans to British intelligence, which he did. That is, he committed treason to oppose Hitler. Once committed to war, Reichenau did what he was told and systematically murdered the commissars and Jews one village at a time. There was some question about the small children but eventually they were disposed of too, at the general's order. Later, when the Allies were about to take the open city of Paris, Reichenau was ordered to flatten everything, including places like the Louvre. Instead, he negotiated a peace with the French resistance and saved the city. Individuals, like the war itself, are complicated events.

The first half of the program is given over to the mass murder of Jews, Gypsies, Russians, Cossacks and everyone else who found himself squeezed onto the Crimean Peninsula. It didn't matter. Hitler wanted those not killed to be deported because at one time a German tribe, the Goths, had settled in the Crimea. Most of the executions were carried out by the SS or by "special details." The role of the Wehrmacht in this genocide was mixed. Sometimes they actively participated in these "work details" and sometimes stood guard around the places of execution. By this time, all of the troops must have been aware of what was going on. As the demoralized soldiers retreated, the brutality grew worse, and not just in Russia.

The episode focuses mainly on the crimes committed by the Wehrmacht. None of the secretly recorded chats among the officers reflects endorsement of these heinous deeds, but almost all deflect responsibility upwards. You know, "I only passed on the order to kill three hundred Italian villagers." Did it work? It didn't work at Nurenberg.

On a smaller scale, Allies seemed to get away with it. Not that we hear much about it, but for instance the American soldiers liberating Dachau summarily executed the German personnel without orders. It was probably a war crime but the charges were dismissed by General George S. Patton.

Southpaw (2015)
The Moral Equivalent of War?, 3 December 2016
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Jake Gyllenhaal and Forrest Whitaker are up to par in this knock-kneed drama about pugilism. Whitaker always brings a little something extra to each role, rarely menacing, rarely perceptive, but always listening carefully. Gyllenhaal, as has become traditional, is bloodied in the boxing ring. He has three things going for him as the movie opens. He can take all kinds of punches without falling down. (Watch De Niro do the same in HIS boxing movie.) He's motivated by anger. And he loves his family, the cute Rachel McAdams who isn't around long enough, and his devoted daughter. He's so good, he's the champion. Of course his face is all misshapen and his wife wants him to quit the ring but he's pretty uneducated (he can't spell "incarcerated") and it's all he knows how to do. His speech is already slurred.

At a party he meets the rising young star, Miguel Gomez, who is a very savvy and skilled fighter. Gomez flings a few ritual insults at Gyllenhaal's wife and daughter and the champ, being what he is, loses it. A fracas breaks out. Someone produces a pistol and McAdams is shot dead. As a result Gyllenhaal goes on a self-destructive binge and loses everything -- his house, his little daughter, his self respect, the esteem of the public, and the championship. He's now a bum living alone in a shabby hotel room.

Of course we've been here before -- the sports hero battling his inner demons. And here, as elsewhere, and as my TV Guide puts it, he seeks redemption. I wish that word would disappear from our vocabulary because it's so overused. Listen, I had to learn about "redemption" in Catechism and redemption is when you do some terrible wrong and then make up for it by becoming sort of spiritual and by doing good works. "Redemption" does not mean "success regained." It's closer to what Freud called "undoing." The only person Gyllenhaal abuses is Gyllenhaal.

That reminds me of my own career in the ring. In boot camp, they had try-outs for the boxing team. I knew nothing about boxing but my good friend Andy from Michigan accompanied me to the gym. He and I were outfitted with gloves the size of throw pillows and told to get in the ring and fool around. Well, Andy and I were buddies and didn't want to hit one another so we danced about and finally, bashfully, Andry swung his glove around in a long, slow loop large enough to trace the equator. I saw it coming and watched it curiously as it approached. It barely touched flesh and I was on my knees. End of ring career. Where was I? Yes. Well, now a desperate bum, Gyllenhaal finds an amateur trainer, Whittaker, and works his way up from cleaning the toilets to challenging Miguel Gomez for the championship. I will let you guess who wins. The scenes in the boxing ring are well done. When a guy misses, he misses fast, and only by half an inch, not by a mile. And the fighters actually seem to tag one another realistically. Whap -- a jab and the opponent's face is visibly knocked back.

