February 09, 2004
This article appeared in the February 9, 2004 issue of the magazine.
January 26, 2004
So many elements in film-making have become so dependably fine—cinematography, editing, production design—that by now only the exceptions are surprising. Screenwriting is a great deal more variable: the good work of the designers and others is often wasted on trash. Acting, however, is less variable, because most film scripts don't demand much more than verisimilitude from the cast, and many film actors, especially those with salable personalities, are skilled in what might be called behaving—without much distinction between what is on camera and what is off.
Riches and Rigmaroles
July 07, 2003
Tycoon (New Yorker), Swimming Pool (Focus), Jet Lag (Miramax) Heaven, often stingy in other matters, is generous with paradox. Recurrently through the seventy-year life of the USSR, we got reports of Soviet individuals who had become rich. With the approach of Tycoon from Russia, I hoped to have the contradiction explained. But this film is adapted from a novel about Boris Berezovsky, who certainly became rich but was mostly active in post-Marxist Russia, so it does not answer my old question.
May 05, 2003
The Guys (Focus) and The Good Thief (Fox Searchlight) Temptation for a writer lurks behind catastrophe. Whenever something dreadful happens in the political world, writers are tempted to respond. When Hitler appears, when the atomic bomb makes its double debut, some playwrights and novelists are impelled to respond in their art. Film writers are not immune, though for intrinsic reasons of their medium, their response is not so quickly apparent. The impulse of these writers is more than understandable: the lack of it would be moribund.
Birds and Others
April 21, 2003
The statistics are staggering. Winged Migration, a French documentary about birds in flight, took four years to make. It employed, as it proceeded, a total crew of four hundred fifty. It was shot in a global variety of places-or over them, rather-to capture the four principal migration routes: those used by North American birds, European and Asian birds, Asian birds, and Southeast Asian birds. Needed for the cinematography were gliders and model gliders, helicopters and model ones, light motorized aircraft, and balloons.
April 07, 2003
Assassination Tango (United Artists) That Girl from Paris (Films Philos) Has Robert Duvall gone out of his professional mind? The worry seems legitimate, especially for an admirer, after Assassination Tango. Ever since I first saw him, in an Off-Broadway production of Miller's A View From the Bridge in 1965, Duvall has seemed to me one of the few American actors in both theater and film who needed only to decide to be great in order to reach classical greatness.
A Dilemma of Old
March 03, 2003
Reviewing About Schmidt in January, I mentioned that I had not read the Louis Begley novel from which the screenplay was tenuously derived. Several people have written to say that, though they liked the film and they had read Begley's approval of it, I ought to read the book. I'm thinking it over. The correspondents' friendly suggestion is, of course, a return to the perennial question of adaptation, the degree of responsibility of a later work to its source. Every such discussion is a matter of instances, not of precepts. Who cares if an unimportant novel is altered for screen use?
September 09, 2002
Possibly excepting the Germans, French film-makers have always been the ones most intent on using the medium impossibly—to address ideas as ideas, through an art that is otherwise designed. Hundreds of films around the world have carried intellectual weight and worth, but usually those films are dramas or comedies whose characters happen to be intellectually fraught.
Photography and Facts
July 08, 2002
The third time was the charm. Well, if not charm exactly, at least some justification. The Bourne Identity (Universal) was the third film about the CIA--after The Sum of All Fears and Bad Company--that I had seen in three weeks, and it was the first to afford some entertainment. Adapted by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron from a twenty-year-old Robert Ludlum novel, it has a setup that tickles some interest in the eventual payoff (workaday terms, but applicable).
Truth and Inconsequences
June 24, 2002
In the August 9, 1922 issue of this magazine, Frances Taylor Patterson wrote: "In a day of emotional and artistic deliquescence on the screen, a picture with the fresh strength and pictorial promise of Nanook of the North is in the nature of Revelation." The screen has recurrently deliquesced since then, and once again comes a film from the north to remind us of that fact by its revelation of strength. Robert J.