What is it about Die Hard? Why do people watch these movies? Is it a vest fetish? Some movie riff on the old Sylvia Plath trope (“Every woman adores a Fascist/ The boot in the face, the brute/ Brute heart of a brute like you”)? Did the audience of the 1980’s never quite get over its David Addison crush? I’m a fan. I’ll admit it. But watching the movies again at the weekend I couldn’t help but feel these films are slightly guilty pleasures.
“Inert” is not a word Robert DeNiro would look for in a review of The Good Shepherd. “Bloodless” isn’t what Bob had in mind. This is movie made so determinedly in the Oscar-contender tradition (carefully ticking each box, dutifully employing every Best Actor Oscar winner, never showboating, never De Palma-ing lest it might incur the wrath of stolid Academy voters) that to use anything but “masterpiece”, “powerful” and “The Godfather of spy movies” seems churlish, spiteful even. But The Good Shepherd is not The Godfather of spy movies. It’s more like an Open University course in spy movies; a know-all with no sex or drugs.
Ocean’s Thirteen is a movie about how sweet it is to be a movie star.
Is that wrong? Do movies owe us more than star-struck voyeurism? Can a story be told just for the sake of watching thirteen famous people stroll through it?
Steven Spielberg couldn’t make E.T. today. Not that he’s lost his sense of wonder. He could handle the effects just fine and the pacing would be tight, and maybe he’d even cast the same way (using only non-stars, non-look-at-me actors), but you wouldn’t remember anything apart from the alien.
Watching Magnolia again recently I was reminded of the first lines of Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey”: One day you finally knew/ what you had to do, and began. Something in that line’s mix of weariness/
acceptance of a hard road ahead seems to chime with what transpires in P.T. Anderson’s third movie. This is a film that only offers hope to those willing to sacrifice.
Infamous’ flaw is that it forgets about the victims. It’s a murder story that believes writers’ block is a greater tragedy than homicide. Would that there was not another Truman Capote movie out there (and an Oscar-winning one at that), the film-makers might have got away with making a perfectly serviceable, star-studded meditation on angst – but there is another Truman Capote movie and Capote is to Infamous what Raging Bull is to Rocky V. Ok, that’s a bit harsh, but what Infamous misses out seems almost as egregious an error. How can a film tell the story of In Cold Blood and leave out those who were murdered so that it might exist?
Jindabyne is a film about division, redemption and how completely uninteresting serial killers are. As someone who generally likes human-beings (and who has absolutely no interest in those who set-up their book deals on the basis of doing away with people) I loved it.