Finding Film

Columns | Annelies Guisset | April 2009

Whenever someone asks me about my favorite hobbies, "Watching movies" will always find its way close to the top. Wondering why such and such an angle was chosen for a particular shot, why this actor for this role, why this kind of dramatic lighting, etc, is something I just love to do. Also, searching for those little mistakes even the big-budget movies are unable to avoid, has become quite fun.

However, when the mistakes become gross and none of the questions I ponder about during the film make sense, things get almost unbearable, even for a movie-buff. Lately I have been disappointed like this more and more frequently. The films of today are of grand quality when it comes to the mechanics of it all – the lighting is crisp and perfect, the cinematography is usually well thought-through, and the acting is admirable. The plot leaves much to be desired.

One of these most recent ‘disasters,’ from my point of view, was the February-released The International, directed by Tom Tykwer, starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. The idea for the plot is no naïve one – based loosely on the Bank of Credit and Commerce International’s banking scandal, this American-German action thriller shows Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Owen) along with Manhattan district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Watts) trying to uncover the arms dealings of the International Bank of Business and Credit.

What does one expect from such a plot line today, exactly? Another Wanted vs. Casino Royale vs. Munich? Not quite. Unlike these blockbusters, The International contains more stealth and diplomacy than actual violence, the only great exception being the shoot-out at the confusing Guggenheim museum (leaving the place utterly destroyed). As one can imagine, the verbal ball-game throughout the majority of the film is extensive and difficult to keep track of. And yet, the shots are almost poetic in their balance and lighting, every emotion and fold on Clive Owen’s face visible with almost microscopic detail, close to no shot is redundant or meaningless, and the film moves along fluently. But the plot and all the characters’ traveling and almost constant negotiating… become tiresome quite quickly.

I won’t linger on more details or examples, but suffice it to say that movies today aren’t quite like they used to be. What has become the main focus? What do audiences really want? I know what I’d like: a healthy balance between good quality shots, an intelligent yet easy-to-follow plot, and perhaps just a sprinkle of sex and violence, to keep it piquant.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just spoiled.

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