I’d hoped to bring you two warm recommendations of two movies you had to go and see at all costs. Both from this side of the Atlantic. Both getting great reviews, from all the British national newspapers right through to Rottentomatoes.com
Control is the story of a little ol’ Manchester band called Joy Division. They ploughed a determined furrow of melancholic post punk back in the late 1970’s, before executing a surprise leap over the ghetto wall and turning into one of the most influential bands of all time. I love their music, so watching that aspect of the movie was no hardship whatsoever.
But there was also the matter of the main story: the increasingly tortured life of their visionary lead singer, Ian Curtis.
He married young, had a baby, fell out of love with his wife and into bed with a fan, and spent the rest of his time being torn apart between these two women – to the point where the movie suggests this was a major part of his suicide at the age of 23.
I have no idea of whether this is a reasonable assessment of what actually happened, but in its own terms the movie fails totally, because the writer simply didn’t bother creating characters for either of the two women.
It’s not that he can’t write characters – most of the time the men were depicted brilliantly. He just didn’t give the women anything to do, or even anything interesting to say.
It’s a very simple question really – how can you hope to engage an audience in a man being torn apart over two women when you don’t give the audience any reason to see why he would love either of the women?
And if you’re just curious to see what the Manchester scene really felt like in those years go and watch Twenty Four Hour Party People instead. Far more entertaining.
And The Counterfeiters.
Another ‘true’ story. A set of skilled Jewish counterfeiters are charged with undermining the British and American economies by forging truck loads of paper money inside a concentration camp.
Enormous stakes, split loyalties, and the primal struggle between duty to the cause and preservation of the self. Hard to go wrong? So you’d think. Yet it crashed off the rails within ten minutes.
It opens with the lead character on the beach at Monte Carlo, after the war. He’s grizzled, dazed, bitter, emotionally frozen, has obviously been through some terrible ordeal. He picks a woman up at the casino – she sees the mark of the concentration camp on his arm. From there we plunge back 10 years, to the point where he was first arrested, and then the story in the camps begins.
That little introduction does one, terrible thing to the movie. You KNOW he survived, and you KNOW his mental state at the end of the movie. Any suspense ended there and then.
Apparently the director chose to do this deliberately. He thought the subject material was too grave, too important to be treated as a mere thriller. (I’d love to know whether the writer agreed with that.)
If the movie had managed to deliver on any of the rest of its potential, that might have been valid. But, amazingly, with the chosen structure (and lots of other little story telling problems) watching the life and death struggle of what was effectively a whole people was a bizarrely unaffecting experience.
If you want to see what this movie could/should have been, rent The Pianist, by Roman Polanski. No thriller structure either, but boy does that movie engage you.
I really hate to write bad reviews, and I particularly hate reviewers who sit and sneer. It’s so easy to do, and it belittles the effort and labour and love of the hundreds of people who spent months, possibly years, making the movie. The only reason I wanted to talk about these two was because the flaws were so clear, and so visibly to do with the writing, hence relevant to this blog.
Next time I see a film I don’t enjoy I’ll keep it to myself, promise.
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