Dead Calm [motion picture critique]

 A flash out of the black and red waters.

What does it take to produce a superb movie? A good example is: two boats, a small sailing yacht and a medium-sized two-master, a couple played by two actors in their prime [a pubescent N. Kidman and that competent-looking archeologist from Jurassic Park], a psycho shipwreckee played by another talented, then-young thespian [??? Ah, wik-it, Billy Zane] and the middle of the Pacific as location. That is all, thanks.

No still-ever-artificial-looking CGI. No scavenged, narratively-challenged DC cartoon adaptation nor a blood- and brainless remake of a series that was entertaining when you were a pre-teen or so. The deeper point of doing what has been done before without improving on it [see “The Artist”] or just as often even doing it worse, has escaped me thus far. And while the superficial reason of adapting second-rate literature et al. to the big-screen [e.g. HP, The girl with the…, etc.] makes economic sense it still is insensible to half-way sentient cinephile sensibilities.

Enough! Yesternight’s flick, driven by good acting and ingenious plotting, was a dazzling reminder of what movies can be and how little it takes [materially speaking] to make a good one: two boats, three actors, one ocean. The story moved the characters smoothly to the logical extreme of their situation, giving them nothing much more to work with than their bodies [especially their faces] and their ever more dramatic interactions with each other. And whenever as a viewer I thought not another difficulty or thrill could be added, it immediately was. Evidently, adding wrinkles to a story is not per se a good thing but when it is done so efficiently and coherently as in this gem, all in furtherance of the story, it is a joy to behold. Even a slightly exaggerated finale, a self-congratulatory twist of the genius plot, can be forgiven.

I usually enjoy movies the best that present certain ethical and philosophical problems one can later chew through as well as those that engrave unforgettable scenes in one’s mind such that the composition/pacing of the shots is encrypted in a phylocinegenetic code from deep within one’s sense for the aesthetic. Last Life of the Universe, Inglorious Basterds and Infernal Affairs come to mind.

However, this movie, whose name I still don’t know, provided none of supra. Neither philosophy nor the beautiful [except the young Kidman] were manifest. Instead, the movie was an almost archetypal embodiment of a genre: the thriller. Executed at such a high degree of competence that, though it started post-midnight and though I was awfully tired, wanted in fact to hit the sack [as did S], we staid up to watch what would happen next. And the experience was well worth the sticky eyes.

EPILOGUE – Finally looked it up: Dead Calm. And got a 2nd opinion with which I politely disagree, having spotted none of the offences quoted – Caryn James of the New York Times felt that the film was “an unsettling hybrid of escapist suspense and the kind of pure trash that depends on dead babies and murdered dogs for effect”.


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About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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