The Last Samurai and Bad Santa.

Reviews of the latest films.
Dec. 4 2003 8:36 PM

Santa Slays

Billy Bob Thornton vs. kids in Bad Santa. Tom Cruise vs. capitalism in The Last Samurai.

(Continued from Page 1)

You have to imagine what it felt like when the director yelled, "Cut!" and everyone collapsed on the set and said, "Can we get away with this? Is nothing sacred?"

Billy Bob Thornton's performance is—there's no other word—beautiful. When Thornton played the James Carville figure in Primary Colors, his timing was great but he didn't have that outsized, demented, swallow-the-world quality that Carville himself radiates; Thornton is curdled and bilious, with sallow skin and liver lips. He doesn't click in every part but he's the greatest Bad Santa imaginable. He's in a tradition of Southern/Texan misanthropic derelict nihilists, the arena of Hunter S. Thompson, Harry Crews,  and Terry Southern. Those of us who love it (and not everyone does, to say the least) go for the mixture of the archly sophisticated and the potty-mouthed.

Advertisement

Bad Santa is a gonzo parody of a Christmas redemption movie, but it also hits all the Christmas redemption movie beats, which means you also get that warm fuzzy feeling while Lauren Graham is chanting, "Fuck me, Santa. Fuck me, Santa. Fuck me, Santa" while Thornton goes at her from behind. It isn't really subversive because it doesn't have subversive ideas: It's domesticated gonzo, like the equally fun but much cleaner School of Rock. Willie's Christmas epiphany is when he stands up for the kid, who's being bullied by some skater boys. Later he tells Marcus, "I beat the shit out of some kids today ... but it was for a purpose."

The kid, meanwhile, is dopey and ingenuous—or, to use the patois of Billy Bob's Willie, a retard. It isn't entirely clear if he believes that this criminal alcoholic pervert is Santa or that he thinks this is the best Santa someone like him could ever get and therefore chooses to believe. I think it's the latter, which brings a tear to my aged eye. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. It just depends how low you're willing to sink.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?