Sunday, July 18, 2004

Movie: Point Blank (1967)

OK, maybe I have been watching a little too much TCM lately. Perhaps it’s for the best that I had to go to New York during their ‘Crime Wave’ festival. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have left the house for a week.

John Boorman’s film version of the Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake) novel has countless admirers, and I’m one of them. But the first half-hour or so is rough sledding. All of the nouvelle vague influences – the editing style, the looping structure, the use of sound – seem forced, as if Boorman feels he has to justify his involvement with such lowbrow material. Boorman has written that he took a “pulp thriller … (and) tortured it into an existential dreamscape,” crafting a meditation on both Lee Marvin and America, “a man, a nation, in violent and hopeless pursuit of their destiny.” Which is all well and good, but Stark’s novel was a damn fine crime drama to begin with. That becomes apparent soon enough as sheer narrative momentum takes over and Boorman’s flourishes have no choice but to serve the story. TCM followed this with Antonioni’s BLOW-UP (1966), a film where similar stylistic decisions feel like part of an organic whole throughout. (I didn’t watch that screening, though. I’d rather check out the recent DVD.)

I once read an interview with Boorman where he said he didn’t like working with a good script because it meant there was less for him to do. That’s some attitude, mister. Still, his films are always worth seeing. ZARDOZ (1974), an SF film he wrote and directed, is a pretentious and stupefying mess with a truly disturbing ending. His most recent film THE TAILOR OF PANAMA is a terrific adaptation of LeCarre that hasn’t been seen by enough people.

Movie: I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2004)

I did leave my digs in New York to check out this movie, reuniting CROUPIER star Clive Owen with director Mike Hodges. It’s essentially a riff on an earlier Hodges film, the spellbinding GET CARTER. Owen plays Will Graham (no apparent relation to RED DRAGON’s FBI agent), a one-time London gangster who “had a breakdown” and now roams the countryside in a caravan. Bearded, solitary, and working off the books, he tells himself he’s renounced his old life. Then his younger brother (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) commits suicide, and Will returns to find out why. His mere presence sets the underworld in an uproar, despite his insistence that he’s only back to resolve the question of his brother’s death.

SLEEP is a deliberately low-key work, concerned primarily with character and mood. It’s fascinating how Hodges and writer Trevor Preston are able to delay key pieces of exposition in this simple story until very late in the film. The ending is somewhat enigmatic, but considering the movie’s overall gloomy tone it’s clear what ultimately happens. Or at least I think it is.

Owen, as usual, gives a terrific performance. He was so good in his single scene with Matt Damon in THE BOURNE IDENTITY, hinting at a complex history in only a few words, that he ruined the movie for me. I don’t want to spend time with a punk kid like Damon when Owen is at large. The actor’s name is often bruited about as the next James Bond, and with good reason. There’s a scene in SLEEP after his character has cleaned himself up when he embodies the essence of Bond as Ian Fleming described him: a handsome man whose looks have an edge of cruelty. I can see why people would like him to make the part his own. But I hope he passes on the role if it’s offered and sticks to the path he’s on.