Saturday, December 03, 2005

Nibbles on Pluto

I believe Neil Jordan's newest offering, Breakfast On Pluto was to be his reintroduction to the (arthouse) mainstream. It's been 6 long years since America has indulged and even longer since it has enjoyed. The End Of The Affair was the last film to garner wide distribution (and oscar attention) despite (or perhaps because of) its limp melodramatics. I still find it surprising that the Crying Game was so widely celebrated. Of course the script is flawless, the acting stellar (well, mostly) and the direction tight as can be. Perhaps the Dill caharcter was just so universally empathetic that people across America were able to deal with a few little "details, honey. Details." Certainly Jordan took this success into consideration when making Pluto. It's very familiar territory afterall. Trannies, nightclubs, Irish internal conflict, Stephen Rea. Only this time, Jordan is less concerned with making us understand than making us laugh, then cry...then laugh...then cry...

This would-be complex world is so caught up in being complex and binary (bitter/sweet, tender/violent) that it sometimes forgets to just BE. The world stands like a nostalgic technocolored Disneyland - all of the buildings and characters flat and propped up on two by fours, like the face of some palace in an unnamed studio backlot. As the film is based on a book, of what I am guessing would have about 700 pages, the characters come and go in quick sound-byte styled snippets, firmly imposed by chapter intertitles. This prevents any sort of relatability to the characters - particularly our protagonist, Kitten.

Now I've heard plenty about Cillian Murphy's perfomance. How he transforms into a creature of considerable complexity and I can honestly say that I just don't buy it. Mind you, I don't mind looking at him for hours on end, but his performance, well...

Murphy's Kitten is swishy and effeminate to a fault. It seems as though Murphy based his perfomance on a single visit to a suburban drag bar, Oscar Wilde BBC biopics and reruns of Will and Grace - in equal measures. He so involved in "playing gay" that he sometimes forgets that homosexuals are actually people just like him. His performance becomes just that, a performance. What he did not pick up on was the command that these figures can hold on a subject (because anyone who has seen the Crying Game will attest to the fact that we are all, at one point or another, Dill's subjects). His character (or caricature) lacks any sort of depth or majesty. For the first two hours of the film, his Kitten is a torment to watch.

Which is perhaps true for the film as a whole, as it is only when Jordan abandons the comedic trappings that any emotional depth begins to develop - or at least show. And I was quite surprised when I realized I actually cared what was going to happen to Kitten. Jordan's epic film becomes universal, but only if you are able to sit through the meandering and at times excruciating first two hours of the film. At this point the missed attempts at visual puns and "oh my gosh, what will happen next"s stop, he allows Kitten's sugar frosted shell to crumble around her and invests himself with exploring the means of Kitten's search for her mother. Murphy picks up slightly here, too. Slightly. Particularly in a fantasy scene in which she disarms a group of terrorists with Chanel No. 5. In fact there's a thread of murky representations of terrorists in no way humanizing them as in the Crying Game but not totally vilifying them either. In trying to make a comedy, Jordan left most of his usual issues at the door. And that's not necessarily a good thing.

His "usual" traits that remain, however, are completely hit or miss. Half way through the film, Stephen Rea shows up with a great breath of fresh air, and even though his character is essentially using Kitten (in one of the few moments of complexity in the film) he is doing so with utmost earnestness and love in his heart. The music is odiously ironic, distracting from many key moments of the film. The greatest achievement of the film is Jordan's aesthetic eye. In shots of pure cinematic mastery, he sends the camera swooping from rooftop to rooftop without batting a false lash. Some of the CGI is pitiful (bookending the film are two CGI robins whose tweets are subtitled(!) and appear to be made of chrome rather than feathers)however a nightclub bombing parallels its fantastic blast of glittering mirrors and flaming mirrorballs with the scorched-sober aftermath (another key scene to highlight Jordan's directorial strengths).

I would like to say Pluto is not worth the effort, but that's not quite true. Nor can I say wait till video, because the cinematic flourishes will probably be mere whispers on the small screen. I don't think I would recommend the film to anyone who is not already interested in seeing it. You ability to stick it out is essential here.

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