Thursday, August 16, 2007

2006 in Review: #7


2006 was a very good year for crime stories, and while Brick wasn't quite the best of the bunch, it was close, and certainly the most startling. Director Rian Johnson's genius gambit was to set a pulpy detective story in the world of high school, while keeping the florid language intact. If nothing else, this idea guaranteed Brick a cult audience, but the movie is more than just a gimmick. The genre translates surprisingly well to its new milieu- one where emotions quickly grow out of control, where authority figures are regarded with skepticism, and where someone who eats, thinks, and acts alone is a suspicious character. For his part, Johnson works wonders in his feature debut, and despite the limited budget the film is as stylish and visually arresting as it needs to be. But no less important is the presence of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead- having emerged from sitcom hell, he's proven himself a prodigiously gifted actor, able to handle the often difficult dialogue- you try saying "I've got all five senses and I slept last night, which puts me six up on the lot of you" like you mean it- as expertly as he navigates the character's yearning heart, which proves to be the true emotional core of the film.

At the opposite end of the career spectrum from Rian Johnson is suspense master Claude Chabrol, who made his best film in a decade with The Bridesmaid (scroll down to 5/2 for review). As with Chabrol's masterpiece La Ceremonie, The Bridesmaid is adapted from a novel by Ruth Rendell, but just as often the film made me think of Double Indemnity. As with Cain's book and Wilder's film, The Bridesmaid tells the story of a man who is led into a life of crime by a woman he's powerless to resist. The major difference between the two is the woman- whereas Phyllis is clearly a wily manipulator, Senta (the eerily good Laura Smet) is completely sincere about her love for Philippe (Benoit Magimel), and this frightening intensity both attracts and scares him. Ever perverse, Chabrol (and presumably Rendell) portray Senta as a twisted romantic who treats murder as the ultimate act of devotion between lovers, and when she asks him to kill for her, it's not the demand of a violence-bent psycho, but the plea of a woman who needs to feel loved. The Bridesmaid is the work of an old master, a film of no wasted gestures, and one filled with the serene confidence that decades of filmmaking experience can give.

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