Saturday, May 7, 2011
There's nothing better than waking up late on a weekend, seeing a matinee (at discounted matinee prices) of a film you know virtually nothing about, and having it blow you away. It reminded me exactly why I see as many movies as I do, but it also saddens me that it's almost impossible to not know everything about a movie by the time you get to see it, thanks to excessively long trailers and inordinate amounts of marketing. It just takes the fun out of getting to see a film unveil itself as it was intended by the filmmaker. I can't express how much I hate that. But fortunately for me, I got to experience this one as it should be experienced. And so as not to ruin the experience for you I won't say much about it. But basically, it's a Western that takes place in Oregon in 1845 and drops you in the middle of the journey of a group of families headed through the desert. And it's a harsh reminder of how hard it used to be to travel. Like in 'There Will Be Blood', one of my favorite films of the last decade, you are reminded that pursuing 'The American Dream' comes at a cost.
It's hard to really put my finger on what makes this film so good. It's very slow. And most of the conversations are purposefully quiet, making it almost seem as if you need to eavesdrop to figure out what's going on. And many will argue the end is quite unsatisfying. And yet I feel more satisfied than I have with almost anything I've seen this year.
The cast is perfect. But unlike the unbelieveable, memorable performance by Daniel Day-Lewis in 'There Will Be Blood', there's no showy, stand out here. It's just the perfect ensemble of slightly recognizable faces giving quiet, compelling performances, including Will Patton, Bruce Greenwood, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, and Shirley Henderson. Many of you will know Williams from 'Brokeback Mountain', 'Blue Valentine' and 'Dawson's Creek', and some will recognize Dano from 'There Will Be Blood' and 'Little Miss Sunshine'. I've been a fan of Greenwood for a while now, but he's particularly unrecognizable here, covered in hair as the mysterious Mr. Meek. It's hard to believe he played The President of the United States in 'National Treasure: Book of Secrets'. That's an actor who can stretch. And I don't think I've seen Patton this compelling since 1987's 'No Way Out'. Wow, what a solid cast.
Most people won't care for this film. They'll find it slow and unsatisfying. I, however, loved every minute of it. When the credits arrived I couldn't believe it had been almost two hours. I wanted more. I needed more. But in the hours that passed afterward I realized that less actually is more.