09 December 2007

Review: The Savages

Genre: Comedy (Black)

I was finally able tonight, after much anticipation, to see one of the latest films that has achieved a level of critical dignification that only could enhance the excitement I had already had for its release to a near-boiling point. I was expecting sure-fire stirrings and other urgent and solid metaphysical probings to emerge from the lights of the screen, a sirene from Ms. Linney, a precision from the writers, and a genius hold from the director; and for the first moments of The Savages I thought, well, at last I shall not be disappointed. Now, if you, my reader, be any sort of intelligent being, you probably will have already guessed that the thoughts which are to follow will show my initial expectations to be smartly rebuffed by the truth of the film - and it is to your credit that the direction that I am about to take is that which you've anticipated: negatory in fact - but in defense of myself and of the film itself I must say that, despite my complaints, The Savages is not an unpolished, or unskilled, effort. Rather, it was merely less of one than I had expected it to be.
First and foremost, the writing, which is the undiluted ground of a movie such as this one, was accomplished; it set out to recount a specific tale to its audience and in that quest it did not in any measure fail to succeed. However, its accomplishment is not quite the "being accomplished" that one would ordinarily expect. Although epithets may be well said, the fact of their eloquence does not do much, nay anything on its own, to encourage their theses; indeed there may be many a well-written paper that says little, if anything at all. And the screenplay of The Savages may be counted among them - granted counted in their better ranks but counted nonetheless. Though both Ms. Linney's and Mr. Hoffman's characters achieve that subordinated end of the rainbow that is the fullness of the character arc in typical classical writing style, those achievements feel somewhat contrived, forced, a little too perfect. Though they were subordinated, subtle, they wore still too crisp of an air to be believed thoroughly as such; they were perhaps very similar in manner to paper that has been artificially aged to look as parchment but that, one can still tell, is just new paper all the same underneath. Though not quite the same as false notes, the denouements of their travails stand as the significant examples of the writers' lack of acuity and consistence in presenting a story that echoes both as real and as cinematic.
The direction, I feel, compounded this writing issue by too frequently blocking the sibling characters as two idle strangers encountering the rest of the world together. Perhaps this isolation caused them to feel too strayed, too separate from others, to truly come to the closes that they were supposed to have had. I mean, they were hardly ever evenly situated across from another character, however minor, when in conversation; always sidelong glances feigning intimacy or at least awkward distances, emphasized by the cinematography, partitioned their own privately kept and inhabited little world from the swim of the rest of it. Ms. Linney's Wendy, even when in serious, cinematically 'turning-point' or 'recognition' discussion with a hospital nurse, is placed next to her partner and barely looks at him as they speak. It felt sterile, unnatural, and despite the type of person she was presented as being, even considered her introversion and social awkwardnesses.
That said, the cinematography was not bad, not bad at all. Although it was primarily used as a vehicle to drive home the point of the characters' isolation (even from the audience) almost at times ad negatum, it was remarkably smart enough not to do the opposite, as so many films today do and suffer therefrom, (i. e., crush them by being too close). The distance helped the film-viewers remain aware of context and continuum, presences other than and perhaps relevantly greater than the characters, and bear witness to the anesthetized and internally demoralizing reality that is the space between - whether it be temporal, physical, or emotional. Furthermore, its handling of the lighting, the way in which it maintained a regular, natural, and consistent tension between the glow of daylight and the artificial fluorescence of light sources like those of the Valley View, the "rehabilitation clinic" to where the siblings' father is importunately sent, was nearly brilliant. Mr. Hupfel should definitely feel pleased by the results of his work.
As for the work of Ms. Linney and Mr. Hoffman themselves, I have only one thing to say: would that they were so strongly grounded in firmer soil, they should have been high-exceptional.

Grade: B+

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