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The Halloween franchise spans ten films and about 17 hours of screen time.
According to my Kindle, I could read about half of Infinite Jest in that time. But I’m not reading Infinite Jest. I’m watching ten Halloween movies.
As it turns out, I am susceptible to poor decision making, particularly when those poor decisions are self-generated.
What follows is, at best, a cautionary tale. At worst, it’s a fairly indefensible waste of time and a healthy pair of eyes.
Without further ado, is 4,000 words on how not to spend one's life.
In wholly unsurprising news, John Carpenter’s original Halloween is still great. But it’s especially interesting to compare it to what horror movies look like today. 37 years on and it would seem downright quaint if it weren’t still so terrifying. Over the years, mainstream horror movies have become so loaded up with high concepts, cartoonish gore, and nauseating editing that the long shots and slow build make Halloween feel like an art film. The majority of Michael Myers’ killing spree doesn’t even kick off until the last half hour of the movie. By then Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis has seemingly been wandering around the quiet suburbs of Haddonfield, Illinois wide eyed and packing heat for the better part of a day.
That Halloween is so effective and scary nearly forty years on is a testament to the potency of a simple concept executed well. Phenomenal, restrained direction and an iconic score from John Carpenter, an excellent script by Carpenter and Debra Hill, great performances from Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance, and a cinematic dynasty launched by a spray painted rubber William Shatner mask. What’s not to love?
Halloween II (1981)
Maybe under a more skilled hand Halloween II wouldn’t be such a turd, but unfortunately, it is. To be fair, getting a clean read on it immediately after watching the first one may just be impossible, but what a chore of a movie.
There are some reasonably decent elements here. Temporally, it’s an interestingly placed film, taking place immediately following the events of the first film, as Haddonfield attempts to wrap its collective head and infrastructure around the terror just visited upon it. But ultimately, promising seeds are sown in inhospitable crops. The direction is clumsy, Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis are present, but are largely shown in brief scenes while we get a cast of paper thin slasher movie stereotypes to deal with.
It mostly takes place inside a hospital, where Laurie is recuperating. Through a dizzyingly stupid turn of events, Michael Myers is presumed dead, so the authorities aren’t exactly putting the town under martial law, despite the protests of a delightfully histrionic Dr. Loomis, whose oft-ignored ramblings are probably the best part of the movie.
Michael lumbers around Haddonfield, making his way to the hospital. One of the scariest things about Michael Myers is that he walks everywhere. His lust for murder is such a single-minded propulsion that it doesn’t matter how quickly he reaches his target; if he wants someone dead, they will be dead. But it doesn’t seem like the makers of Halloween II had really figured that out. Rather than stalking the shadows, Michael lurches around like a drunk Frankenstein, making it pretty difficult to take him seriously (though all the stabbing helps his case).
This is probably most clear in the film’s climax. Laurie, after playing hide and seek with Michael for what feels like a series of eternities, shoots him in the face. Bleeding from… somewhere in the head/face (unclear, as there isn’t a discernible wound, Michael begins stumbling around the room, swinging a scalpel in the hopes of hitting something. Perhaps it’s a commentary on Michael’s wasted life, returning him in the audience’s eyes to the tender young age at which he took his first victim, because the man looks like a drunk baby. He hits nothing, Laurie runs out of the room, and Loomis takes advantage of a large amount of combustible gases stored in the room and blows them both to kingdom come.
Ultimately, Halloween II feels like the answer to the question “What would Halloween be like if you surgically removed everything that was good about it?”
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Somewhat famous for the absence of Michael Myers, Season of the Witch is a deeply weird experience. It stars Night of the Comet’s Tom Atkins as an emergency room doctor trying to unravel a conspiracy by an Irish-Californian toy company to manufacture killer Halloween masks to mass-murder children using the power of a meteorite according to old Irish folktales.
At the very least, it’s an interesting trip. The masks manufactured by the Silver Shamrock company use the metorite’s power and a hypnotic TV commercial to essentially turn their wearers’ bodies into fetid menageries of snakes and slimy bugs, which, at least in the demonstration we’re shown, also set about killing anyone else in the room. Atkins, the unlikely lothario, has to take a break from running game on two unsuspecting women to try and convince the world of this android-laden conspiracy he’s stumbled into, lest a significant portion of the world’s children all die instantly on Halloween night. Oh yeah, there’s robots. A lot of robots.
