Saturday, October 23, 2010
If there's one common factor I kept coming back to in Mark Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, it's the cold sense of removal, a more observational style that keeps the viewer at arms length, rather than creating a more intimate, life affirming sense of seeing the end of our lives. I wanted desperately to feel something for these characters, to be emotionally engaged in their plight, and more than anything, for them to rage against their circumstances. But how can one get attached to characters we know will all die at the end?
The problems with this film are numerous, but I'll begin with the fact that the film is quite unrefined, a little too obvious. I felt like it was spelling out emotional and narrative beats to me, with signposts as blunt as a dull knife. But ultimately, the problem the film has is that it never once explains what exactly is keeping these characters from ever rebelling against their circumstances. Some have offered that they were too sheltered and brainwashed form childhood to do so, but when do we ever receive that crucial piece of information? Likewise, one might think that twenty years after leaving the school they would have figured out the real world. They know how to drive cars, they've been living on their own, Kathy in particular, but they show no interest whatsoever in eloping and getting away from all this cruel fatalism. Some have also pointed out to me that we don't know that Kathy and Tommy will die until the revelation at the end that there are no deferrals. But I think that's a misinterpretation. The film explains that a deferral is not a get out fo jail free card, it's simply a delayed sentence. They'll all still have to go through with donations and die, just not at that moment. But really, the overbearing, blunt sense of fatalism and imminent demise made me completely numb. Why get involved if they will all be dead by the end of things? I couldn't come up with any reason. If that cold sense of numbness and emotional detachment was the point of the film, I guess it just wasn't for me.
On a positive side of things, Carey Mulligan is the obvious best in show performance hear, with Andrew Garfield proving once again to be a born star. Kiera Knightley is very good, but I feel like I've seen much better, more affecting performances out of her, she seemed to be going through the motions at times, unlike her previous efforts in "Pride and Prejudice" or "Atonement" where she poured her heart and soul into the roles, she's playing some shadow of that energy here. Rachel Portman's score is beautiful, but plays to an emotion that isn't there until it's far too late. But ultimately, that's the problem with the film, by the time it ever attempts to really get me involved in what's going on, it's far too late in the story to care.
If the problem with "Never Let Me Go" was a cold sense of observational removal, "Blue Valentine" is the exact opposite. Often framing shots in intimate, and sometimes claustrophobic close-ups, the beautiful imagery of the film is matched only by it's searing portrait of a marriage falling apart, played by two of today's most talented actors in career best performances. That Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are both under 30 is a testament to both their incredible talent and dedication to their craft. The film can be a bit hard to get through, with the final impact of the film almost too much to bear, but it's ultimately worth it to see such a layered, nuanced story unfold. What it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in raw emotional honesty.
Ryan Gosling gives my favorite male performance of the year so far, with so much subtlety, grace, and complexity that one cannot imagine anyone else in the role. He goes from being a bright-eyed, if somewhat naive, romantic, to unintended family man, disillusioned to the life around him. If anything, Gosling offeres an intense look into a man who, while he loves his daughter, has never really come to terms with the idea that it might not be his biological child (a piece of information the film cleverly evades, never giving us a truly definitive answer). He's a supportive father and husband, but one gets the sense that he's numb to the life that he is living now.
Michelle Williams is equally impressive, if a little less nuanced, but that's more than likely due to the character she plays, a good girl who is thrust into this whirlwind of emotion and heartache. Normal people caught up in extreme circumstances, she can't be expected to act with grace under such pressure.
But therein lies the beauty of the film. As I pointed out before, it's not the most original relationship crisis ever put on film, but it's one of the most honest, poignant, and moving ones I've ever seen. The way the director chose to give the present times a cleaner, if cold, digital look, intercut with flashbacks shot in a more handheld, grainy, rough around the edges look, is absolutely brilliant and haunting as an end result. The images of this film will haunt you for some time, as much as the sheer emotional impact.
In one scene in particular, at the end of their first date, Dean (Gosling) plays his ukelele while crooning "You Always Hurt the One You Love" in a silly, theatric voice while Cindy (Williams) tap-dances to the music, sounds cringe-worthy on paper, but works in such a beautiful, haunting way on screen that one can't help but wipe away the tears by the end of the scene, and then again when the audio is played over the credits. The first time out of tears of happiness, the tease of hope for this couple, the love they once shared, the second time out of the impact of harsh brutal reality, and days long gone.
Posted by Kevin K. at Saturday, October 23, 2010