This follows much the same foolproof thriller pattern as The Man Who Knew Too Much and there’s no surprise there, it’s from the same screenwriter, Charles Bennett. Like “The Man Who…”, this was one of the first and oldest Hitchcock movies I saw way back as a teenager doing film studies for A-level, and again I remember being surprised by how good an “old” movie could be. And, again, it’s wonderfully simple in structure.
The film opens with the (at first) seemingly innocuous Mr. Memory’s show where our hero Robert Donat meets a mysterious woman. He takes her home but wakes in the middle of the night to find her murdered, leaving only a note indicating some explanation might be found in Scotland. He takes the train to Scotland – The Flying Scotsman, no less – and after a stopover with a memorable couple in the countryside, finds the man he’s looking for… but rather quickly needs to flee again. He finds his way through a parade to an assembly hall where he’s mistaken for the key speaker, which he fantastically bullsh*ts his way through before being arrested. It’s here we get the most memorable sequence of the movie where Donat is handcuffed to his leading lady Madeleine Carroll. The story finally comes full circle via Scotland Yard to the London Palladium and old Mr. Memory again, resolving the mystery and bringing two lovers together in an extraordinary final shot.
What lifts this (only slightly, I have to say) above its predecessor The Man Who Knew Too Much are the absolutely wonderful character details. When Donat stops over with the couple in the countryside, there’s a whole other story going on between those two, marital unrest, hints of impotence – when the wife gives Donat her husband’s jacket, it’s not just his jacket, it’s his Sunday best. Before this, as Donat sneaks out of his building past agents looking for him, the milkman also gives him a disguise, but not before a roundabout discussion in which basically the milkman doesn’t believe Donat’s story about the murder and the agents but does believe that he’s been having an affair upstairs and the lady’s husband is waiting outside. Later we have the professor’s wife who walks in on him holding a stranger at gunpoint then leaves as if it’s a perfectly natural scenario; and the landlady at the inn’s comments on Donat and Carroll’s closeness (due to being cuffed) when her husband suggests something suspicious might be going on: “I d’no ken and I d’no care, they’re so terrible in love with each other!” And let’s not forget the wonderful two men on the Flying Scotsman discussing ladies undergarments in front of a vicar… like a little trailer for The Lady Vanishes, lol.
This is easily one of Hitchcock’s best, second only for me perhaps to The Lady Vanishes in his British period. On top of the wonderful character humour there are dozens of “proper” directorial touches, most notable perhaps his cutting from a woman discovering that mysterious woman’s body at the start, just as she opens her mouth to scream, to the train’s whistle. Again he works his story towards climaxes at landmarks: the Forth Bridge, the London Palladium. And I daresay that closing moment over Mr. Memory’s final gasps, Donat and Carroll’s hands joining together with the chorus line in the background, is probably among the most moving pieces of cinema he ever shot.
So, though Hitchcock had a couple of false starts in The Lodger and Blackmail, interspersed between which were a number of dubious experiments of varying success, to me it feels like this one is where he really launched “the true Hitchcock”. I saw this over 10 years ago for the first time and I’m not sure I’ve seen it since; and though I recalled being astonished by it at that time, when I’d not seen that many old movies at all, I couldn’t remember exactly why as I put it on today… though I couldn’t wait to find out.
This remains one of the tightest thrillers ever devised: movies did tend to be shorter at this time, but barring a few exceptions, prior to this Hitchcock tended frequently towards the overlong. Here, the story centres around scant few locations, sequences and setpieces. An opening in the Swiss alps where a mysterious shooting leads into the discovery of a message and the kidnapping of a child as collateral; fun sleuthing scenes at a dentist’s and sun worshipper’s tabernacle; the much talked about “climax” at the Royal Albert Hall; and the sequence I remember most, the siege that forms the grand finale. It’s the kind of movie that’s so simple yet effective it makes you wonder how anyone could have screwed up in the genre ever since (I’m sure we can all think of plenty of bad recent thrillers).
What more is there to say? Peter Lorre is fantastic as the slimy, but fully fleshed out (watch as one of his female aides gets shot at the end, you almost feel sorry for him) villain. Nova Pilbeam is perfect as the kidnapped child, it’s almost a shame she doesn’t have more screen time yet like Dakota Fanning in Man on Fire she makes such an impression early on that her performance resonates even more in her absence. There are more Hitchcock touches than there’s time to list. And that final siege scene is just electrifying. The final shot of Pilbeam being helped back inside through the skylight was the one image that stuck with me vividly all this time since the first viewing. This movie wastes no time – as soon as things are resolved, The End. There’s simply no excuses to not sample this gem. If you’ve never seen a Hitchcock movie before, this is where to start.
Let’s just get this out of the way… ahem, Bourne in Iraq cough lol.