With the primary antagonist being a brilliant, ultra-powerful inventor with an arsenal of deadly technology at his hands, it almost turns Atkins into a kind of low-budget Californian James Bond.
Season of the Witch was apparently the result of John Carpenter and Debra Hill thinking that the Halloween franchise could become fertile ground for an anthology of horror films, not necessarily connected to the original two Halloween movies. It’s a pretty interesting idea, but one that wouldn’t see any action beyond this third entry due to poor box office and critical reception, which is too bad. While it’s not a perfect film, Season of the Witch extends itself beyond the traditional and often staid spectrum of the average horror movie. It has a truly weird premise, some beautiful cinematography, a solid score, and a pretty decent cast. Writer/Director Tommy Lee Wallace probably hit the nail right on its proverbial head when he lamented Season of the Witch being sent into the world as a Halloween entry. Perhaps it would’ve been best served simply being the only player in its own strange sandbox.
Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
In the aftermath of Season of the Witch’s disappointing showing at the box office and with critics, it would appear that the only sensible solution to keep the Halloween franchise alive would be to bring back Michael Myers.
Halloween IV is a fairly decent slasher movie. It doesn’t harbor any loft aspirations and gets down to business pretty quickly. Every scrap of important plot DNA is contained within the title: Michael Myers is back! It doesn’t really matter how or why.
This is where we start to see the more supernatural elements that would come to be part of the Myers mythos. For reasons that I don’t think are ever explained, he’s super strong now; crushing bone and cartilage with his bare hands when there isn’t a giant chef’s knife nearby. After a few years in a coma following the events of Halloween II, Michael escapes the mental hospital he’s been held in, cocooned in gauze, strapped to a gurney with truck tie downs like a piano in a moving truck. He escapes and ever the staunch traditionalist, makes tracks for Haddonfield.
Halloween IV is also where we start to see cracks in the franchise narrative smoothed over with offscreen deaths and characters implausibly explained away to make room for actors that agreed to appear in the film.
We’re told that Laurie Strode died in a car accident, but not before having a daughter, Jamie Lloyd, now living in foster care. Naturally, this makes her Michael’s niece, so she must die.
Having the ostensible plot of this movie make it clear that Michael’s mission is to destroy his bloodline, one starts to wonder what his plan is for when it’s all over. Vacation? Retirement? Long days at the dog track sipping watered down Cutty Sark and 7-Up? Maybe he has a secret nest egg, a piece of land in Ensenada, or a line on a hot deal on an all-inclusive week at Sandals. I may not be the voice of the majority here, but I want to see that movie.
Somewhere, in a drawer in Culver City, there’s a script for Halloweekend at Bernie’s that the world may just never be ready for.
Halloween IV isn’t great, but it’s not awful, either. Donald Pleasance is unhinged as ever as Dr. Loomis and the rest of the cast does a pretty commendable job with what’s basically a fairly run-of-the-murder-mill slasher flick.
Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
There’s an important lesson to be learned from the fifth Halloween: if you don’t have an idea for a movie, it’s completely acceptable to just not make a movie.
This installment is notable for showing a brief glimpse of Michael’s face, though that outcome seems almost likely after watching an oversized, lopsided mannequin face dangle off his melon for 90 plus minutes. One would think that the Michael Myers mask would be a prop that would be of paramount importance to get right when making a Halloween movie, but that thought didn’t appear to cross the minds of those responsible for Halloween V.
Despite being basically a retread of Halloween IV, a lot of this movie is forgivable. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill slasher fare, with Michael laying waste to a lot of frolicking teenagers. Donald Pleasance is back and is as Biblically wide-eyed as ever, a boon to the series. Danielle Harris turns in another commendable performance, particularly for being such a young kid, but the story is so unremarkable, it’s hardly worth watching. The entire Myers mythos is furthered but also bafflingly undone when for no reason whatsoever, Loomis switches gears in the last few minutes of the film and decides Michael should be captured rather than slaughtered, negating his efforts for four entire films at this point.
I’m beginning to get the feeling that there might be too many Halloween movies.
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
I’ve never been more happy to see Paul Rudd.
Aside from Season of the Witch, The Curse of Michael Myers might be the strangest installment in the original Halloween series. It turns out that Michael survived the end of Halloween V and kidnapped Jamie, taking her to live underground with some sort of twisted Druid death cult that worships Michael. Years later she is impregnated and upon giving birth, escapes their underground lair. She is mercifully released from this convoluted nightmare and we’re left with Paul Rudd as a Myers expert and various members of the Strode family, who are now living in the Myers house.
