Thursday, January 5, 2012

Short Take: "Senna", "Jane Eyre" and "Warrior".

Ayrton Senna was widely regarded as one of the best race car pilots in the history of sport and Asif Kapadia's masterful documentary proves why. The thrilling film closely follows Senna's trajectory beginning as an amateur and then going all the way to him being World Champion on three consecutive years. The film chronicles his rivalry with teammate Alain Prost, with whom he engaged in psychological warfare on and off the racing track. What remains so stunning about this film, is how it trespasses into narrative fiction while retaining elements of non-fiction cinema. Most documentaries make you aware that you are watching reality being bent and that for all you want to do about it, the events being related are unchangeable. What goes on with Senna is quite the opposite, the film is done entirely with archival and news footage (there are no modern day interviews or intrusive narration) all of this helps create a seamless chain of events that trick us into thinking we might be watching fiction. We know for a fact that we're not, but the narrative is so precise and flawless that we ask ourselves, why were that many cameras near Ayrton all the time? The entire film has an eerie prescience, as if the people involved knew one day these fragments of their lives would be used to tell a life story. With that said, the film avoids sensationalism, instead turning Ayrton into a mythical figure with a tainted human spirit. His love of god and country are as great as his ego (sometimes he sounded deluded, as if he was the Joan of Arc of racing) and for all the inevitability of its tragic finale, you always hope things will turn out different for him in the end. They don't of course, but Senna proves that truth can sometimes be much more harrowing than fiction. 

Out of all the English classic novels, it always results mystifying to ask ourselves how did the Brontë's oeuvre end up falling into the romance genre when their twisted stories of suffering among the English moors perhaps fit better in the category of horror. The greatest adaptation of any of their works is probably I Walked With a Zombie because it goes to the heart of its literary adaptation, Jane Eyre, removes all the romantic bullshit and sees it for what it is: a tale of sadomasochism disguised as love. With that said, most of the world chooses to see Jane Eyre as a tale of doomed romance and love conquering it all, which would make for an interesting essay on how messed up our conceptions of love are...but that's a whole different story. In this adaptation of the classic novel, the usually insipid Mia Wasikowska gives life to Jane Eyre, the suffering governess who goes through a Dickensian childhood only to end in an even more tortuous relationship with her employer, the damaged Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Director Cary Fukunaga goes the traditional way and turns the film into a showcase of classic studio filmmaking with gorgeous sets, a sweeping musical score and Judi Dench. Perhaps it's best to approach the movie as if you were watching a classic Hollywood production, given that Fukunaga injects little into it and like in his previous movie, some scenes offer themselves to be taken as parody (Rochester telling Jane how he's far from handsome comes to mind). It's great that Fassbender and Wasikowska put so much into their roles, because they make the film's artifice achieve a delightful balance.

Warrior is a movie that lingers dangerously between parody and serious filmmaking and can best be comprised by calling it: a greatest hits kind of movie. Taking elements that have worked before for similarly themed movies (although fans of it can argue that all films are versions of other films) director Gavin O'Connor brings us a tearjerker that combines Rocky, The Fighter, Karate Kid and a few biblical parables to create a movie aimed to please everyone. Tom Hardy stars as Tommy, a former marine who returns to the States and asks his ex-alcoholic dad (Nick Nolte) to train him for a mixed martial arts championship named Sparta (for 300 lovers). Meanwhile, Tommy's estranged brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is going through an economic crisis that forces him to sign up for the same championship in order to save his house from being foreclosed. Tommy, obviously, hides a dark secret about his days in Iraq and Brendan, who works as a high school teacher, must hide his new moneymaking scheme from his students (somehow mixed martial arts are the equivalent of prostitution to the film's Capra-esque characters) and of course the final showdown will be between the siblings, but which one should win? The real problem with Warrior is that it's so many different movies, that it ends up being none. The acting is quite good, Edgerton and Hardy are terrific and surprisingly sincere, but the plot feels forced and drags on for too long. If you've seen any of the movies it borrows from, you really don't need to bother with it...
However, here's a theory: the movie grabs a soldier and a schoolteacher - two of the most "heroic" and valued professions in the USA - takes away their "integrity" and pitches them against each other in a brutal fight for money. What is the film saying about the worth of morality in a world where the economy plummets constantly? Now, that would've made a much more interesting movie...

Grades:
Senna ***½
Jane Eyre ***
Warrior **

3 comments:

Amir said...

"The entire film has an eerie prescience, as if the people involved knew one day these fragments of their lives would be used to tell a life story."

So true!
Another thing I love about the film is Chris King's editing (who also cut Exit through the Gift Shop). He sorta starts cueing us to the finale (for those who don't know the ending) little by little and yet keeps it exciting. Even as someone who did know the ending, I thought the outcome could be different. And the way he intervenes with all that amazing racing footage without losing either the adrenaline rush of the races or the dramatic effect of his story is just magnificent.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Yes, but Joel Edgerton is SOOOOO good in Warrior. So better than the movie deserves. Ugh, on you liking Jane Eyre although it's not like I disliked it, I'm just...I don't know...just *shrugs* about the entire thing. I can't keep going around to everyone telling people it looks good, but it looks GOOD but that...that's about it really. But, Judi is sort of brilliant in a non-role.

Jose Solís said...

Amir: the editing in Senna is glorious. Period. Can you imagine having to go through all the footage they went through to find the "right" clips. I love how he uses Ayrton's face a LOT to convey real emotions. There isn't a single worthless frame in this movie!

Andrew: Jane makes me shrug too, I'm just a sucker for Fassy, Judi and Bronte and considering how much I hated "Sin Nombre" I was pleasantly surprised by this one!