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Welcome back, Mr. Cameron!
On the distant forest moon of Pandora, the giant blue-colored native, the na'vis, resist the human militarized corporation who wants to exploit the precious metal in the ground of a planet. A group of scientist lead by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who are able to download their mind into human-na'vi hybrid called avatars, are charged to find a diplomatic solution before the forces of Colonel Miles Quarich (Stephen Lang) takes charge. Joining the team following the death of his twin brother is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former marine who is now paraplegic.
Not counting the various documentaries he was involved with, "Avatar" is James Cameron's first cinematic outing since his 1997 box-office behemoth "Titanic". Was it worth the wait? Absolutely though it is also displays some serious flaws.
So let's start with the weak point of "Avatar": the story. Not that it is bad. Actually, compared to the plot-hole ridden joke of a script that serves as a lame excuse for a story in most contemporary blockbusters, it is really good, with solid characters. But it is also wholly unoriginal and extremely predictable. Basically, if you have seen "Dances with wolves" or "The last samurai", you know what will happen in "Avatar" (the comparison with "Dances with wolves" notably is almost impossible to avoid given that the na'vis are obviously patterned over native Americans. Inspirations from "Jurassic Park", Peter Jackson's version of "King Kong", as well as Cameron's own "Aliens" can also be spotted here and there). This is made even worse by a tendency to phone in most of the plot development. When a na'vi tells Jake that only 5 times in the history of her people has a particularly fearsome monster been tamed, you know that Jake will tame one later, which allows you to predict how the story should unfold. The same way, once the same character tells Jake some action he is taking before the climatic battle is useless, you know exactly how the said battle will unfold. Story wise, "Avatar" reserves no surprise: You know what you're going to get way before it actually happens on the screen.
Also, in order to better hammer his new-wavy ecological anti-militaristic message (it's worth noting that given the current concerns about climate change, "Avatar" could not have been released at a better time as it seems to perfectly capture the current pro-environment zeitgeist), the world of "Avatar" is depicted in a way that does not allow any shade of grays: You have bad evil people on side and good pure ones on the other and they don't mix! The brute force of the military walking hand in hand with rich corporate sleezeballs, both aimed at destruction, one for the sheer joy of it, the other for greed and profit vs. humanistic scientists and pure natives aimed at preserving a way of life in harmony with the environment.
This could have destroyed any other movie. But sometimes it is not the story you're telling, it is how you tell it. Pushing the technological envelope on the level of computer-generated environment and motion-captured, the movie is a triumph of epic storytelling unseen since at least the last installment of the "The lord of the rings". The incredibly detailed and beautiful landscape of Pandora, exploding with brightly colored exotic plants and animals, make for an incredibly immersive experience. And of course, the amazing motion capture technology takes to a new level the foundations laid by Peter Jackson with Gollum in "The lord of the rings" and by ILM with Davy Jones and his crew in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead men's chest" in terms of integration of real actors with digital characters. While most of the time, all the characters on screen are computer generated, we never have the impression to watch a cartoon, thanks notably to the amazing amount of emotion their faces are able to express. Some scenes are absolutely exhilarating (notably the flight scenes and the reveal of the hanging mountains). Moreover, "Avatar" serves as a healthy reminder that James Cameron is one of the best action director alive, and that all the Michael Bay in the world could take some lessons for him.
I saw the movie in 3D but I'm not sure how much it contributed to the immersive experience that was "Avatar". This is the second movie in 3D that I saw after "Coraline" and I overall don't share everybody's enthusiasm for this format. After 30 minutes, I usually forget about the 3D, if not for the strain on my eyes, although it is possible the 3D effect mmight still play at an unconscious level to make the movie more immersive. But I overall doubt it and, for me at least, the 3D does not add much: I'm sure "Avatar" would have been just as enthralling in 2D.
A masterpiece of epic storytelling that even its cliché and unsurprising story could not bring down and a new landmark in digital movie-making, "Avatar" is without a doubt the best blockbuster to hit the screen since hobbits roamed Middle-Earth. Welcome back, Mr. Cameron. We missed you!
