A frontier lawman tries to rustle up a posse to fend off an incoming outlaw.
Directed by Fred Zinneman
Starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Classic production code films are always hard to evaluate. It’s possible the viewer has seen dozens of iterations and imitators without knowing it, robbing the classic of any originality it would’ve had at its premiere. The workarounds required by morality censors give writers and directors hurdles that don’t improve their films thanks to an extra degree of difficulty. These kinds of films have a cadence all their own, a stilted way of speaking that can be hard to ignore. Subtlety seems to be a thing that doesn’t get introduced to American cinema til the incorporation of Italian neo-realism and the looming French New Wave. I don’t feel like I’m too far out on a limb when I say that Hollywood film was an art form with plenty of room to run in the early 50’s. The film that gets me thinking about mid-century movies is High Noon, the Western as anti-McCarthy parable. It has all the aforementioned crutches that keep it from my rating it as a great film, though I can admire it as something with a perspective and a legacy.
On our recent Best of 2018 So Far podcast, I raved about The End of the Fucking World. It’s by accident that I saw what is still one of my favorite TV series of the year before I saw I Am Not a Serial Killer. These are essentially the same pieces of fiction. A teen male who is sure he’s a sociopath bides time until the inevitable moment when he makes his first kill, but he discovers what it means to follow through on those impulses and that he doesn’t have to be like the people that do so. The lesson that brain chemistry is not destiny is a powerful one that the species has had to continually remind itself of, and it’s something pitched at my wavelength due to my preference for both skepticism and liberalism. However, I Am Not a Serial Killer is no End of the Fucking World thanks to its own choices of who the villain is and what the viewer is supposed to feel about him. It doesn’t believe that sociopathy is interesting enough on its own, and needlessly spices things up with the supernatural.
Irish playwrights and auteurs Martin and John Michael McDonagh have been responsible for some of the most memorable morality plays to hit theaters in recent years. John Michael’s Calvary is a definitive ‘good man in a fallen world’ post-recession tale, and Martin’s In Bruges resuscitated Colin Farrell’s career on its way to cult status. Of the two brothers, Martin experienced the McDonagh family’s greatest success with his roiling hit Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. An angry film for angry times, Martin McDonagh turns tragedy into righteous fury and blinkered obsession, while taking stabs at a conservative flavor of political correctness that praises figures of authority and state power. There’s also grace in the small Ozark town at the film’s center, but its inhabitants have too many excuses to shun it. Three Billboards is complicated and conflicting and often times at odds with itself. McDonagh’s utilizing some raw power in a less-than airtight film.
Michael Mann is a director who cares about process. His debut, Thief, spent minutes watching James Caan crack open a safe from start to finish. With Manhunter, Mann founded a genre by dissecting crime scenes and murderous psychology. If one needs to know how to lay siege to a 18th century colonial fort, The Last of the Mohicans contains a handy manual. Mann’s attention to detail is as meticulous as the characters he puts onscreen, and that’s certainly true in Heat, his modern masterpiece (as opposed to Mohicans, his period masterpiece. The man’s multi-masterpieced). The director cares about competency, and he creates characters who share in that admiration even when the fruits of their practiced labors are diametrically opposed. Heat is at the pinnacle of this kind of film, wherein talented character are believably sculpted, spun up, and let loose to do their thing.
Only apple pie and John Denver come close to being as quintessentially American as guns, and “Free Fire” gives us plenty of two out of three. The night before watching “FF” I watched the first “John Wick” (because I’m often late to some parties); a highly stylized action movie with plenty of action and gun violence. I enjoyed it very much. But the violence in “Wick” was so coordinated and scripted, as it should be, that it left no illusions that it was comic book fantasy. Two shots to the gut, one to the head. Bam. That’s the assassin’s signature in movies and books.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.