July 11, 2005

"The Beautiful Country" and "Broken Flowers"

My reviews from the latest issue of The American Conservative (now available to electronic subscribers). Excerpts:

In this age of family break-up, the theme of separated fathers and sons underlies the summer's sci-fi popcorn movies, such as "War of the Worlds," "Batman Begins," and "Revenge of the Sith." It also drives two of the season's quieter releases for grown-ups, "Broken Flowers" with Bill Murray and "The Beautiful Country" with Nick Nolte.

Opening July 8th, "The Beautiful Country" is, indeed, a beautifully-filmed story about the Vietnamese son of an American GI. Because he's Amerasian, everyone in Vietnam mistreats him because they think he's ugly. You'll have to take that on faith, however, because the director (who is, oddly enough, Norwegian) couldn't find a Eurasian actor. The pure Vietnamese fellow he hired, Damien Nguyen, looks like all the other Vietnamese who are scorning him for his mixed features. "Colorblind casting" might work in theatre, but in film you have to get race right, especially when your movie is about heredity...

In "Broken Flowers," which opens August 5th, veteran minimalist auteur Jim Jarmusch has his most commercially promising film.

With 1984's "Stranger than Paradise," Jarmusch began making glacially-paced exercises in sensory deprivation that bored you into the giggles. The highlight of "Stranger" was watching two dullards on a midwinter visit to Cleveland try, and fail, to figure out something to do. Go look at the frozen Lake Erie? Their lapses into hopeless silence lowered your resistance enough that when Eddie eventually dredged up the suggestion that maybe they could take in a Cavalier's NBA game, and Willie scornfully replied "The Cavs? They're like one and fifty!" well, just by contrast this dialogue seemed almost as brilliant as Captain Renault's "Round up the usual suspects" at the climax of "Casablanca."

"Broken Flowers," though, has a more elaborate and conventional plot. Murray plays an aging and depressive Don Juan named Don Johnston, whose latest girlfriend leaves him because he's uninterested in marriage and children, and, frankly, a bit of a blank. But then Murray receives an anonymous letter on pink stationery from an old flame revealing that after they broke up in the 1980s, she bore his son, and the young man has now gone on the road in search of his father.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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