30 May 2006

100 films: Chinatown


starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Hillerman, and John Huston
written by: Robert Towne
directed by: Roman Polanski
R, 131 min, 1974, USA

*** Some spoilers contained within ***

Private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), a successful man with a nasty reputation specializing in marital cases, is hired by Mrs. Mulwray (Diane Ladd) to investigate the alleged infidelities of her husband Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), chief engineer of the city's water supply. Jake and his two associates follow Mulwray as he spends long hours investigating reservoirs, walking dry river beds, and staring at the ocean. The city is in the midst of a drought and he has, as Jake puts it, "water on the brain". But he's also got a mistress, who Jake discovers and photographs, only to find that the photos have instantly found their way to the newspaper and that the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) is suing him. Just as quickly, Hollis is dead and Jake finds himself in the middle of something much more complicated than photographing an affair.

But in the convoluted reality that is Chinatown, how certain can Jake be that he's actually witnessed an affair? Viewed through a zoom lens and taken at face value as validation of the job he was hired to do, it certainly looks like evidence of an affair, and that's what Jake assumes. The work is easier that way. When Evelyn asks Jake what he used to do in his previous life as a cop in Chinatown, he answers, "as little as possible[1]", and that philosophy is one he seems to have adapted to his current line of work. The problem being that it leads to Jake drawing concrete conclusions--often incorrectly--at multiple points in the investigation. In a lot of ways it's a scattershot approach--he's sometimes right, sometimes wrong--and with a little more due diligence he could have the thing wrapped up quickly, but then it wouldn't be much of a film, would it?

Despite the Occam's razor[2] methodology of finding the simplest explanation, Jake manages to get needlessly drawn into a complicated web. He puts his nose where it doesn't belong (and has the bandage to prove it). He gets involved personally with a case. He fails to take his own advice to "let sleeping dogs lie". He tells his one operative of the need for a certain amount of finesse and fails to use any himself. This does not necessarily make Jake a bad private eye, just a headstrong one with some contrarian tendencies, almost a bull in the china shop. Still, his is a results-oriented profession and Jake manages by sheer will to get results, proving that there is a method to his madness or perhaps he's got more finesse than we realize. He certainly isn’t the first private eye in the world to solve the case despite his methods.

Few actors could pull off a role this complex as well as Nicholson, who as the protagonist serves as the film’s ballast. Initially he appears to be playing a standard film noir private eye, but as the film progresses begins adding layers. He laughs a raucous laugh at a racist joke, nearly comes to blows with a bank manager, and gets into a couple of fights, which is pretty much what we expect from the character. But, he also shows tenderness and humanity where needed. He harbors no ill will toward the people who seem to be making his job more difficult, telling Russ Yelburton (John Hillerman[3]) that he’s more than willing to pass the whole thing off on a couple of big shots.

One of the delights of Chinatown is that in this web of mystery and intrigue the audience is never given any more information than Jake has at that particular moment, nor are we given any hint as to how reliable such information is. We know only that he has it and where he got it. Since the entire film is done from a first-person perspective, we're given no indication of the various machinations going on behind Jake's back. In essence, we are put in the position of one of his operatives, trying desperately to piece the whole thing together. Eventually we do, largely without chunks of exposition explaining the complicated proceedings and at the end of the film not only does the entire thing hold water, but it makes sense. This is no small feat for a film noir done without voiceover.

Naturally much of the credit goes to Robert Towne’s Academy Award winning script[4], but likely would not have been possible without the uncredited contributions of Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson. Nicholson wrote sections of his character’s dialogue and Polanski, faced with an original draft of over 300 pages, worked closely with Towne to trim it down to something a bit more manageable. One of the changes was to eliminate the voiceover narration–a staple of the genre, thus allowing things to flow more smoothly. The result is a wonderfully complex script where virtually every scene serves to advance either the plot or the characters, and sometimes both. Take, for example, the opening scene in which Curly (Burt Young) has just learned of his wife’s infidelities. We start by seeing the photographs–undeniable proof in this instance–then Curly’s pained reaction. This is nothing new to Jake, who calmly offers him a drink and later assures the poor fisherman that he can pay when he’s able. We learn a lot about who Jake is, what he does for a living, and that he’s a nice enough person not to take a poor man’s last dime. The whole thing seems to be a standard enough opening to a film noir, especially when it moves seamlessly into the main investigation. But part of Towne’s genius is how he relates the scene to what happens later in the film, how Curly plays a more important role than we would have expected, how Jake’s casual comment of “What can I tell you, kid? You're right. When you're right, you're right, and you're right.” is more vital to his character than we would have expected. Whereas a lot of writers would have used the scene as a simple introduction or a clumsy means of foreshadowing, Towne ties it to the story effortlessly and deftly, and it’s all the more effective because we don’t expect such a scene to have any real importance.

