Sunday, August 25, 2013

Film Pairings — True Crime Brought To The Screen

Sissy Spacek, Martin Sheen in Badlands

For those who watch crime films about serial or mass murderers for the “kill” moments, Badlands and Zodiac will disappoint.  And I’m betting I’m not the only viewer to feel that both films are tremendously well done and worthwhile, yet unsatisfying because they convey only the senselessness of the acts. There is no answer to the question, why? Because of this, I suspect they more honestly convey the sad truth of it all.

Director Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973) takes us back to the 1950s to tell the story of real-life spree killer Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend — outcast and naive romantic.  The beauty of this film certainly isn’t the story, nor any powerful lesson one can learn from it.  It is the way the story is told. There is a great deal of quiet, minimal dialogue and powerful cinematography. We are there with them, sharing their isolation, their connection with each other and their disconnection from the world.  The Starkweather role is played intentionally and effectively with shades of James Dean by a very young Martin Sheen. I’m not sure anyone but Sissy Spacek could have convinced us that a smart sensitive young woman could overlook cruelty for so long, despite the charming package that contained it.   In any event, the audience might find itself lost in time and suspended in a place where only the two characters exist.
While Badlands is kind of a gritty fantasy, Zodiac, (2007), despite attempts to market it as a “thriller,” is neither fantasy nor thriller. It is as close to a documentary as a scripted, acted film can be. Directed by David Fincher, Zodiac takes us back to 1969 when a killer began to focus his senseless killings in and around San Francisco.  We are witness to the inevitably gruesome aspects to remind us of the level of the horror, but we are given much more information on how the killings affected those – the police, the media and their families and the entire city — who are drawn into and for some, destroyed by the madness.  Here, detail is important and the filmmakers get it right.  We are inside the city’s Hall of Justice where investigators feel the immense pressure of a city scared out its collective wits.  We are inside the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle to witness its internal struggles and moral dilemmas. And we, the audience, never know more than was known as the story unfolds.  Expert casting: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr. and Anthony Edwards. Brian Cox also appears as San Francisco’s legendary lawyer, Melvin Belli.  The film was based on the book by Robert Graysmith.

As an accompaniment, beer strikes the right mood for Badlands.  So, to bring San Francisco into the picture, go for Anchor Steam.

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