As I threatened to do last week, I’m now posting an old article I wrote and posted as a note on Facebook. Enjoy!
You make a plan.
You follow through.
That’s what you do if you’re writing, directing, producing, acting in, PARTICIPATING in a good movie.
A good movie will have a purpose other than to make money or to make concessions to someone. Sometimes a movie is well-made, but its purpose is indefensible. Like Chaos. Movies like Chaos know exactly what they want to do, but what they’re doing is the cinematic equivalent of trolling. All they want to do is provoke a reaction. Sure, the pursuit of that with such fervor and singularity is impressive; the achievement itself, however, is best left ignored.
Not all movies are so fortunate as to have escaped production with such singularity of vision. You end up with movies like Superman 2, where the director was fired during production and the movie was cut together with slapstick comedy for some reason. You get movies like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where a good script has been padded to feature length with glory shots of the Enterprise. Bad movies? That depends. It depends on how well the elements are integrated into the story and if they clash with the overall vision of the project. That’s what matters.
However, some movies start their lives this muddled.
This review works entirely by spoiling the movies it’s reviewing. So, if you didn’t know that Jaime Foxx kills Gerard Butler in Law Abiding Citizen or that the protagonist couple in A Perfect Getaway are the killers, stop reading before the word “spoiling”. Honestly, it’s in the trailers for both movies; although I should add that it’s also fairly obvious from how widely these movies were promoted.
Here’s the deal. Both of these movies were written with a simple set up: You’re cheering for the person who, in any other movie, would be the villain. In Citizen, it’s the origin story of a supervillain. In Getaway, you’re cheering for a pair of serial killers.
Supervillain origin stories being something I have a problem with, Law Abiding Citizen was doing a pretty good job. Gerard Butler had a sympathetic motivation, but then just started doing some sick stuff to innocent people. You know, after he killed the child-killing rapist. And for some definition of “innocent”. In any case, it was all pretty cool. Now, which ending sounds like a movie you’d remember forever and which sounds like one you’d forget about, despite recommending it to somebody:
A) Gerard Butler wins. Everybody he wants dead dies, and he’s laughing at the end. No hope, no redemption, just cold-ass revenge.
B) Jaime Foxx wins. The good guy wins, Gerard Butler learns his lesson for being so naughty, all necessary law enforcement and morality tropes are enforced.
I tell you this much; the cold, disconnected laughter of a victorious supervillain would be a far ballsier artistic statement than some guy who has made no move to value his family or take his profession seriously getting to sit down with his wife at his daughter’s recital. Gerard Butler winning would haunt my nightmares and convince me that the screenwriter, director and producer all wanted to shock you out of the comfort of the cinema. Oh, and it would follow logically from the fact that Gerard Butler killed like, a dozen people, while in prison, by virtue of his supermind. … That too.
What’s left is not a good movie. It’s not an okay movie. It’s not an “interesting” movie, as a rather earnest friend of a friend might value. It’s just a movie that tries to be subversive and cool by having the villain run laps around the hero just to have the villain go both stupid and crazy at the last minute just so you believe it when he dies. It’s just a bad movie.
Two-thirds of the way through A Perfect Getaway, Roger Ebert was stunned to find out that this movie wasn’t a buddy comedy. I however, watched the flashback sequence where it’s revealed that Cliff and Cidney are the killers and laughed. It was so painfully overwrought, it was so hamfistedly inserted into the narrative and it was pointing out something I had guessed by watching the trailer. Nay, nay, not from watching the trailer, that’s a lie. I guessed the twist from the title.
However, I have to say, even after finding out the two main characters are totally screwed up psycho killers, I was still rooting for them. I mean, that’s how I started the movie with that knowledge, right? I was finally ready to watch these two tear some shit up without having to deal with the movie’s enforced pretense of having them be good people. Except, near the end of the flashback sequence, the point of view shifted to two secondary characters who hadn’t been portrayed as particularly good people, or particularly anything people. They were a bland beta couple.
And all of a sudden, they’re supposed to be the protagonists.
What, just cos they don’t go off the rails killing people left and right like the people we’ve been following so far makes them good guys? Screw that. They wanna be my protagonists, they have to EARN that ending.
But they don’t.
All we find out is that he’s proposing to her. Big whoop. All the better for if they die; then a filmmaker in Hollywood has got his movie greenlit with Hollywood actors and there’s a legitimate twist at the end. Surprise, bitches, good people die. Sometimes bad people win. Would have been a moral subversion on an epic scale. But you know what? This isn’t about that. This isn’t about moral lessons on how sometimes life is unfair.
This is about something far more important.
This is about filmmaking. Good filmmaking.
None of the good people in these movies earns the ending they get. They are consistently outmatched for the entire runtime of the movie and pull through at the end by a deus ex machina. I watch the entire movie for it to cop out on its premise, and indeed, the very thing it’s trying to sell itself to me as. That’s not a good movie. That’s like a Superman movie where Supes is killed by Lex Luthor at the end. It isn’t chilling. It isn’t nightmarish. It’s fake.
When you sell me a movie based on watching a guy dole out violent deaths to people and then at the end, cop out and tell me he was wrong, you’ve sacrificed not only your dignity as a filmmaker, but the very movie you worked so hard to make. You’ve sold me a ticket to a movie where the bad guy is more competant than the good guy at everything and then given me the ending where he loses.
That isn’t clever. That isn’t more moral or ethical than giving me the ending where he wins.
It’s a cop-out.
It’s a shitty way to make movies.
And that’s why you have no clue which movies I’m talking about, right now.