The Deep Blue Sea
By the storm-surge law of openings, the weekly buzz of blab, this week’s column should lead with Wrath of the Titans or Mirror Mirror. They previewed too late for my use, but Matthew Lickona will cover them smartly next week. By then some of the fever should have cooled, as it has for March 9’s big whopper John Carter — Disney is now writing off a $200 million loss, perhaps an all-time record.
In such context, does The Deep Blue Sea count at all? Not much, unless you want to see what is almost certainly the most beautiful film of the year. It is from Terence Davies, possibly the greatest English film director since Michael Powell (who was the greatest after Alfred Hitchcock).
This is his seventh feature, set “around 1950,” adapted by Davies from a play by Terence Rattigan. It is (like The Long Day Closes, Of Time and the City, and Distant Voices, Still Lives) steeped like wonderful tea in Davies’s nostalgic but not sentimental feeling for the English as a whole, tribal family despite their class system. Odds are that the people who missed Rachel Weisz’s splendid work in Agora, The Whistleblower, and The Constant Gardener will also miss this one.
Weisz is terrific as Hester, a postwar beauty who survived the London Blitz, then married a stuffy judge, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale). The judge can’t hold a judgmental candle to his mother, an awful snob and prig (“Beware of passion, Hester”). A few minutes of Barbara Jefford as Mom is enough to chill your blood. William, a decent fellow, is an aging man who does nothing for Hester sexually. He is wrapped in the dusty doily of decency that is both a Davies and Rattigan specialty.
Hester’s escape is headlong. She rockets into guilty romance with handsome Freddie (Tom Hiddleston). Davies needs only one scene of beautifully entwined bodies to show us just how satisfying it is. But Freddie misses his war glory, the brave years and the brave mates. He seems to prefer male company. Unemployed, and ugly when drunk, he risks little for their semi-secret affair, even as Hester tosses her security and reputation to the winds of fate.
Davies has taken upscale dramatic soap and re-lathered it masterfully. World War II is the resident ghost, glorious but depressing. London still has many ruins. Rationing continues. Hester must drop coins into the flat’s fire grill for heat. She made a marriage for safe rewards, and now safety is gone in a new Blitz of romantic obsession.
Just the little scene of Weisz in the back seat of a car, talking about love and lust, would serve to enshrine her greatness in the role. And she has eloquent silences (the movie talks well, but not too much). Weisz is equaled just once, when her landlady (Ann Mitchell) talks about the hard facts of devotion. This is the finest statement of a woman’s growth through love and loss since Nicole Kidman in 2006’s Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, and Hester doesn’t have Diane’s artistic vocation.
Once more, Davies achieves his poetic variation on Faulkner’s “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Drab rentals, haunted ruins and tube stations, pub sing-alongs as a rite of comfort (Jo Stafford’s voice suddenly rises up through “You Belong to Me,” a stunner), cruel propriety that curls a stiff upper lip, pasty complexions, smoke in the air (gorgeously shot by Florian Hoffmeister) — from all this Davies creates visual and emotional music. And, without overkill, he uses the passion storm of Samuel Barber’s violin concerto (star: Hilary Hahn).
There are countless movie echoes, Brief Encounter most clearly, as Davies (now 66) revives the Britain of his youth with a living and never mawkish power. Hester, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, is so movingly a heart that must sink or swim.
The Raid: Redemption
Brian De Palma didn’t think of his Scarface as a cartoon movie, but surely a key reason that it became a gang-banger cult film and endlessly piped sewage on cable TV is that the crass, rampant violence stylizes the story in a reductive and cartoonish way. Actions, however awful, can register as thrills because the people are dehumanized from the start (a Scarface character states the basic idea: “Nothing exceeds like excess”).
Combine the aesthetic of Scarface with the endless slurry of martial arts movies spilling from Asia, and you will finally get down to a Neanderthal pile like The Raid: Redemption. Made by Gareth Evans in Indonesia, it’s about SWAT cops assaulting a 15-story apartment tower run by a drug king, who lives with his gang at the top. This Gibraltar of scuz is an ugly, sweaty hell (designer Moti D. Setyanto clearly had fun). Led by a rogue officer, the tough young cops have a simple plan: go in and kill.
Most are decimated, but a few keep fighting like Alamo heroes. If I had a dollar for each grunt and whack, I’d be Mitt Romney (never mind, keep the money). The acting is worthless. The shootings, axe jobs, and spine snappings are mere warm-ups for insane ballets of fist fury. In these combats, men receive enough blows to flatten Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in one round.
Pain, how much you can give and take, is treated as the measure of machismo. Corpses pile up like litter. Do young guys who consume this stuff care that nothing shown is worth dying for? That the reunion of two brothers is a bad joke? That “redemption” is never remotely possible? This thing is simply more dung for dudes.
The Salt of Life
No one does suave aimlessness better than the Italians — the template forever is Fellini’s I Vitelloni — but Gianni Di Gregorio may be pushing his luck with The Salt of Life (Italian title: Gianni and the Women). Certainly no director has given himself more close-ups. If, like me, you enjoy Di Gregorio’s blithe sag, his basset hound eyes, his aura of civilized decay stretching back to the Roman Empire, there are some amiable chuckles.