More Than ‘Star Wars’ At Cinemas
Terrence Malick’s ‘A Hidden Life’ and Jay Roach’s ‘Bombshell’ also playing
Friday, December 20, 2019
"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" has opened in theaters but that's not all you can find on the big screen. Terrence Malick's "A Hidden Life" and Jay Roach's "Bombshell" also hit cinemas.
'A Hidden Life'
For me, going to see a Terrence Malick film is a religious experience, like going to church. His films are transcendent cinematic poems that sweep me up in an emotional swell and uplift my soul.
His new film "A Hidden Life" looks to Franz (August Diehl), an Austrian man during World War II who refuses to sign an oath of loyalty to Hitler. His conscience will not allow him to. As a result, he is persecuted, arrested, jailed and tortured, but he will not relent.
Malick’s films have little concern for conventional plot and instead build a non-linear narrative from just a core idea. "A Hidden Life" is a breathtaking film about quiet resistance and standing up for what you believe in. Franz' jailers and his Nazi interrogators keep telling him that as one inconsequential person, how can he hope to make a difference, no one will hear him, no one will remember him. But the fact that they cannot tolerate even this lowly farmer not signing the loyalty oath means that it does matter, even if it only matters to Franz.
The film's title comes from this George Eliot quote: "... for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Malick's film captures this in a haunting, visually rapturous film that makes Franz' small act feel epic and heroic. Director of photography Jörg Widmer and editors Rehman Nizar Ali, Joe Gleason, and Sebastian Jones give the film a sense of effortless fluidity as one image flows into the next. The camera rarely sits still but the movement is mostly stunning sweeping or tracking wide shots where we can take in everything in the frame. Yet despite the wide vistas we view, Malick kept our focus on Franz and his wife, Fani (Valerie Pachner).
See this film in a movie theater and turn it into a cathedral and place of worship. I can't think of a better gift to unwrap this holiday season.
A very different film also hitting theaters this weekend is "Bomshell" with Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robie all looking a bit plastic to play Fox news employees who decide to finally speak up about sexual harassment at work.
The film is inspired by real events. Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) and Megyn Kelly (Theron) did accuse Roger Ailes (an almost unrecognizable John Lithgow) of sexual harassment. But it’s hard to view this as a feminist empowerment story when the two main women only speak up when it strategically benefits them and the film has to gloss over how conservative and in some ways unlikable these women could be to some people. I don't want to trivialize what happened or the issues about sexual harassment, but I have to confess that I kept thinking about "Clerks" when there was discussion about all those workers who got killed when the Death Star exploded. The conclusion: When you work for the evil Empire you have to expect bad stuff to go down.
The main problem with the film is the tone it tries to strike. Director Jay Roach co-wrote "The Big Short" and he tries to give this film the same sense of jaunty satire. He has Theron walk through the newsroom and look into the camera to talk to us about how bad it is. But that gimmicky, kind of edgy approach is so intermittent that it proves jarring. That tone also doesn't work well with trying to make the characters' problems feel real and to elicit our empathy.
I also had a whole uncanny valley reaction to Theron who, through make up and perhaps CGI is made to look more like Kelly and then alters her voice as well. It was a bit distracting to have this be her, but also not be her. For some reason it was more distracting when she did an even more massive makeover in "Monster." Maybe it has to do with just the look of these Fox women who all look like they are trying to be living Barbies.
Kidman and Theron are strong, but only Robie, as Kayla, a character drawn from multiple real women, conveys how horrific harassment can be. But the scene where Ailes asks Kayla to hike up he dress so he can see more than her legs has a sort of icky feel to it as the camera leers at Robie's exposed body when what we really should have been focused entirely on was her face and what this humiliation was doing to her. The way the scene was shot and cut might please the type of person who commits that kind of harassment. A little more compassion for what Kayla was going through would have made the scene more impactful.
"Bombshell" proves more entertaining than important or impressive. The acting is strong and production values are high but it's a bit hollow at the core.
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