Jackie Brown (1997)
The conventional wisdom of "Jackie Brown"
Adapted from a novel by Elmore Leonard, Quentin Tarantino's follow-up to his classic "Pulp fiction" is another crime movie, paying tribute to the blaxploitation movies of the seventies, starring blaxploitation icon Pam Grier along with Robert Forster, Samuel Jackson and Robert de Niro.
One of the most annoying cliché you can read in a review of a Tarantino movie is some kind of pompous statement about "Jackie Brown" being his best/most mature work to date, usually meant to imply that everything went down hill from there. Well, let me respectfully disagree It's not that "Jackie Brown" is not a great movie. It is. But it is also a very conventional one by Tarantino standards. Like it or hate it, you have to admit that a Tarantino movie is unlike anything else you watched in a theater. They don't follow the codes of other movies; they don't unfold as you would expect them to do. They have their own rhythm, their own groove. That is, except if the Tarantino movie in question is "Jackie Brown".
It follows the template for "serious film-making by serious film-makers" to the letter. For an audience uncomfortable with the non-conformism and the chaotic creativity of other Tarantino movies, this might be reassuring. They are on known grounds there. This is conventional film-making. For once, a Tarantino movie is walking the line, talking the talk, going the way it should go. This is what a good movie by a great director should look like. So, be a good boy, Quentin. Do what everybody expects you to do and just shoot another "Jackie Brown". Who knows? You might even win an Oscar in the process!
Except that Tarantino is not a good boy. He does not care about what people expect him to do. He just follows his own path, without compromising, and this path leads him far away from the standards of conventional film-making, although he demonstrated in "Jackie Brown" that he mastered those standards as well. It's almost as if he did "Jackie Brown" just to prove that point. Yes, if only he wanted, he could be a "serious" film-maker making a "serious" "mature" movie. But a Tarantino movie is not about following the conventions: it is about inventing new ones! There are wild territories off the main road and it is where he wants to be.
This is this gung-ho take-no-prisoner attitude that makes him without a doubt the most brilliant and interesting director currently working. And that's why "Jackie Brown", although an accomplished work by any standard, cannot be considered in any way as the apex of his movie output.
A fresh take on a classic tale
In this new adaptation of Conan Doyle classic book, Sherlock Holmes (Richard Roxburgh, "Moulin Rouge") and Dr. Watson (Ian Hart, "Harry Potter and the sorcerer's stone") investigate the mysterious death of sir Charles Baskerville, whose body was found in the moor surrounding his antique manor.
"The hound of Baskerville" is probably the most well-known Sherlock Holmes adventure and as such as been adapted many times (IMDB references no less then 19 versions). Yet, this fine BBC production proves that there is still something new to say about this story and ranks as one of the best adaptation.
First, it got the story right. Despite the presence of Sherlock Holmes and the rational ending, "the hound of the Baskerville" is more a Gothic horror tale then a police procedural. And this is how the story is approached in this movie. The dark and moody set (the mist-covered moor, the sinister Baskerville hall) creates a great Gothic atmosphere which fits well with the occasional use of gore. The plot follows quite closely the one of the book except for one or two welcome additions (the Christmas party notably, as the the movie was produced as a BBC Christmas special), which helps keep the pace of the movie fast and engaging.
The other strong point of this production is the original portrayal of Holmes and Watson and of their relationship. Both are depicted as much younger and more physical then in previous version. Neither the heroic figure portrayed by Basil Rathbone nor the neurotic outsider portrayed by Jeremy Brett, Holmes is conceived as a risk-seeker. This leads him to make mistakes of judgment, his recklessness putting both his client, Watson and himself in danger, and his selfishness alienating Watson for whom he has nonetheless a deep rooted affection as witnessed by his reaction when Watson is shot or the final scene where Holmes, surprisingly, apologizes to Watson for his behavior and seems genuinely concern he might have reached a point of no return in his relationship with his friend. In this context, the controversial decision to make Holmes a genuine cocaine addict make good psychological sense. In the books, Holmes was taking drugs only when he was not on a case, to stimulate his brain. Here, on the contrary, he takes the drug at moment where he seems to be the most stimulated (at the onset of the case, and, more shockingly, in a toilet of a restaurant while Lestrade and Watson are waiting for him to arrest the murderer).