The title doubles as both a part of Los Angeles and a metaphorical state of mind where it can be difficult to understand what’s truly happening, where outward appearances are rarely accurate and a barrier exists between reality and the truth. It has been described as feeling like you’re always on the wrong foot, that things are constantly slightly off-kilter. It’s a place where perception is not always reality, where to get too involved can be dangerous, where it’s probably best to let sleeping dogs lie. One of Roman Polanski’s master strokes was to change Towne’s upbeat ending to reflect a fatalistic worldview[5]. At the end of the day, after all his investigation, what has Jake really gained? He has the truth, sure, but he also has a scar on his nose, his car is damaged, people have died, and none of those big shots got what was coming to them. The unveiling of truth has probably done more harm than good, but that’s how things work sometimes in Chinatown.

[1] While this sounds like a terrible method of police work, it is actually recommended to officers in Chinatown, due to the fact that the various dialects make it dangerous to investigate every little thing that people do or say. Therefore, the approach is a more laissez-faire one than normal.

[2] Per Wikipedia: it is translated from Latin as "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity."

[3] Hillerman is best known for playing Jonathan Higgins in the seminal television series Magnum, P.I. (1980-88), so he knows a little bit about dealing with a private eye.

[4] It won Best Original Screenplay, the film’s only win against 11 nominations. But, when you consider that it was up against The Godfather, Part II (1974), Lenny (1974), and Murder on the Orient Express (1974), it makes a lot more sense. The other 10 nominations were: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Faye Dunaway), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (John A. Alonzo), Best Costume Design, Best Director (Roman Polanski), Best Editing (Sam O’Steen), Best Original Score (Jerry Goldsmith), Best Sound, Best Picture, and Best Actor (Jack Nicholson). Shockingly enough, in a showdown between Nicholson, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Albert Finney, the Oscar went to Art Carney for Harry and Tonto (1974). Go figure.

[5] This was Polanski’s first American film after the murder of his girlfriend, Sharon Tate, in the Manson family incident.

19 May 2006

100 films: La Grande illusion


starring: Jean Gabin, Erich von Stroheim, Pierre Fresnay, and Dita Parlo
written by: Jean Renoir and Charles Spaak
directed by: Jean Renoir
NR, 114 min, 1937, France

The first World War and several French officers, among them Lt. Maréchal (Jean Gabin), Capt. de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), and Lt. Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio), have been captured by German forces and escorted to a prison camp where they quickly go about the business of planning an escape. The obvious choice, seeing as how the Germans have provided rudimentary gardening tools, is to tunnel for freedom, but the day before the tunnel is completed, the prisoners are rotated and our three heroes moved to their new home--an old Bavarian fortress, high and impregnable. It is here that Boeldieu is reunited with Capt. von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim), a pre-war acquaintance who laments that a man with such high breeding as Boeldieu should be subjected to such conditions. Rauffenstein is a kind warden but, as Boeldieu says "prisons are made for escaping", so they set about planning their early release.

Even if Jean Renoir's La Grande illusion is not the first anti-war film ever made, it is certainly one of the best for the simple fact that it assumes we understand how awful war is. There is no gruesome battle footage, no stirring calls for peace, and no indication that anyone in the film thinks the war to be a remotely good idea. But both sides accept it as something they must endure, much in the same way we view traffic jams--as a nuisance beyond anyone's control. When they talk of reaching neutral Switzerland there are no dreams of hiding in a small village until the fighting ends. They speak almost reluctantly of rejoining the fight, not because of any intrinsic desire to shed blood or an overt sense of nationalism, but simply because they haven't allowed themselves to consider an alternative. To stop fighting because they've escaped is to them as rational as quitting a job to avoid rush hour. Sure, it's possible and may even be an idea with merit, but it isn't at all practical.

