1960’s Louisiana District Attorney Garrison (Kevin Costner) gives one of his teammates the good old American finger and talk down. In a restaurant nonetheless, talking about issues of national gravity.
Atticus has a daughter, but what if he also has a wife (Sissy Spacek) and son? Director Oliver Stone calls JFK his The Godfather but I just brought up another comparison. Also, if this was a de Palma film, I’d be rolling my fucking eyes.
Saturday nights mean that channels compete for my attention and get me away from finishing things I need done. One channel had Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, but nonetheless I chose a movie equally regarded as having a clown car of actors, JFK, which I caught at around the 25 minute mark. I’m probably not wrong in speculating about its reputation as ‘prestige Oscar bait,’ a label that seems weird for a film that gives a legitimate voice for what others consider a ‘tin foil hat’ way of thinking.
It’s one of those movies that make parts of me wish I was older, because the flourishes of colour between red and white should have only been experienced in theatres. But watching it at home is adequate I guess. I’ll probably have to watch Silence of the Lambs again, but unlike that film, this one is purely visual from start to finish. These switches symbolize Garrison’s awakening about the logical gaps within the Warren Commission’s report about the titular president’s assassination. The film uses different film stocks and resolutions, sometimes switching quickly from black and white to show when and where the different parts of the story happen. It’s like watching Bertolucci, as if light had its own weight.
He’s committing to the lion’s share of the research even if he has a growing and diverse team, discovering a plot involving Cubans, CIA agents covering as businessmen (Tommy Lee Jones arguably turns the clock back on gay people two decades at the most) and meddling generals.
The middle section holds a lot of the film’s flaws as it gives a few weak cast members their five minutes to shine and no, I’m not talking about John Candy, who acts as if he’s in a noir, which this movie arguably could be. But it breaks my heart to say that I wasn’t a big fan of Jack Lemmon here, that Kevin Bacon tries too hard in a bit part that Brad Pitt would have, pardon the tacky pun, executed effortlessly, that Donald Sutherland can’t pull off everything in his ‘Black Ops’ soliloquy or that Joe Pesci, despite on a good subtle start, seems to ruin all but one movie that he’s in with his overacting.
Despite of that, the movie has its victories despite the cynicism and nihilism that my generation’s attitudes have that goes against the Kennedys, violence and the film’s Arcadian view of 1963 America that the film mostly succeeds to push. That we have Southern characters who aren’t prejudiced against gays and other ‘minority groups.’ ‘That Garrison and his wife reconcile after Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Hey, it happens.
He has a rough start, sometimes going out-of-order. But Garrison eventually begins his arguments, showing the Zapruder tape (a chilling reenactment by and with Stone), the flaws and inaccuracies within the magic bullet theory (I’m pretty sure that, just like the rest of my generation, that I’ve seen the “Seinfeld” parody before the real thing) and Lee Harvey Oswald’s (Gary Oldman playing a regular person) time line and quoting Thoreau like demagogues do until we realize that this movie just made us listen to Kevin Costner for thirty straight minutes. I don’t mind, it’s relentless in a good way. Costner doesn’t change his tone for that half hour, only breaking down at the last few minutes. He instead lets the facts speak for themselves, thus giving a generous and altruistic performance. I’ve never loved him as an actor, but this last scene made me believe that the marquee should have his name back.
- Actor: Kevin Costner (americanthings.wordpress.com)
My dad thinks he’s cool. He’d tell me about how his dad was too cheap to buy him the disco suits all the other teenagers wore so he had to settle with and rock the white T-shirt and jeans like Martin Sheen in the 1970’s. They showed a Martin Sheen movie on TV in the Philippines, the actor strutting down a back street, squinting his way into nonchalant cool. His working-class anti-fashion fitting his body properly like it only does with the young. I didn’t know back then that Dad was introducing me to one of the most revered auteurs of all time, tackling a subject I shouldn’t be watching. I’m not sure he knew neither. His hair’s as long and parts the same way like my dad too.
Matt Zoller Seitz, in a video essay about Terrence Malick‘s Days of Heaven, said that it was ‘like the greatest novel James M. Cain never wrote.’ Those words seem more fitting with his earlier film Badlands, with Kit as a good old boy who has his own set of ethics that makes sense even in its contradictions. Sheen, harking back to James Dean, presents a different, naturalistic version of old-school. He’s masculine in his rebellion while childlike in thinking over the rules and consequences of his crimes. He arbitrarily knows when to stop playing and doesn’t feel remorse about being caught.
If Kit, in his simplicity, is consistent, Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) is the opposite and constantly changes. Although she’s never convinced me as an infantile 15-year-old, she’ not so mature nor womanly neither. We’d think that by the time they run away, she’d ditch her Southern princess behaviour, but instead of a linear evolution, her outlook has different waves. Sometimes she’d be like his female counterpart or wear a bandanna on her head, looking like a 1950’s housewife. At other times she’s a stubborn doll, enacting her unrefined yet legitimate rebellion against Kit.
I didn’t realize that a Malick film was used as sartorial inspiration, but it’s genius. This is also his most narrative film so far. There’s the traditional landscape imagery, using more textures and colour palettes than his other, later films do. But nonetheless the two young rebels stand out within the backgrounds as well the exciting shoot-up scenes that most crime films would have. Badlands is showing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at June 14 at 9:30 PM as part of the venue’s retrospective on the director.
- Opening Shots: Badlands (blogs.suntimes.com)