I write what I feel on this site, I wouldn’t even bother if I didn’t, so if you know me you’ll know my apprehension about Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon; even if both have done good work on their own, their most popular efforts have been far from their best and sue me if I call it out when great people pander to the crowd. But to my joy this is one of those rare movies that kinda had me at hello. I’m on something of a “calling bullshit” kick lately, goodness knows why, and after a strong opening with way over-the-top incidental score and less nauseating shaky-cam than usual from Paul Greengrass, comes a scene with Matt Damon’s simply calling such bullshit on the search for WMDs that basically made everything that followed fine by me.
The plot’s more complicated in the end than I’d dare to summarise, and I’m often not good with overcomplicated plots where they’re not needed, but it kinda didn’t matter to me here. I did lose interest and it did outstay its welcome, but I felt perfectly able to dip back into the aspect of the movie that initially hooked me quite easily. It’s one of Matt Damon’s more tolerable performances (and for the record I’d limit those previous of his that fully come into this category to the Kevin Smith stuff and The Talented Mr. Ripley) and being Paul Greengrass the tech side is flawless. It’s clearly no Hurt Locker and clearly doesn’t aspire to be. Some will say it oversimplifies what it’s trying to say about this war. I say, relative to most stuff gracing the multiplexes nowadays, at least it has something that needs to be simplified.
The bottom line on this one is, you have to come to it wanting to try to love it to even hope to come out of it half liking it, because it’s very easy to loathe, as the IMDb score reflects. I’m a Lindsay Lohan fan and I’ve been waiting to see this one for a while now, and I’m also a fan of a lot of the things it seems to be trying to be, so I gave it my best and I have to say that in the end it’s nowhere near as bad as I’d heard.
Plotwise it’s a mess, forcing you to concentrate in ways you should never need to concentrate in movies of this kind. One of the first things you find if you visit the movie’s IMDb message board are lists of plotholes. I’m never one to search for such things in a movie, if it makes sense then it makes sense, but this one really does feel like it was cut with boxing gloves. But when the movie works, it still works, at least for me: the nasty bits are genuinely quite grisly, perhaps more so as I didn’t see them coming. Be warned that this movie falls well under the questionable heading of “torture porn” with the likes of Saw, Hostel and Captivity, at least for a portion of its duration. What remains is a mix of David Lynch, Hitchcock and to my mind a little Vanilla Sky that I’m quick to point out never comes close to those influences but does warrant a little respect for trying.
What I did like – at least, I think I did, and it took me a while to decide – was the look of the movie. Colour features prominently and again the attempt mostly fails but if you notice it, it’s hard not to admire in some way. At least, for me it was (and no, I wasn’t just blinded by the “sexy” Lindsay stuff which I didn’t find very sexy lol). It’s an incredibly garish looking movie in the end but that somehow suits the b-movie guff it turns out to be in the end. It feels like one of those last few movies by Hitchcock, even more like the one he was working on when he died. A lot of the reviews I’ve glanced at call the movie sleazy like that’s a bad thing. What’s the film maker to do? It’s about sleazy people!
Maybe I’m just too kind to Lohan, but I don’t think that’s it. Though this movie may be a mess (seriously, I’m not even gonna try to deny that, lol – I think the editor was even more under the influence than Lindsay), I’d take that any day over the multitude of modern thrillers that simply go by the numbers and neither offer nor aspire to anything new or different. It’s simply not as bad as its reputation suggests.
It seemed a little crazy of me to watch this following two ’08 movies I’d actually had a little hope for (yes, even Prom Night) and been let down so bad over. But, I don’t know, I never really stopped liking M. Night Shyamalan as some did – the furthest I drifted from him was over Unbreakable which I didn’t like at all on the first viewing. A second viewing remedied that entirely and I never entirely distrusted him since.
And you know what? After these 90 minutes, I’m still with him all the way. No – this movie is not terrifying as some people seem to have been led to expect, and if you go in with those expectations then, yes, you’re liable to wind up laughing. I’m guessing this is bad marketing – I don’t know because I don’t put myself in the position to be overexposed to such things. But if you do want to talk about the fear factor of this director’s movies, then at least compare it to Lady in the Water and The Village (two of the movies not oh-so-subtly mentioned on the poster tagline, lol) and realise, in this department at least, it’s still a slight return to form (if you like such phrases). I found the opening immediately arresting, the later scenes like with John Leguizamo and the two boys truly nightmarish, Zooey Deschanel of course stunning (what on earth are those eyes made of? lol) and the ending really quite moving.
It’s hokey and wobbly sometimes, but, y’know, I’m willing to trust that none of this is entirely unintended. Shyamalan’s shown so many times that he’s clearly a Hitchcock fan and so many of the moments particularly in this movie feel a lot more like the master of suspense’s frequent tongue-in-cheek moments than just a hack who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Whether that’s true or not, it still works for me better than the gigantic pile of crap I’ve had to expose my retinas to so far this year.
