Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

26 February 2008

Two Movies in Rapid Succession

I reluctantly watched Paul Haggis's war drama In the Valley of Elah the other day, since it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. I don't like Paul Haggis as a rule. He doesn't like his characters enough for me to really appreciate him: kind of like the Neil LaBute of cinema (well, not as bad as LaBute, but you get what I mean). The last film of his I watched (The Last Kiss) I found completely infuriating, since it was based on a really good film. Haggis's version, made all the characters unlikeable.

In the Valley of Elah follows this mold, but is also a really poorly crafted film. The set up of Elah is that Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon's son goes AWOL somewhere in Texas. He disappears from the base and Jones goes down to the base to find him. He meets with opposition from the Army and so he recruits Charlize Theron, who is a local cop, to help him find his kid. The kid turns out murdered and chopped up into pieces. And then it loses steam, because the movie isn't really about anything. There is not really a plot except the act of figuring out what happened to the kid. And what happened to the kid is really underwhelming. Worse yet, what happened to the kid is revealed to the audience piecemeal, like evidence gradually being discovered in an episode of "Law & Order." There is no real detective work in the film, instead evidence just keeps dropping into the audience's lap. It's an un-artful way to script a mystery film, and In the Valley of Elah never works.

I also finally watched Deliverance, John Boorman's film of James Dickey's novel. I am writing about this movie obliquely for my thesis, so I thought it was important to watch it, at least for the scene of male rape that occurs about halfway through the film. Deliverance is a weird picture. It is centered around an act of male rape, but the movie is really an adventure picture with a tiny plot. I liked it, I suppose, but I didn't really get the film. It's a strange story to want to tell and it's told in a strange way. Eh.