I didn’t expect this to be a great film, like The Conversation or something. I just figured it would at least be good, like American Beauty, which Jonny over-estimates. Sure it’s cool how Spacey blackmailed his boss, and I’m all for yuppie bashing, but those are not sufficient conditions for a great film. Jonny’s right about this one though. You expect a good movie, you get 2/3 of decent movie.
Sam Medes takes us through a fairly cut and paste gangster story. There is some well written dialog, like when Paul Newman answers Tom Hanks’ indignation by pointing out what we’ve been thinking all along: “there are only murderers in this room!” Another strong point is that, while the characters are static, they are not black and white. In most movies, Newman’s character would have pretended to be a benevolent crime lord, and later been exposed as a being utterly ruthless and greedy. In this film, he is the relatively just man he claims to be. The only reason our sentiments are with Hanks is that the story is told from his perspective. But from a more objective standpoint, neither man is better or more in the right than the other.
The middle of the film is suspenseful and entertaining, as Hanks and
son rob banks and deal with Jude Law’s character. Why are they robbing banks? As nearly as I can tell, it’s to piss off the Chicago mob enough to either kill or turn out Conner the family killer. And to round up some cash. By the way Jonny, are you sure they left all
the cash with the old folks? I thought they just left a nice chunk. The
cinematography is impressive, but let’s give credit to the cinematographer, Conrad Hall.
The highlight of the film for me was when Hanks sets out to do something dangerous and tells his son, if he doesn’t return “go to [Methodist] Reverend Sullivan. Do not go to [Catholic] Father Flannigan.” A single lady in the theater totally cracked up, reading an unintending meaning that could fairly plausibly have been the real meaning, which made me laugh too once I caught on.
Even the good parts of the film contain warnings of what is to come: a gratuitous shot of a cute little girl dancing and another child repeats something he heard, not fully understanding it’s meaning. Anytime a director goes for “awwww, so cute” my mood worsens.
The problems arise as we come to the final third of the movie. I didn’t
expect Mendes to make a great film, but he had other ideas. Every
fucking scene is an attempt to equal the climax of Through a Glass Darkly by substituting gimmicks and a manipulative score for emotional power.
A shootout between Hanks and a bunch of Newman’s gangsters, for
example, is totally ridiculous. Every aspect is clumsily contrived to a
score that says, “Here is what you should think about during this
scene. It is monumental!” The grandiloquence extends to the
preposterous climax. The ocean goes “woooshhh, whoooshhh, whoosshhh.”
“Whoosshh,” Hanks is in an immaculate room that is entirely white.
Whhoooshhh. White! Symbolism! Whooosshhh. He’s looking at his son play on the beach and is finally at peace. Whooossshhh. The camera angle is set up so you can see everything behind him. Whooosshhh. You realize that Jude Law is going to come from behind and kill him. Whooooshhh.
Mendes waits about ten seconds with nothing happening, as if he wants every single person in the theater to know what is going to happen before it does. Whooshh. Bang. Blood on white. Whoosshh. Life fades away. Whoosh. Whoooshhh. Erich laughing. For God’s sake, even in a Scorsese film, sometimes people just plain get shot.
After that I was more than ready for things to end. Hank’s son goes back to the farm to live and Mendes almost seems to be taunting us with the way the dialog is delivered. You know the rest of one sentence after the first few words, but he drags it out for literally 10 or 15 seconds. “Most people think I grew up on a farm. And… …In a way… … …I guess… … … … I did.” I finished the sentence in my mind twenty times before the boy did, fidgeting because I couldn’t wait for the film to end.