Tag Archives: Adrien Brody

The Thin Red Line (1998, Terrence Malick)

The Thin Red Line is about fear, beauty, solitude, loneliness. Director Malick’s approach is, frankly, staggering. Thin Red Line is an odd film to talk about because in most ways, it’s my favorite film. One of the great things about a good movie–not even an excellent or an amazing movie, but a good movie (and quite a few bad ones)–is being able to return to it as one matures, learns, comprehends and to appreciate it on additional levels. Returning to Thin Red Line for the first time in many years, I discovered it works in all those ways. Knowing more about film informs it, knowing more about history informs it, knowing more about narrative informs it, knowing more about owls informs it. Film is not static. Film ages with everything else. It grows, it contracts, it makes people laugh at the wrong moment. Malick acknowledges the film’s majesty. He does not give Nick Nolte a big part as a blowhard because he isn’t acknowledging the perfection in that casting choice. He does it because Nolte can do this part and he can make it phenomenal.

So much of the film is about the acting but not the actors. Malick doesn’t let the viewer identify with the characters by actor, rather by emotional impact. The film has frequent–often constant–narration from a variety of characters. I don’t even think the main narrator is ever identified, not for sure, because the viewer is the main narrator. He or she goes through the film as presented, through the fear, through the beauty, the solitude, the loneliness, and comes to this conclusion. To the film’s conclusion.

Or the narrator is just John Dee Smith. Though, if Smith is the narrator, Malick manages to turn the viewer into a Southern boy with an abusive stepfather and bad teeth, because there’s no difference. Malick doesn’t use characters in that manner. Even with Ben Chaplin’s officer turned private, whose entire internal life is about his wife back home, his details aren’t as important as how he reacts with them in frame. Because Thin Red Line isn’t some grand, sweeping melodrama, it’s an intensely focused, intensely personal film, emphasis on the film. Malick’s far more in the Eisenstein school of collision–basically how the presentation of shots and their editing, not necessarily their content, can be used to create emotion in the viewer–than something like David Lean or anyone else. It’s a lyrical assault.

Only Malick is using the content. He’s using the visual content of these beautiful, tropical Eden. He’s using the narrative content of a war movie. He’s using the audial content of the narrators. And he collides them, he separates them, he compares them. Thin Red Line is like going to an island of World War II reenactors and taking acid. And you’re invisible. And everyone looks like a famous person. Malick is speaking directly to the viewer and creating this setting for the viewer’s personal edification.

Malick strips the community out of The Thin Red Line. The way he structures the first act, the way he structures the first half–he’s removing the viewer’s sense of community, sense of stability. It’s far more personal. The poetic narration, separated so much from the characters or the setting, engages with the viewer. Malick is using the narrative content to echo the emotions created by the film’s visuals. Pardon my passive voice.

This sort of tempo isn’t unique to the film or to Malick. It’s the rhythm of good filmmaking. But Malick is playing different music and getting the same emotional beats. He’s got two movies playing side by side, one top of one another, completely transparent. And they’re jointly the film.

Like I said.

Staggering.

Malick gets some phenomenal performances out of his cast. Nolte, Chaplin, top-billed Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, Dash Mihok, John Cusack’s great in his small role. Woody Harrelson too. Though differently.

And then there’s Jim Caviezel. He doesn’t exactly play the film’s lead, but he does play the character who the audience spends the film trying to understand. It’s not clear if Malick thinks Caviezel’s the most interesting guy around; the film’s pretty even between Caviezel, Chaplin and then Nolte and Koteas in the stuff of epical importance. Oh, and then Mihok. He’s got a fairly large part.

But Malick posits he is showing the viewer the world through Caviezel’s character’s perspective. Not his eyes. His perspective (which allows for subplots). And Malick uses that particular perspective with the visual aspects of the film. The narrative level is far looser; Malick’s ability to naturally follow Caviezel around, especially as he inserts himself into the story, is skillful filmmaking. Malick, Caviezel, the other actors, the editors, they do a great job.

