Posted in First Take

[1953] From Here To Eternity

I’m confident Justin Timberlake is Gen Y’s generation’s Frank Sinatra. The parallels, while slightly forced, are apparent: cross-media appeal, lauded musical career, eternal likability, et cetera. Even when Frank, or Justin, released a less than stellar album of music, his affability led critics, even and especially those who panned the work, to simply add it to the canon and move on. For these two seminal artists, music was and is a huge cog in the personal development of each. It seems, then an Oscar is on deck for a talent like Justin Timberlake. He needs the right role – much like Frank approached and executed in From Here To Eternity.

The fact that From Here To Eternity, 1953’s “Best Motion Picture” winner, has to its name a total of 8 Academy Awards clues us, the readers 60 years later, as to how the entertainment industry classified its entertainment. Sure Frank Sinatra is known as his generation’s renaissance man, but it might seem strange to a contemporary of his in the 1940s and ’50s that he’d get a substantial role in a lauded book-to-screen adaptation of James Jones’ work of the same name. Nevertheless, Sinatra’s appeal was most likely an attempt to capitalize on this cross-media platform so many moguls look to emulate today. And it worked. Sinatra had the right amount of self-depreciation and malaise to play the Italians’ Italian, Private Angelo Maggio, so his portrayal came across as straightforwardly warm and obviously troubled. His character plays very carefully across our semi-lead: Montgomery Clift’s Robert E. Lee Prewitt, a proud and wildly stubborn, but not-so-obviously troubled, soldier who meets a tragically anti-climactic end.

Above taken into consideration, I don’t think there’s a role like Sinatra’s for Justin Timberlake in the current film atmosphere. For the first half of the 20th century media tended to romanticize war and battle, focusing on the character development as opposed to battle fatigue, PTSD and other harsh realities suffered in war. For the two major wars fought and won, Americans tended to feel pride and an over-zealous nationalism. Though the atrocities of war on the micro level tend to be more carefully scrutinized in the current iteration of filmmaking, in the 1930s, ’40s and 50s, war films tended to focus on the broad strokes, as to gloss over the bad. After all, war stories are never told from the loser’s perspective. So where would Timberlake fit into the modern war epic? He wouldn’t.

The Hurt Locker, 2009s dramatic focus on the Iraqi conflict, demanded a close read of a very specific situation. While Timberlake’s acting chops are growing stronger with each film (see: Alpha Dog to The Social Network ), his similarities to Sinatra end at self-depreciating and dramedic readings. Most of this has to do with climactic changes, that after WWII, American involvement in foreign conflict seemed (and seems) more self-serving, profiteering and war-mongering than it did (and does) when war “meant something.” Continue reading “[1953] From Here To Eternity”

Posted in First Take

[1997] L.A. Confidential

God, if we could only track the lives of the characters we love through the lens of the actors who play them.

The narrative appeal is endless, if not ludicrous, for the thought that Marlon Brando’s actual life led him from the ‘coulda-been’ Terry Malone in On The Waterfront to boss-extraodinaire Veto Corleone in The Godfather; imagine that Jimmy Stewart kept playing self-flagellating characters throughout his actual life.

It’s a fun thought: we – as movie goers – would like to think that the piece we’re viewing picks up at a certain point, gives us a poignant glimpse and simply continues after the main conflict fades to end. We can then disengage from the surreality of the screen and return to our lives, whose experiences do build upon one another.

This is not how noir film works. Instead of a slice of the big fictional pie, noir rips through an entirety of a story in wildly emotional acts, leaving every stone unturned and not a single character the same, often not alive and occasionally better off dead. L.A. Confidential is no exception to this high concept and pays grand homage to noir film of decades past. As the apotheosis of the highly stylized neo-noir genre, L.A. Confidential is, in 2013, darkly comical in its treatment of actors-as-characters. I can’t hardly see James Cromwell, affable farmer in Babe, as a twisted captain or even more so Guy Pearce, pointillist in his proceedings as a lieutenant, as a man lost and never found in Memento. 

This is both a function of the genre and an externality of brash originality of this movie. These characters – Cromwell’s Dudley Smith, Russell Crowe’s Bud White, Pearce’s Ed Exley, Kevin Spacey’s Jack Vincennes….Danny DeVito’s Sid Hudgens – are dynamic, interwoven foils of their also highly stylized city. Curtis Hanson directs his cast as he would paint a puzzle. He recognizes the central and peripheral themes of James Ellroy novel as the ridged pieces and the actors as the box from which the puzzle can be finished. Continue reading “[1997] L.A. Confidential”