Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Revisit: The Sniper

A Columbia Pictures release 1952

Directed by Edward Dmytryk

Writing credits:
Edna Anhalt (story)
Edward Anhalt (story)
Harry Brown

Rejected by women all his life, a loner with a high-power rifle starts on a murder spree.

This black and white B-crime noir from the early fifties remains fun depsite it's heavy pro-institutionalization reform sentiments. It also eerily echos that recent D.C. Sniper case. If you're a fan of crime films, it's worth checking out.

Review: Bug

A Lionsgate film 2007
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Tracy Letts

A paranoid, unhinged war veteran (Michael Shannon) who sees insects everywhere holes up with a lonely woman (Ashley Judd) in a spooky Oklahoma motel room.

This intense psychological thriller is being marketed as a horror flick, perhaps because director Friedkin is the man behind that scare classic The Exorcist, but to strictly label it as such is pretty unfair. Bug is scary, for sure, but the screams don't come from any slashers or supernatural beings. This is a film about what lurks deep inside the human mind, and the horrors it can manifest when two sick and lonely people spend too much time together.

Based on Letts' hit off-broadway play of the same name, the film is dialogue heavy, but stands supported by Shannon and Judd's strong performances. As they slowly transform from a pair of off-kilter drifters to certifiable crack-ups, they command the screen. Friedkin's semi-hand held camera captures the experience as if we were right along side them, producing a bitter-sweet feeling of sympathy and disgust.

Ambiguity plays a huge role in keeping the film interesting as well. We never do find out if the 'bugs' are real, and knowing that our narrator is a drug addicted deadbeat renders her completely unreliable. It's up to the audience to decifer exactly what's going on, and even if it seems clear, it's never quite crystal. But the film gives just enough details to patch together several unique interpretations that could leave film-goers arguing for days. One such interpretation has been heavily debated on the Lionsgate forum for the film, and claims that the characters are suffering from Morgellons disease, a sort of psychological impairment that causes extreme paranoia. While I find this idea way too literal (it does no justice to the nuanced tics of the characters), it certainly is interesting.

Bug is definitely worth a gander, but don't go into it expecting The Exorcist. It's a much smaller, more personal film that will either grab you or leave you cold. Think Terry Gilliam's Tideland, and might know what I mean. It really makes me wish I had seen the play - it must be amazing to see on stage.

William Friedkin on the actors in Bug

about Ashley Judd: "Ashley and I talked extensively about the film before we did it, and we were really on the same page."

about Michael Shannon: "To achieve Shannon’s performance took a great deal of discussion, toning, modulation. Shannon is primarily a stage actor, he’s only done small parts in films, though I’ve been told he has a very good role in World Trade Center, a small but pivotal part. He needs a lot of attention, love, appreciation. He becomes that character. And you have to realize that you’re talking to the character and not to him when you start rehearsing. You’ve got to walk on eggshells. He would tend to go over the top too soon, so I’d have to bring him down. But whenever I would modulate his performance, he almost took it as an insult to his character!"

about Harry Connick: "I’d met Connick at a party before I was casting this film, and I saw that a very large part of him was this guy. When I called him to do this role and sent him the script, I told him about some of his behaviour which I’d observed, and he knew exactly what I was talking about. There’s a part of him that likes to put people on like Goss does, sometimes maliciously."