An extraordinary, near-Shakespearian meditation on misdirected rage, guilt and grief, deeply marred by clumsy lunging into a loud theme of racism and a strong sense that the film neither knows nor especially cares about the culture it’s portraying. Frances McDormand excels as the bullish, bellicose, foul-mouthed mother, but the film suffers as it shifts its focus to Sam Rockwell’s stereotypical racist hick. The central premise is brilliant; its treatment is ultimately uneven, and although there are elements we absolutely adore, we can’t get its lurches between tones out of our heads.
Do Americans have a case against the use of foreigners in their cinema? Language is one of the glories of this film yet we find there are considerable misjudgments with language in relation to gender and race. We can’t find enough superlatives for Frances McDormand yet we question why all the other women in the film seem to look 19, even when they’re meant to be married to Woody Harrelson. The film is very conscientious about its representation of race, yet comes across as rather racist. A tonally deaf film with some great moments.
Rewarding to watch, though, and it would benefit from a second viewing.
Recorded on 18th January 2018.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link
The Robocop remake is a mixed bag. I think Joel Kinnaman is a brand new star. In the original, Paul Weller seemed a little robotic and inhuman even before he became a cyborg. Here, Kinneman runs the whole gamut from romantic longing to mechanical catatonia but lets the audience into every aspect of it. The rest of the cast is a treat too. I’ve not seen Michael Keaton better since Beetlejuice. He’s lithe, charismatic and oozes the kind of menacing and sleazy charm that can bribe politicians with one hand and pick your pocket with the other. He’s like a Mafia Don of robocops but one who’ll bring out the jazz hands if needed to seal the sale. His scenes with Gary Oldman — as a scientist emollient to the point of weakness and ambitious past the point of ethics — have a real snap.
Samuel L. Jackson, hair high, almost but not quite straightened and set with enough hairspray to stop any onslaught is a delight as a manipulative Fox-style news presenter: reasonable in a speaking-from-the-pulpit kind of way when setting out a case, impatient when he’s not, and bombastic when speaking directly to the audience. It was lovely to see Jennifer Ehle as well wearing clothes as dark as her morals and with elegant features arranged into a poker face until called to action. I also liked Abbie Cornish as Murphy’s wife though the spectre of Nancy Allen – curvy, saucy, crisp and acid – like biting into a tart apple — is bound to haunt anything ever connected with her.
The film is set in 2028; in a Detroit that seems prosperously reconstructed but still crime-ridden and corrupt; thus is license afforded to critique present-day America. But Robocop doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know: corporations rule above governments unimpeded by checks and balances; we live in a surveillance culture that surveys and manipulates the weak and powerless; the media is brutally manipulative and mendacious; life is cheap. The original told us all of that and with a lot more wit, in a setting that seemed more spectacular, and with dialogue that was spare but with enough cutting lines to pack a punch: they relied on irony, conveyed satire, and earned belly-laughs from the audience – who can forget ‘you’re fired!’?
This Robocop doesn’t really overcome the failings that plague cinema in the digital age: the image still seems too thin to me, Padilha hasn’t learned how to make action exciting, lots of people get killed but there’s nothing at stake in their death – or indeed in Alex Murphy/Robocop avoiding his own — and the narrative still hasn’t figured out how to make use of all of story-telling possibilities new technology both diegetically and extra-diegetically make possible. I think what’s really missing is thought on how the new possibilities of dealing with time and the new challenges posed by changing standards of what is believable can result in different ways of communicating meanings and conveying pleasures.
If one could stop thinking about the original however, the film is very enjoyable and worth seeing for the actors alone.
As a director, Madonna’s wonderful with sound and image; she’s got a lovely eye for detail; and the use of objects, décor and costuming here is that of a consummate connoisseur. She can use, draw upon, and create iconic images. A lot of W.E is shot like video-clips strung together into story. But based on what we can see in W.E, Madonna has yet to master narrative.
Here she has trouble telling even one of the most famous and oft-repeated stories of the 20th Century; which is to say she has trouble telling even the pre-told: how Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) renounced his throne to marry Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), a smart American woman, already twice divorced, who was too thin, not rich enough, and way too old. What Madonna has to say on Wallis, on the period, even on the wish to be a mother etc. is too trite. And even that triteness is not well-conveyed or shown or told. Why the story of a modern-day Manhattanite (Abbie Cornish) needs to be set up as our conduit into this is so unnecessary it seems baffling; and this attempt at complex dual sotry-telling over-relies on montage and voice-over to such an extent it sinks the film.
Madonna is her own drama, a spectacular one that fascinates millions, but she cannot dramatise the stories of others so as to hold interest much less enchant; she’s able to show but not tell; and her showing is more of an act of hiding than of revelation (it has ever been so with her, even when she took her clothes off, even with Sex). However, W.E. is interesting in that it focuses on the foreigner, the outsider, the woman. Andrea Riseborough was rightfully praised for her performance as Wallis; she convey the nervy, edgy, jazz-age energy and smarts that one associates with Wallis, though her feature are softer than those we see in old photographs and she is perhaps too beautiful for the part. The film is not good but was too severely and unjustly damned. The jewels and costumes alone are worth seeing.