God love him, Donald Pleasance is back guns blazing. Despite being very near the end of his days when this film was made, he turns in another great performance as Dr. Loomis. If there’s some kind of championship or honorary degree for great acting in execrable movies, it should be named after Donald Pleasance.
The Myers death cult is an intriguing idea, but unfortunately it’s half-baked and never really explored by the film. Paul Rudd gives a computer-aided monologue about Druids that might actually explain some of their significance in the film, but I can’t remember if it does. I just finished the sixth one of these things in a row and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little punch drunk.
That this opened against and was defeated at the box office as Se7en certainly feels indicative of a change in what constitutes exciting serial killer fare. While the production values certainly appeared more robust than its predecessors, David Fincher has had half-remembered dreams about wet farts that are more visually groundbreaking than The Curse of Michael Myers.
I think I might take a short break before diving into the seventh installment to gaze longingly at my college diploma or look into different kinds of societally valuable volunteer work I could do to atone for this.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
After the successes of films like Se7en and Wes Craven’s Scream, it would’ve appeared that the American moviegoing public was ready for another Halloween movie, but this one would have to be different. It would need to be smarter, more engaging to an audience that had outgrown the rote old tricks of 80’s slasher movies. It would need to be dynamic, and poke fun at the inherently ridiculous trappings of the horror genre itself. It would, essentially, need to be Scream.
Halloween H20 is not Scream. Though producers hired Scream screenwriter (Screamwriter?) Kevin Williamson to rewrite H20 once Jamie Lee Curtis expressed interest in resurrecting Laurie Strode, he ended up only being credited as an Executive Producer. None of this really matters except to illustrate that the filmmakers were at least aimed in the right direction.
Laurie Strode was back, having faked her own death, and is now the headmistress at a remote California boarding school. The smartest thing about H20 is that it jettisons a lot of potential franchise baggage by pretending Halloween 3-6 never happened. No death cults, no Jamie Lloyd, no labored exposition. In a stroke of mercy, that narrative streamlining helps make H20 the shortest Halloween movie.
Halloween H20’s flaws are many, but at the end of the day, it’s a pretty decent horror movie. The deaths are fairly creative, the return of Jamie Lee Curtis obviously netted the production a respectable budget, and the cast is littered with actors like Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, and Joseph Gordon Levitt, that would go on to become established performers in their own right. A cameo by Curtis’ mother, Janet Leigh, of Psycho fame is also a very nice touch.
It’s not a remarkable entry in the series, but compared the the last few, it’s a relative triumph. From what I can gather, it’s not looked upon fondly by Halloween fans, but I have a soft spot for it. At the very least, it won’t take up too much of your time.
It also begins a short-lived tradition of Michael Myers fighting rappers with LL Cool J playing the campus’ lone security guard, Ronny. This tradition would only last long enough to reach a stirring crescendo in the next installment.
Seven down and no one’s burst into my house to kill me. I can’t decide whether or not this is a positive or a negative.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
All due respect to the Flipmode Squad, but if the best part of your movie is Busta Rhymes, your movie might have some problems.
Halloween: Resurrection is a 94 minute slog through an unrelenting series of creative misfires and poorly executed everythings. Resurrection opens with some surprising and gut-wrenchingly badly delivered news: Michael Myers—despite being very clearly decapitated by Laurie Strode at the end of the last film—is still alive!
Apparently, Michael switched outfits with a paramedic and then crushed his windpipe so he couldn’t say to anyone nearby “HEY, I AM NOT MICHAEL MYERS DESPITE WHAT THIS MASK AND JUMPSUIT MIGHT LEAD YOU TO BELIEVE.” Why the paramedic then tried to kill Laurie while she was driving the coroner’s van and then made it all the way through the van crashing and then pinning him against a tree without making any discernible effort to identify himself is not explained.
Or why he didn’t just take the mask off.
Maybe there’s a deleted scene where Michael goes and melts down a bunch of horse hooves to make superglue and then superglues it to the guy’s face?
Doesn’t matter. The clowns that wrote this didn’t care, so why should I?
Laurie is now locked up in a mental hospital, mute, and irreparably scarred after decapitating an innocent man. Michael breaks into the hospital to finally kill her, and in a series of events that might as well have “Yakkity Sax” playing underneath them, succeeds. Jamie Lee Curtis is in this pile for a grand total of maybe three minutes.
