Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cast in Stone

Flight Over the Tamaki, by Don Guy
I couldn’t drive to the cinema because my car licence had expired and it would cost me $200 if I was fined, like my wife had been for going over the limit – by a day. The powers that be would not negotiate, like you can in, say, Africa. She would pay the amount and that was that.

So it was off to the video store and there was a film I hadn’t heard of before, but it was starring Edward Norton and Robert De Niro. They had collaborated on The Score in 2001, a heist movie more memorable for Norton’s chameleonic skills and a fine jazz score by Howard Shore than the story – or even Marlon Brando’s weighty cameo.

Moreover, it was the same director, John Curran, who had made The Painted Veil with Norton in 2006. Based on a Somerset Maugham story and set in China, it was a drama that was as solid as it was unfashionable in these rather shrill times.

So, too, Stone. De Niro plays Jack, a parole officer who is essentially a hollow man. He does not believe in anything, he doesn’t know why he’s unhappy, and he’s not going to do anything about it. He doesn’t seem to hear the debates about free will, religious freedom and the right to bear arms on his car radio, though he does carry a little .38 snubnose.

By contrast, one of his potential parolees is starting to hear sounds. Norton plays the prisoner, Gregory, with just the right ambiguity. He could truly be hearing the sound that makes you become “God’s tuning fork”, or he could be softening Jack up to write him a favourable report.

It doesn’t help that we know he burnt his grandparents after his mates killed them, or that his wife, played by Milla Jovovic, is starting to work on Jack. Jovovic, who seems to have been reduced to making lucrative Part lll sci-fi flicks, plays the demonic seductress Lucetta at just the right pitch.

Frances Conroy, of Six Feet Under fame, plays the wife who has stuck with Jack all this time perfectly too. If there’s one thing director Curran seems to understand and is brave enough to explore it is the complexity of marriage. People don’t just stay together because of love. Or the children. Or faith. Nothing is ever that simple.

But there is something lifeless, almost deadening, about Stone. If Jack is a kind of aged Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, then he is given no real conclusion, no catharsis. As surprising as the ending is in one sense, in another it’s almost as if its bleakness is not informed by an energy or artistry that helps transcend that emptiness, like a JM Coetzee novel.

Or maybe it’s just too real.

Thou Shalt Advertise?

Since we’re on the subject of faith or the lack thereof, a few months ago I wrote about the bad advertising poster the church on the corner of Greenlane and Great South Roads had. It went something like this: “Google does not have all the answers. God!” Well, they’ve either hired a new outfit or told them to try again. Now it goes like this. “Love. Jesus nailed it.” Surely that’s much better; more to the, er, point?

Flight Over the Tamaki

Since my blog address includes art in its title, as in moviesartbooks, I thought it was high time I included some. If you're interested in buying the above work or want to see more of the artist's work, contact him at or +64 9 962 8195 or +64 22 627 3057.

Neil Sonnekus

No comments:

Post a Comment