Sunday, November 2, 2014
MOVIE - John Wick & Under The Skin.
One of the first scenes in John Wick sees Keanu Reeves walking up to Willem Dafoe. Dafoe offers condolences for the loss of Keanu's wife, and you can almost see the frustration on the much-better actor's face as Reeves gives him nothing in return. It must be like playing racquetball with a roomba - you have no idea where to go, because there's nothing recognizable to play off of.
There's a lot to point out as exemplary in John Wick. The costumes, the framing, the editing, the script, the fight choreography, the world-building are all excellent - but our doorway into that world is Keanu Reeves' mourning, and he doesn't sell it very well.
That all stops mattering when the exposition begins pouring out and we're told who John Wick actually is, and why that punk shouldn't have fucked with his dog. Then, it becomes a wonderful, stylish, well-paced gun-fu extravaganza. And it is a wonderful, stylish, well-paced gun-fu extravaganza, just just one that builds itself on a foundation the viewer never initially buys in to, due to Reeves' performance - or lack thereof.
If you've been longing for an action movie that robes itself in the lurid, beautiful violence of days of old - an action movie that feels like a classic action movie - watch John Wick. It's the best North-American-produced action movie I've seen in a very long time. Keanu ain't much of an actor, but his gun-fu is strong.
Under The Skin is a movie that consciously, stubbornly avoids any "easy" film-making choice, throughout its entire duration. Those "easy" choices are often made in the audience's favour - exposition permits us an understanding of why characters are doing things and who they are - and Under The Skin offers none of that.
It is, then, not a movie that's easy for its audience to watch as it doesn't permit us the comfortable avenues to understanding that most any film will, through those tried-and-true film-centric storytelling mechanics. It instead strips away anything that could possibly be extraneous or untrue, and leaves only raw moments. What's kinda' crazy is that, even without all that stuff, it works.
It's successful in that we are able to understand what is going on when one character silently walks around another, just staring at them for a minute or two. We're not told - we're never told, implicitly or through a single shred of dialogue - but we get it. We understand why Scarlet Johansson's character flees, we understand what she's trying to do, and we feel crushed by what happens to her.
Under The Skin reminds me, quite a bit, of Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising, in that it's a movie that willfully tells its story in the unique ways that only a film can - through images and tone and music - and avoids any convenient storytelling tropes that another medium would lean on.
The word that floats around in my head and refuses to leave, when considering it, is "haunting." It's almost excruciatingly slow-paced, it offers no comfortable rout for the viewer to understand it, but you understand it on its pure, emotional level, and it stays with you. Its images, its moments of discovered humanity, its tragedy, will haunt you.