It’s heartbreaking in a way, to watch a beloved franchise march resolutely toward utter irrelevance, but I would rather watch a movie about Michael Myers’ artisanal super glue business than Halloween: Resurrection.
The plot is pretty simple. A bunch of college kids sign up for a company that puts them in a cheap reality show in exchange for cash. The reality show is a sleepover at the Myers house, where unbeknownst to all of these idiots, Michael has been living underneath since the last film. The characters are all pretty contemptible and thinly constructed, the dialogue is dizzyingly stupid, and by the time they’re in the house, you’re ready for all of them to be swiftly and brutally dispatched. It’s probably possible to cut this movie down to a fun 15 minute short called Michael Myers’ Idiot Death House, but we play the cards we’re dealt.
The lone silver lining to this giant turd that’s shaped like a cloud is Busta Rhymes giving Resurrection 110% more effort than it warrants. As one of the two organizers of this endeavor, Bus a Bus chews scenery like a dog in a cat factory and takes his strangely highlighted obsession with kung fu movies upside Michael’s head. His lines are almost all totally absurd and the sight of him yelling “Trick or treat, motherfucker!” at Michael before crane kicking him in the chest is perhaps the sole joy to be had in this dream killing loser of a movie.
Closing in on 3,000 words and at this point I’m not totally sure this is even in English anymore. I should’ve done this with a live stream of an FMRI machine so I could have evidence of my frontal lobe turning to pudding.
I have a lot of admiration for Rob Zombie. This is a guy who said to himself “I want to live in a world where I’m constantly surrounded by robots and monsters” and then went out and created that world. There’s something legitimately amazing about that. He’s like a harmless Bond villain.
It makes me wish I liked his Halloween remake more.
He’s proven himself to be a talented filmmaker. House of 1,000 Corpses is a bit of insane fun and The Devil’s Rejects is one of the most soul-crushingly effective film experiences in recent memory. Zombie’s Halloween isn’t glaringly bad, it’s just extraordinarily unnecessary. He sets out to delve into the DNA of Carpenter’s original story, but the genuine article was a beautiful example of streamlined, purpose-built filmmaking that didn’t need fleshing out.
Michael Myers is best experienced as a silent, unstoppable death machine. The story doesn’t benefit from spending half an hour exploring The Murderer as an Angry Young Man. Carpenter accomplished the same thing in the ultra-brief P.O.V. sequence that opens his Halloween. It’s kind of funny to see The Monkees’ Mickey Dolenz as a redneck gun dealer who sells Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Loomis his revolver, but it doesn’t add a thing to the story.
One gets the feeling Zombie includes a lot of these scenes out of reverence for Carpenter’s original. After all, it would be hard to believe a man with his public proclivities would undertake a Halloween remake without having a serious love for the one that started it all, but his approach is muddied by a lack of editorial zeal.
Halloween looks great, and it’s maybe the best Michael Myers casting job in the whole franchise with ex-pro wrestler and gigantic Canadian Tyler Mane, but Carpenter’s original casts a shadow that is simply inescapable.
Halloween II (2009)
Michael is dead, until Michael is not dead. After the coroner’s van crashes, Michael Myers takes to the countryside, enjoying a long, introspective walkabout. He grows a beard, hunts his own food, and while it’s not shown, I’d like to imagine he’s taken up a few wholesome pastimes like fly fishing and the acoustic guitar.
Michael Myers Finds Himself on a Gap Year is another phenomenal film idea suggested but not capitalized upon in this franchise. In between murdering territorial rednecks and eating dogs, Michael eventually circles back towards Haddonfield to make another run at ending the Myers bloodline.
Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Loomis, portrayed as a genuinely caring psychologist in the first film has turned into a craven, fame-hungry prick, exploiting the murders in Haddonfield with a grisly true crime book and a media tour. For reasons that eluded me, he’s become a cynical, snooty diva and an insufferable douche. I suppose it adds some narrative propulsion to look forward to his inevitable demise, but every scene with him leading up to it is unpleasant at best.
The best part of Halloween II is Brad Dourif reprising his role as Sheriff Brackett. Brad Dourif’s great in everything that springs to mind, but he’s so great at playing total creeps that it seems like he rarely gets the chance to do much else. He plays Brackett as beleaguered but dedicated; trying to hold everything together under the psychic weight of the terror that befell his family and his town. He’s warm, but determined and manages to subvert a lot of stale horror movie stereotypes by turning in an emotional, three dimensional performance.
