Just recently I’ve been watching quite a few foreign language films that have all been very engaging, the one previous to The Deep/Djúpið (2012) was Julieta (2016) which I remember being discussed on it’s release in the UK. I must admit that I did try to write a review yesterday but failed to have the fire in me to get past a few paragraphs to really make it worth my time. I may return to it as and when. Having seen Deep/Djúpið I was unaware of what I would really expect, knowing only that there was a ship wreck, beyond that I knew little else. I think going into a film, foreign language or not its best to know as little as possible as it can really raise your expectations. I had very few beyond the description that came with the recording. Over breakfast I was taken back to 1984, and to an Icelandic Island where a tragedy was about to unfold.
We meet a group of men on a night out, it’s cold, snowing and tempers are running high at the time. I’m already thinking how are they not wearing more layers than they are here. I’m not considering that they are used to these temperatures so its nothing new to them. Unusually for a film we are following the more unlikely of characters, a man whose more rotund, not your the kind of man you expect to see leading a film, which in itself refreshing. Gulli (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) whose an average guy enjoying himself on a night out. Away from Hollywood representation of men at least is more true to life. For now we don’t know that the focus of the film is on him, as we meet 5 other men who we get to know before they set off on another fishing trip. Ironically the only real connection to Julieta. We see a few of the men back home, Palli (Joi Johannsson) who has a wife and kids. A man whose loved by all he knows, these moments are all important as we lead up to our time at sea. We also have a young chef whose about to be pushed by his new captain. All these moments allow us to get to know the men before they set off for the North Sea.
The look of the film is semi-documentary, not really getting in the faces of the characters, allowing them to just get on with life on the fishing boat. I was reminded briefly of the visceral imagery in Leviathan (2012) that took us into the silent world of fishermen at work, given only the images and silence between conversation aboard a ship. The audience is teased very early on into the trip as a net gets caught under the surface. Thankfully the first time they are able to save themselves from capsizing. Making me wonder why they would cast their net in such an area, aren’t these experienced fisherman out on another trip. It shows how incompetent the crew might be, do they not know the waters well enough to avoid this section of the sea. It’s a flaw in the film that is not explored. We are left wondering just why did they do this in the first place.
The second time around the net is caught and it’s too late, the winch is still going out and they are slower to react. We have been waiting for this to happen really, what will they do, will they get themselves out of this incident. It’s how the react that is the direction the film leads us. We see a father and son loose each other, a chef never to cook another meal whilst Gulli tries his best to rescue the remainder of the crew. Breaking Palli free before the real drama begins, going into survival mode. I forget this is the North Sea, becoming more about wanting these men to get back out of this cold water. 3 men soon become one – Gulli is the sole survivor of the crew, the man we weren’t expecting really in classic film terms. It’s awful seeing him all alone in the freezing water, with only a seagull to keep him company, for without the bird we would be in the world of Robert Redford‘s All is Lost (2012) and surviving at sea.
Its a different kind of survival, there are no books, no kit to work with, just pure instinct and the need to stay alive, to stay sane in the ice cold waters that has just taken his five colleagues. You could say it’s the Gull who saved him, kept him talking. Ignoring that seagulls come out to sea to die, he obviously close to land. His life does flash before his eyes in super 8 format, something you either go with or see as contrived as we return to this method a few times to allow flashbacks to happen. We are taunted with another boat that is so close yet so far away. Gulli has to swim to stay alive. Time really is drawn out before he finally spots land and faces another battle, the harsh rocky landscape and the tide that throws him about like a bit of drift wood. He finally makes it back to familiar ground, with bleeding feet and exhaustion.
He soon becomes the talk of the island, the loss of 5 men at sea and one survivor, something professionals all believe to be a miracle to survive from. You start to think about how and why he survived and it becomes glaring the obvious the more time we spend with Gulli, his extra weight acted as an insulator, not the scientific community reach that conclusion for sometime. Instead he’s invited to take part in medical research. We are wasting time here as we don’t need to see him treated like a lab-rat, the miracle is not a miracle, even to those who aren’t medically trained. It’s the weight, the fat that insulated him – they call it Seal fat, which is laughable as his parents would have to be Seals and we would have to be the world of Men & Chicken (2015). All I can think of now is puppy fat in children which is nonsense too.