That's about the end of the good parts. Antoine Fuqua directed and he seems not to know when to leave well enough alone, or else he's aiming for an audience of semi-moronic Neanderthals who can't tell that Gyllenhaal is being crushed while he cradles his bloody and dying wife in his arms. The scene is full of blubbering and cries and lasts about as long as the Mousterian Age. It's not just the direction. There is no evident motive for his daughter's alienation. I suppose she blames her Dad for her mother's death but it seems hard to understand why she should, since Dad had practically nothing to do with the shooting. (Impressive performance here by Naomie Harris as the Child Care Worker charged with the daughter's welfare.) Whittaker teaches Gyllenhaal to fight as a Southpaw but nothing at all comes of it. The final bout is touted as "a revenge match" -- repeated over and over. But revenge for what? Miguel, Gyllenhaal's opponent, had nothing to do with the killing, and neither did Gyllenhaal himself.

One wonder if it's at all possible to make a sports movie WITHOUT the hero falling from grace and finally "finding redemption." "Rocky" -- the first "Rocky," not the egregious sequels -- was a good film about boxing and character and it ended realistically in a draw. This one is crowded with clichés and, what the hell, if the hero wants to find redemption let him join a monastery.

The End Of The Beginning., 3 December 2016
7/10

1941 and Germany invades an unprepared Soviet Union, General Heiz Guderian leading the panzer charge. Guderian, one of the founders of Blitzkrieg, was well liked by his men and was often to be found at the front -- "Fast Heinz" was his nickname. He was no Nazi but an ardent anti-communist whose doubts about the operation were stilled after the initial successes and by Hitler's insistence that the USSR was a rotten house ready for the doors to be kicked in.

The men of course had been told that Stalin was about to invade German territory. This is always the case. War is always started by the other guy, which is why we no longer have a "Department of War," just a "Defense Department." Operation Barbarossa preceded according to plan and the Wehrmacht wiped the floor with the Russian Air Force and Army -- some units of which were under contradictory orders to both hold fast and to retreat. It was chaos. It seemed a matter of weeks before the Germans took most of Russia.

But then resistance stiffened. Casualties mounted, equipment wore out, and progress chugged along more slowly. The German general staff were all for taking Moscow and thus Russia, but Hitler realized that the war wouldn't be won just by taking the capital. Napoleon had done that and lost. So the German forces were divided into three groups, with the Southern group taking the country's breadbasket -- the Ukraine -- and heading towards the oil fields. The film doesn't say so but Hitler's racism blew it here. Many Ukranians were happy to be liberated from the yoke of Stalin and the Wehrmacht was greeted as liberators until they began treating the Ukraine as a conquered territory and a source of slave labor. Of three and a half million Russian prisoners, the majority died of starvation or illness.

The Russian winter descended on the Wehrmacht, earlier and colder than usual. Panzer troops still wore shoes, not boots. One gun crew froze to death at its position, a block of ice. During the height of the Cold War, a historian explained to me how crude Soviet weapons were. Kalashnikov's were made of stamped metal, not machined, so that stupid peasants could manufacture and assemble them. The parts were so loosely assembled that the weapons rattled when they were carried. Their inventor later claimed that they were deliberately imprecise. And they worked under any conditions. Breach rusty? A good kick makes the AK-47 serviceable again. The finely machined German equipment froze easily. Airplane engines refused to start without being heated by a fire. The Russian counterattack was devastating. The Wehrmacht blew up their vehicles and fled for the woods. Hitler's order was to "retreat not one millimeter" and when General Guderian adjusted his lines to improve his defense, he was sacked.