Likewise, they could wait out the war in the German camps where they are permitted gardens, entertainment, and virtually unfettered access to parcels full of food and wine. As far as wartime lifestyles go, it is a pretty good one, and there isn't any shame in being a prisoner of war (in fact, it probably comes with a great deal of respect once the war is over), yet their singular focus is to escape. But why? Because it is sworn duty to fight, and nothing surpasses a man's sworn duty. Or, as James Donald put it in The Great Escape (1963), "it is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. If they can't, it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability."

That being said, what makes La Grande illusion remarkable isn't the officer's sense of duty, but rather Renoir's exploration of humanity in the midst of war. A major theme of the film's first half revolves around war's ability to realign traditional class structures. That is, it levels the field, for there are no aristocrats or peasants in foxholes, only soldiers[1]. Still, there's a natural tendency to cling to those old labels, even in a concentration camp. Rauffenstein, recognizing in Boeldieu a fellow member of high society and wishing to not be viewed as a "German barbarian", affords Boeldieu certain liberties not available to the likes of Maréchal and Rosenthal. He invites Boeldieu to join him for dinner and is willing to trust his honesty, rather than employing the usual methods of searching a prisoner's quarters. They form a sort of friendship based on a mutual civility, enemies finding a small corner of kindness in the brutality of war. But this being war, Boeldieu is forced to use this kindness as an opportunity to facilitate an escape for his countrymen and fellow officers. It is a selfless act that is both daring and grand. Once again, duty reigning supreme.

In the end, you realize that on so many levels La Grande illusion isn't about war at all, but instead is about humanity's ability to connect with each other despite their numerous differences, that two people in a room, stripped of their titles and their nationalities and their wealth and everything else, are simply two people in a room and they must learn to see each other for who they are, not what they are. It matters little if you're French or German or British or American because all that is superficial and man-made, just like the lines on the map that determine where you are. Are Maréchal and Rosenthal any more free recovering in a German farmhouse then they would be in Switzerland, or are they just on the wrong side of an imaginary line? Perhaps it's fitting that in World War II, when the Germans invaded France, Goebbels had the film confiscated in an attempt to destroy it, but Frank Hansel, a Nazi officer, managed to smuggle it to Berlin and preserve it for future generations. A brave and selfless move by Hansel, to be sure, a case where life imitates art and a German saves the legacy of a Frenchman, even though they are on different sides of an imaginary line.

[1] Of course, you could argue that aristocrats don't end up in foxholes nearly as often as peasants, but that's an altogether different issue.

17 May 2006

Vacationland or: what happens when a film buff is separated from his DVDs (part 1)

a collection of thoughts, events, and musings from the past three weeks spent in Maine:

* Was able to talk at some length with fellow filmmaker (and classmate of my brother) Evan Richards, who is spending the upcoming summer doing some documentary work for the University of Maine. Last summer he did a film that involved bloodworms and contained the inherent challenge of trying to make a highly boring subject interesting. This, as we both agreed, is a vital step in the learning process of any filmmaker. If you can make worms interesting, there's no limit to your potential. He also passed along an interesting story of a shoot where he had cleared a barn for a location and gotten all the shots he needed, only to have a technical glitch[1] require re-shoots. Well, the guy who owned the barn decided two days after the shoot to tear the thing down. So it goes.

* Off-topic, but there's a live Jeff Tweedy solo gig on the Wilco webpage here. Good stuff.

* My review of United 93 was a featured article on blogcritics.org on the same day Andy Horbal over at No More Marriages! was blogcritic of the day. Andy's blog always provides an insightful read, but lately he's been talking a lot about the future of film criticism and the relationship between online and print critics.

* On that note, the latest issue of Premiere magazine I picked up in the airport (the one with Tom Cruise on the cover) contains Tom Roston's insightful article "All Thumbs", along with an interview with Richard Linklater and an article by Garrison Keillor concerning the release of Robert Altman's Prarie Home Companion. I'd been under the impression Premiere had taken a turn for the worse, but you can't ask for much more enjoyment from a magazine purchased at the airport.

* What you want to avoid at the airport is the situation I encountered at LaGuardia in NYC. I get off my US Airways flight at 3:05 and go to the boards to find my United flight that leaves at 4:00, only it isn't on the board and there's no one in sight whom I might ask where it is. So, I wander for awhile until I find an old security guard, who directs me to go around the corner, walk down a flight of stairs, and get on a bus(!), which he believes will take me to another terminal. This seems fishy, so I ask someone else, then a police officer who finally tells me which bus I have to take, thus ensuring I don't accidentally get on the wrong bus and end up in Manhattan. All this forces me to go back through security (a hassle, of course), and I very nearly missed the flight. The horror.

