Sunday, June 20, 2010

Random Film Review: The Pelican Brief

Dir: Alan Pakula | 1993 | USA | 141 mins

In normal circumstances I’d say decidedly average but it must have been the mood I was in: I found it sublime. I didn’t want to see it at first. But when I saw it was directed by Alan Pakula I was curious, until I remembered Consenting Adults (dreadful).

But I saw it anyway and at its best it had shades of The Parallax View or All the President’s Men (both directed by Pakula in the 1970s, along with Klute, making him one of the key American directors of that decade). Written by John Grisham who penned The Firm, which I read (good) and then saw (good too), the plot and characters aren’t interesting or stimulating. There’s a lot of good actors not acting that good: Densel Washington, John Heard, Sam Shepherd and John Lithgow. A lot get killed but not the De Palma way, for this is a twelve certificate. But still it manages to be exciting and heart racing, without sex or violence.

I thought the music and images were beautiful. To me, the film was an abstract essay about: objects, buildings (insides mainly, the most beautiful shots recalling The Parallax View, but not as cold, just more complex), cars, light on cars (in car parks), the relationship of people to their environment (ie buildings).

The scene where the man in the baseball cap is killed and the crowd all run away, is unrealistic, abstract, surreal and beautiful with the camera situated overhead, miles away. The fast zooms and pans and sweeps work so well not just for technique sake, like a De Palma*, but for a feeling of paranoia, movement and surveillance. There’s so many long shots and close-ups.

It’s about having to be polite when you want to get some information.

It’s about Julia Robert’s magnificent facial expression when Sam Shepherd’s car blows up (“I don’t know what face to pull so I’ve come up with this one I don’t really understand,” she says to Pakula, and I’m speechless).

Julia Roberts hardly smiles her trademark smile until the end of the film. Magnificent!

* This must have been written around the same time as seeing Mrs Doubtfire and Carlito's Way, which was directed by Brian De Palma. I started off quite liking his films – I'd watched his early student films Greetings (1968) and Hi, Mom! (1970), both featuring an unknown Robert De Niro, and quite liked De Palma's playful, experimental style. But by the time of De Palma's Dressed to Kill (1980), I found his Hitchcock homages hollow and his excessive camera movements made me dizzy. De Palma's work is definitely a case of style over substance.


Melanie May said...

When is your Love Actually review coming up? Maybe you could do a Hugh Grant season?

Barnaby said...

Here's my one word review: CRAP.