Much of the program is devoted to the Wehrmacht at war. That's okay. That was why the Wehrmacht existed. But I wish more attention had been paid to what might be called extracurricular activities. For instance, unless otherwise ordered, the German soldiers in Paris were required to be on their best behavior in public places. They were ordered to be polite and even forbidden to smoke. When the Allies retook Paris, it was a shock for many French citizens to see Americans lying drunk on the streets.

In any case, by 1943 the Battle for Stalingrad had come along and been lost. And if things for the Wehrmacht had gotten bad before, they were now to get worse -- much worse. It's chilling to hear these old men speak about the nightmares that haunted them for the rest of their lives -- reliving combat, hearing the clanking of tank treads. Today we call it PTSD. It didn't have a good name then. But it was real enough to wreck Audie Murphy's life.

Beginning of War., 2 December 2016
7/10

I keep getting all those German agencies mixed up -- the Wehrmacht, the Gestapo, the SS, the Oberkommando, the Abwehr, the Bierstube, the Wursthaus, and so on. There's a fine documentary available on YouTube that deconstructs the SS for you. I'm not sure about this one yet. I thought the Wehrmacht was the regular German Army, and so far that's the subject. It's curious that when Hitler became Chancellor he appointed a chief of the Army but soon dismissed the guy, deciding instead that he himself would be the only person whose loyalty to Hitler's army could be counted upon. Well, maybe not so curious.

The program consists mainly of documentary footage and the usual comments from experts and from participants, some of whom are unusually candid. They LOVED those snazzy uniforms and they had the best seats in restaurants. Officers were treated even better. An old story -- later transposed into film -- drifts into my memory from some German roommate in college, "Der Hauptmann von Köpenick", that's a good illustration of the social arrangement. They didn't like the casualties quite as much, not even after they invaded Poland, an unprepared nation quickly disposed of. The stereotype of the Poles was widespread: "Dirty, lazy, and ugly," as one ex-soldier describes them.

The German generals captured during and after the war were first put through ordinary (and humiliating) interrogation then sent to a comfortable country estate where they had nothing to do except chat. They chatted. And it was all recorded by the British who had thoroughly bugged the rooms. I'd heard about this before but the excerpts were nothing much about strategy and so forth but rather gossip and a little dull. Maybe there will be more chipper excerpts in this series.

On the whole, they were in favor of retaking the land that had belonged to Germany before the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. Every nation had spent itself into poverty and Germany was blamed for the whole tangled mess of the war. The reparation were brutal and some of Germany's territory carved up and given away. But few of the generals realized that Hitler's plans went far beyond reoccupation of German territory, nor did they feel the armed forces were prepared for such a massive undertaking.

The general who conquered Poland, Blaskovitz, was given the Knight's Cross and made Commander of the Army in the East. He enjoyed the post but, like some other officers, was surprised and disturbed to see that the SS were carrying out anti-Semitic orders from higher up, and they were formally under his command. Orders were orders and the officers and men carried them out, but the viewer can wonder about the enthusiasm behind the effort. German Jews -- unlike the Russian Jews of the Stetl -- were integrated into much of German life, frequently at high stations. Many had fought in the trenches of World War I, just as Hitler had, and their national identity was German.

I don't mean to suggest that German soldiers were not anti-Semitic because some of them were, mainly the younger who had been raised during a period when scapegoats seemed necessary, and of course members of the Nazi Party and Hitlerjugend. The atrocities in Poland extended beyond the Jews to include students, professors, and aristocrats. My anthropology professor, John Milton Roberts, opined that no one had studied the decapitation of Poland's social structure because they were afraid to touch the subject. He called it "Black Anthropology," the academic study of evil. General Blaskovitz formally protested the "frenzy of violence" and was dismissed.

The invasion of France (which I won't get into too much) was developed by Generals Guderian and Mannstein -- a swift concentration of armor through the weakest point of the Allied lines, then up to the English Channel to cut off most of the French, British, and Dutch forces. Hitler thought it was crazy. He fired Mannstein. Then he adopted the idea, promoted it as his own, and put Guderian in charge of the attack, which succeeded completely and left the Brits holding the beach at Dunkirk.

