Monday, September 01, 2008

Character Studies

250. The Dark Corner (1946, directed by Henry Hathaway) finds Lucille Ball playing against type as a PI's secretary who must pull her boss's chestnuts out of the fire. Ball proves to be a pretty fine dramatic actress, though her leading man, Mark Stevens, is a bit of a stiff. Supporting work by Clifton Webb and William Bendix is pretty good, and the movie has an agreeable veneer of noir style (more than is usual from director Hathaway). It's a minor film, but Lucy makes it worth the effort.

251. The Lookout (2007, directed by Scott Frank) is the crime film as character study, as brain injury victim Joseph Gordon-Levitt is suckered into a bank heist by bad companions Matthew Goode and Isla Fisher. The crime film plot is expertly mounted, but nothing particularly special. The character work is what makes the film tick. Gordon-Levitt provides another superior performance as our memory-impaired lead, adding to his cache as one of the best young actors. Goode is simultaneously charismatic and slimy. The background is populated by interesting actors like Jeff Daniels, Bruce McGill, Carla Gugino, and Alberta Watson. This is one of those movies where, if you like watching people--especially when they're put in the crucible--then you'll groove on the movie. If you're there for the plot, you might be disappointed. I liked it a lot.

252. Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997) is another character study masquerading as crime film, though it has an intricate plot to go with its examination of character. Tarantino, already a long-take director, lets the plot decompress (which lengthens the movie considerably) and gives his characters their heads. And the characters that interest him here (provided by novelist Elmore Leonard) are not the kinds of characters you find in most contemporary crime or action movies. I mean, the heroine is a 44 year old black woman. The "hero" is a 56 year old bail bondsman. He's populated it at every level with interesting actors, none moreso than Pam Grier in the title role. Virtually alone among Tarantino's movies, this film feels like it exists in and of itself. The director's penchant for meta-cinematic self-reference is held almost entirely in check (though it's not completely absent: note Sid Haig playing The Man to Pam Grier's jailbird; heh). For my money, it's Tarantino's best film. One scene in particular ices it. At roughly the 2 hour mark, Sam Jackson's villainous arms dealer pauses to think when it's plain that he's been screwed. The movie lets him think. The camera never moves while he works things out in his head. I can't think of another crime film or 'action' film with that kind of patience.

1 comment:

Renee said...

When I heard The Lookout described to me some weeks back, I thought it sounded like a mishmash of a film. A heist movie trying to distinguish itself with a gimmick. The whole thing was a pleasant surprise. Like I said over in your Brick review, I'm more and more a Levitt fan with each new film.

I should take another look at Jackie Brown. It seems like the obvious film for Tarantino detractors to gravitate towards, but maybe I'm a Taratino apologist. I do own it, so I need only to make the time.