Overall, although still an intellectual genius, this Holmes is less of a superhero apart from humanity, and more of a flawed human being. This is reinforced, probably unintentionally, by the fact that Richard Roxburgh lacks the charisma and the intensity previous actors (notably Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing and Jeremy Brett) have brought to the role. This would have been a major flaw in any other Sherlock Holmes movie but not in this one, given its peculiar approach of the character.
Portrayals of Watson have come a long way since Nigel Bruce depicted him as an idiot in the Basil Rathbone movie. Watson is now portrayed like he actually is in the Conan Doyle story, as a warmth and kind man, having many of the human qualities that Holmes lacks. But in this version, Watson, superbly played by Ian Hart and who, given his screen exposure, is actually the real main protagonist of the story, is even more competent then usual, proving himself a very efficient detective in his own right and a man of action. He is also given a much darker edge then usual. In the books, Holmes often treats Watson in a way that could be considered rude or manipulative. Interestingly, this movie takes a realistic look at how Watson would reacted to it, as he is shown as deeply hurt by Holmes' behavior. "I don't trust you", he tells him and even, during a dinner at Baskerville Hall, perhaps expressing his resentment for his friend, mocks him.
This is a much strained friendship then the one usually depicted. It is also a more realistic one, given Holmes' peculiar behavior. It gives the impression to see the real Holmes-Watson relationship, before Watson watered it down for his reader (interestingly, this fits also with Holmes' cocaine addiction. Had Holmes existed, rumors of his cocaine addiction would have spread that Watson would have tried to brush away by inventing the myth the Holmes was not using the drug in a recreational way but only when a case could not provide the amount of intellectual stimulation he needed).
Hence, all in all, because of his engaging plot, atmospheric settings, superb production value and of its original take on two characters of whom everything seemed to have been said (notably after their definitive interpretation given in the Jeremy Brett series), the latest version of "the hound of the Baskerville" is a must-see for any Sherlock Holmes aficionados.
The most underrated movie of all time
Directed by Roman Polanski ("Chinatown", "Rosemary's baby", "The pianist" for which he won a best director Oscar), here comes the tale of Captain Thomas Bartholomew Red, one of the most feared pirates on the Spanish main, and his French swashbuckling sidekick, "The frog" (Cris Campion). Stranded at sea, they are saved by a Spanish galleon. They immediately set their goal to commandeer the ship and steal the aztec golden throne it is carrying back to Spain.
A huge commercial and critical flop at the time of its release, "Pirates"'s reputation with film critics has not grown other the year. It is still considered a cinematic disgrace on Polanski's resume, exhibit A along with "Cutthroat Island" anytime a terrible god awful pirate movie needs to be mentioned. This has always puzzled me as this is definitely one of the funnier movie I have ever seen and a personal favorite.
"Pirates" is the equivalent for pirate movies of the Italian western comedies of the 70s ("My name is nobody", "they call me Trinity"). The rule of the genre are respected but the overall tone is clearly parodic with over-the-top characters and slapstick humor. The story is told from the point of view of characters with rather shady moral standards and whose main motivation are far more material and earthly than your traditional movie heroes. Everything and everybody is a little more dirtier and sweater than in your traditional Hollywood fare. This might sound a little but like the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise and indeed, they are many similarities: Red is a close cousin of captain Barbossa and share the same devil-may-care attitude as Jack Sparrow; the frog could be Will Turner's long lost brother.
Besides the swashbuckling and humorous story, one thing that makes "Pirates" such a blast is the two main characters and their interaction. Red and the frog are almost like the evil ancestors of Tintin and Captain Haddock. Played admirably by Walter Matheau with a clear nod to Long John Silver, Red is a rotten son-of-a-gun whose only interest in life seems to be gold and things made out of gold. Without any moral compass besides his own interest, he is exactly the kind of bad guy we love to root for. Yet, he would not go far without the assistance of the frog, a more idealistic character whose loyalty to Red remains a puzzle during the whole movie and suggests a deep rooted friendship between the two men.
