Bertolucci and Mann

I managed to see two movies by fairly acclaimed directors this week but didn’t have the time to write reviews until now. I caught Michael Mann’s Collateral (IMDB) last weekend (at the infamous midnight screening) and watched Bernardo Bertolucci The Dreamers (IMDB) on video earlier this week. Both films are certainly flawed but well worth seeing, and I’d be interested to hear the opinions of others on both films, especially The Dreamers, which has received mixed reviews. Oh, by the way, because I’m blogging while tired, there are some spoilers in this entry, but more than anything, I’m curious about other people’s reactions, especially to The Dreamers.

Collateral

Collateral opens with a shot of Tom Cruise’s Vincent, a sharply dressed professional hitman, walking through an airport, his normally youthful, dark hair colored platinum gray to make him appear older and slightly run-down. Another man hands him a briefcase in the airport, saying one line, “Welcome to L.A.” With that introduction, Mann introduces Los Angeles itself as a character in the film. Against Vincent, Mann casts Jamie Foxx as Max, a slightly rumpled cab driver with a dream (another interesting casting choice). Max has the bad luck of picking up Vincent, who hires the cabbie to driv him around LA for the night while he makes several hits. Throughout the film, Vincent talks about his hatred for LA, characterizing the city as unfriendly and uncaring, an effect reinforced by the use of high-definition digital video. We also get several helicopter shots looking down on the city and Max’s taxi from above while Max seeks to find a way to stop Vincent to reinforce the city’s sense of anonymity. As usual, Mann includes several wonderful scenes, including a scene in which Vincent goes into a jazz club to murder the club’s owner, a nostalgic moment that recalls some earlier version of LA. Note: for a great review, see phyrephox’s review on Milk Plus. Like phyrephox, I liked the references to Lady from Shanghai during the climactic chase sequence.

The Dreamers

I have to admit I haven’t been a big fan of Bertolucci’s recent films, especially Besieged, which seemed to conform to the idea or fantasy of an older, white, liberal man rescuing the younger, African woman, without really criticizing that story at all. And, although I don’t remember it well, I recall being dissapointed by Stealing Beauty as well, but my interest in May 1968 trumped my ambivalence about Bertolucci. And while I don’t think The Dreamers was a bad film, it didn’t seem like a terribly deep take on the insularity of the two French siblings and the American friend they seduce.

Yeah, I get that the brother and sister are naive, oblivious to the revolution that’s happening around them, but like Cynthia Fuchs, I found the film to be little more than glossy nostalgia for the revolutionary excitement of May 1968 without really interrogating that history in any nuanced way. After reading Roger Ebert’s praise of the film, though, I feel like I’m missing something. To be fair, I’m a huge cinephile and loved the references to French New Wave films and the history of the Cinémathèque Française, and other than Matthew’s voice-over narration, really enjoyed the opening sequence. I may try to write a more focused review later, but after a late night last night (out until 3 AM, up until almost 4 AM) and a long day of writing, I’m feeling kind of lazy.

2 Comments »

  1. MelGX Said,

    August 30, 2004 @ 11:17 am

    Haven’t seen “The Dreamers”, but did enjoy Collateral more than expected. I was most struck by how “small” the film seemed: limited sets, tiny cast, extensive use of video, etc. It could easily be translated into a stage play. Overall, it was very binary—good vs. evil, black vs. white, rich vs. poor—a few clean lines to illustrate that life is never just black and white. That said, I’d like for you to write more about the use of video. I found it a little jarring to jump back and forth between stock, even though much care was taken to match color temperature. Many of the cab interiors were video, but beyond that, I couldn’t find a pattern. Please explain this to me in more detail.

  2. chuck Said,

    August 30, 2004 @ 2:38 pm

    You’re right about the “smallness” of the film. Even the action scenes are relatively contained, especially compared to Heat. The set pieces, especially the one in the jazz club, do seem almost like stage plays. I’d agree that the binaries were fairly standard, and that may be why I’m searching for other issues within the film, such as the representation of LA, something the jazz club seemed to address with its nostalgia for the good old days. Also noir in general is connected to Los Angeles.

    To be honest, I didn’t think too much about the shift from video to film, other than to notice that he used video extensively (something like 90% of the film). In the reviews that I read, Mann simply felt the high-def video worked better for capturing LA at night than film.

    I’m probably less attentive than I should be to the technical aspects of filmmaking. I wonder if the cab interiors were done on video out of convenience (less equipment in a very cofined space)?

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