Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Current Cinema 20

The Company You Keep

Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep” is old fashioned, crackling entertainment. Blending real life drama (American terrorist organization the Weather Underground’s murder and bank robbery in the early 70’s) and misty-eyed recollection for a more revolutionary time through Redford‘s now aged good looks, “The Company You Keep” is a well guarded thriller that rarely takes a mis-step. Starring Redford (and a host of endowed actors, whose call list can become distracting at times) and Shia LeBouf, the film examines the undercurrents that are torn open when wanted activist Susan Sarandon turns herself in and reporter LeBouf uncovers more to the story than anyone originally bargained for. Not only is this Redford’s best film in years (both in front and behind the camera), but its an interesting study of the generation gap and the misnomer of documented history. “The Company You Keep” rolls trough a surprising number of plot points in a short period of time, and while the film could have probably been 3 hours long, its succinct enough and directed with precision.


Filmmaker Jeff Nichols has taken a break from his experimental efforts and crafted a very straight-forward coming of age tale in “Mud”. Two teenagers (Tye Sherian and Jacob Lofland) befriend a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) on a literal island and come to know the reasons he’s hiding himself there. Nichols expertly trades in the white-trash spectrum of life, breathing energy and introspection into the deep south like few current filmmakers, and “Mud” is no exception, even if it’s a bit safe and ordinary from what I was expecting. Nichols is also adroit at the repression of violence and its cathartic results (especially in his brilliant debut film “Shotgun Stories”) and “Mud” does deliver the goods there as well in a thundering shootout finale. In fact, I almost wanted the entire film to be about the Joe Don Baker character- an intimidating man who enters 3/4th of the way through the film and enters a dark hotel room full of tough looking guys and asks them to kneel and pray with him. It’s a stunning moment that deserves its own movie.

To the Wonder

I know I’m not being a good “auteurist” here, but Terence Malick’s latest effort, “To the Wonder” is a bit of a sham. Yes, it looks and sounds beautiful… and it even manages to make a Sonic drive in look downright ethereal. It encompasses a lulling soundtrack and features some beautiful people twirling and playing in the sunlight, but that’s about as deep as the film gets. What has made Malick such a cinematic force in the obsessive circles was his ability to create tactile feelings out of swaying atmosphere and complex settings. Think of the impact of turn of the century Texas in “Days of Heaven“, or the almost pacifist fields of grass in “The Thin Red Line”. “To the Wonder” is almost as place specific- the wind swept plains of southern Oklahoma, yet gone are any attachments to his men and women. Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko are introduced as lovers, and for the next 90 minutes they fight, break up and get back together without any current of connect ability for me. I simply didn’t care what happened to them. More interesting to me was the marginal story of conflicted local priest played by Javier Bardem, questioning some higher authority just like Kurylenko in poetic voice-over, and going about his daily duties in the community. Here was something substantial, as his devotees (seemingly played by non-actors) struggle with life itself. The way he gently hides from a woman constantly knocking on his door or the way the camera can barely keep a convict, grumbling about the brightness of the sunlight through the prison window, in frame feel like dazzling moments of real randomness. These scenes with Bardem, when juxtaposed against the fluctuating, childlike romance of Affleck and Kurylenko, only drives home how truly insignificant Malick’s couple really are.

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