Sunday, August 1, 2010

Salt and Sleepers

I did something recently I have done less and less in the past few years - I went to the movies. Twice. First to see 'Inception,' and then 'Salt.' I had nearly forgotten how pleasant it is to see a film in a theater with popcorn and plush seats and the company of others, and I think I will go more often. Since the movies are something I know a bit about, I suppose I should begin writing my impressions of the films I see. I will start with those two.

I very much admired the work of Christopher Nolan - 'Memento' was a wonderful film - and so I was looking forward to 'Inception,' especially given the lavish reviews it had achieved. And indeed, as with his other work, I found that 'Inception' contained some very promising ideas concerning the relation between the dream and reality, between the subconscious and conscious behavior. I was disappointed, however. The film was, in my view, twenty minutes too long, and the third act was repetitive and muddled. Though I was impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio's performance (he continues to grow and deepen as an actor), I had the impression that Ellen Page was in a different film, and I could not quite understand what Marion Cotillard was trying to accomplish by her characterization, which I found flat and uninteresting.

But my greatest reservation was the amount of violence and number of cliched action sequences in which, in true Hollywood fashion, the bad guys can't hit anything and the good guys never miss. In short, what might have been an absorbing and thought-provoking examination of some very good ideas was lost in the industry's current obsession with mayhem and noise.

'Salt' on the other hand, had no pretensions to anything approaching an interesting idea. It was a silly, wholly improbable mishmash of action-adventure, thriller, and superhero film in which so little of any substance or credibility occurred that it lost, for me at least, nearly all of its entertainment potential. There were so many questions left unanswered, so many holes in the plot, so many improbabilities and impossibilities that I felt embarrassed even discussing them with my companion afterward. Because the bottom line was that none of it mattered. That said, Angelina Jolie acquitted herself well and Liev Schreiber was suitably grave and menacing. The production values were excellent, the computer effects impressive, and the action sequences, while absurd, skillfully shot. But there was far less here than met the eye, and my ringing ears.

What is troubling about it all, however, is the absence of good, intelligent, provocative drama in the theaters. It is no secret in Hollywood these days that the studios are shying away from serious films, preferring action, romance, fantasy, and thrillers instead. In my own fifteen year career I have seen my corner of the business, that is, historically based drama, shrink nearly to extinction. But I believe that there remains a strong audience for drama and ideas on the screen, and I wish it would make itself heard by those in power in the biz.