Wednesday, August 15, 2007
2006 in Review: #8
Despite the difference in genres, The Proposition and The Black Dahlia are both bloody, morally twisty tales of lawmen whose lives are overwhelmed by their cases they work on. The central character in The Proposition (scroll down for review)- directed by John Hillcoat from a Nick Cave screenplay- is a British officer (played by Ray Winstone) transplanted to Australia to install UK-style law and order. But Winstone essentially dooms himself when he strikes up a deal with a notorious criminal (Guy Pearce) to help him capture his even more fearsome big brother (Danny Huston). The Proposition is set in Australia, but it's as violent, grimy, and pungent as any American Western, and more than most. But aside from the flawless cast, which also includes John Hurt, Emily Watson, and David Gulpilil, what really makes The Proposition sing is Hillcoat and Cave's vision of Australia's brutal early days. We might associate the rough-hewn Down Under mindset with family-friendly outdoorsmen like Steve Irwin or "Crocodile" Dundee, but Australia was first settled as a prison colony, a one-way ticket for Britain's most violent castoffs. Despite its protagonist's goal to "tame this land," only centuries of history could ever manage to do so.
The Black Dahlia was considered by most audiences and critics, even those who were DePalma fans, to be a pretty big disappointment. But while the film is far from perfect- for example, Kay should be the heart of the movie, but that would have required a better and more soulful actress than Scarlett Johansson to pull off- it's fascinating and stylish as all hell. I dare say that The Black Dahlia, warts and all, is more compelling than most of the less-flawed but more timid films released in 2006. I also think that time will be pretty kind to DePalma's film, as many of his more controversial decisions make more sense if you're willing to give them a little thought (hint to audiences: Hilary Swank wasn't SUPPOSED to be convincing as a femme fatale, but rather as a rich girl PLAYING at being a femme fatale). Even now, DePalma's flair for hypnotic set pieces is clear as day, from the spectacular crane shot that links an early gun battle with the discovery of a corpse, to a bust gone very wrong in ultra-slow motion. If nothing else, The Black Dahlia gave us one of the year's towering performances, with Mia Kershner playing the doomed Elizabeth Short to heartbreaking perfection.