Monday, 6 September 2010

The New Loneliness

This is my first foray into the blogosphere - a term with a curiously unpleasing ring to it. With that in mind, a few words of introduction. I live in one of the most densely populated corners of the earth, I'm half British/half Indonesian, I watch a great many films and episodic television and similar amounts of music. Also; I'm a single father of one with a full-time job, trying to better myself through study. The study part leaves little time for the reading of books, although I used to do quite a lot of that too.

The purpose of this blog is to turn what goes through my head during hours of bus rides into something with actual purpose. I have a strong desire to write about film, largely in the hope that I may provide a take that I don't find in the articles of professional critics, although I hold nothing but reverence for the many well-known writers on film whose articles I consume on a daily basis. What I don't want is for this to be a 'now playing' set of recommendations, as apart from anything else, my own tastes simply wouldn't allow for it. Instead, I would like to be able to write about anything, perhaps not only cinema, that invoked a desire to get busy with a keyboard. And if that something is film, it could easily be in relation to a title from the '20s or onwards.

Solitary Man and The Yellow Handkerchief

In the last two days, I was surprised to watch two recent films which I enjoyed. Not only because they were both very well made, which they were, but also because they contained an element which I've found wanting of late: surprise. It's a difficult thing; to surprise the seasoned moviegoer, and let it be said unequivocally that I have watched far more movies than is healthy during my relatively short time on earth. Frankly, it's not something I get from watching the horror or thriller genres very often, and indeed, I'm more likely to be taken off guard by the actions of a character in a drama, often because something good has happened. Negative actions tend to translate well as drama, which may be why we've seen the same unpleasant scenarios expertly played out far too often. When a character conveys a greater sense of his or her worth to an audience, it is most likely thanks to intricate mapping on the part of a screenwriter, or emotional restraint by a director.  To such craftsmen who choose to deliver slow enjoyment to our senses, rather than a quick fix tonic, we should be grateful.

A common strand that was to be found connecting the two titles in the above heading was their underlying theme of loneliness, and their respective handling of it was both admirable and yes, surprising. In Solitary Man, Michael Douglas and Danny Devito both handle their roles by evoking sympathy in ways that I'm fairly certain I hadn't seen from either of them before, and I have seen most of their major performances in feature films. This is made stranger by the fact that they are essentially playing versions of themselves; two college friends who were great confidantes in their formative years. The difference here is that Douglas's character went off and got his face on the cover of Forbes, while Devito's (who has much less screen time) was content to stay in his hometown and inherit/manage the family restaurant. They reunite because Douglas has begun to crash and burn, epitomizing that too much is never enough. Because of his increasingly reckless behaviour, he finds himself eventually working at Devito's eatery - and not in a management position. As a plot synopsis it all sounds simplistic, riches to rags to all kinds of wetness. However, what co-directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien manage to do, using a script also written by Koppelman, is deal with this subject matter maturely, in a way that is not wholly realistic, but does contain important overlaps with the realities of life. Their final accomplishments are to gain real poignancy from the title toward the end, and to provide an ending not typical of films starring Michael Douglas and Danny Devito.

Just before I sat down to type, I watched The Yellow Handkerchief, a film starring that most difficult to pin down actor - William Hurt. He is one of the few people who can be watched just for the sake of watching his acting, and in most of his films, you often get the sense that he is the film, and everything else is just props and scenery (not really fair to the rest of the cast and crew, but, you get the picture). Again, here is an actor with a rich and vast resume, who appears to have created an entirely new character. The accent, the facial expressions, the physical movement. I wouldn't fault someone less familiar with Hurt for failing to recognize him from another film. In Yellow Handkerchief, he is reunited with his co-star from David Cronenberg's modern classic, A History of Violence, Maria Bello, although their story is a subplot to the main event. To give away much more about the relationships among the characters would be spoiling things, but this is essentially a road movie where Hurt is one kind of societal loner who finds himself thrown together with two others played by Kristen Stewart, of Twilight fame, and Eddie Redmayne. These three share a journey together, and while Hurt has much knowledge to pass on to them - thanks to his seniority - they end up repaying him in kind. This last item seems to be what has provided fodder to the films detractors, complaining of formulaicness. Admittedly, formula is depended on at certain stages, but I found the film to be so much more about the interrelationships among the three who share a journey: one old, two young, that most of the formula went largely unfelt. They are apart from one another not only in years, but also in that they are very different people. It could be that they eventually bond because of their differences, and these moments are played out gracefully by director Udayan Prasad, who manages to make them by far the most interesting parts of the film, not least because this type of slow character development is so scarce among most new releases. Characters developing in ways that we can truly identify with is something that always surprises me more than a giant insect managing to devour half the cast.

No comments:

Post a Comment