Friday, June 1, 2012

Film Pairings — The Razor’s Edge: Between Comedy And Tragedy.

Fargo is far more gruesome than Affliction, but one leaves you with a smile even as a body goes through the wood chipper.  The theme here is winter, one last look at snow as irises bloom in our gardens and the barbeques dot the green lawns of suburbia.

Nolte, Coburn and Dafoe
What we have for your frosty double bill today are two Academy Award winning films — Affliction and Fargo.  Part of the interest, I think, in seeing these two in tandem is looking at both sides of the mask — tragedy and comedy — as they are presented in stories of similar tones, in relatively similar settings, and with highly talented actors, directors and writers.  The interest for me is, given the darkness they reveal about human nature, how the two are actually very different? 

Affliction, based on the novel by Russell Banks, is actually less gruesome, but far darker.  Not better, but more “serious.”  Nick Nolte and James Coburn give extraordinary performances as a troubled failure as a son and a cold, brutal father, respectively. Willem Dafoe gives a masterful understated interpretation as Coburn’s other son. Both sons, even as adults, were cowed by their abusive alcoholic father. Dafoe’s character escapes, physically at least.  Nolte’s character doesn’t. He   remains pretty much badgered by the father and also, as the part-time cop in a small town in New Hampshire, by the town manager. Paul Schrader wrote and directed this powerful and relentlessly fascinating drama. The movie is about a deal gone wrong, a murder, integrity friendship and power.  But the central focus is becoming whole. And what the cost of that might be.  Sissy Spacek, as Nolte’s loyal girlfriend, is excellent.

Speaking of a deal gone wrong and a murder, well several of them, let’s end the evening on a lighter note  — sort of.  At least we will laugh. A lot.  Of all the Joel and Ethan Coen’s great films, this might be at the top of the list.   Where Nolte and Coburn propel the story in Affliction, Frances McDormand and William Macy are the essence of this one.  Steve Buscemi gives us still another well-drawn, well-acted character.

Macy’s character wants to rid himself of his wife.  He hires two goofballs to carry out the plan.  McDormand, from all appearances, including being seven months pregnant, isn’t exactly fear inspiring and, at first, one might not believe she has the savvy to ferret out the culprits as incompetent as they are.  But first impressions are deceiving.  Much like Affliction, we’re not in urban America. No subways, traffic jams and high-rises. Instead, we get cafeterias, used car lots, tacky motels, long lonely snow-laden highways, lots of blood and glimpses of our police chief with her stay-at-home poet of a husband.

Fargo won a ton of awards, including multiple awards for McDormand and the Coen Brothers.  Affliction was recognized as well.  Coburn picked up an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.  Nolte was nominated for best actor awards, including the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actor.

The drink of the night?  Brandy, preferably brought to you by a big St. Bernard.

No comments: