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Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line

There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2 where Michael Madsen’s Budd lays down the sword rhetoric: “If you’re gonna compared a sword made by Hattori Hanzo, you compare it to every other sword ever made, that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo.” I’d like to augment that slightly in the case of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and say, “If you’re gonna compare The Thin Red Line, you compare it to every other war movie ever made that *isn’t* The Thin Red Line.” That’s not to say its better than all the rest or on any kind of quality pedestal, it’s just simply unlike every other war film out there, and that differentiation makes it an incredibly special picture. Why, you ask? Because it takes a ponderous, meditative approach to a very hectic horrific period in history, and takes the time to explore the effects of conflict on both humanity and nature, as well as how all those forces go hand in hand. What other war film does that? Malick uses a poets eye and a lyricist’s approach to show the Guadalcanal siege, a horrific battle in which lives were lost on both sides and the countryside ravaged by the fires of war. To say that this film is an ensemble piece would be an understatement; practically all of Hollywood and their mother have parts in this, from the front and centre players right down to cameos and even a few appearances that never made it into the final cut (which I’m still bitter about). The two central performances come from Jim Caviesel and Sean Penn as Pvt. Welsh and Sgt. Witt. Welsh is a compassionate, thoughtful man who seems primally uncomfortable in a soldiers uniform, and shirks the materialistic horror and industrialist grind of war to seek something more esoteric, a reason for being amongst the horror. Witt is a hard, cold man who sees no spiritual light at the end of the tunnel and does his job with grim resolve, scarcely pausing to contemplate anything but the next plan of action. These two are archetypes, different forces that play in each of us and, variations of which, are how we deal with something as incomparable as a world war. Around them swirl an endless sea of famous faces and other characters doing the best they can in the chaos, or simply getting lost in it. Nick Nolte as a gloomy Colonel displays fire and brimstone externally, but his inner monologue (a constant with Malick) shows us a roiling torment. A captain under his command (Elias Koteas) has an emotional crisis and disobeys orders to send his men to their death when thunderously pressured by Nolte. Koteas vividly shows us the heartbreak and confusion of a man who is ready to break, and gives arguably the best performance of the film. Woody Harrelson accidentally blows a chunk of his ass off with a grenade, John Cusack climbs the military rank with his tactics, John Savage wanders around in a daze as a sadly shell shocked soldier, Ben Chaplin pines for his lost love (Miranda Otto) and the jaw dropping supporting cast includes (deep breath now) Jared Leto, Nick Stahl, Tim Blake Nelson, Thomas Jane, Dash Mihok, Michael Mcgrady, John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Mark Boone Jr, Don Harvey, Arie Verveen, Donal Logue, John Travolta and a brief George Clooney. There’s a whole bunch who were inexplicably cut from scenes too including Bill Pullman, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke. Rourke’s scene can be found, in pieces, on YouTube and it’s worth a search to see him play a haunted sniper. Hans Zimmer doles out musical genius as usual, with a mournfully angelic score that laments the process of war, particularly in scenes where Caviesel connects with the natives in the region, as well as a soul shattering ambush on the Japanese encampment that is not a sequence that ten year old Nate has been able to forget since I saw it and the hairs on my neck stood up. This is a diversion from most war films; Malick always has a dreamy filter over every story he weaves: exposition is scant, atmosphere matters above all else and the forces of music and visual direction almost always supersede dialogue, excepting inner thoughts from the characters. If you take that very specific yet loose and ethereal aesthetic and plug it into the machinations of a war picture, the result is as disturbing as it is breathtakingly beautiful, because you are seeing these events through a lens not usually brandished in the genre, and the consequences of war seem somehow more urgent and cataclysmic. Malick knows this, and keeps that tempo up for the entire near three hour runtime, giving us nothing short of a classic.

