Monday, December 29, 2008

Movies: Australia and Changeling

As with most Baz Luhrmann movies, Australia will only be truly appreciated by a small group of fans, and probably not until long after it has left the theatres. (Which, at least in my area, it already has.) While this three-hour epic isn’t as visually creative as Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet, the big beating heart under the rough and tumble western façade is pure Baz. The movie feels more like a sprawling miniseries than a movie, which may explain why it did so poorly in the theatres of our ADDled nation, where viewers rarely have the attention span to digest one thoughtful story, let alone three packed into one. But Australia is well worth your time – all three hours of it. It’s as lush a love story as you’ll see in years. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman’s relationship is more adult than Baz’s other star-crossed lovers, but no less passionate. And for once, you won’t use up an entire box of Kleenex watching a Baz movie. You’ll use up half a box in the middle, sure, but for once Luhrmann leaves his audience with hearts intact, and I think the movie is no worse off for ditching the sucking-air-from-chest impact for a bit of hope. This is easily one of my favorite films of the year.

And then there’s Changeling. I had great hope for this movie, but it fell irrevocably flat in the second half. The first half, driven by Christine (Angelina Jolie)’s search for her son and fight against a male-dominated, corrupt justice system, zips along nicely with good tension and acting. Jolie’s performance is not very layered – she see-saws between a wet-eyed, plaintive “I want my son back” to a snarling, animalistic “I WANT MY SON BACK!” for the duration – but has its effective moments. But the mystery is resolved with half the movie to go, at which point the film completely deflates. I understand when you’re working with a real life story and you want to cover certain events, you can’t always work with a traditional climax, but I feel like someone of Clint Eastwood’s skill and verve could have found a way to keep the tension going through non-linear narrative or something of the like. The ending itself is a bit of a sour note, too, as a text overlay tells you how Christine spent the rest of her life in false-hope limbo. Not exactly uplifting or giving of closure. Still, it’s in the least a historically interesting story, an unflinching look at the difficulty women had – and sometimes still have – navigating a patronizing legal system.


Sex Mahoney for President said...

The world has reached a sorry place when Clint Eastwood is the creative genius for "based on a true story" pictures. They need to stop making movies about comic books and real life.

Sex Mahoney for President

smd said...

It's true. What of the slate of Oscar contenders this year, all real life, story/novel/play adaptations, and comics. I'd love to see more fully original stories getting told.