* One of the more pleasant developments in midcoast Maine is the re-opening of The Strand Theatre, a classic cinema in Rockland. I have two Strand memories from my childhood: the first movie I remember seeing in a theatre, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)[2], was there, as well as the first movie I ever saw on a date, While You Were Sleeping (1995). Now that it has been restored, I attempt to check out films there as often as possible. This time around I was able to catch the wonderful Tsotsi, which is essentially a cross between City of God (2002) and that 50 Cent movie, and the Oscar short program (animated and live action).

* Some gems from the live action half of the short program that are worth checking out (all 5 are available on iTunes): Síðasti bærinn í dalnum (Rúnar Rúnarsson, Iceland), in which an independant old man hides from his daughter the fact that her mother has died while he goes about the business of tenderly building her coffin and burying her on their farm; Ausreißer (Ulrike Grote, Germany), where a little boy attaches himself to the man he believes to be his father. It is clever and funny and cute before becoming suddenly gut-wrenching. Cashback (Sean Ellis, UK), a stylized look at the artistic process that's being expanded into a feature film. It contains quite a bit of nudity, just so you know.

More to come later

[1] I think Evan said he actually messed up, but I'm not sure, so a glitch it is.

[2] That date makes me think it can't be right, but that's the first one I remember.

I'm back

disaster of a layover in NYC, but I'm back in Pittsburgh. That is all.

08 May 2006

current cinema: United 93


starring: Lewis Alsamari, J.J. Johnson, Trish Gates, and David Alan Basche
written and directed by: Paul Greengrass
R, 111 min, 2006, USA/UK

In the days immediately surrounding the tragedy of September 11, the question was often broached as to how long Hollywood would wait before disgracing the memory of the event with a big-budget action movie full of explosions and larger-than-life American heroes battling shifty-eyed Arabs in the skies above New York City. Five years? Ten? Twenty? The American public is understandably wary of any film treatment of that fateful day, as it's all too easy to picture a Michael Bay project starring Harrison Ford and Will Smith, sort of Air Force One (1997) meets Independence Day (1996).

When that film does come (and rest assured, in due time it will), hopefully it'll receive the same scrutiny United 93 currently faces, although I suspect very little of it has to do with the actual content of the film and is more a reaction to the fact that this is the first of the 9/11 movies[1]. It'll be interesting to see how the discussion of the film evolves as more and more people realize just what sort of film it actually is. The main question seems to hinge around an assumption that not enough time has passed since September 11, that the country is not yet ready for this film, regardless of content. But the beautiful thing about this, the digital age, is that the popularity of DVD allows people to view films such as this when they themselves are ready, whereas in days past such flexibility did not exist. This allows for many more options for filmmakers looking for ways to tell the stories that need to be told. Because if art, to a degree, functions as a society's soul, then films such as United 93 are vital to the grieving process of a country coming to terms with a horrific tragedy. They serve as a means of therapy, allowing us to move beyond it and begin the process of getting on with our lives. But, at the same time as a constant reminder of what has transpired. A celluloid memorial, if you will.

Little of the above has much to do with the quality of the film itself, but is an important factor when considering the climate in which the film exists. For it is nigh unto impossible to view the film objectively apart from real life events, so there's no point in discussing it without mentioning its larger role in society. At the same time, none of that larger context can turn a bad film into a good one, regardless of how "important" it may be. Thankfully, Paul Greengrass' United 93 needs no such justification, as it is a masterpiece in every way imaginable, a stunning and gut-wrenching film that makes a case for being the best American film of the decade and the most powerful piece of cinema since Schindler's List (1993). The comparison is a convenient one both thematically and in terms of quality, the major difference being the amount of time between the event and the film honoring it.

