Thursday, April 23, 2009

Doubt / The Reader / The Wrestler

Finally catching up on 2008's Oscar contenders and winners...


Can't think of a better title than Doubt for this film because the film's intention is to keep us in doubt all the way through. At the film's heart is the suspicion that Hauffman, a priest, has behaved improperly with one of the students in his school. While the priest pleads innocence, a nun(Meryl Streep), who has her own axe to grind with the priest, is convinced of the priest's guilt and another nun(Amy Adams) is caught in the crossfire. But unlike most movies, Doubt never lets us in on what really happened. We get hints in the form of past issues, we see the behavior of the principal characters and we hear the opinions of the characters as to what happened. But we never get to know what actually transpired. So, based on who we believe and how we interpret the happenings, we are expected to come to our own conclusions. That is both the film's strength and weakness. While it constantly keeps us thinking and guessing, it feels distant and vague because of the lack of catharsis. Overall though, it works mainly because of the performances and the script. Streep is phenomenal as the strict nun while Hauffman alternately earns our confidence and raises our suspicions with a natural performance. Amy Adams shines as a meek nun who gradually gains the confidence to stand up for what she believes in. Viola Davis has a small role as the boy's mother but her emotional speech to Streep is a scene-stealer.


The Reader

Exploration of feelings of guilt and redemption is one of Hollywood's favorite themes. The Reader is one more film to tackle the topic and it does so powerfully and touchingly against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Kate Winslet plays a ticket collector on a tram in Germany. After saving a 15-year-old-boy(David Kross) who falls ill in front of her building, she begins to have a passionate affair with him. She disappears from his life one day and when he sees again a few years later, she is on trial for the murder of Jews while working as an SS guard. The Winslet-Kross affair is morally wrong but the questions it raises pale in comparison to those that come up later. The heart of the movie is their meeting a few years later and the film throws up some complex questions as Kross learns about the horrific past of the woman he was in love with. The film's key point comes when Kross realizes something about Winslet that could save her. The way he treats the information tells us about the tough choice he has made while Winslet's admittance tells us that she is seeking redemption more from herself than from the court. Both of them get another chance at redemption at the end and their actions tell us how much they have changed. Winslet was an SS guard and later has an affair with a young boy but still earns our sympathy on the strength of her performance. Her responses in court convey her frame of mind and though they don't humanize her completely, they do help us understand her thought process. Kross is intense and Ralph Fiennes is perfect as the man who has become emotionally barren because of his past.


The Wrestler

The Wrestler is an emotional, touching story that looks at the sunset years of a man who has made a lot of mistakes and is trying to fix them but not always succeeding. Mickey Rourke plays a professional wrestler who was popular 20 years ago. He is now making money wrestling in exhibition matches but when a heart attack puts a stop to that, he is forced to reassesses his priorities in life. So he tries to reconnect with his daughter and strikes up a friendship with a stripper(Marisa Tomei). The film is a no-frills look at the life of a man who is past his prime and is trying to come to terms with it. It is emotional but never overly melodramatic. Rourke creates a sympathetic figure who was in the limelight but is now alone and lonely and yearns for company. We cheer for him when he appears to be setting things right(like during his stint in the deli counter) and feel sad when things once again derail(he only has himself to blame though). The behind-the-scenes peeks at wrestling are fascinating and confirm some questions we have while surprising us with other revelations of what goes on before and after those matches. Marisa Tomei is good as the stripper who is kinda in the same place as Rourke.


At 12:03 AM, Blogger narayanan said...

While I've not seen any of the 3 movies (wanted to see Reader, but never did) you mentioned. I would highly recommend 'Curious Case of Benjamin Button' for you.

BTW, 'The Wrestler' is a Oscar nominee ?

At 12:10 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

narayanan, i would definitely recommend 'reader'. 'curious case...' is coming out on dvd in a couple of weeks. will defly be watching it then :)

mickey rourke was nominated for oscar for best actor for 'the wrestler' :)

At 6:48 AM, Anonymous ram said...

bb, i watched Doubt in December. it was one of the more fascinating dramas that i've seen in recent times. i watched it with my Mum and Grandma (a big Streep fan). As we were coming out of the theatre, Paati mentioned something that I thought was very funny: "yaen daa raama, nee chollu...avan edaavadhu thappu pannirupaana? paaka apdi thonala daa...iva romba sandhega padra anaavasyamaa"
she just simplified the intrigue of the movie effortlessly!

on a more serious note, what i really liked were the scenes involving adams who had a pivotal role. if u see, she's kinda the everyman (everywoman?!) of the movie. her "doubts" added a true complexity to the movie...

do watch benjamin button if u havent already...unge aallu berardinelli's review was spot on...esp. about pitt's performance...

At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

benjamin button is a yawn-fest....good luck watching it.....concept is full of loopholes and seems not well-thought through....we kept watching only to get to the hot, good looking Pitt :)

At 11:56 PM, Blogger Sreekrishnan said...

Changeling ! See Angie in that .. and then you ll know what acting is ! just enough acting for that role ! ...

At 8:22 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

ram, exactly! and there must've been another grandma who said "avana paaru. thiruttu muzhi. definite-a thappu panniruppaan. ava dhaan correct!"
and yes, we were kinda in adams' shoes, trying to decide who to believe. that made her scenes very involving :)

anon, have heard both kinds of reviews on button. makes me more curious to see it :)

sreekrishnan, yes, did see it and agree, jolie was really good :)

At 10:21 PM, Blogger narayanan said...

I read Berardinelli's review after ram mentioned it here. I think these 2 sentences more or less summarizes the movie:

The screenplay attempts to provide a little grounding for the reverse aging, but it's not especially convincing. As a result, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button must be viewed on its own terms, as a fairy tale, or it utterly fails.Personally I had least expectation before seeing and ended up being a lot more involving movie than i thought it would be.


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