The Project continues…
Amores Perros (directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu)
I remembered this as the best movie of Iñarritu’s career. Although in Iñarritu’s case, “best” is a relative term, so I might be better off saying I remembered this as the “truly good” movie of his carer. Anyway, hindsight is an interesting thing, and what was once the promise of an exciting new filmmaker (and an exciting new wave of Mexican cinema), turns out to be as much of a promise as it is a warning of the crutches that would define Iñarritu’s thus far disappointing career as a filmmaker.
It’s become kind of cool to hate on Iñarritu, especially after he swept last year’s Oscar with the entertaining but deeply flawed Birdman. His reputation isn’t undeserved, though. What makes Iñarritu’s movies so frustrating is that they tend to be unbearably somber without giving much purpose to their bleakness. Amores Perros is a perfect example. It interlaces three violent and sad stories about people (and their dogs) facing their darkest moments, and so it reveals… what’s exactly, does the movie reveal? A rhetorical question, for the movie itself might not know the answer. And that’s the thing, Iñarritu’s apocalyptic depiction of Mexico City (expertly realized by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto) evokes an air of despair that suggests profound drama, but settles for cookie-cutter pessimism.
It’s not lack of sympathy that cripples Iñarritu, though. He is too sentimental to be called a nihilist, and too dour to be a humanist. The result of this mix comes across as deeply insincere. While Iñarritu’s style can be deeply cinematic, and occasionally exciting -this is particularly true of Amores Perros‘s first segment starring a young Gael Garcia Bernal- the payoff is never enough. It’s as if he’s making you go through all this suffering for no purpose whatsoever. It doesn’t help that the movie opens with its strongest segment, and they get progressively weaker.
High Fidelity (directed by Stephen Frears)
High Fidelity was so crucial in my formative years as a film lover that I almost feel like I can’t possibly review it. Throughout the years, I’ve heard and read many opinions (including some by people I admire) that point out the movie’s supposed weaknesses. Most of them focus on how the protagonist is such an unlikable jerk. Those movies are missing the point. There hasn’t been amore genuine and truthful portrayal of a specific kind of beta male than this movie, and John Cusack -with his slightly obnoxious delivery- is the perfect actor to bring a man like Rob Gordon to life.
Does Rob get too happy of a resolution at the end? Maybe. Most people like Rob end up living their lives under much sadder circumstances (I’ve met quite a few of them), but that’s what is so valuable about High Fidelity. It’s not a fantasy about the world finally understanding the jerk who feels superior to everyone else so he can get what he wants, it’s a fantasy about the jerk understanding his myopia and integrating with the rest of the world. That’s why this movie spoke to me so deeply. I could easily be a Rob Gordon, and try every day not to be.
But who cares about my and my relationship to this movie. You should see it because it’s awesome. It’s fun, and funny, and romantic, and emotional. Stephen Frears -a deeply underrated director- does a fantastic job of keeping humor and truth feeding off each other, and the cast -full of great small roles including Joan Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and a hilariously douchey Tim Robbins- is at the top of their game. This movie also features Jack Black in the role that made him a star, and rightfully so.
American Psycho (directed by Mary Harron)
Christian Bale has evolved into one of the most boring and unexciting actors around, so it’s easy to forget how effective he can be in the right role. Bale is a notoriously humorless actor. He takes every role so dramatically seriously that he proves to be the perfect casting for a character as psychotic as Patrick Bateman. It’s great because for Bateman, everything is serious and great, and its the audience that looks from the audience and is tickled and repulsed by the ridiculous extremes of the character. Needless to say, the movie takes place in 1980s Wall Street.
American Psycho is a ballsy satire, directed with stylish gusto by Mary Harron, who does a great job of building an uncanny world in which Wall Street businessmen can’t recognize each other and the most horrendous crimes can be pardoned if you look and sound like the right kind of person. It’s exciting satire, which brings me to my big and only problem with the movie. Towards the end, it becomes ambiguous whether or not Patrick is actually committing all these crimes, or whether he is just imagining in his head. Ambiguity is usually an interesting way to deepen a movie’s thematic interests, but in this case, it ends up defeating the purpose of the movie’s attack. It becomes a story about an exception -a troubled guy amidst this indifferent world- instead of a story about the absurd and grotesque idealism that plagues our patriarchal society. I prefer the second story, and I think it’s the story that American Psycho wants to tell, it just has to overcome one notorious mistake on the way to tell it.