Spike Lee in slick mode, working with different textures, the camera gliding, hand-held, in constant motion but controlled with particular effects in mind. A heist film where what’s at stake is not only will the crooks get caught but what are they after? What secrets are hidden in those bank vaults? Will the wealthy be held to account if the origin of their wealth accumulation involves crimes against humanity. Jodie Foster steals every moment she’s in, and this from Denzel Washington and Christopher Plummer. Smarter and better educated than anyone else in the room; elegant, charming, threatening, vaguely asexual; it occurred to me the role was an old-fashioned lesbian stereotype that her casting underlined but that her performance was embodying with particular charm and vibrancy, including that odd duck walk on vertiginously high heels. I liked it much more than I expected but at the end I also had a vague twinge that I had seen it before and forgotten, or maybe just skimmed though parts of it on Netflix…..
I´m a great admirer of Anthony Mann. He´s not only the director of some of the greatest Westerns ever but a kind of celebrity in Spanish pop culture as he married Sara Montiel, the reigning diva of Spanish Cinema of the late fifties to Mid-sixties. The producer Samuel Bronston, is also an important figure, bringing in to Spain big-budget runway productions such as El Cid (1961)and 55 Days at Peking (1963)and, along with them, lots of money and employment. I somehow missed The Fall of the Roman Empire. I enjoyed it very much but would have to see it again to offer more valuable observations.
The one thing that led ,me to write the post is that I was idly watching the film and thought, ‘oh those hills look just like the ones of the area in Spain I was born into’. Then I search in wiki and realise the film was indeed shot there. And it was weird to see *my* landscape figured by all those blond blue-eyed faces: Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, John Ireland, Christopher Plummer, Mel Ferrer. Even Omar Shariff, Sofia Loren and James Mason, though darker and more plausible, didn´t quite fit in.
It was a kind of blondfacing of landscape, a cultural erasure where the world belongs to some types of faces — at home in and ruling all kinds of landscapes — and not to others. Of course I grew up watching this kind of thing in Canada, where Montreal and Toronto stand-in for New York and British Columbia stands in for Colorado or whatever. But this felt different somehow, the landscape of the Sierra de Guadarrama standing in for an ancient Rome peopled by lbondes (at least the red hair of the invading German Barbarians was motivated by the plot). A thought, though one probably not worth very much as millions of Syrians are denied safety in Turkey and in Europe.
Writer-director Rian Johnson’s playful, knockabout whodunnit Knives Out has been receiving praise for its screenplay that we feel isn’t quite warranted, and isn’t much to look at either – but it’s a lark, and one that carries some unexpected sociopolitical commentary. José argues that Johnson doesn’t learn enough from the films upon which his pastiche is based, making too little of both the wonderful cast he’s assembled and the wonderful sets he’s had assembled for him, though the film isn’t devoid of flair or structural neatness. Mike was with the film more or less all the way, though suggests that it won’t play as well in the distracted environment of the home, the minutiae of the countless plot details easy to lose track of as one tries to make sense of them. So it’s worth a watch, but it’s neither as elegant nor as charming as we’d like.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.