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Culture: Film: Texas cowboys fail to ignite.

Byline: Mike Davies

ALL THE PRETTY HORSES

Cert 15. 117 mins

Whether or not you accept Cormac McCarthy's bestseller as one of the Great American Novels, Billy Bob Thornton's adaptation ably delivers the elegiac mood and rugged visuals. Sadly, it falls way short on storytelling and character.

It's 1949 and, with his city slicker mother deciding to sell off his late grandfather's farm, Texas cowboy John Grady Cole (Matt Damon) persuades buddy Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas) to saddle up for Mexico in search of the Old West purity.

Along the way they're joined by Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black), a young hotshot riding a stolen horse.

At some point he loses both it and his gun. Finding them again in a small Mexican town he steals them back. All of which sees him fleeing from a posse while Cole and Rawlins take off elsewhere.

They eventually land a job with mega-rancher Rocha (Ruben Blades) who Cole impresses with his horse-breaking talents and his wild filly daughter Alejandra (Penelope Cruz - again) with his other attributes.

Despite being warned off by her steely aunt, the romance gathers heat. Which is when the boys get a visit from the law and find themselves reunited with Blevins.

From here you get an execution, jail, a killing, a reunion, a parting, a confession and a whole lot of macho stoicism.

But trimmed back from an original three hours, there's a weight of narrative missing, the prison section especially coming to an awkward abrupt end, yet Thornton still takes time for lingeringly intense close ups of the landscape and extras' eyes or an inexplicable dancing Mexican during a telephone conversation.

There are good moments. Notably the freeze-frame on the terrified face of someone being dragged away to be shot.

And Thomas and Black are excellent as down-to-earth friend and hot-headed young buck. But while Damon's performance isn't bad he is dull and, given the star-crossed romance that supposedly lies at the heart of the drama, it's singularly thinly developed and lacking chemistry.

'It is what it is,' says Cole in one of the frequent bursts of portentous philosophising. My verdict? It is a pretty looking but uninvolving horse opera with aspirations to mythic grandeur.

UNDER THE SAND

Cert 15. 96 mins

Subtitles/English

Happily married for 25 years, Marie's (Charlotte Rampling) life falls apart when husband Jean (Bruno Cremer) disappears, presumed drowned, during their holiday at the coast.

However, returning to Paris and her university lecturing she refuses to acknowledge his disappearance let alone his death and acts as if nothing has changed.

Indeed, since Jean is apparently back at their apartment, for a while we are uncertain whether we're watching a flashback until, as her friends press her to get on with her life and meet new people and the police confirm they've finally found a body, we realise he's a figment of her imagination and, despite a brief affair (which she imagines her husband smiling upon) she's refusing to face reality.

Directed with a quiet melancholic maturity by Francois Ozon who masterfully weaves together images of water, death and repression, this isn't merely some Gallic Truly Madly Deeply.

Yes it's a sober study of bereavement and loss, but the revelation of depression and the ambiguity over Jean's death (suicide, tragic accident?) compounded by his mother's accusation that Marie was both infertile and dull, adds an extra dimension to Rampling's understated but emotionally affecting portrayal of a woman working through her grief and denial to find some form of acceptance.

LES ENFANTS DU SIECLE

Cert 15. 108 mins

Not, mercifully, the two-hour-plus original French version but Diane Kurys' ungainly period biopic still feels like an eternity.

Back in the 19th century equivalent of the tabloid press, writer George Sand was something of a society scandal. That she was a cross-dressing, cigar-smoking mother who abandoned her well-to-do husband to pursue the literary life in Paris was eyebrow raising enough.

But that was as nothing compared to her torridly insatiable sex-life. Prolific to the extent of some 25 plays, around 60 novels and a multiple volume autobiography not to mention essays, articles and 20,000 or so letters, it's difficult to see where she found time for her affairs, but she appears to have flirted with and bedded pretty much any culture celebrity of note. Chopin and, allegedly, Franz Liszt among them.

Kurys's film homes in on her most famous relationship, that with poet and all round dissolute party animal Alfred de Musset whose whoring, drinking and drug-taking lifestyle produced any number of tempestuous public blow ups with his lover.

With all this material and Juliette Binoche as Sand, you'd think it impossible to fail. Yet incredibly Kurys has managed to produce a melodrama that singularly fails to get inside her characters' heads and is as incoherent, pedestrian, plotless, dreary and uninvolving as is possible without actually sending audiences to sleep.

To misquote de Musset, it imitates passion but leaves you feeling nothing.

CAPTION(S):

All The Pretty Horses looks good on screen but falls short on stroytelling and character
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 25, 2001
Words:842
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