The movie has many great scenes: the intro where, stranded on a small raft at sea without any food, Red attempt to eat the frog ("You will go to hell if you do that Captain: cannibalism is a deadly sin," "What do you think confession is for, my boy?"), the part where Red and the frog are forced by the Spanish captain to eat a rat they have put in the crew's soup in an attempt to start a mutiny on the ship or the absolute kick-ass moment: Red shooting a cannonball into his own ship before boarding the Spanish gallion so his crew have no choice but to win the fight (at the same time, of course, he has the frog preparing a row boat full of food so he can get off as soon as he get the throne, leaving his crew fighting the Spanish!). And let's not forget the greed-not-love-conquer-all ending!
All in all, this fun swashbuckling critic-hated tale of amoral pirates has to be the one of the most underrated movie of all time. So bad that it is so difficult to find this day in video!
A glimpse at the historical Sade
In France, in 1794, during the apex of the Reign of Terror, the scandalous marquis de Sade (Daniel Auteuil) finds himself, like many other nobles, waiting for the guillotine in one of the prison of the Republic. There, the young daughter of one of his inmate becomes fascinated by him and he becomes her tutor in the mysteries of love and libertine life.
"Sade" almost play like the anti-thesis of "Quills", another movie on the divine Marquis released the same year. The plot of "Quills" bears no relation to the historical reality while, on the contrary, the one of "Sade" put a great emphasis on historical accuracy. Contrary to the screenwriter of "Quills" who seemed to know next to nothing about the life and work of the real Marquis de Sade, the one of "Sade" obviously did his homework. Although taking some liberty with the facts (Sade was indeed imprisoned at the Picpus prison during the Terror but none of the events depicted in the movie actually happened; Sade's mistress did not sleep with one of Robespierre's henchmen in order to save the marquis from the guillotine), this movie is overall an accurate portrayal of the author of "Justine": a libertine, yes but also a philosopher and a critic of the society he was living in with a sarcastic sense of humor. Auteuil's performance is mesmerizing even though its choice to play the Marquis is a little bit surprising since, by the time, after years of imprisonment in the prison of the King, the divine Marquis was obese.
The immorality of the Marquis which leaded to crimes only on paper is contrasted with the morality of Robespierre and his followers which leaded to real crimes in reality. Here again, the movie displays the same attention to details and historical accuracy that it did in the portrayal of the marquis: the history buff will notice Robespierre's tinted glasses, the fact that he is brought to the guillotine with a broken jaw or the depute jumping out of a window of the Paris town hall during the incorruptible's arrest.
But the movie is brought down by its unimaginative direction, more typical of a made-for-TV movie than a feature film and a limited budget leading to low production values: the costumes are superb but the historical realism is kind of ruined by the generic set that fails to convey the atmosphere of revolutionary France the movie try so hard to convey.
Yet, for someone intrigued by the Marquis de Sade or the French Revolution, "Sade" is a nice portrayal of an extreme man who lived in some extreme times.
The curse of violence
William Munny (Clint Eastwood), a former violent gunslinger, has turn his back to his former life after he married his young wife. But his wife is now dead and, struggling for a leaving in his two children, he accepts, along with his former partner, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to follow the Schofield kid to the town of Big Whiskey to kill two cowboys. They have assaulted a prostitute but the sheriff, Little Bill (Gene Hackman), let them go and the prostitutes have put a bounty on their head. Among other killers heading to Big Whiskey is English Bob (Richard Harris), a legendary gunslinger, followed by his biographer Beauchamp.
Often described as an anti-violence western because it depicts it realistically (see the vicious beating of English Bob and then Munny by Little Bil or the long agony of the first cow-boy shot by Munny), "Unforgiven" also examines the consequences of violence, both at the societal and individual level. Just like so many other small towns in so many other westerns, Big Whiskey symbolizes the transition between the Wild West and Civilization with Little Bill as the main civilizing force. He is a violent man but he uses violence for what he considers a greater cause, the civilizing of Big Whiskey. But who lives by the sword dies by the sword and Little Bill's violence only generates more violence. The central metaphor there is the house that Little Bill is trying to build but that is all crooked and leaks from everywhere every times it rains. The same way, a civilization build on violence is bound to fail. When Little Bill is killed by Munny, this is a fate he has called upon himself.