Anyway flaw found I move onto see a man whose been poked, prodded and tested until he can take no more. Wanting to get on with his life. Do what he promised God he would, allowing others and himself to grieve and move on. To finally go back out there and put his life at risk once more, a fisherman a trade he cannot give up. It’s his life and the only one he knows, it’s a dangerous one which we have seen affect him far greater than we could imagine. On balance The Deep does have good intentions and have real heart. It fails to explore why the men cast their net twice is low areas, instead it focuses on the ‘miracle’ that was an overweight guy surviving in the North Sea. Common sense could have saved us a lot of time and given is a very different film. We do however really care for Gulli whose not allowed to process what’s happened and to get on with his life.
I can understand why not much of a fuss was made of The Company You Keep (2012) in the U.K. even with a starry cast that supports Robert Redford in this “thriller” that sees aging activist go on the run as his own past catches up with him. I thought from the trailer that I originally saw 3 years ago it would be pretty decent. A reliable actor in Redford would allow me to forgive him playing opposite Shia LaBeouf as the investigative journalist of the local paper. He’s persistent, I’ll give him that.
So why is The Company You Keep such a let down, even with it being rooted in modern history and politics. Maybe the fact that I could not be the core audience this film’s aimed at, more the baby-boomers who remember the raw images of the Vietnam war that shaped a generation in America. Most of the cast would definitely had an opinion either way on the conflict. I wont and don’t really relate to that era, it’s just too far removed for a guy who is more aware of Islamic terrorism than the threat of Communism. The conflict is a far different affair and ideology to Communism, and the War on Terror is only into its second decade.
For me a draw was supposedly strong cast of actors who are supporting Redford (Jim Grant / Nick Sloan) who is wanting to be freed from his past a reuniting him with his young daughter, which to me is stretching the characters age really thin to me. We first see Susan Sarandon whose arrested by the F.B.I. lead by Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) who is on the trail of others. To be honest Sarandon only has 3 scene which only help in reminding you that she;s actually in the film. Much the same goes for the rest of the cast really, I mean the big names who appear to only be doing a weeks work for their old pal Redford.
Chris Cooper is miscast as Sloan’s brother who himself has a few more scene, being his on-screen sibling, doing his best with what he’s given, the now legal guardian for his niece who Sloan has to get back to. Not his wife who died before the events of the film which would make for a better film really. Cooper like the rest of the older cast members are making do with the few scenes they have, putting up with LaBeouf’s Ben Shepard‘s desperate detective work to find out why Sloan is on the run. To be fair to his character he does do more detective work than the F.B.I. including his old flame Diana (Anna Kendrick) who lets evidence slip out to him. Also I think he was better cast in the role, the annoying guy poking around to get what he wants, No he’s not my favorite actor but he suits the role, so a good bit of casting that plays to his strengths..or weaknesses.
I really wish I hadn’t waited so long to catch this film. I spent most of my time tying to see who we would see next on-screen. Looking out for Julie Christie in all honesty, another member of the aging Underground weather group, who did much better than the Wake Up gang in Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie (2004) who actually more entertaining than these men and women who have all grown apart, most not wanting to stay in contact with a few die-hard’s for the cause, which we hear a lot about without the passion which is sadly lacking in this film with the potential for so much more with the pedigree of talent.
Coming into this film I was bringing a lot of expectation. After reading about Jeremiah Johnson (1972) in a few books I thought I had a pretty good idea of how this film would look, feel and be. I think I set my expectations a little too high, my idea of what the film is, is completely different. Also because I haven’t been able to find it until now (neither on TV or DVD) I saw it as a more sought-after film, one that if you don’t see it you’re missing something special, which is in a way I suppose. The less accessible a film is the more you look forward to seeing it. Like friends that rarely see, you make the most of the time you have together. Jeremiah Johnson and I are not quite on those terms yet.