The editors are real important for Thin Red Line. Leslie Jones, Saar Klein, Billy Weber. The cuts in the film are sublime. The editors understand Malick’s narrative needs–for example, introducing the characters to the viewer–but also the need to actively force the viewer to make his or her own connections. Thin Red Line has a steep learning curve and unforgiving blind corners.

(Sorry, I needed a good mixed metaphor).

The first time I saw The Thin Red Line, I saw it again immediately following. Opening night. Returning to it over fifteen years later, I’m terrified at the prospective of an immediate rewatch. It’s too much. I like it too much. The Thin Red Line is my Nietzschean abyss. I just can’t too much.

This time watching it–I’d forgotten a lot–I really noticed the change in the weather. The clouds moving across the soldiers. That detail pulled me in. And I can see the film doing it, beckoning me, but it doesn’t matter. Creating something so focused, so controlled, yet so open, so welcoming… it’s just another amazing part of the film and Malick’s filmmaking here.

I also noticed, this time, Caviezel’s character has a Japanese alter ego.

Wonder what I’ll notice next time.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Terrence Malick; screenplay by Malick, based on the novel by James Jones; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Billy Weber, Saar Klein and Leslie Jones; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by Robert Michael Geisler, John Roberdeau and Grant Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sean Penn (First Sgt. Edward Welsh), John Travolta (Barr), James Caviezel (Private Witt), Adrien Brody (Corporal Fife), Elias Koteas (Capt. James Staros), Nick Nolte (Lieut. Col. Gordon Tall), Ben Chaplin (Private Bell), Dash Mihok (Private First Class Doll), Arie Verveen (Private Dale), David Harrod (Corporal Queen), John C. Reilly (Mess Sergeant Storm), John Cusack (Capt. John Gaff), Larry Romano (Private Mazzi), Tim Blake Nelson (Private Tills), Woody Harrelson (Staff Sergeant Keck), George Clooney (Capt. Charles Bosche) and John Savage (McCron).


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Liberty Heights (1999, Barry Levinson)

Liberty Heights is about protagonist Ben Foster's last year in high school. Levinson never puts it in such simple terms because the film is about quiet, deliberate, but perceivable life events. Every moment in the film's memorable because Levinson is going through these people's memorable moments of the year. Of course, he never forecasts the film will take place over a year. Heights is an epical story, lyrically told.

Levinson splits the film primarily between Foster and Adrien Brody, as his older brother. But Joe Mantegna, as their father, and Orlando Jones, as Mantenga's business antagonist, also get some of the individual focus. So Levinson, along with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, editor Stu Linder and composer Andrea Morricone have to figure out how to identify these moments for the characters. Through the sound, the light, everything has to be perfect because of Levinson's approach.

It seems like a precarious approach–to set up a film to only have intense scenes; even scenes with Foster watching television or Brody talking to a friend, they all have to be intense in some way or another. Morricone's score is gorgeous and exuberant, but Levinson also uses contemporary popular music to get the scenes done too.

The performances are essential. Foster, Brody, Jones. All three are phenomenal. Bebe Neuwirth's great as Foster and Brody's mother, Rebekah Johnson is excellent as Foster's friend. The entire supporting cast is perfect.

Heights is simultaneously ambitious in its filmmaking, but also in its sincerity. It never hits a false note.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Stu Linder; music by Andrea Morricone; production designer, Vincent Peranio; produced by Levinson and Paula Weinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Adrien Brody (Van Kurtzman), Ben Foster (Ben Kurtzman), Rebekah Johnson (Sylvia), David Krumholtz (Yussel), Bebe Neuwirth (Ada Kurtzman), Orlando Jones (Little Melvin), Richard Kline (Charlie), Vincent Guastaferro (Pete), Justin Chambers (Trey Tobelseted), Carolyn Murphy (Dubbie), James Pickens Jr. (Sylvia’s Father), Frania Rubinek (Grandma Rose), Anthony Anderson (Scribbles), Kiersten Warren (Annie the Stripper), Evan Neumann (Sheldon), Kevin Sussman (Alan Joseph Zuckerman), Gerry Rosenthal (Murray), Shane West (Ted) and Joe Mantegna (Nate Kurtzman).


