Monday, April 03, 2006

Film: Hero :-(

I realised that I'm not a big fan of classic Hollywood; not that dramatic approach of 40ies where heroine falls on her knees while dramatic violin music screechs on the soundtrack. Lars Fon Trier notices in his infamous "Dogme" manifest that directors often use music to pump up otherwise empty, context-less, emotion-less scenes, to cover up for his and actresses unability to evoke something out of the viewer with more stripped down means. There, I agree with him, and it's not the only trick that Hollywood uses.
I don't fall for Scarlet O'Hara falling down the stairs, the scene that might be singlehandedly responsible for corniness of countless TV's soap operas. I'm not a fan of William Wyler or Victor Fleming; that's all so far from Sam Fuller's modest experiments with black-white and colour variations (to name just one example).
This Hollywood that I don't like is modernised over time; in 80ies and 90ies, as it's emphasies I saw Stavan Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. Music is not overdramatized chamber music anymore, it's gone symphonic and it's gained a lot of tempo. Picture is not marked with screeming colours of early film colour techniques, now it's slick, overproduced, shot as if every piece on the set has been polished to shining before shooting; It's plastic; It's too pretty, therefore it doesn't look real.
Now every story has it's means and this modern Hollywood does fit to films like "Who killed Roger Rabbit" - in fact, it fs perfectly to this film that's a lot to my liking, because the film itself doesn't try to look real; In fact, it leads you through a fantasy and lets you enjoy in its improbability.
But does it fit to a sharp, gritty satire? Of course not. Yet Stephen Frears' "Hero" goes for such satire, and then executes it with such innapropriate slick Hollywood style that at the moments we can't be sure we aren't watching "Ghostbusters". When the plain crashes in "Hero", it's supposed to be a dramatic, tragic event. Instead, we're waiting for E.T. to show up and lift the plane back in the air.
The director is Stephen Frears, perps best known for "Dangerous liasons", the film that is, in my opinion, inferior to "Valmont", Milos Forman's filming of the same novel. As Englishman, Friers has received the respectful notoriety that English directors have because, after all, hey, he's European director, which means an artist. The truth is that Friers is the least adventurous and the most predictable of all Brittish directors.
"Hero", on the other hand, lies on the idea that is so good that it's satirical edge works even from the short description.
And here it is: Bernie Laplante Is a small-time crook, stolen credit cards smuggler always muttering how the world is unfair to hiin his chin. A person noone likes and noone trusts. But one night, he witnesses a plane crash and practically on a whim, saves a dozen of passengers out of burning plane. Then he dissapears.
This is basically a call for analysis: is Bernie basically a good person pushed into a bad life by circumstances, or a bad person with a moment of inspiration? Or is there a line after which someone allows himself to be amoral, but when it comes down to the core, he (and all of us) is genuinely human? Film, unfortunately, deals more with how society (namely press) deals with this fenomenon than with fenomenon itself. But that's neglecting of the potential subtext of the idea, that beneath the crust of oportunism still lies humanity, not everywhere but very often where it's least expected. Noone expects Bernie To be selflessly human; society has given up on him; but is it right thing to do? Does his daily low life really mean that he's deprived of every moral? The idea challenges the way society usually deal with such people, with suggestion that this way is just a simplification.
Great director would know how to handle this. But Frears is not a great director. So instead he turns to easier target, which is mass-media. So he turns all the edge towards ambicious news reporters and TV stations. There are many films playing mass media satire, on top of my head "Network" and "Natural born killers". Do we need even more mass media satires? Wasn't everything already said in that area when "Hero" was made? Even if the answer is "no", that "Hero" deals with this subject is more a product of that Friers doesn't have any better idea of what to do with the material he's given.
But let's go on with the story. There is a public demand for the anonimous hero. Newspapers issue a reward for the hero, and a vagabond John Bubber (Andy Garcia) who hitched Bernie earlier that day, appears to collect the award. Quickly, it turns out that John is a kind, compassionate, charming guy. If he has underlying humanity like Bernie, s crust is much thinner. Using his influence, he starts humanitary actions which make his even more a hero in eyes of the public. In short, seemingly, John is the one who deserves title of the hero and fate made it that he does get it. Another satirical edge (that the film, sadly, misses to explore).
But John is (and that's quite a logical turn) eaten inside by guilt. Even with all good things he's done, he feels that he wronged Bernie by taking his place and peer pressure culminates so much that in the end, he tries to kill himself by jumping off the building. It's Bernie who drags his way to the ledge to talk him out. They sit above the ambis for some time, talking.
And then, and this is the important moment, as John and Bernie are about to return inside, Bernie slipps and falls, but is caught in the last moment, and saved by John.
I have no doubt that this scene was there to provide the last thrill and romanticized conclusion of two man bonding, and then, apparently Frears felt that, if John has wronged Bernie, he should have a chance to repay. Because John is a nice guy and we don't want nice guys to suffer from guilt after the film is over.
But the subtext sneaks in and in the end, what this scene tells is that John was the hero all the along. If he was at the place of the plane crash in time to save people, you might say that he was in right place at the right time, but this scene suggests that he was, in fact, wrong man to be there: it should have been John. There are people who are born heroes, and then people who are born scum; John is the hero, that's his role and even if he wasn't around some plane crash at the beggining, he's bound to prove his heroic nature in the end. Bernie, on the other hand, is brought down to helpless man hanging from the building, waiting for allmighty hero to save him. At this point that he found fimself in the role of hero at one point, seems like just a minor misscalculation of fate. But till the end, everything is set straight and everyone's in the place they deserve.
Says the film. I sometimes laugh when lesser competence authors turns their films into something they didn't calculate in. That this happened to "Hero" makes me sad because of wasted good idea. "Hero" is classic corny Hollywood entertainment, a kind that doesn't even try to say anything except perhaps the most obvious things (newsreporters are cold and ambitious? No shit, Sherlock!)
There are still things this film is worth watching. First, there's Dustin Hoffman, great in a kind of role that he patented later in his career. Then there's Geena Davis as the news reporter, who does a great job until she starts overacting near the end. And there are quite a few laughs here and there.


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