Some surprising details are revealed. The generals had succeeded too well and Hitler ordered them to stop before Dunkirk to show them who was boss. French civilians are seen hugging the German soldiers in Paris and giving them flowers.

Hazardous To Your Health., 30 November 2016
6/10

This is an unusual episode in a standout series about air accidents, because the material cause of the fire that downed the airplane and caused some twenty deaths is never identified with any certainty.

An Air Canada flight en route Toronto develops acrid smoke like burning plastic in its bathroom. Determining that it's something more than an overheated flush mechanism, the pilots look into it further and find a fire is burning somewhere in the toilet but there is no visible flame. After a brief attempt to suppress it the pilots finally declare an emergency and head towards the nearest large airport at Cincinnati. Most of the instruments are out.

But by this time the entire fuselage, which nothing more than a large pressurized aluminum and plastic tube, is filled with the lethal smoke. Some of the passengers may have already passed out, although the attendants have herded them all forward.

The DC-9 lands safely but passengers have trouble finding the exits because there is no longer any lights and the smoke-filled cabin is dark. Most of the passengers find their way to one of the emergency exits. The co-pilot escapes through the cockpit window and falls 30 feet to the runway. The pilot has to be sprayed with foam in order to move at all.

The emergency exits allow fresh air in. After a few minutes, the fire, which has been starved of oxygen and so has created only smoke, rushes through the cabin, killing those left on board.

Air Canada blames the pilot for a number of judgments or misjudgments that in retrospect seem minor. The proximate causes are a lack of training and equipment for the flight attendants. It's the 1970s and you can smoke in the toilets, although that didn't cause the fire. More effective fire-fighting equipment is introduced, and safety features such as lights on the decking or overhead tactical signals can lead to the emergency exits, which flight attendants are now instructed to point out.

One wonders, at this particularly point in time, post-election, 2016, whether these new rules and regulations interfere with the air transport profits. If so, should they be repealed? All of which raises the question of how much a human life is worth.

The Fruits of Love., 26 November 2016
6/10

First, this is the Henry James story from which "The Hereiss" was made with Olivia De Havilland and Montgomery Clift as the cad. Second, this Washington Square looks nothing like the Washington Square on whose benches I used to sleep in my wanton youth.

In this adaptation, well, the stern Albert Finney is a wealthy 19th-century squire in New York. His beloved wife dies in childhood and what does he get in return? A gauche little piglet, eager to please but unaccomplished. She can't even sing. I can sing. You can sing. But Catherine can't sing. Moreover she gets so anxious she pees on the carpet in front of all the guests. OMG! At least Catherine grows up to be Jennifer Jason Leigh, which is a considerable improvement. As Randolf Scott said about his leading lady in one of his Westerns: "She ain't ugly." However, she's still treated by everyone as an untalented embarrassment to the family.

Except at a dance where she meets the disarming and unspeakably handsome young Morris Townsend, played by Tom Chaplin, and this despite her wearing a dress that everyone -- even her father -- seems to perceive as "hideous." It looked okay to me. I know nothing about women's grooming but at least this appears to be post-Civil War New York because the styles include fulsome ringlets and not those unsightly loaves of hair that used to hang down over a lady's ears. At the same time, and I swear I'm not making this up, she's wearing grapes in her hair like Carravagio's Bacchus. End of comments on grooming.

This charming Morris Townsend -- good family but no job and no money -- devotes a great deal of attention to Catherine. Dad, when not bathing in gold coins, has watched his piglet grow up from childhood, attributes the attention to greed, while the breathless Catherine sees his interest as entirely personal. Townsend's confrontations with Finney lead nowhere. One expresses his love, the other his cynicism.

