Monday, December 28, 2009

A Single Man and Invictus

Am I the only one to hate Tom Ford's directorial debut "A Single Man"? I just read the imdb user reviews and they all lapped up the movie. The same things they loved--the parade of well-cut suits, the Kennedy-era authentic details, the cold detachment of the camera--repulsed me. Based on the Christopher Isherwood novel, the film is about a man's grief after the death of his lover. Colin Firth, who plays English professor George, goes through the motions of a day at the end of which he plans to kill himself. Firth looks uncomfortable in the picture, as uncomfortable as the British expatriate in  in his perfect Californian suburban house his character is. Julianne Moore has a wonderful turn as Charley, fading beauty, divorced and hopelessly in love with George, and nearly steals the show from Firth's grief.

I guess I don't believe in George's mourning for Jim (the handsome Matthew Goode). There is insufficient irony between his grief and the material perfection of his life; the film runs too close to treating grief as a kind of conspicuous consumption. The flashbacks to a happier past with Jim are visual cliches: the handsome sailor hitting up George; both men lying on a beach; both men reading together in a couch, Jim with Breakfast at Tiffany's. The flashbacks do not flesh out Jim, why this man is so mourned by the living. Then those tedious shots of Firth turning helplessly in water, to show him drowning in his sorrow. Haven't we seen that image before and before?

"Invictus" is a very different kind of movie. Full of good intentions, it does not aim for subtlety; instead it wants to be a rousing hooray for Nelson Mandela and his vision of a reconciled South Africa. The film, based on historical events, shows Mandela's eye for political symbolism when he supported the national rugby team--associated with white Afrikaners and apartheid--in their quest for the World Cup. The film tries to humanize the icon somewhat by giving him a roguish and flirtatious sense of humor, moments which Morgan Freeman fully exploits, but the icon remains very much an icon, and speechifies instead of talks. Matt Damon plays the team captain Francois Pienaar with a kind of desperate stubbornness. He buffed up beautifully for the role, his hair cut to emphasize his golden youth.

The film is much too long and lacks dramatic pacing. More surprising to me, Clint Eastwood is not able to bring out the physical beauty of the game. The shots are generic TV, as are images of the enthusiastic stadium during the finals against the NZ All-Blacks. Except for the grunting from the scrums, the stadium noise drowns out any of the game's distinctive sounds. But one cannot help cheering for the team and the country once the credits roll.


Sarah Sarai said...

I almost saw Invictus then reminded myself how I'd succumbed to the hype on Melancholy Baby and ended up walking out in boredom. I like some Eastwood but think basically he's overrated. I reviewed It's Complicated on my blog only because it made me so angry I was willing to publically admit I'd seen it. :)

Shropshirelad said...

It seems like I made the right choice in seeing Sherlock Holmes.

Cartoonish story, but well-told. I reveled in the spectacular fight scenes set in a stylish Steampunk London. Excellent characterizations by Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.

Looking forward to more from James Moriarty in the sequel.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi Sarah,
I think "Invictus" is worth seeing, provided you don't go in with too great an expectation.

Hi Eric,
The trailer looks very suave and thrilling.

Anonymous said...

First, and most important of all, why are we reading IMDB user comments and expecting to find something of critical worth?

This is what a real piece of film criticism reads like (along with its accompanying comments):

Second, Invictus does not seem to be a movie about football, and so I don't believe there should be any demand for Eastwood to bring out the beauty of the game.

Eastwood is a director overrated and underrated by those who don't understand what he is doing.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thank you, sweetheartmeat, for showing me where to find real film criticism.