The movie makes clear that Little Bill is the rule, not the exception, and that a whole culture of violence impregnates the young America. The action takes place a few day after the assassination of president Garfield. English Bob used to work for the railroad companies, the great symbol of civilization in many westerns, to kill Chinese workers working on the track. The Schofield kid is so obsessed with violence, adoring ruthless killers like Munny, that he named himself after his gun and pretends he has killed many men.
At the individual level, violence has totally destroyed Munny. He keeps repeating that he has changed since he married his wife, but he is too insistent, like he is trying to convince himself. He is the one shooting the first cow-boy. By contrast, Ned could not do it and the kid gets sick after his first kill. "I'm not like you", he tells Munny. When Munny comes to the town to avenge Ned's death, we have the sense that we are seeing the real William Munny, a cold-blooded killer without remorse nor pity shaped, possessed and forever doomed by violence.
Another theme of "Unforgiven" is the deconstruction of the western myths, often build around the idolizing of violent characters like English Bob. His biographer, Beauchamp, just like Hollywood later, is writing his legend through a romantic account of Bob's life. None of that is true as Beauchamp is astonished to learn through Little Bill. Yet, Eastwood resuscitates those myths for the climax: when Munny comes to town for revenge, it is Eastwood playing the Man with No Name one last time, the invincible gunslinger with almost supernatural abilities. It is an evil version of it, a malevolent half-god that nobody even dares to shoot out, yet, even after all the movie has told us about violence, instead of being repulsed, we're in awe: this is Eastwood addressing our own fascination with violence.
Served by uniformly strong and by Eastwood's wonderfully understated direction in the grand tradition of Hollywood golden era directors such as John Ford or Howard Hawks, "Unforgiven" is a powerful coda to the western genre, Clint Eastwood's definitive masterpiece.
The original Dracula
Shot in 1931 by Tod Browning ("Mark of the vampire", "Freaks") for Universal, this is the first official adaptation of Bram Stoker's tale of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi), a vampire leaving his native Transylvannia for England, looking for new young (and usually female) victims.
There is no denying the landmark status of "Dracula" in movie history. This was the first supernatural thriller produced by an American studio and its success spawned the whole Universal horror series (Frankenstein, the wolf-man,...) and in some way, the whole horror genre in American cinema. It crystallized the character of Count Dracula (the elegant gentleman dressed in a black cape, nowhere as it looks like in Stoker's novel) into popular culture and set the standard for all vampire films to come. It jump-started the career of Bela Lugosi. His interpretation of the count, with his heavy-accented and hesitant English, remains iconic.
Yet "Dracula" is not a good movie, even by 1931 standard (compare it for instance, to James Whales' "Frankenstein", released the same year). The first 20 minutes, set in Castle Dracula, are simply wonderful: the atmospheric Gothic set serves as a perfect backdrop to Lugosi's performance. The scene where Dracula and his brides emerge from their coffins remains powerful even today.
But once the action moves to England, the movie becomes am unimaginative bore. The Gothic sets are replaced by mundane well-lit rooms without any atmosphere, a context where Lugosi's performance suddenly appears quite goofy. I also always found Edward Von Sloan's overacted performance as Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing, extremely annoying with his fake German accent. Inspired more by the play than the original novel, the script is too talky. Moreover, Universal considered that a movie about a walking corpse was already extremely risqué and do not dare going to far with the script, hence most of the action seems to happens off screen. For instance, when Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker kills one of Dracula's victim who has turned into a vampire, we know it only because we see them exiting from the cemetery where she was buried.
The movie is barely directed. Apart from a few scenes (like the one mentioned above with Dracula and his brides and attributed usually to cinematographer Karl Freund), Browning usually puts his camera at the least imaginative play, never moving it, adding to the feeling that we're not watching a movie but a filmed stage play. Browning's lack of interest in the project is also clear by the many goofs and mistakes that can be spotted through the film. The clearst example of that is Renfield's meeting with Dracula at Burgo's pass at the beginning of the movie. Dracula is driving the coach that will carry Renfield to the castle and, according to the script, a scarf around his head is hide his face, explaining when Renfield meets the count in the castle, he doesn't recognize him as the driver of the coach. Dracula wears such a scarf in the Spanish version shot at the same time but not in the English speaking version: yet, despite this obvious goof, nobody bothered to reshoot the scene.