-Nate Hill

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Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt

How to even approach Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt. For a guy whose career has spanned decades from golden age Hollywood to contemporary and etched out a few mile markers that have practically defined the medium, this is definitely both the odd duck and black sheep of the man’s career. There’s no way around it either so I’ll be blunt: it’s kind of a mess. But it’s an intermittently breathtaking mess, like someone spilt a can of turgid motor oil in their garage, but a few gold and silver flakes of airbrush paint snuck into the oozing puddle. There’s a noticeable Stephen King vibe here, with flippant Val Kilmer as horror novelist Hall Baltimore, struck with writer’s block and hiding out in a creepy Midwest town to try and get the creative juices flowing. There’s murder afoot there, in more ways than one, and soon he’s visited by the ghost of a girl (Elle Fanning, darkly ethereal) who guides him along a chain of memories that recall missing children from the past. The town’s gruff, obnoxious Sheriff (Bruce Dern) doesn’t appreciate Hall nosing around his neck of the woods and harasses him at every turn. There’s Skype seasons with his wife (Joanne Whalley, Killer’s real life ex) that feel suspiciously improvised, an appearance by Edgar Allen Poe himself (Ben Chaplin) and creaky narration from none other than Tom Waits. Ultimately it doesn’t really connect, and feels so fascinated by itself that it fails to coherently tell us the tale in a way that sticks. What does take hold, however, are some truly gorgeous and striking visuals, lit by stark silver moonlight, accented by crimson blood and brought to unholy life by tactile, riveting slow motion, like a dream sequence in which Kilmer observes a group of ghost children frolicking on an eerie riverbank. Much of it feels subconscious and free form or lifted out of an Evanescence music video, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. It just needs the focus of the script to properly come across as a whole story, which, sadly, it mostly doesn’t have. Fanning makes the biggest impression as the ghostly waif, peering off the film’s poster and promising a poetic spook show, which… we kind of get. This has been seen as a shrill blast of emptiness by many critics, but there’s some fun to be had, and plenty of gothic eye candy to feast on, even if the brain goes hungry.

-Nate Hill

London Boulevard 


Pains me to say this, but London Boulevard is a whole lot of nothing. Like, a disgraceful amount of nothing when you step back and look at the talent involved. I read a review on IMDb saying that “every element of this film is so right, but how did it end up so wrong?”.. Sad to say, I couldn’t agree more. This is one unfocused, meandering, royal catastrophe. Where does the blame lay? Who can say, really.. I don’t want to lay it on the director, even though his only other feature, Mojave, was pretty dismal, but he’ll find his groove. The cast is capable and willing, none of them totally phoning it in. No, I feel like it’s the script, a botch job of a story consisting of scenes mired in a never-ending doldrum where nothing ever really goes anywhere and the characters get caught up in the purgatorial nonsense of it all. Colin Farrell is a tough guy who is hired to act as pseudo-bodyguard to a reclusive, neurotic film star (Keira Knightley), after which all sorts of freak occurrences and oddball Brit-bag characters get in the way. He’s got a wayward sister to protect (Anna Adriel), a volatile partner in petty crime (Ben Chaplin) a nosy DI on his trail (Eddie Marsan) and all these chess pieces converge upon the arrival of London’s most fearsome crime boss (Ray Winstone), who has a bag of bones to pick with Farrell for a number of different and equally muddled reasons. Winstone tries to pull him back into the game with vague homoerotic intimidation, Knightley wistfully wallows in depression with her druggie friend (David Thewlis, looking like he forgot to read the script) and hides from paparazzos, the story clumps along missing every beat and wasting a decent score as well as some stylish flourishes on events that no one seems to care about, least of all the audience. Perhaps that’s why Farrell scowls his way through the whole thing, and not in a smouldering, potent way either, more like a confused, begrudging participant in a pointless exercise. They really should have gotten their shit together a little more with a cast and budget like this, found a better script and given us something worth seeing. Instead we’re given the cinematic equivalent of a pocket of lint, promising on the outside before we look in, ripe with potential but filled with nothing remotely worthwhile once we look inside. Shame. 

-Nate Hill