Directed by: Andrew Dominik. This post and the next, Seven Psychopaths, must begin with a disclaimer that they occur to you now as evidence of a time warp, of a tear in the fabric of logic and causality. I could have SWORE that I wrote reviews for each of these movies at the time I saw them, around the last week of October/first week of November 2013. I could have fucking swore that I already wrote down some initial fleeting impressions on each of these films and published a review of each. But I sit here now, in the future, in January 2014, looking back at my year, and these two films are missing. They are not on the site, nor on my back-end in draft form anywhere, and so I’ve had to re-write all of the ideas and insert them arbitrarily into a place where I think they fit in the time frame of when they were actually viewed. And I can’t tell you how fucking intolerable this is to me—I think this whole blog is a manifestation of some of my more fastidious, unhealthy, neurotic impulses for order and organization and chronological entry-making. Fume fume fume. Okay.
This film came onto my radar for a few reasons: Andrew Dominik, the director of one of my favourite films The Assassination of Jesse James, the really slick looking cover image (above) and the whole provenance of the crime novels of Edward V. Higgins, of which I’m just now becoming vaguely aware. The Criterion edition of the 70’s film adaptation of Higgins’ first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (starring Robert fucking Mitchum!) looked really awesome, but I went about diving into this world in a back-asswards way. I saw this movie—based on the third in a loose trilogy centered on the crime world in Boston in the late 60’s/early 70’s—first, and zipped through the Higgins novel of Eddie Coyle after that. So now it’s up to me to check out the Mitchum film from the 70’s and read the next two novels to catch up to this movie. Oh well. It’s a decent movie, although it got a lot of grief from the critics, judging by the other reviews I read (which I do sometimes but not usually). Most of what the critics didn’t like about it I didn’t really agree with. They didn’t like the distance that the film takes from the characters. It has a more detached, observational stance than most films do; we can’t really get behind any of the characters because they all seem pretty crummy. The main hoodlums—Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn (who, as one reviewer pointed out, inexplicably keeps his Australian accent, even though he proved he’s great at faking American in The Dark Knight Rises, but whatever)—don’t really have enough depth to carry the movie, coming off basically as they were supposed to: dimwitted, short sighted hoods out for instant gratification. In fact, basically everyone in this film, including the conspicuously underused and disposable Ray Liotta, is just a two-bit hood out to get what’s theirs. And that’s what the film is about, full stop.
This is what Higgins’ world is about, but I think it jars people not to be able to identify with someone, even if the protagonist is repellant. In this film, it’s partly that the characters are all immoral and self-serving, but it’s mostly just really difficult to identify with any of them because of structural obstacles against doing so. The guy who gets the most screentime, the “star”, is predictably Brad Pitt, but his main character Jackie Cogan is himself kind of just floating around the margins, serving to buttress a lot of little miniature character arcs in Scoot McNairy and James Gandolfini (God rest his soul), so that he doesn’t really get a character arc of his own. For that matter, though, I do see some fairness in the negative criticism. I hate to detract from the late Gandolfini, but this film wasn’t really a great vehicle for him. I’m not sure if it’s a bit of unique, avant-garde plot structuring or if it’s a sloppy editing and logistical mistake that Gandolfini’s character Mickey gets two long scenes with tons of speeches and characterization only for the character to disappear without affecting the main plot in any way. His whole character probably could have been cut, and after reading that the initial 2 1/2 hour cut was trimmed, obliterating an entire sequence with the amazing Garret Dillahunt (is he a 21st century Harry Dean Stanton? A topic for another post perhaps), it makes me think that either Dominik didn’t really have much of a grand vision on this one and kind of blundered his way through it and that he isn’t the master filmmaker I thought he was, or that his grand vision was compromised by the evils of the corporate studio system. Either way, I did have a main criticism of this movie, and that is that it’s too goddamn blatant in its theme about economic crises and recovery and loss of faith in the safeguards of the market, etc. Every review I read asked the same logical question—is it really believable that every goddamn hood in the criminal underworld has a TV or a radio on with the political channel blaring the news about the financial meltdown? In every—single—fucking—car—and—bar—in—the—movie? The economy. The card game. We get it, Andrew Dominik. Jesus fucking Christ. But regardless, I actually really liked this movie. Fuck consistency.