Browning's later movie "Mark of the vampire", with a much superior performance by Lugosi in a Dracula-like character, seems almost like an attempt to make-out for "Dracula": "Mark of the vampire" has all the atmosphere and Gothic imagery that "Dracula" lacks past the 20-minute mark. It remains influential but is, in the end, an extremely disappointing film.
Knocked Up (2007)
Beauty and the beast, Judd Apatow's style
In director Judd Apatow's follow-up to his 2005 sleeper hit "The 40-year old virgin", Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl), a young and sexy TV presenter find herself pregnant after a one night-stand with Ben Stone, a twenty-something overweight unemployed pothead and looser living without any revenue with his stone-slackers roommates. Despite their differences, they try to make the best of the situation.
Alfred Hitchcock once describe a kind of movie which are pleasant to watch and leave you satisfied when you go out from the theater but then, at midnight, when you open your fridge for a snack and think a little bit more about it, you realize it didn't really make sense and was nowhere as good as you thought it was. "Knocked up" is this kind of movie.
It is entertaining, funny and well played but, on a second thought not very good. Part of the problem comes from the fact that Alison and Ben don't belong to the same movie. Alison and her family remain believable characters even though some aspects of their life and personalities are exaggerated for comedic purpose. On the other hand, Ben's entourage looks like castaways from "Napoleon dynamite" or some other over-the-top comedy and are totally unrealistic. This is particularly problematic for the character of Ben who interacts with both groups: hence, he sometimes appears as an outrageous caricature (as when he doesn't realize that it might not be very wise on a first date with a woman way out of your league to mention that you and your pothead friends are currently working on building a porn website. But since the porn website is how Alison later finds back Ben's trail, I suppose we can simply attribute that to lazy screen writing), other times as a more mature and reality-grounded character.
Another problem is that Apatow seems to run out of ideas midway through the movie. Once Alison and Ben decide to keep the baby, they start dating and things go well. But ultimately, Alison breaks up with Ben. At this point, the movie just run into free wheels, Apatow wasting his time with comedic fillers bringing nothing to the plot so that, when it's time to come back to the plot, what should have been major development in the story are rushed out: when Ben finally graduates from retarded teenager to responsible adult, it is through a montage and, when it's time for Allison to give birth, Ben and her simply goes back together as if Alison's reasons for breaking from Ben in the first place never really mattered, a simple device to keep the plot boiling.
Finally, this is probably the first movie where I saw product placement for another movie playing at the same time in the theater: "Spiderman 3", also produced by Sony and released just a few week before "Knocked up" in theaters, is referenced twice, the characters expressing their urgent desire to see it, and James Franco, who stars in "Spiderman 3", makes a cameo, appearing in Alison's TV show where he discusses, you guessed it, his role in "Spiderman 3"!
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Charlie Kaufman lite
In "Stranger than fiction", directed by Marc Foster ("Monsters' ball", "Finding neverland"), Harold Crick (a dead serious Will Ferrell, playing against type) is an IRS auditor, living a routine boring life. Everything changes when he starts hearing a voice narrating his life as if he was the main character of a novel. Past the initial shock, this seems to be a good thing as Harold break up with his routine, opening himself to the external world as well as dating a young liberal-minded baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) he has fallen in love with. But then, he realizes the narrator is Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a reclusive author who always kills her main character.
Penned by Zach Helm, the script obviously tries to imitate the style of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovitch", "Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind") and the whole movie tries actually to ape the subtle mix between comedy, drama, absurdness and attempt at existentialist insight that can be found in a Charlie Kaufman movie. But the premise is a little too much out there: it would OK if "strangers than fiction" was a straight comedy but there is too much drama for us to take "stranger than fiction" as seriously as it takes itself.