The story of the passengers of United 93 is a unique one in world history when you consider that in the middle of this massive event that has been dissected in every way imaginable by a media desperate for answers, there exists this small pocket of mystery into which we can only glimpse. Upon learning that their hijacking was part of a larger plot and that the plane was not going to land safely, that they were in fact doomed, they took the opportunity to call their families and tell them they loved them. At the same time they told them of a brewing plan to overtake the terrorists in a last-ditch effort to save not only their lives, but the lives of the intended target. So, with Todd Beamer's "Let's roll," they bum-rushed the terrorists, falling short of saving their own lives, but succeeding in crashing the plane harmlessly in a field in Pennsylvania, far from the White House. For that deed they are, beyond the shadow of a doubt, some of the greatest heroes in American history. Still, despite all we know about September 11, there's no way to know for sure how things transpired on that plane. We can only speculate, connecting the dots of cell phone calls and what little hard data we have to build a mosaic of what happened, but perhaps that's for the best. There are too few heroes these days.

But for a film version of the flight, that mosaic is precisely what Paul Greengrass had to build, largely from the information at hand and interviews with the family members of the victims, and partly from his imagination. In doing so, he eschews numerous screenwriting techniques of exposition and character development and instead focuses on the mundane conversations that exist every day on flights all over the country. Discussions about work, pending vacations, the weather, and random bits of phone calls all provide the film's ballast, working to ground in reality a decidedly surreal event. If it initially comes off as boring, it's because conversations at airports are universally boring. None of that changes just because the plane's about to be hijacked. Neither does the normal pre-flight prep work, which Greengrass films in some amount of detail[2], only because we know how the film will end, it comes with a sense of foreboding you wouldn't normally find. The shot of the plane being fueled instantly brings to mind that these cross-country flights were selected because they would have more explosive fuel on-board. Greengrass lingers on the cabin door as it's being closed for just a second longer than normal and the result is ominous. It takes your breath away because you realize it's a death sentence, that no one is getting off that flight.

But United 93 really achieves greatness after the hijackings have thrown both the flight and the air traffic control centers into pandemonium. From the FAA trying to get in contact with the military to the military trying to clarify their rules of engagement and find a President who's suddenly nowhere to be found, Greengrass successfully shows us an infrastructure unprepared without attempting to pin the blame. For the goal of United 93 is not to explain why September 11 happened, but rather to show what happened. Greengrass could have easily followed the cry, "where is the President?" with a shot of him in that Florida classroom reading a children's book, and I suspect a number of directors would have done just that, but he doesn't go there because there's no need. Besides, most of the audience already has that shot in the back of their heads anyway. Instead, he goes to the faces of perplexed air traffic controllers, to the panicked passengers, even to the terrorist praying in the cockpit, and in doing so he humanizes the tragedy. Then, in what is the film's most powerful sequence, the passengers of United 93 begin calling the outside world and we watch as terrified faces are attached to these phone recordings we've heard so many times. In the midst of all this chaos the camera focuses on people hunched over, desperate for a quiet pocket where they might be able to better hear, tearfully telling someone they love them. In another part of the plane someone is saying the Lord's Prayer and in the back a plot is being hatched to overtake the cockpit, but the most important thing is being able to say goodbye. It is haunting and powerful and gut-wrenching and numerous other adjectives, but it is also one of the greatest final acts ever put on film.

As the film ended and the audience just sat there in silence, composing themselves, the film lover in me wanted to stay for the next screening, but the person inside doubted I could handle it. For United 93 is not only the most important film made since September 11; it is also the best.

[1] Not counting Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), Spike Lee's 25th Hour (2002), and several other films that have only tangentially been about September 11.

[2] I imagine they didn't include everything.

04 May 2006

current cinema: Lucky Number Slevin


starring: Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, and Ben Kingsley
written by: Jason Smilovic
directed by: Paul McGuigan
R, 109 min, 2006, USA

Generally speaking, when a film violates one of the basic laws of cinema in the opening minutes, it's a sure indicator of trouble or, at very least, some harsh reviews. Your average patron may not, beyond a slight discomfort, notice or care, but to a more critical member of the audience such transgressions trigger a red flag, putting the film in a hole that's difficult to overcome. The basic laws aren't, by any stretch of the imagination, unreasonable or complicated, so a competent filmmaker can easily go his entire career without running afoul of them. Most would never consider doing otherwise unless they were trying to convey a specific point.

That being said, it's more than a bit confusing when director Paul McGuigan breaks the 180 degree rule[1] in the opening minutes of Lucky Number Slevin multiple times in a simple scene where Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis) explains the Kansas City Shuffle to Nick Fisher (Sam Jaeger) in an airport lobby. And for what purpose is this rule broken? In what grand way does it advance the film? Well, it provides a convenient, although unremarkable, shot of Bruce Willis sitting in a chair. Nothing more. It is, plain and simple, the calling card of a bad film.

