Normally in films the audience has to wait five minutes to suck us in, but instead Nowhere Boy ‘wows’ us in the beginning with its cinematography, and we have director Sam Taylor-Wood and cinematographer Seamus McGravey to thank for that. This is the fifties, after all. I also kept imagining the film in black and white because of the photographic quality of the shots. Yet colour fits better in capturing the bright, breezy energy of a much younger John Lennon (Aaron Johnson). The film depicts beauty without making its contemplation necessary, since the audience follows a rebellious schoolboy around his hometown at the same time.
Then comes characters with emotional resonance and dimension. John is funny, selfish and gives and gets love unconventionally. The darkness within his cheery mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) appears within her first real encounter of her son in years, as Duff’s impresses with her characterization of Julia as a broken vessel of repression. John’s aunt and guardian Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) is stern while trying to please a teenager who sometimes takes her for granted. All three powerfully contend with changing allegiances, portraying human irrationality brought on by love without making their characters seem inconsistent.
I also like how they can sometimes miss other characters’ cues. When John’s new friend and band mate Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) talks about how the latter’s mother ‘would have loved’ his music, he doesn’t at first understand what he’s hinting at. Or when Paul plays the banjo in a solemn gathering at Julia’s house. The script perfectly captures the fragmented relationships. The young (and young at heart like Julia) who have strong feeling and angry impulses, innocent, sometimes ignorant about others which, thankfully, doesn’t stop them from trying to connect with each other.
Lastly, this movie is secretly about the 80’s, or what might have influenced English-speaking culture decades later from the film’s setting, although I don’t really have enough space here to explain that. Of course, it was interesting to watch John dressing up like Elvis or Buddy Holly. The British borrow from American rock ‘n’ roll icons, and as we watch this film we remember that it shows the first stop to John and Paul’s evolution, their sound and look changing within and after their seminal band’s run.
Bruce Willis is just like Jennifer Aniston – both were in sitcoms but did art on the side. And yes, I just called Die Hard art. Yes, there are a few things that I appreciated from this crowd pleaser that played at the Bloor Cinema on December 15th. The print they played is obviously not a reprint, making the Los Angeles sky look reddish. And no, I’m not complaining.
Both Officer John McClane (Willis) and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) find themselves on opposite ends, Gruber trying to forcibly take $620 million in bonds from a Los Angeles branch of a Japanese company, John trying to stop him. They behave in this film and try to defeat each other like walking blindfolded, and this they make the best foils for each other.
Hans accuses John of the latter comparing himself to John Wayne and Rambo, but he’s performing too. This is probably just me putting 1988 in context with 2010, but is Hans loosely based on Carlos the Jackal? Kicked out from his terrorist group, has experience in Germany. Something always goes wrong with their plan, which only John’s wife Holly Gennaro McClane notices. Besides, what kind of terrorist owns a ‘John Philips’ suit? (p.s. I’ve never heard of this designer, I’m not familiar with London designers who weren’t CSM freaks. Anyway…)
He’s stealing from a corporation that’s trying to help infrastructure in the Third World. While making demands with the FBI, he tells them about random terrorist groups imprisoned around the world, including ones from Quebec, which got a rousing reaction from the Torontonian crowd. About an Asian group, Hans privately tells the right hand man that he’s heard of them on Time Magazine. When he faces John for the first time, he pretends to be an American.
Nonetheless John’s journey into this story’s more fascinating because well, it’s funnier. It’s hilarious to watch his face wince and repeat ‘Think,’ a sign of a man in panic. Besides, Bruce Willis probably knew how to say the lines better than the other actors whom the movie was offered to.
In the film’s first scenes, John tells the other characters how ‘he’s been a cop for eleven years’ or that he has a backlog of scumbags he has to put to jail. I suppose I’m being unfair, hinting that his bravado can’t possibly prepare him for what’s to come. However a) no one knows how to prepare for terrorism and b) even he knows that his victory against them would be miraculous, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. Another condition to his challenge is that he begins it by simply wearing a wife-beater and is barefoot. A constant variable in his process is various stages of undress, while a less constant variable are the weapons he gains and loses throughout his exciting mess. He’s practically a video game protagonist.
He actually does something interesting in the beginning – he escapes, retreats and tries to spy on the terrorists. He bungles up a few things while he’s away from all the action, yet despite the accusations Hans throws at him, his invisibility is the opposite of performance. He makes sure he’s away until he has to inevitably meet the villains.
The film is also well thought out in a technical sense, as Mark Hasan writes here. There are also the showcasing of heights – ‘I swear I’ll never be in a tall building again.’ – the most real explosions in film I’ve seen in recent memory, non-CGI helicopters flying around a real city which will never happen in a movie again…
Of course, John flies all the way to Los Angeles is to meet his wife and hopeful resolve issues about their marriage and her career. She’s not the only woman there, but she’s second in command. I was ready to roll my eyes in what I thought the ending was gonna be. ‘You’re so hot and shirtless John McClane. I’m going to give up my career and cook bacon and eggs in a sexy French maid outfit for you. Take me!’ Which is exactly what I would do if Bruce Willis married me, mind you. Anyway, I thought I was going to be right because eventually John, in trying to rescue the hostages that include Holly, unintentionally contributes in the destruction of her workplace. Holly has two obvious choices now, move to New York with him and finding a job will be difficult because her references are dead. Or stay in Los Angeles and ride the publicity train. The two don’t talk about it, grateful just for being alive. If it’s any consolation, she’s very assertive in trying to protect her boss and coworkers. She gets to call Hans out as a thief, and Holly’s the character who makes the film’s last act of aggression.