An Anti-Whoopin'-and-Hollerin' Movie
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 3 2002 12:08 PM

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Dear gang,

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First, Tony: Do you suppose my reactions to Iris and A Beautiful Mind were skewed by the fact that when I first saw both movies, I knew a great deal about Iris Murdoch and nothing about John Forbes Nash Jr.? Iris is in any event thin soup, based on the intercutting of how-nice-it was and how-bad-it-is, with little suggestion of the richness of its heroine and no hint of John Bayley's accomplishments and complexities. If you fault Beautiful Mind for its fudging on the details of Nash's life, don't you miss, at least a little, the missing middle 35 years of Murdoch's?

My usual theory about facts and the movies is that I look to books for facts and to movies for feelings. Did I violate that with my pan of Iris? No, because the movie is such an obvious and labored treatment of its deliberately limited field of view. After writing my review of A Beautiful Mind, I read yours, found out what I had missed factually, and didn't much care, because the movie as it exists is so affecting.

If we judge both films as if they were totally fiction, and that no person named Iris Murdoch or John Nash ever existed, then A Beautiful Mind is a moving and effective film, and Iris is pointless.

You are right that Black Hawk Down "makes the refusal to think appear to be the very substance of heroism." Scott even underlines this when he has a character say, "It's about the men next to you. That's all it is." Isn't heroism precisely, in fact, action in the very face of thought? Don't the Darwinian theories about altruism teach us that? Does a father on the edge of a pond think, "If I dive in to save my drowning child, is it likely we will both drown?" No. It's about the child. I admired Black Hawk Down for its refusal to appeal to patriotism, mock heroics, attractive characters. When David says the Somalian soldiers are faceless, and is right, I wish he would also see how the Americans are downplayed as individuals. Some reviewers of the film have complained you can't tell them apart—which, for me, is praise.

The title of In the Bedroom does refer to lobster traps, but isn't it clearly also referring to that marriage? I agree there are certain logical problems in the logistics of the murder, but as I watch CNN I am constantly amazed at what stupid crimes people commit, for such inexplicable motives. (cf the current hockey-dad murder trial.)

As for what year a movie belongs in, years of course are an artificial filing system. A movie on the cusp qualifies for my best-10 list according to the year it is likely to be most visible and accessible in. Thus Monster's Ball and Black Hawk Down are in, but What Time Is It There? is a 2002 movie.

Now, Sarah: Nice to join you again. I enjoyed your story about Cowboy in Mulholland Drive. That's the same thing Errol Morris does in Gates of Heaven and some of his other films: finds real people who in themselves are a performance.

It was indeed a scattershot year, with few clear front-runners as we go into Oscar time. Ironic that the film most universally named on lists (Ghost World, by my calculation) probably has no chance with the academy, which after voting for Gladiator last year will have no choice but to honor the much superior LOTR this year.

Your mention of Memento and the "rule-breaking oddity" of many of the year's films underlines the wealth of puzzle films—Memento, Vanilla Sky, Mulholland Drive, Amores Perros. I don't know if this is a trend or a blip, but I do know I felt compelled to see Vanilla Sky a second time before writing my review, and my enjoyment of the film increased when I was able to see beyond its plot puzzlements.

To David: I did not hear a single whoop or a holler during BHD. What kind of an audience did you see the movie with? Teen-age boys in a multiplex? I cannot imagine an audience member finding anything in Black Hawk Down to whoop or holler about. It is an anti-whoopin'-n-hollerin' movie.

Best,
Roger

Roger Ebert is the Chicago Sun-Times' film critic.

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