JUNE 12 ― While I very rarely let film reviews and internet chatter get in the way of my movie viewing, in the sense that I’ll watch whatever I feel like watching regardless of how critically acclaimed or panned the movies are, they do sometimes play a part in pushing the movies to the back of the queue.
Especially when there are tons of other stuff that I’m more excited about and feel the need to prioritise first.
So, even though I’ve been aware of the release of new films from two notable directors, Joe Wright (of Atonement, Hanna and Darkest Hour fame) and Taylor Sheridan (director of Wind River and writer of Hell Or High Water and the Sicario films), I’ve put off watching them until this week, partly because there were some major and exciting new films which opened in the last two weeks alone, and partly because both word of mouth and critical consensus have been uniformly bad for both films.
Even if you’re only a casual film fan, without much interest in exploring Facebook movie groups, forums or Twitter for your movie recommendations, I’m pretty sure you’re aware of how badly received these two films were, especially among Malaysian film fans.
But don’t let Internet chatter sway you, for these two directors are quite simply major names in Hollywood, and their past work alone should make these two new films worthy of investigation, of at least two hours of your time.
So that’s what I did this past week and after a surprisingly breezy and effortless watch on both counts, here’s what I think of them.
Those Who Wish Me Dead
Right off there’s a surprisingly trashy, corny and larger than life feel to the whole proceedings in Those Who Wish Me Dead, an adaptation of Michael Koryta’s novel from 2014 that bears the same name.
As Sheridan and co-writers Charles Leavitt and Koryta skillfully laid down three story strands during the opening minutes of the film ― the first one involving a daredevil smokejumper named Hannah (played with wonderful movie star presence by Angelina Jolie), the second one about a pair of assassins and the third one involving the assassins’ targets, who are on the run ― the film has its audience right in the palm of its hands, melodrama or corniness be damned.
And as the story dives headlong into its wholly expected and predictable journey, in which the assassins’ target comes into Hannah’s orbit, dragging the assassins along, and a fight for their lives ensue, there’s a thoroughly undeniable form of pleasure at work here, mainly of the melodramatic and pulpy kind.
Certain events in the film might even give the impression that the filmmakers are making a parody of action-thrillers (yes, that’s how corny things are in the movie), with the quite alarming number of coincidences and close shaves happening to the protagonists probably inducing a chuckle or two among more cynical members of the audience.
But if you just let your cynicism go, and enjoy the movie just as it wishes to be enjoyed, as an old-fashioned Western jacked up with some action-thriller movie formula, Sheridan’s latest film is, I think, even a better movie than his directing debut Wind River, or at least several shades more enjoyable than that one.
Not perfect, but it will go down really easy, which is not something you can say about a lot of new action-thrillers out there.
The Woman In The Window
Reviews have been even more savage for Wright’s new film The Woman In The Window, with critics using words like “junk”, “clueless”, “campy”, “cliched”, “contrived” and many others to more or less destroy a work that’s clearly not meant to be taken that seriously.
With a title lifted from a classic film noir of the same name by Fritz Lang and a premise that’s clearly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary film Rear Window (which has also inspired other films like Brian De Palma’s superb Body Double or the more recent Disturbia), Wright is obviously having fun paying homage to films he loved with this one.
One of my favourite put-downs about this film is from a Variety review that called it “a bad Brian De Palma movie minus the camera movement”, which I kind of agree with when it comes to the “minus the camera movement” part, but I’m not sure I’d go as far as calling it bad.
Yes, there’s none of the virtuoso camera movements that one would usually associate with De Palma here, but Wright replaces those with his own visual flourishes that are more of the kind that French film critics would call mise en scene and mise en abyme.
And the film is chock full of visual flourishes like that, used not only to portray the lead character Anna’s (a very convincing Amy Adams) state of mind, but also to stylishly lead the film into the many flashbacks it uses to tell its twisty story.
Yes, the story might be a little “trashy” for some tastes, but the craft in its execution is nothing short of excellent in terms of imagination. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that this might just be the best directed movie of Wright’s career so far.
Whether or not such a trashy story deserves such an inspired directorial treatment is beside the point, because by treating such a low-brow story with this much respect and cinematic imagination, Wright has pointed out another way for modern day directors to enjoy and respect their craft, one that many directors from the great 1940s and 1950s Hollywood studio era have often taken when given substandard material to work with, on their way to critical re-appraisal way after their time.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.