Albert Finney, as the slyly smiling Dad, doesn't trust Morris Townsend as far as he could toss him. Finney's character is tough-minded, as Henry James' brother William would have put it. He's brilliant at seeing through people and things. He's a good actor too. So is everyone else, even Chaplin, the weakest. But they're professionals enacting roles. They seem to do exactly what their characters would do. Except for Jennifer Jason Leigh who does that but who also brings something special to the role. She looks right: not by any means ugly but no glamour-puss either. Her most fleeting gestures don't just send up the right flag, they introduce peculiarly individual notes. It's not Catherine looking embarrassed and it's not quite Leigh looking embarrassed. Leigh and the scriptwriter have coordinated their efforts and constructed a recognizable personality in Catherine. A fine performance.

The direction is functional and well done. I like the way Agnieszka Holland handles the scenes. The maids in these stories are generally nothing more than background figures scuttling around but here they carry their own personalities. The production design is nicely joined too. The Sloper apartment LOOKS Victorian with all those ferns and potted plants and mirrors and stone-heavy overstuffed furniture. It looks somehow unshakable -- practically eternal.

Finney is unable to shake his daughter from her infatuation and takes her to France for six months as a trial. Then he extends the trip for another six months. "No doubt to one of those lesser countries, densely populated, that civilization has yet to reach," opines Finney's fussy sister, Maggie Smith, who is entirely on the side of the swain. Finney himself is no angel. He thinks so little of his daughter that he can't imagine anyone but a desperate man wanting her for a wife. And he has never forgiven her for her mother's death in childbirth. Leigh has a ten thousand dollar annuity but Finney intends to cut her off from his legacy if she marries Townsend. A conundrum all around.

Townsend has found a job, ugh, and he leaves her for some months of business in New Orleans, promising to return and hoping to find her less distraught at his absence. She begs to be married and go with him but he refuses her. "You think too much of money," she tells him. Angry to the point of honesty, he shouts, "I wanted you for your money! Would you want me without MY attributes?" Good question. Maybe you can live on the fruits of love, maybe not, but can you live on the banana peels?

I don't think I'll describe it but I found the ending confusing. I don't know what was going through either Catherine's head or Townsend's. Henry James considered the novella one of his lesser works. I think I enjoyed "The Heiress" more because of its relative clarity.

International Contest., 26 November 2016
6/10

In the early 1950s a British airplane attempts a take off at Munich international, fails, crashes through a fence and into a house, and eliminates the world-favorite Manchester football team, launching the incident into the higher reaches of popular journalism. The world was shocked and Manchester was in mourning.

The take off seemed relatively normal until some good bit of the runway had been eaten up, then the plane slowed suddenly, too late to stop its run.

Why had it crashed? The German investigative authorities (portrayed here as stern villains) claim the pilot, Thain, hadn't de-iced his wings before the accident. And it was true. He hadn't. The wings were wet because it was snowing a bit but at 0° C ice wasn't forming. In any case, ice on the wing wouldn't have caused the sudden drop in speed.

Thain argued that there was runway contamination. The take off roll was longer than most and had run into slush towards the end of the runway. Later evidence supported the argument, and it was an important one.

Ice on the wings, the British pilot was responsible. Slush on the runway, the German airport authorities were responsible. It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that there might have been more than one cause for the accident.

Fain was exonerated by British European Airlines many years later but he never flew again. In much of the press, and even today, he received much of the blame. It's easy to understand why. Fain has a name and a face that can be shown on television and in newspapers. Slush does not.

Oviri (1986)
The Primitive Imperative., 26 November 2016
6/10

Paul Gaugin returns from Tahiti to Paris in middle age, finds the going tough, watches the dissolve of his artists' cabal, meets Degas and Strindberg, has affairs with models, sells his most valuable possessions (three paintings by you know who), and hobbles off back to Tahiti. It's not a tragedy though. Gaugin winds up bitterly disappointed but hopeful, and not in the sense of a tacked-on Hollywood happy ending. He gets what he wanted, although it costs him a lot.

