#83 - Bound For Glory
1936 - 2009
How goes it, Electric Theatre-goers? Apologies for going AWOL on you all last week. My shame is greater than your disappointment, believe you me. If you can possibly find it in your collective heart to forgive me, let’s ring up the curtain on another week of movies and fun! Sound good? It does? Yay!
NOW IN THEATRES
Although it can be virtually impossible in this era of unrelenting hype, I strongly encourage you to, at least once or twice a year, go see a movie that you know absolutely nothing about. Don’t read any reviews. Don’t watch any clips online or check out interviews with the stars or director. If you can, don’t even watch the trailer. This is relatively easy to accomplish if you attend a film festival or are lucky enough to live somewhere that holds advance test screenings but it’s doable no matter where you are or when the movie is released. This is how I happened upon Moon, a smart and gripping science fiction tale directed by Duncan Jones. I was intrigued by the poster and title and knew it starred Sam Rockwell, an actor I’ve enjoyed in virtually everything I’ve seen him in. That was it and in this case, that was enough.
Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut stationed at a one-man mining base on the dark side of the moon. His only companion is Gerty, a mobile computer that expresses itself with smiley-face emoticons and the voice of Kevin Spacey. Sam is nearing the end of his three-year contract and has understandably gone a bit stir crazy, hallucinating and able to communicate with his wife and daughter only via recorded video messages, thanks to a malfunctioning satellite link. After he suffers an accident on a routine trip outside, Sam wakes up in the infirmary with no memory of what’s happened. And when he goes back out to the accident site, things start to get even stranger.
Moon is reminiscent of such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running and Solaris and the heavy influence of these earlier movies prevents it from feeling like a truly original, groundbreaking picture. On the other hand, Duncan Jones and screenwriter Nathan Parker mostly avoid heavy-handed, winking references to the movies that inspired them. By keeping things subtle and restrained, they’ve crafted a movie heavy on mood, atmosphere and character, rather than a movie about other movies. Sam Rockwell is pretty much the whole show here and he’s more than up to the task. He’s funny, brooding, intense and sympathetic. I still haven’t quite decided if the story completely holds together but it’s a credit to the filmmakers’ skill that I’ve continued to think about it. I think for the most part it does with maybe only one or two holes that can be easily forgiven. Even with these minor flaws, it remains a movie that lingers in the memory.
By reading this, you already know more about Moon than I did going in. I apologize for that although I did make a conscious effort not to ruin anything. I also don’t want to oversell the movie. It’s a highly impressive effort but I don’t think it quite achieves greatness. Still, Moon proves that Duncan Jones is a filmmaker to watch and further cements Sam Rockwell’s reputation as one of the most interesting actors working in movies today. It’s also a refreshing reminder that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars in cutting edge special effects to make a compelling science fiction movie. All you need is imagination, a story worth telling and the right actors and crew members to make it all seem real. (* * *)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
Tell No One
Considering how frequently Hollywood poaches material from foreign lands, it’s always interesting to see what happens when filmmakers from abroad return the favor. Akira Kurosawa adapted a novel by Ed McBain back in 1963’s High And Low. In 1981, Bertrand Tavernier turned Jim Thompson’s book Pop. 1280 into the movie Coup De Torchon. And now, French actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet has transferred Harlan Coben’s novel Tell No One to Paris and the results are top-notch.
François Cluzet stars as Dr. Alexandre Beck, a pediatrician whose wife was brutally murdered eight years ago. Beck himself was suspected of committing the crime at first but eventually it was pinned on a serial killer that was active in the area at the time. The police reopen the case when two more bodies are discovered buried on the land where she was abducted. As if that weren’t enough, Beck receives an anonymous email from someone that leads him to believe his wife isn’t quite as dead as he thought.
Tell No One is a tense, keep-you-guessing thriller that wisely never overplays its hand. Canet expertly doles out information on a need-to-know basis, introducing characters and back stories in subtle increments. We may not always know why we’re meeting someone at first but rest assured, Canet has a plan and sooner or later, all will be revealed. Cluzet is excellent as Beck, believably taking his palpable grief and turning it into an obsessive quest for the truth. Best of all, he is surrounded by a well-drawn cast of fascinating supporting characters, including Marina Hands and Kristin Scott Thomas as Beck’s sister and wife, a happily married lesbian couple with a daughter whose sexuality is simply a given and not commented upon whatsoever. Also great is Gilles Lellouche as Bruno, a street criminal indebted to Beck for saving his son’s life, and François Berléand as the Versailles policeman who slowly starts to believe Beck’s increasingly fantastic story. The sprawling cast also includes legendary French stars Nathalie Baye as Beck’s high-powered attorney and Jean Rochefort as a wealthy senator with mysterious ties to Beck’s wife.
I suppose it should come as no surprise to learn that Tell No One is on tap to be re-Americanized in an English-language remake. I wish them luck but can easily imagine this material as a mere B-movie potboiler in the wrong hands. For a thriller that serves up some steak with its sizzle, check out Guillaume Canet’s version. It’s a mystery that more than delivers the twists but more surprisingly, gives you a reason to care whodunit. (* * * ½)
Thanks to Mike MacMillan for this week’s Tales From The Queue recommendation! As always, if you know about a movie that deserves a bigger audience, tell someone…specifically me. The TFTQ queue can never have too many movies on deck.