While the airport scene may look pretty good[2], it is unsound, and therein lies the key problem with Lucky Number Slevin--it lacks a fundamental knowledge of the art form, almost as if the principal filmmakers somehow managed to skip the first year of film school. At its worst moments, it feels like the cinematic equivalent of playground basketball and occasionally hits a high-water mark somewhere in the vicinity of the Harlem Globetrotters. And that's fine if the film understands that, if it plays out with a wink and a crooked grin, fully aware that it serves as nothing more than an excuse to consume popcorn in a dark room, but it doesn't. Instead, Lucky Number Slevin is a film that yearns to be loved. Never have I seen a film expend so much energy to convince an audience (and, perhaps, itself) that it belongs in that uber-hip modern crime club[3]. It reminds me of the inept little kids that spend their time copying other kids in a vain attempt to be accepted. But what they don't realize is that to be cool--truly cool--you cannot ever be seen trying to be cool, for at that moment you have failed. If it isn't effortless, then it's just pathetic.

The cast, for the most part, has figured this out and their performances raise the film out of mediocrity, but there's only so much an actor can do. Josh Hartnett, in the titular role of Slevin, turns in what may be the best performance of his career[4], which ranks it slightly below the functional jobs done by Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, and Bruce Willis, all of whom realized early in the production that this wasn't going to get them to any award shows, no matter how good they were. But the great thing about casting such luminaries, other than the instant credibility it gives the project, is that no matter how inept the folks behind the camera may be, the actors are professionals who have certain standards below which they will not sink, even after they've lost all interest in the film. They've perhaps realized there's little point in wasting a good performance, so they save it for the talk show circuit, where the real acting is much more vital to the film's financial success.

Up until now I haven't said anything about the plot--a convoluted affair involving a mistaken identity, warring crime families, revenge, bookies, and the occasional double-crossing. In other words, pretty standard stuff for the genre. I won't give away much of the proceedings, even though the title of the film does, other to say that Kingsley and Freeman play crime bosses, Willis the hitman, Hartnett the man mistaken for someone else, and Lucy Liu the love interest. Based on this information, you could in all likelihood craft a better story than first-time screenwriter Jason Smilovic who, after long hours alone at his computer, has come up with a script that's somewhere between a unintelligible mess and a clusterfuck. If it isn't the worst screenplay I've ever seen in theatres, then my mind has managed to block another from my memory. Smilovic "specializes" in a noir-ish, rapid-fire dialogue that's meant to be clever, but he isn't talented enough to pull off clever, so he resorts to repeating himself over and over again with lines like "The Boss wants to see you/Who?/The Boss./Who's the Boss?/The guy we work for". And that's one of the better exchanges. He manages to hit something resembling a stride in the second act, thankfully, but in the third, after the grand and inevitable reveal, he proceeds to spend the next twenty minutes explaining, in detail, the mechanics of the reveal, despite the fact that most of the audience has already figured it out and it isn't at all complicated, anyway. How this script even found its way to a studio, much less past a reader, is beyond me.

McGuigan, who's previous effort, Wicker Park (2004), was much loved by my mother (for some reason) and contained some moments of promise, also directed the acclaimed Gangster No. 1 (2000). He was, I thought, a better filmmaker than this. The 180 degree rule thing I spoke of earlier was not an isolated event. The entire film is littered with stuff like that, making Lucky Number Slevin a stylistic piece of fluff that collapses under its own weight. The script is a disaster, sure, but McGuigan does little to fix that problem. He just throws flashy images up on screen hoping we'll be distracted by something shiny, and I suspect a great number of people will be, but that doesn't make it acceptable. McGuigan's more talented than this film indicates. Here's hoping he just got lazy.

[1] The 180 degree rule is, according to Wikipedia: "a basic film editing guideline that states that two characters (or other elements) in the same scene should always have the same left/right relationship to each other." Pretty simple stuff.

[2] Except for the airport itself, which feels very much like a cheaply constructed set. To be fair, it might easily be a bus terminal, not that it matters.

[3] The one that includes Pulp Fiction (1994), The Usual Suspects (1996), and other such films.

[4] Although, Hartnett isn't exactly someone who shows up in a lot of the films I go see, so I don't exactly have an exhaustive knowledge of his work.