January 14th, 2008
A film review by C. Way – Copyright © 2008 SnailCrow.com
I was definitely putting this one off — I simply hadn’t yet been in the mood for a movie that would chain me up for two hours in a cell with my inner hand-wringing political alarmist.
I never did find that mood. I just got so sick of not having anything new from Netflix that I sucked it up, stuck in the disc and turned down the lights.
Back when this movie came out, tons of paste-headed critics got dandered up about it not being subtle, probing, & nuanced enough as a study of politics, totalitarianism, the state, Law, Justice, Fear, Art, Man, God, blabbity blah.
Nonsense. I mean really, is it this movie’s obligation to deliver a finely shaded political-philosophical treatise? Why? Who said it had to play out with the rigor of Thomas Hobbes or Machiavelli? Who the hell goes to Hollywood for in-depth socio-political analysis anyway?
“The Prince” this is not. The movie’s fascist ruling party feel more like caricatures than rounded human beings, for instance. And you never feel that hopeful that the chaotic England V leaves behind is going to be that much of an improvement after all the explosives and fireworks are over. Probably just a bunch of mask-wearing looters burning shit.
But what we do have in this movie is an entertaining, well-paced pop-parable about the paralysis of fear (in a person, in a nation), and how that paralysis can be overcome. We also get a nakedly emotional Natalie Portman, an ugly & committed John Hurt, not to mention a compelling, conflicted Stephen Rea. Finally, not only does this movie stir up sometimes-volatile (if undeveloped) ideas — no mean feat within Hollywood’s constraints — it’s also a breakneck revenge story (V’s favorite movie, tellingly, is “The Count of Monte Cristo,” Alexander Dumas’ classic epic of vengeance).
Is it a bit clumsy, a bit hammy (the all-masked marching crowd scene at the end is a fat sack of corn), a bit blunt-force (think of the rain-cleansing scene with the fiery flashbacks; we get it, we get it), a bit reductive? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Are the brush-strokes broad, are the characters flattened? Another couple Yesses.
Why don’t these things bother me then? Well, they do, it’s just that to the extent that this movie is a parable, I receive it as such — and, like most parables, the aim here is the communication of ideas more than faithful mirroring of life’s layered complexities.
Put another way, I don’t read Animal Farm expecting the same layered psychological gray-area that I find in, say, Henry James or Alice Munro. And I don’t read James or Munro expecting the same stripped archetypes that I find in Animal Farm. I’m not saying this is either James or Orwell — far far fucking cry. But a film should be judged with its conventions in mind, and in this case, I was able to enjoy this thoroughly as the noirish swashbuckler political-parable it is and accept its shortcomings in other areas as part and parcel of its virtues.
To this extent, I’m reminded of horoscopes. Just as a horoscope, however flattened and simplistic, is useful inasmuch as it gets us thinking about ourselves, what we believe in, what we hope for, what we want — just so, this movie, with its welter of ideas offered (security, freedom, anarchism, art as necessary lie), does much the same. Provided, that is, we engage with it as thoughtful viewers, willing to relax, enjoy the Scarlet Pimpernellishness, suspend disbelief a little and put away our Bakunin & Marx (&, okay, lots of other books) for 133 minutes.
Oh and there’s lots of bloody Zorro moves.
And a yummy buzzcut Portman.
Go rent it.