Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Such Thing (2002)

Interesting, but sprawling fable about a young journalist who, while looking for her murdered fiancee in Iceland, discovers a surly, yet inexplicably American-accented monster, and, of course, befriends him. Sarah Polley plays the lead character, an ambitious young reporter who works for power-hungry, cold-hearted cliche Helen Mirren. She convinces Mirren to let her search for her fellow reporter husband by claiming it to be a viable human interest story. She is led to a small Icelandic village where all the bumbling locals are terrified of the nearby monster. They knock her out and send her to his lair in an abandoned missle silo. And their magical, illuminating friendship begins, leading them both on a path of self-discovery that will change their lives forever.

While my tone may imply that this film is a rudimentary, cliched turd of a film, I actually liked it. The director, Hal Hartley, has a way of portraying even the most rudimentary and arbitrary of scenes in such a way that it actually feels original; that Wes Anderson way of playing familiar elements so on the nose, that they come out the other side and magically become fresh again. Things that shouldn't work, do work, such as Helen Mirren's been-there-done-that bloodthirsty media magnate, the coo-coo mad scientist with a history with the monster, and, especially, the monster, himself. Played by vet character actor Robert John Burke under pounds of excellent, inventive makeup, he is a tortured, cynical, bitterly alcoholic pile of misery, in constant pity for himself for being forced to live alongside humans for eternity; Frankenstein by way of Bukowski. If his familiar American sense of humor did not exceed Hellboy proportions, this film could've been a disaster. As is, he keeps the film imminently watchable and entertaining, even if the end result doesn't amount to very much. Hartley is too content portraying things for what they are, disregarding truckloads of potential subtext, and neglects to do anything particularly deep or subversive with the material.

Slightly Recommended for fans of Hal Hartley or the cast, which also includes Julie Christie as a sympathetic doctor. This lacks the immersive, meticulous perfection of Hartley's Henry Fool, but it contains more original and inventive touches than that films sequel, Fay Grim.

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