Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rest in Peace: Anthony Minghella

Saddened by the sudden death of Anthony Minghella. I really liked “The English Patient” when it came out, as much for it’s exquisite, sweeping David Lean-inspired shots of the desert as the fine performances of Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Naveen Andrews (who happily reappearedplaying an Iraqi no less, years later in “Lost) and the always wonky Willem DaFoe.

One wag said online that it was a glorified J. Peterman ad, which is kind of funny
but not fair. For one, it’s a period piece and people did dress that way and Fiennes character and sultry Kristen Scott Thomas playing his lover, were both educated and upper crust and only wearing clothing appropriate to the desert. Additionally compare The English Patient to a another desert set-film adapted from a novel and about a adventure-seeking but troubled couple played by John Malkovich and Debra Winger); Bernardo Bertolucci’s version of The Sheltering Sky. I like Bertolucci even though his films often seem awkwardly-paced and uneven, but The Last Emperor and his more recent The Dreamers have plenty to recommend them (and not just Joan Chen sucking toes in the former and Eva Green’s copious nudity in the latter). But The Sheltering Sky is mostly terrible. The dialogue is read so stiffly it feels far more like a stage production by a middling theatrical group than a major film by an acclaimed director and cast. For his part, Malkovich is as oddly affecting (and affected) as usual and does a solid job. As slightly oddball, scene-chewing actors go, he and the lower-key DaFoe are quite comparable and rarely dull (Being Willem DaFoe may make an even stranger film than Being John Malkovich, if only it were directed by Science of Sleep; but either would hold a candle of eccentricity to Being Crispin Glover by Harmony Korine). But aside from Malkovich the cast is wooden and Winger in particular proves that she cannot act. She’s mostly terrible in the role. Particularly disappointing because Paul Bowles is one of my favorite fiction writers ever, although I much prefer his short stories, and the film doesn’t in any way grasp the cold, almost alien and unsentimental tone of Bowles prose. Surprising since Bowles not only appears in the film but apparently overdubs a few passages from his book (which don’t work very well either). Anyway, were Bertolucci fails mostly miserably in his adaptation, Minghella’s screenplay and dirction for The English Patient had few false notes, excellent acting across the board, and spotless dialogue. It was warm and sentimental while still being cool and detached (the very definition of Fiennes, who after this and Schindler’s List and Quiz Show, seemed poised to be a peer of Daniel Day-Lewis).
Minghella also brilliantly pieced together The Talented Mr. Ripley bringing Jude Law to light and adding another layer to Matt Damon.
And I liked Cold Mountain also even though I struggle to see anything that features Renee Zellweger’s pruny, lemon-sucking visage; Jack White (Stripes) was quite good in his small role and the mountains of Romania subbing for the unspoiled forests of southern US mostly worked.

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