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Southern Comfort (1981)
An Extraordinary Gem that deserves more prominence
Whatever I say about this film, I can't admit to being objective about it because I adore it so much. At this point, I have probably watched it about 15 times over the years so I feel something of an expert on it.
Since others have written some very well written reviews of "Southern Comfort" I don't want to repeat what they say however a few points require clarification.
First, what this film is about. It is not, in my opinion, merely about the traditional urban/rural divide. That divide exists in the film as it does in real life. But that is not the point of the film. Nor is it an anti-white or anti-Southern screed. Although it takes place in the South it could take place just about anywhere when one realizes what the film is really about. Also both the "survivors" and the "villains" in the film are white Southerners. The "survivors" being two Louisiana National Guardsman - Spencer (Kieth Carradine) and Hardin (Powers Boothe). The "villains" being Cajun fisherman/hunters out in the swamps of Louisiana.
No, what "Southern Comfort" is really about is what happens when arrogant fools invade another people's land and start indulging in violent and hostile acts, including destroying the livelihood of the native people (e.g. cutting their fishing nets and stealing their boats), shooting at, seizing, and taking prisoner innocent locals, blowing up their homes, abusing and torturing them (sounds all to familiar), and then wondering why they are hated so much and why the native people attack them. The message is really that simple.
It was captured in a short dialogue after the "survivors" are shown to be the last two left among the guardsmen. When they are confronted by a shotgun toting one armed Cajun (who was previously their prisoner) brilliantly played by the late Brion James, Hardin asks the Cajun, "Do you mind telling us what this [the war with the guardsmen] is all about?" The Cajun responds, "It's real simple. This is our home and and nobody f***s with us here." For that reason the advertising slogan for the film - "The Land of Hospitality...unless you don't belong" - is wrong. It should have read "The Land of Hospitality...unless you misbehave and start mistreating and abusing the locals!"
If the guardsman hadn't behaved badly then they would not have had much trouble with the locals in the first place. Also, the Cajuns in the small town at the end of the film came across as quite normal and hospitable to me. Only the "swamp rat" Cajuns come across as threatening and THEY were only fighting back against violent intruders. So I have to disagree with the assessment by some that the film is anti-Cajun, anti-white, or anti-Southern. On the contrary, one of the "heroes" (i.e., survivors) is a white Southerner from Baton Rouge (Spencer played by Keith Carradine). As for the Cajuns shown in the small town, they were not actors. They were real people that were shown honestly and fairly - enjoying good food, good company, good music, and dancing.
To sum up, "Southern Comfort" is an outstanding and extraordinary film in its own right. The acting is persuasive and very convincing, especially from Fred Ward who plays a very menacing type and, of course, the much underrated and underappreciated Powers Boothe who plays the "outsider" from El Paso, Texas. The direction by Walter Hill is superb. The cinematography from the first frame to the last by Andrew Laszlo is lush, rich, and luxuriant. (It makes me want to visit the Louisiana bayou to see it for myself.) And last, but not least, the music composed and arranged (and played) by Ry Cooder is both mysterious and seductive. Few films have ever enjoyed such a perfect marriage between image and music as "Southern Comfort." The only other film that has this quality that immediately comes to mind is Carol Reed's "The Third Man" which featured the hypnotically beautiful zither music by Anton Karas. Karas and Cooder both share an indescribable special quality that is evident in both films.
Halliwell's Film Guide gives "Southern Comfort" its top rating - four stars - and if you know anything about Halliwell's you know how difficult it is for any film to get four stars. I think it justly deserves that rating which is why I don't hesitate to recommend it to everyone without any reservations.
Taxi Driver (1976)
An Enigmatic Masterpiece
If a picture is worth a thousand words then this movie (moving picture) is worth a million words, which is why it has probably generated at least a million words.
What can one say. The obvious: that "Taxi Driver" is great, it is. That it is a masterpiece, it is. What sets this film apart from so many other films, including great films, is that it is an enigma. Every time I watch this film I see something else, I notice something else, I feel something else, I wonder something else. And I am, clearly, not the only one who reacts to the film this way that is why it lends itself to endless speculation and discussion.
Since so many positive reviews have been made, rather than add my own red hot glowing review I thought I would address those people who have written that they don't like "Taxi Driver" because, they say, they find it dull and boring, hard to follow, etc. These people miss some important points about the film.
ONE, "Taxi Driver" is NOT an action film. If you want an action film watch "Die Hard" and its numerous sequels, or "Lethal Weapon" and its sequels, not to mention "Rambo" and thousands of other "action flicks." Nothing wrong with them, per se. Nothing wrong with liking them either. But is wrong to put down "Taxi Driver" because of what it is not.
TWO, "Taxi Driver" is about loneliness and loneliness is characterized by an almost crushing boredom and emptiness and Travis Bickle's character reflects that. His life is dull and boring, hardly anything happens to him and that is what "Taxi Driver" shows - Bickle's pathetic life.
THREE, some people say that they don't understand the plot, Bickle's attitudes and behaviour, etc. But that is because "Taxi Driver" is about a man who is profoundly emotionally disturbed although he (and his buddies) don't seem to know it. His actions aren't rational because he isn't rational. His actions make no sense because he makes no sense. Offhand, I can't think of any other film that has depicted mental illness as well as "Taxi Driver" and no film that attempts to show the world as seen by someone like Travis Bickle.
There you go: three reasons to address the most common criticisms of the film with one notable exception, its controversial ending, but THAT is a whole topic in itself which is just more proof of why "Taxi Driver" is so worthwhile - when viewers aren't sure what actually happens in the end (Is Travis hallucinating as he is dying? Is that what the slow moving overhead tracking shot suggests? Or does he really become a hero in the media and get realeased back into the world with his buddies? Etc, etc.) The questions and issues raised by "Taxi Driver" just go one and on.
Now if after reading the above you still don't think "Taxi Driver" is a great film, I can't help you. I am NOT saying you have to like (or love) "Taxi Driver" just appreciate it or at least acknowledge its greatness even if it isn't your cup of tea. Actually, I don't love "Taxi Driver" because it doesn't lend itself to love. It is too disturbing a picture precisely because it is way too close to reality, it cuts too close to the bone for my comfort (or rather, discomfort). It is not comfortable to watch because it isn't supposed to be. So if "Taxi Driver" makes you feel uncomfortable and uneasy it should because real life is uncomfortable and uneasy (unless you are born rich or something).
Finally, after watching it again for the nth time I have begun to notice (and feel) just how smooth "Taxi Driver" is. The overall feel and flow of the film is incredibly smooth in which not only each scene but each and every movement and gesture flows into the other imperceptibly. Sometimes I play back scences and sequences over and over to catch how it happens. In fact, I see it happening and still can't quite figure out how it is done but I have a hunch - DeNiro. DeNiro is just amazing in this film. If you haven't done it already, watch it with the remote in your hand and play some of the scenes in slow motion and you will SEE what I am talking about. Only DeNiro could do what he does. The sheer minimalism of his performance is just stunning. How he gets so much from so little never ceases to amaze me. DeNiro's performance in "Taxi Driver" only reminds me of what sports announcer Curt Gowdy exclaimed after one of Baltimore Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson's incredible plays in the 1970 World Series,"This guy is another world!"