Another reason I wanted to see this film is part of my understanding of the Native American Western, how the sub-genre developed. I was lead to believe that Robert Redford‘s titular character would become a revered other of the Crow nation in the mountains, shedding his white civilisation past to become to the other which we have seen so many times feared in the genre. I kept thinking more about Man in the Wilderness (1971) which saw Richard Harris‘s character comes closer to reaching that transformation. His was however not out of choice, more survival. Learning the way of the mountain Natives who we see as almost god-like, they have done nothing to be feared. The built-in cliché that they are dangerous savages is not really mentioned. Both films are however set before the Civil War when most Westerns take place or there-after. Western society is still forming, still moving westward and yet to truly tackle the “Indian Problem” that we see in so many other films.
So I’ve already established my initial thoughts, the early comparison to probably a better film, what’s it all about. Staying with the idea it’s about the white man becoming the other, the one whose feared, which I believe is a reading that is nonsense to an extent. He never truly crosses over from one culture to another like Lieutenant Dunbar (Kevin Costner) who rejects all that is white about him. Johnson is one of the early mountain-men as we meet a few others. The type whose found in other westerns whose respected for his knowledge of the natives, much older than those settlers making their way West. People who come with dangerous experience, if you cross them they could leave you on your own to defend yourself. Some become scouts for the Army as they built new forts. These men cannot function in society, but enable it to grow outside the boundaries we already find it. Much like the gunfighter, the danger they bring with them leaves them unable to stay in one place for too long. Out in the mountains they are able to live an acceptable life-style, one with nature you could say.
I’m still trying to pin down what this film is about, maybe an escape from what was going on in America at the time. It was the beginning of a new age of directorial freedom which I admire, enjoying the work of those who are now respected names. But that would be going of on a tangent. In westerns we rarely focus on the mountain man, we see riders traveling through, hiding out or fighting Native American’s who have a clear advantage over the white men. Here is a chance to understand the mountain man, what drives him. We first meet Johnson as a soldier returning to civilian life in a 19th century Catamaran that delivers him to the outskirts of civilisation, he’s on the cusp of the unknown. Feeling his doesn’t below down with the frontiersman and settler he leaves them all behind. Now here’s where my expectations start to get dashed. Thinking that this film was going to be mostly absent of dialogue, I found it more of a 50/50 split really, which I still have to accept after what I had previously read. Johnson is trying to catch fish, all with his bare hands, grabbing the fish in the water. Not having any tools, a rare moment of comedy in this otherwise dramatic Western. Its here we meet for the first time Paints His Shirt Red (Joaquín Martínez) whose the man that Johnson wants to be, to be able to live in the mountain, surrounded by prizes from his many hunts in the mountains.
Things become more complicated when he comes across a homesteader (Allyn Ann McLerie) and her son (Josh Albee) who he later adopts and renames Caleb. A silent child who was more than likely trumatised by the death of his father. Leaving his mother mentally unstable, left to wander the mountains. A victim left alive from the Natives who are seen off-screen to be. They still victims of the cliche, or are they just defending themselves. This is quite problematic for me as the 1970’s is a decade of revisionism of the genre with films such as Little Big Man (1970), the Man Called Horse films that shows them in a fresh light. There’s still a savagery about these people, mostly the Crow who are seen by other mountain men such as Bear Claw (Will Geer) and Del Gue (Stefan Gierasch) who both admire and fear those who have lived there for centuries. Of course fighting with other Nations. It is the invasion of the white man in the mountain that is causing the conflict.