There's some fine acting on display. Donald Sutherland is a calm and deliberate presence. There is no artistic temperament shown, no shouting or sobbing. But his is one among many fine performances. Max von Sydow, with this hilarious fright wig, is a marvel to behold, and the tender relationship between Sutherland and the pretty young house girl, who aches for the artist's touch but who is treated like a daughter. Actually, she's splendid in the role, with a winning and quietly eager smile. She clips off a few pubes and gives them to Sutherland in a snuff box as a parting gift. There's a lot of female nudity in the movie but it's neither shocking nor salacious.

If you pay attention to such things you might notice that the lighting and photography are precisely done -- maybe not a reflection of the post-impressionists but surely the chiaroscuro owes something to Rembrandt. And there is a damned near perfect portrait of Sutherland as Gaugin, sitting alone in furry sunlight, in his dismal deserted apartment at the end.

It's a dramatic story but it takes its time. We never do see the madman van Gogh slicing off his hear, howling with pain, and running bloody through the streets. Sorry. Gaugin died in bed for undetermined reasons in the Marquesas Islands.

Reality Intrusions., 25 November 2016
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Not a comedy.

The media are filled with a successful multi-million dollar hostage ransom. A light airplane carrying four and a half million dollars of ransom crashes in a remote snow-covered forest in the northern Midwest. The pilot is killed. Three local friends -- the clever and educated Bill Paxton, the nice but slightly deranged Billy Bob Thornton, and the good-natured but capricious Brent Briscoe -- watch the plane disappear into the snow-laden trees.

Investigating, they take note of the fact that the pilot is dead, the airplane half buried, and the suitcase with the illegal ransom would provide each of the three with, let's see, roughly one and a third million dollars apiece. That's enough for Paxton to get the hell out of Prairie Hell, enough for his brother Billy Bob, to buy back the old family homestead and start farming again, and the hard-drinking Briscoe to -- well, who knows?

Suitcase in hand, the three discuss what to do with the money. Of course they should turn it over to Carl, the local sheriff. And suppose the ransomers come looking for it. But then, that's a lot of money and maybe they should keep it. Of course these paper paupers can't spend any of it in Northwoodsville for obvious reasons. Maybe Paxton, the most mentally intact of the three, should take the fortune, bury it in his back yard for a while, then exhume it when things quiet down. The idea seems sound. And it's all so simple, except that the word, as used in the title, is ironic because it's not so simple at all.

I won't describe in any detail how things begin to go wrong. (Some -- a fake FBI agent -- are implausible.) Paxton brings the money home to his wife, Fonda, who doesn't believe a word of his story until Paxton dumps four million in hundred-dollar bills all over the kitchen table. Aghast, she says return it at once. But upon thinking things over, as any normal person would, she begins to sensibly question and fill in some gaps in the simple plan. Not exactly Lady MacBeth but more like an Executive Secretary with a name like Marybelle MacBeth.

You have to love the way some of the dialog is written. The law officer, Carl, has heard reports of a failing airplane and is politely asking people about it. Everyone in Pinestown knows Carl and he knows everyone else, a friendly guy who's a little hard to read. He visits Paxton's house and Paxton asks, "Hi, Carl, aren't you out chasing criminals?" "Maybe," says Carl affably.

There are scenes, little gems, sprinkled along the narrative. In one incident, Paxton is carrying a recorder and trying to get Briscoe to confess to killing an innocent bystander by pouring a lot of liquor into Briscoe's glass while only sipping at his own. Thornton, aware, somewhere in the crepuscular recesses of his brain, of what's up but unwilling to unmask his brother, begins taunting Paxton for only pretending to drink. It's the kind of crabwise way we might interfere with another's plans while not being entirely committed to the interference. In any case, it works and leads to homicide.

I won't go on about the plot. The dialog, as I've said, is well above average. We can feel pity for the dumb Thornton as he revels tearily in the fantasy of finding a wife, reestablishing the defunct family farm, with Paxton running the farm next door and coming over to visit so the two families can hug each other and the brothers can rock on the front porch, drinking and watching the moon. There are more sad than hopeful moments.

There are deaths too, and realistically rendered though with no relish whatever. Nobody's head is blown off. It's a movie made for a mature audience.


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