Directed by: Robert Altman. I was already a Robert Altman fan going in, so I knew what to expect: overlapping dialogue, disorganized scenes, erratic flow—all of the markers of heavily improvised filmmaking. But, that being said, this might be the least Altman-like Altman film I’ve seen. Starting with M*A*S*H, then to Gosford Park, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Player, and Nashville (which I only half-watched and only half-enjoyed), I really dig Altman’s style. Look at some interviews, read up on his philosophy of hands-off filmmaking, and it’s really interesting. In this film, the improv aspect is definitely there, and it definitely informs a lot of the content of the film, but this is much more plot driven than something like M*A*S*H. Here, the fun is in watching the traditional conventions and confining format of the classic 40’s private eye noir being stretched and warped and just-about-but-not-quite lampooned by this early 70’s irreverence. The urban, Jewish, youth culture, just-grown-up-a-little-bit scruffiness of Elliot Gould takes the character of Philip Marlowe and the old gumshoe archetype into a totally new territory, opening it up into a really interesting place. What struck me most about this film, what makes it probably one of my favourite Altman movies, and one of my favourite movies I’ve seen all year, is the schizo split in this movie between the adolescent playfulness—like the Al Jolson bit, and the stuff with the cat—and the extremely dark, genuinely shocking violence. What really strikes me is how the violence still seems really effective, really brutal and believable, even amidst this world of slightly cartoony, suspended realism that Altman has constructed. Watching the plot unfold is seeing this world change and morph and accommodate deepening layers of darkness, alternating continuously with this sort of menacing comedic undercurrent—personified by guys like Henry Gibson and especially the scene-stealing Sterling Hayden. As with most things he’s in, I could watch Sterling go for two hours on his own, and seeing his balancing act with Elliot Gould and Nina Van Pallandt is a fucking delight. There are actually a ton of memorable images in this film, but perhaps the most striking one is Sterling Hayden at night, senselessly blundering his lanky frame into the ocean, the roaring tide overcoming everything else as we watch Elliot and Nina and the dog try to blunder in after him. An incredible scene in an incredible movie.