Another entry on my list of “Based on a true story” makes a bad movie. Characters and events were so extreme that no reasonable screenwriter could have sold them, but the fact that something like this actually happened helped remove the no-one-will-believe-this filter. Steve Carrell’s John DuPont was such a one-dimensional obvious nutcase from the beginning that it wasn’t even interesting to watch him. That USA Wrestling would give him their program, regardless of the money he offered, was just as absurd as the military’s giving him a machine-gun-mounted tank. Presumably, both of these occurred, but that didn’t make them dramatically convincing, or even relevant. Mark Ruffalo stood out by playing a relatively sane person, but again casting him as Channing Tatum’s brother required an imaginative stretch I wasn’t prepared to make.
As much as I admire, and in awe of, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, this wasn’t much of a movie. It was static, very limited in scope and didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. How did Snowden get everything and take it with him to Hong Kong? How could he communicate it to Greenwald so quickly? And most of all, how could Greenwald understand everything so easily and translate it into comprehensible stories for the public? The brief glimpses we were given of the outside world – government officials testifying, CNN reporting – were teasingly brief. To me, this film was more document than documentary.
From the Cinema of the Bizarre, an Iranian vampire love story, filmed with about a $10,000 budget and seven actors. The ending left the audience looking at each other in bemusement, but until that point it was sort of a fun story that made sense on its own terms. It’s funny how I left The Homesman with a list of 17 implausibilities, yet nothing of that sort bothered me here, once we were shown the chador-wearing girl’s fangs.
Every scene was an art shot, and in case you hadn’t noticed, the movie ended with a tableau of Bingham’s Jolly Flatboatmen. The story, however, wasn’t quite Lonesome Dove, despite Tommy Lee Jones and the incident-beset cross-country trek (who knew Nebraska was west of Iowa?). Why anyone would’ve done anything they did, or how they could’ve done it, made no sense, nor did the characters. Tommy Lee’s Mr. Briggs was such a self-contradiction that he canceled himself out. And while John Lithgow disguised himself decently, Meryl Streep was a bit obvious.
Once one accepted that this was a stage play, not a docudrama, the philosophical back-and-forth between German General Chotlitz and Swedish Consul Nordling could be appreciated as an intellectual exploration of human motives, rather than a somewhat incredible portrayal of how Paris was saved from Nazi destruction. There was no reason Chotlitz would have allowed Nordling’s presence for a movie-long dialogue, but the set-up allowed us to analyze and weigh the thought processes of a Nazi commander and the wall between soldier and human. Personally, I didn’t find Chotlitz’s change of heart credible: the reasons for his change were present from the beginning, although they were a surprise when revealed to us near the end. We were equally unprepared for the sudden resistance of the collaborating French architect that effectively saved the city. (Since all these figures lived many years after the war, perhaps there is a more factual basis to the dramatization than I allow.)
Wonderful performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, embodying, respectively, physical deterioration and maturation. Inasmuch as we sort of knew Stephen Hawking’s story it was, in a way, more interesting to follow the path of Jane Wilde, who started cute as a button then had to deal with a crippled husband, three children and her own emotional needs. And even though I couldn’t understand it, it was fun to be in the company of genius, especially accompanied by wit and rather normal human feelings, and failings.
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