Saturday, January 23, 2010

The White Ribbon

Writer/director Michael Haneke brings us his latest film to excite and confound us. Mr. Haneke's work is always intelligent, provocative, disturbing, and frustrating. "The White Ribbon" is all of this and more.

Set just before World War One, in a small German village, the film concerns itself with an escalating series of strange accidents befalling the townspeople. There is an underbelly of hate and anger growing beneath the seemingly peaceful village and the actions at work here are not obvious or easily explained. By the end of the film, you should realize where this is going but, as with much of Mr. Haneke's work, there no easy answers.

The cinematography is remarkable. The film is shot in black and white and the stark images are haunting. It is beautiful to watch. There is no soundtrack. The lack of color and music add to the tension but may put off many viewers. The acting is excellent with never a false note. The children, in particular, will remind you of the '60's British film "Children of The Damned". They are convincingly creepy and marked with a sense of growing evil.

The White Ribbon of the title signifies innocence but the film shatters that innocence and will provoke discussion and debate long after it ends. It is in German with English subtitles.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Crazy Heart

A career high performance from Jeff Bridges anchors this tale of a past his prime county singer just trying to survive day to day on his charm and what's left of his talent. We've seen characters like this before in films, most recently in "The Wrestler" (which could be a distant cousin). Like Mickey Rourke in that film, Mr. Bridges gives a raw, uncompromising performance that drives the film and fully engages the audience.

When we first meet "Bad" Blake, he is getting by on booze, cigarettes, and one night stands in cheap motels. He hasn't written a new song in years and his protégé has passed him by to become a superstar on his own (Tommy Sweet, played by a surprising Colin Farrell). When he meets reporter Maggie Gyllenhaal, she awakens something in him, he had thought long dead. To it's credit, Crazy Heart avoids the relationship cliché and what remains is touching and authentic.

I also can't say enough about the great soundtrack, put together by T-Bone Burnett. Mr. Bridges and Mr. Farrell do their own singing on the original songs and there are some classics thrown in as well.

Robert Duvall produced the film and also co-stars in a small role, which brings to mind his own star turn in "Tender Mercies", a film with similar themes. In his younger day, I'm sure Mr. Duvall would have coveted the role of "Bad" Blake for himself. But the part belongs to Mr. Bridges and he reaches down deep for what will surely be an Oscar nominated performance ( as of this review, he has just won the Golden Globe).