Sofia Coppola returns with this rococo biopic/costume drama about the ill-fated young queen in the years leading up the Revolution. As an interesting contrast to its tableaux of life at Versailles, she’s scored the film with new wave rock—some of her song choices are perfect (“The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure”, bleats the Gang of Four over a shot of Antoinette lounging on her chaise longue). As Antoinette, Kirsten Dunst speaks in her natural American accent. Naughty but not haughty, the apolitical young woman liked to laugh, spend and gamble. Plus she loved dogs (clearly a good egg given a raw deal)! The film is visionary, but except for some dazzling montages of pastel-hued cakes, shoes and gambling chips, it’s not nearly heady enough. Expecting a bacchanal, we get something oddly muted; even the new wave rock isn’t loud enough to be bracing. An interesting failure that can’t decide whether to be a straight period piece or a playful confection; it will, however, definitely put you in the mood for something with frosting.
Two films in as many years about Truman Capote’s adventures in Holcomb, Kansas and his relationship with murderer Perry Smith? And yet I found this utterly engrossing. Though “In Cold Blood” humanized everyone it touched—one of the reasons it affects us as few books do—this movie underlines the essential bad faith of its composition: Capote’s yearning for what was best for his “non-fiction novel” rather than for his putative friend, Perry (Daniel Craig). The tangled questions of art and ethics still fascinate: if it’s bad art for an author to judge his characters, what about when they’re not “characters”—and murderers, to boot? What did Capote owe to Perry? To the Clutters? Very effective script by director Douglas McGrath (the accuracy of which has been criticized) based on George Plimpton’s oral history; from time to time characters speak directly to the camera, documentary style. As Capote, Toby Jones goes campier but digs just as deeply as did Hoffman last year, and Sandra Bullock is a marvel as the thoughtful, quietly eloquent Harper Lee. A powerful statement on the high price the American artist pays in a land that asks him or her to die a little every time out (in one of the interview segments, Lee comments, “This isn’t a country like France, where something light and effervescent can survive”).
The operatic violence hitting our reptile brain, a song and an image electrifying each other, the theme of the human body’s blood and pain: this is crowd-pleasing “classic Scorsese”, and another of his trenchant critiques of machismo (which dares to risk glamorizing what it criticizes). Scorsese gives the movie stars room to excel: Leo’s undercover in the mob, Matt’s undercover in the cops, Jack’s their malignant father figure. I always like to watch British actor Ray Winstone, who appears here as a terrifyingly vacant tough: he imbues all his characters with an inner life. The picture has some great, vulgarly funny lines, but I didn’t care a whit about any of the characters, and I didn’t get the impression that they cared much about each other, either—manipulating situations and other people seems to be Matt’s character’s sole motivation—and so we’re left to marvel at its brilliant structure. I could watch it again right now with pleasure, but if it only had some emotional depth it could’ve risen to the level of the best work of the director who turned me on to film in the first place.
- Nov 1, 2006