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Detachment (2011, Tony Kaye)

Detachment is not a message film. Kaye gives it a pseudo-documentary feel and does presents definite thesis about the public education in the United States. Except Detachment isn’t really about that message… it’s about how that setting specifically affects Adrien Brody’s protagonist.

Until the final sequence anyway; it’s one sequence too many. Kaye flubs on an ideal finish because he’s got too many endings and tries too hard to make the important message one fit. Until then, though, Detachment is nearly flawless.

Carl Lund’s script is brilliantly structured. Brody is a short-term substitute teacher. The film opens with him taking a thirty day assignment, giving the film a definite timeline. Lund and Kaye then bring other elements into Brody’s sphere, such as a fetching fellow teacher (Christina Hendricks) and, more importantly, a teenage prostitute (Sami Gayle). Detachment never shirks from its more difficult scenes, even though Kaye does sometimes get too frantic. The film presents Brody with a couple exceptionally difficult scenes and he essays them indescribably well.

He and Gayle’s story arc informs on his arc as the sub, while Brody’s solo arc with his dying grandfather, Louis Zorich, informs back on both. Absolutely brilliant character study plotting.

Kaye’s direction is good, his photography is better. James Caan is the most dynamic in the supporting cast, but Blythe Danner, William Petersen and Lucy Liu are all excellent too. Gayle’s great.

Detachment‘s not perfect… but there are a lot of perfect things about it. It’s an achievement.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed and photographed by Tony Kaye; written by Carl Lund; edited by Barry Alexander Brown and Geoffrey Richman; music by The Newton Brothers; production designer, Jade Healy; produced by Greg Shapiro, Lund, Bingo Gubelmann, Chris Papavasiliou, Austin Stark and Benji Kohn; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Adrien Brody (Henry Barthes), Sami Gayle (Erica), Betty Kaye (Meredith), Louis Zorich (Grampa), Marcia Gay Harden (Principal Carol Dearden), James Caan (Mr. Charles Seaboldt), Christina Hendricks (Ms. Sarah Madison), Lucy Liu (Dr. Doris Parker), Blythe Danner (Ms. Perkins), Tim Blake Nelson (Mr. Wiatt), William Petersen (Mr. Sarge Kepler), Bryan Cranston (Mr. Dearden) and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Mr. Mathias).


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Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen)

Midnight in Paris is one of Allen’s single stroke films. There are some painters in it, so using the paint stroke metaphor works rather nicely. The film’s about one thing; it’s about Owen Wilson’s Hollywood screenwriter who wants to be a novelist learning to take an active role in his life. There’s a lot going on around him—a whole lot, but it slowly becomes clear that one aspect is the salient one.

In the film, Allen continues to search for his perfect stand-in and Wilson does a good job. It’s hard to say how much of Wilson’s personal situation plays into the perception of him as mildly tragic, though it’s always present. Probably doesn’t hurt he wrote some great scripts too.

The film has its quietly profound moments, nothing too neon. There are a lot of literary references, some art ones, a couple film ones. It helps if one knows them. Allen is enjoying himself and not worrying too much about anything else. The subject matter is one he’s interested in and doesn’t care if the audience can’t keep up. It’s closer to his absurdist seventies comedies than anything has been for a while in that way.

And he gets an absolutely amazing performance from Michael Sheen. Also great is Adrien Brody in his one scene.

Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates and Corey Stoll are all good. Rachel McAdams has too little to do, but does it well.

With Darius Khondji’s luscious photography, it’s a wondrously self-indulgent feast.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Anne Seibel; produced by Letty Aronson, Jaume Roures and Stephen Tenenbaum; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Owen Wilson (Gil), Rachel McAdams (Inez), Marion Cotillard (Adriana), Michael Sheen (Paul), Corey Stoll (Hemingway), Kurt Fuller (John), Mimi Kennedy (Helen), Carla Bruni (Museum Guide), Kathy Bates (Gertrude Stein), Tom Hiddleston (Scott), Alison Pill (Zelda), Marcial Di Fonzo Bo (Pablo) and Adrien Brody (Dali).


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