Thursday, January 29, 2009

Classics Illustrated

Once Edward Zwick left his seminal TV show thirtysomething behind, he’s seemed determined to paint as wide-ranging a big screen canvas as he can. Glory (’89), Legends of the Fall (’94), The Last Samurai (’03), and Blood Diamond (’06), are all big pictures with colorful backdrops, extremely particular settings, and blatantly literal and liberal themes. I have no problem with Zwick’s style or efforts, as he and fellow mainstream filmmakers like Ron Howard, Ridley Scott and the recently departed Sydney Pollack continually bring a touch of old school Hollywood classic filmmaking to the contemporary scene. While a whole lotta film nitcrits find this type of lustrous, well constructed approach antithetical to so-called innovative moviemaking, for those of us often crammed up to the ears with faux stylishness and artless trickery it’s hard not to breathe a sigh of relief when watching an effort infused with the time-honored standards of basic well-shaped storytelling. The great Andrew Sarris dubbed this type of moviemaking “Strained Seriousness”, yet I’ve always had a certain affinity for it, particularly in my earliest movie-watching days (when the TV airwaves were overpopulated with burnished Hollywood we-have-a-moral-to-tell or celebrate-the-human-spirit) product, as I helplessly grew up in a whitey white, middle-class, wide-eyed, and haplessly liberal. contemporary scene. His newest, Defiance, is an earnest retelling of a real life struggle between Polish-Jews turned unlikely resistance fighters against the Nazis deep within the thick forests of Eastern Europe. Daniel Craig and Liev Schrieber both deliver strong (and nicely muted) performances as two clashing brothers, in this overtly sincere rendering.

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