Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Invictus | Pierrepoint

Watched two movies today. One of them was good.

Invictus wasn't the good one. Invictus isn't a bad movie, either, but it is a little dull, and clumsily constructed.

I initially thought it odd that Matt Damon was cast as former South Africa Rugby captain Francois Pienaar. It seemed to me that a capable South African actor must be available to play the part. Anyway, my concerns were unfounded; Damon gives a fine performance.

And I'd be lying if I said I'm not at all concerned about Clint Eastwood's newly lackadaisical directing. It seems that the older Eastwood gets, the less concerned he is with keeping production value high. Watching Gran Torino last year (a film I liked, by the way), there were a few moments during which it became painfully obvious that I was sitting in a theatre watching a movie. Invictus contains even more of those illusion-killing instances. I don't think Eastwood's age is catching up with him, necessarily, but I do think that he has more or less stopped caring about those minor details which keep audiences engaged. He's made enough films by now to be done sweating the small stuff, apparently. So be it. All I know is that I sure miss the days when his movies were seamless and compelling throughout (i.e., just three years ago).

But about that good movie...

Way back in 2006, a movie called Pierrepoint played at the Seattle International Film Festival. I clearly remember wanting to see the movie but, ultimately, I missed it (there are only so many hours in the day, and dollars in my pocket, after all). It took me three and a half years, and considerable prodding on the part of my dad, but I've finally seen it. And it is terrific.

The story of Albert Pierrepoint, a famed English hangman, it is a remarkably affecting film. From his first hanging to his last, the film somehow conveys exactly how devastating capital punishment is, not only for its "victims" and their survivors, but also for the practitioner. The film is at once an examination of capital punishment through executioner's eyes, and a character study of the executioner himself. At only 90 minutes, it is absolutely astounding that so much emotional weight and character development is packed into Pierrepoint.

Much of the credit has to go to Timothy Spall, a wildly underrated actor (in the US, anyway) who most film-goers probably know better as Wormtail of Harry Potter infamy. But it's the lower-profile films in which he really shines, and Pierrepoint is undoubtedly his best. (He's also great in Mike Leigh's All or Nothing and, if you like soccer at all, The Damned United, as well.) The rest of the cast is rock-solid, too--Eddie Marsan's face is incredible.

There's far more to Pierrepoint than great acting, of course. The photography is gorgeous and effective. Music is on point, and put to great use in particular scenes. And I honestly cannot recall more eloquent writing; each word, in each line, is there for a reason.

Maybe it's hypocritical of me to say so, considering how long it took me to see the film, but Pierrepoint is criminally underwatched. See it soon.

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