In Lee Daniels’ The Butler, there’s a shot of a man walking across a bog, depicted from the perspective of a silent observer looking down into the water and seeing naught but a reflection of a shadow barely present in the water, threatening to disappear at any moment. Beautiful and expressionist-tinged, it potently captures, better than any word ever could, the reality of race in America – African-Americans torn down to whispers of human flesh almost unobservant to the white eye, seen only through the prism of mirrors and reflections when you’re really looking at something else, glimpsed only in fleeting, peripheral moments by powerful forces who don’t want to acknowledge the presence of race. Continue reading
JC Chandor’s third film in four years, and possibly his best, firmly establishes him as a leading voice for a new generation of gifted filmmakers taking up the history of classic cinema and creating the future out of the past. His three films, a dialogue-heavy corporate thriller, a dialogue-free survival parable knowing desperation as well as quiet agony, and now a tone poem to a city in the guise of a ’70s-styled crime thriller, all owe an equal amount to the nervy, alert grit of ’70s cinema and add on a modernist, even impressionist edge to focus more on space and abstract mood to go with the concrete grime of his films’ physicality.
Certainly, he seems heading even further in this direction, confident here (as he was in his previous film) with moving away from the crutch of dialogue that somewhat hindered his debut directorial effort. His trek is all the more exciting because he hasn’t yet developed a narrative singularity, or even a commonality of tone. His films are joined by a focus on process as a means to define character, but they do not necessarily feel like the work of one director. If he is an auteur, he rejects the defeating sense of personal sameness and stuffy inflexibility so often prone to directors who stick to one style and theme without fail. He’s an invigorating breath of fresh air, a director ready to tackle anything with verve, panache, physicality, and poetry.