I cannot ignore the two mountain men Bear Claw and Del Gue who both help form the legend that becomes Jeremiah Johnson over the course of the film. Bear Claw is an almost God-like figure who has lived in the mountains for all his adult life. He assumes the role of the teacher to Johnson teaching all he needs to know to survive. Where as Del Gue is living the dream of the mountain man, he respects and fears the Natives. First meeting him bald, not wanting to be scalped – a common form of torture carried out by Native American’s, all part of the cliche that has been built up over the time. We next meet him with a full head of hair, and some of the best lines of the film, comparing hair to God’s greatest sculptures.
“I ain’t never seen ’em, but my common sense tells me the Andes is foothills, and the Alps is for children to climb! Keep good care of your hair! These here is God’s finest scupturings! And there ain’t no laws for the brave ones! And there ain’t no asylums for the crazy ones! And there ain’t no churches, except for this right here! And there ain’t no priests excepting the birds. By God, I are a mountain man, and I’ll live ’til an arrow or a bullet finds me. And then I’ll leave my bones on this great map of the magnificent…”
He sums up what it means to be a mountain man, a free-spirit, the closest a white-man who wants to live the life of a Native American, to be with nature. These are men who want to live in the rawness of nature, rejecting civilsation for all that is primal, a part from a gun and a knife or two. It’s not an easy life as Johnson discovers, recreating the massacre scene from The Searchers (1956) that we play out in our minds. The genre has grown up to all these harsher images. He becomes a far more dangerous Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) who kills his enemy with little thought, but plenty of skill. When tired he shockingly sleeps among his victims. Its all or nothing.
I come away from the film still conflicted after the image of the film I built up in my mind has become something else – the actual film. Is is pro-Native American or not is my real question. It’s not even revisionist really. It’s another aspect of the genre that is explored in more detail, the life of the mountain man that serve little purpose in the arc of the western as whole, we hardly see them until now.
I see The Conspirator (2010) very much as a sequel to Lincoln (2012) which preceded the events up to President Abraham Lincoln‘s assassination by John Wilkes Booth. Of course we see the event in the latter film treated more as a finishing point to a glorious film that depicted the political struggle by the president to end the civil war and abolish slavery. The Conspirator picks up where this historic event happened, from the build up of the fatal attempt on Lincoln’s to a mis-carriage of justice on a suspected conspirator to the crime, a Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) who’s boarding house was used by the accused assassins who I learned did more than kill the president on that fateful night.
Without having seen any other Robert Redford directed films I felt this came across like a HBO film with all the gloss and style that came with it which both gave it a rich historical look and a very polished finish. Probably seen as a prestige picture that goes against the grain of what is American on the face of it, when a defence lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) a former Union captain defends Surratt. Who even he believes is guilty for a time, wanting to shirk off the case that has been left at his door by Senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson). It’s only when the prosecution’s case begins do we see how slanted it is towards a conviction and execution at any cost, even the military judges have already made their minds up. Of course there is a need to wrap up this awful affair and bring justice so the country can move on. At what cost, that of a possibly innocent woman who just happened to rent her rooms out to a number of the assassins. its possible. But when a country wants blood and revenge, it must be delivered.
Reflecting the recent hunger for justice with the Bush Jr. administration that see’s countless men being locked up in Guantanamo Bay without fair trial. A very controversial prison which protected the country, but bot the rights of the prisoners who suffered in there, guilty or not. Moving that idea into the past to another controversial time when answers were needed, all rights went out of the window to preserve the peace of the country that was still suffering pockets of Confederate resistance.
On the face of it, the concept for this film is very strong and contemporary for its time. Being a legal dram in a historical guise it’s very heavy going, there’s a lot of talking and not enough scenes where the visuals take-over, left for the beginning and end where needed. There are times where I was lost in the lighting which can loose you to that time. Well acted by all involved with many familiar faces, some I just found annoying and out of place in that period. Something was missing, time to think, digest and enjoy, all the while moving at break-neck speed to ensure justice would prevail.
- Movie Review: The Conspirator (abrahamlincolnblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- THE CONSPIRATOR: A Film Review from a Researcher’s Point of View (awesometalks.wordpress.com)