Again, I’m guilty of not having seen the original here which probably makes me a bad film lover, though it seems to be the right way to approach the thing as the director really made it almost exclusively because he felt too few people had seen the non-English-speaking production … which is kinda sad in itself to begin with.
I guess I want to start before I go “off on one” so to speak (it’s not guaranteed but it’s possible … oh it’s always possible lol …) by saying, I get what the director is trying to do and say with this film (and, presumably, the original) – if only because his self-confessed intentions have been so well-documented. Again, I find this kind of sad – like the saying goes, if you could put it into words, well, what’s the point in painting it? And a lot of the more positive reviews of this movie seem to go in one direction against the criticism, amounting to, “You don’t get it. THIS is what it means,” which to me really says it all.
I didn’t personally get the intention in the end. By which I mean – I get it, but it didn’t work for me as apparently was intended. Though none of the horrors are actually shown onscreen, I felt as the end credits rolled that I’d seen them anyway – that I’d got my kicks, as it were, despite the approach. I saw Naomi Watts in her underwear and tied up, I heard her screams, and those screams were so terrifying that I looked away even though I knew there was nothing to see. So I won’t deny its incredible use of cinema … but, honestly, I never really felt like it was any different from what has come before – Texas Chainsaw, Last House, Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs. Frankly, Cannibal Holocaust did a much better job of making me feel “involved” in the horror; in this whole department, there’s really only one short sequence here that lived up to what I expected.
Haneke is a fine film maker – you can feel a lot of Kubrickian influence here and I’m interested in seeing his other work. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth are fantastic. All the technical stuff is top notch. It takes a long time to get going, though, and even once it does it’s far from gripping; and in the end, personally I feel it fails miserably in its aspirations. I think those who think the naysayers are missing the point on this one need to go back and look at how intelligent a lot of the old nasties really were.
At one point when I was just discovering how amazing cinema was, I was a huge fan of the classic Seventies political thrillers like The Parallax View this harks back to at times. I probably still am, though I haven’t even so much as watched All The President’s Men as recently as I’d like. Perhaps needless to say, at this time of year, with a no-name director at the helm, a title that doesn’t quite gel, and despite the cast, I really didn’t expect this to even touch those classics. Well, to be as brisk with my point as the movie itself is at 86 minutes … I was very pleasantly surprised.
To call this a thriller is an understatement. There’s one point – you’ll know it when you see it, I don’t wanna spoil anything but let’s just say “little girl, middle of the road” – where I literally almost started hyperventilating. As you may have heard, the movie covers the same succession of events – the shooting of a president followed by a series of explosions somewhere in Spain – from multiple points of view. On more than one occasion, these snippets reach an unbearable peak only to freeze and “wind back” to another perspective just before the end is revealed. It’s at times overwhelmingly effective, and to say it’s a movie with twists is the second understatement you could make of it.
For me, it’s the Forest Whitaker “segment” that will really stay with me and that I’ll come back for. It’s always interesting to see what actors do after they win an Oscar and while this does slightly follow the old, “now I’ll do a dumb blockbuster” thing that I think began with Nicolas Cage following Leaving Las Vegas with The Rock, I think more interesting here is how vastly different Whitaker’s character is here from Idi Armin. He plays almost literally a nobody who just happens to get caught up in the story and he does it so endearingly and believably I was on the verge of tears just watching him be so natural before the stuff with the little girl.
No, it’s not up there with the 70s classics – it’d need to be 30 minutes longer and put in a blender with either last year’s American Gangster or Zodiac for that. It is, however, the kind of pure ride I haven’t seen in a while. I remember the interviews with Jennifer Garner and Jamie Foxx over last year’s The Kingdom and while I got nothing from that production it almost seems like this is the movie they were selling. I really loved it.
“One o’ these days this city’s gonna explode. You used to be able to play stickball on the street! Christ, what’s happening …”
I kept thinking this would take off somewhat more than it ultimately does … dare I say that the first thing that strikes me as worth mentioning about it is how … straight a thriller it is, really overall just another undercover cop movie with “the gay” laid on heavy with a quaint disclaimer at the start that it’s not representative of all of them lol. Which is nice …
Most of all it reminded me of last year’s Zodiac … it was during that movie that I finally realised that Jake Gyllenhaal perhaps isn’t so odd-looking afterall, having the eerie doppelganger of young Al Pacino before him. The look and music of this thing combined with Pacino must surely have been on Fincher’s mind when putting together his Seventies throwback.
It does finally leave you with something to chew over with its ending which seems to me to be open to far too many interpretations for me to touch upon here. So I’d like to see it again … but I’ll likely not do that until the rumored 140 minute uncut version emerges.