Moreover, even if you buy the premise, the movie ultimately fails. Interestingly, in a strange post-modern twist, the reasons why the movie failed are discussed in the movie itself! Once Karen Eiffel realizes that Harold Crick is not only a character in her latest novel but a real human being, she is faced with a dilemma: either killing Crick and hence writing a masterpiece or letting him live and hence ruining her novel. She chooses the latest option. This is exactly the situation faced by the screenwriter of "stranger than fiction": he could have decided to kill Harold Crick, hence maybe not transforming the movie into a masterpiece but at least making it more satisfying that the current version with its saccharine Hollywood happy ending where Crick lives to get the girl.
In those sequences where Eiffel hesitates between the two possible ending for her book, it is if the screenwriter was telling us"Hey, I know the story is better if I kill Crick. But hey, this is Hollywood, this is a business: there is no way this movie can make any profit with a sad ending so I had to go the other way."
The Proposition (2005)
The merciless struggle for civilization in the Australian outback
In this Australian western directed by John Hillcoat, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), representing Her Majesty's army in the wild Australian outback, captures notorious Irish outlaws Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his younger simple-minded brother Mike. Stanley makes the following proposition to Charlie: either he kills his more dangerous older brother Arthur who's hiding in the wilderness and is wanted notably for the slaughter of a whole family and the rape and murder of a pregnant woman or Mike will be hanged on Christmas day.
Penned by Aussie rock musician Nick Cave, the fantastic and poetic script for "The proposition" plays on a familiar theme found in many other westerns, notably John Ford's "My darling Clementine", "The searchers" and "The man who shot Liberty Valance": the struggle between civilized order and anarchy that civilization cannot win without the help of outsiders closer the anarchy pole. In "The proposition", Captain Stanley is the civilizing force, Charlie Burns is the outsider whose help he needs to achieve his goal but the anarchic side is not so much represented by Arthur Burns than by the land itself, the Australian outback, of which Arthur seems to be the physical manifestation. As Roger Ebert pointed in his review, "The proposition" is like a western shot in Colorado if Colorado was located in hell: a dusty desert constantly burned by the sun with legions of flies covering any being, dead or alive, foolish enough to go there, a god-forsaken country where death is omnipresent.
This makes Captain Stanley's commitment "to civilize this land" tragic and absurd as the outback seems so hostile to human life that the fight seems impossible to win or not worth the sacrifice it will require. This is perfectly illustrated in a scene where Stanley tries to have a traditional English breakfast, with poshed eggs and bacon, in the middle of his garden where he managed to grow a couple of roses: his attempt to keep a British lifestyle seems surrealistic with the desert surrounding him, flies flying constantly around his breakfast plate. Moreover, the civilization Stanley is fighting for doesn't seem to be worth the fight itself: a violent, racist society, organizing the genocide of the Arborigines and revealing in gruesome parody of justice, as when Mike Burns is whipped to death on a public square. Stanley himself is above that. Although a violent man by necessity, Ray Winstone's portrayal gives him a great humanity: he is sensitive, devoted to his mission and tenderly loving his wife (Emily Watson) that he tries to shelter from the violence of the life in the outback.
Although at the beginning of the film, Stanlay seems to be the one in the position of power, it clearly appears that this is not the case and that he made a dangerous bargain by letting Charlie go free: if he betrays him, Arthur will come for him and no force on earth seems to be able to stop him. Arthur Burns, portrayed in a mesmerizing way by Danny Huston, is an almost supernatural figure in the movie: living like a mad prophet in a cave, quoting Shakespeare, the Aborigenes think he is not a human but a werewolf and might as well be. He spends his days sitting on top of a mountain, starring intensively at the land surrounding him, leaving his lair only to bring death and destruction in a whirlwind of fury and brutality. To find him, his brother Charlie has to ride through a literal land of dead, filled with rotten corpses of both animals and human beings and has to symbolically die himself, an Aborigene's spear piercing him through and through. Arthur Burns is like an ancient evil god, the personification of the outback itself, representing its mystery, its mystic, its brutality and its hostility to life.
Although dominated by Huston and Winstone, the rest of the cast is excellent too, especially John Hurt playing a scene-stealing bounty hunter. Depicting in realistic terms the violence of both the Burns brothers and the English army, The movie is extremely violent and bloody, the obvious reference here being Sam Peckinpah. Besides the script, Nick Cave also composed the haunting soundtrack.
An instant classic, "The proposition" is the best western since Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven", and a major contribution to an important genre.