The rest of the cast is pretty decent, too, but most of the dialogue is people screaming about how psychologically scarred they are from the events of the first movie and then screaming because they’re being heinously murdered.
Zombie weaves in a few interesting threads by opening up the character of Michael Myers a bit. For the first time since the opening of the very first film, we see things through Michael’s eyes. As it turns out, becoming a mass murderer as a child and then re-upping your membership annually for a few years doesn’t leave one’s headspace free of turbulence. Michael is regularly visited by visions of his mother and himself as a child. The specter of his mother acts as a sort of guiding force for Michael, often clad in angelic white attire, she commands him to kill.
People go places, use the word “fuck” as punctuation, and seemingly wait to be killed. The lucky ones die, including Michael and Loomis, but Laurie survives. Cut down by a hail of Police gunfire after appearing with a comically large knife, the last shot of the film shows her recuperated, but in what appears to be a mental institution, kept company by an angelic vision of her grandmother and a white horse. A somber cover of “Love Hurts” plays, an audience vows to be more selective in the future.
Halloween II is ambitious, which I’ll nearly always praise regardless of the results. Visually, there’s some interesting and beautiful things going on, but in the end, it just doesn’t hang together. Like its forebear, it’s not outright awful, but it’s not great, either.
There’s not much more to say about it and honestly, after nearly 17 hours of this, I think there are worms eating what’s left of my brain. Neither the mind nor the body are willing to go on.
Clearly, this was a terrible idea.
Surveying the Halloween franchise as a whole is watching the systematic torture and murder of a good idea. A great premise is beaten to death and resurrected over and over, each time losing more of the essence that made it able to summit such remarkable heights to begin with. It’s the equivalent of watching the offspring of a minor celebrity say “Don’t you know who I am?” to a succession of bouncers at increasingly unimpressive clubs over the course of the longest night of your life. It coasts on unearned energy and misbegotten status and highlights some of the worst habits and laziest tendencies of the horror genre.
If you’re thinking about watching all ten Halloween movies in a row, I wouldn’t recommend it. This is a feat of lethargy on par with death. In short, it’s just something no one should ever do.
Go outside. Read a book. Hug a loved one. Watch a good movie.
The western and the horror movie are two genres that can be very difficult to get right. In both cases, less skilled hands tend to over or underwork the material, relying on tired clichés, paying short shrift to elemental building blocks like plot and character in favor of cheap scares or cartoonish riffs on previous genre entries. This is a roundabout way of saying that while it’s generally true that there are more bad films than good, this rule seems to apply doubly to westerns and horror movies. Perhaps the easy associations one is able to make by embracing genre tropes have created a homing beacon for the lazy, or perhaps they’re simply more difficult to get right.
In either case, S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk has managed to pull off the commendable feat of being a worthwhile film in both genres, to the degree that one wonders why the horror western isn’t a type of film attempted more often. It’s difficult to imagine a setting more fitting for grisly devastation than the half-settled dustpan of the American southwest of the 19th century.
From it’s first frame, Bone Tomahawk is brutally violent, but the machinations of history surround the time period aid in granting what could be cartoonish with an air of something adjacent to authenticity. Any film about western settlers is on some level a film about ordinary people plunging into the unknown, taking word of mouth accounts as fact enough to pull up stakes and strike out for something akin to a new world. Through that prism, Bone Tomahawk is more of a western that uses horror elements to great effect as a kind of violent seasoning. The cast of disparate settlers simply find themselves up against a more harrowing and sinister unknown than they would in most other westerns. Substitute a gang of drunken gunfighters and criminals for a tribe of otherworldly, cave-dwelling cannibals, and the result is actually something of an überwestern.
Bone Tomahawk’s menace of apex cannibals is what makes it more akin to Predator than The Searchers. The underground tribe is powerful and terrifying to the point that even by the end, one’s not totally certain that they’re human. Decorated with otherworldly body modifications and communicative only via hauntingly modulated whistles and screams, they’re the secret fear in the heart of every intrepid settler writ large. An unstoppable, inscrutable force ungoverned by human laws and given to perpetrating acts of unspeakable violence.
Then again, a suitable adversary for Kurt Russell would need to be so petrifying.
The cast is small but able, with Russell as the noble law man, Richard Jenkins as his oft-inebriate deputy, Matthew Fox as an arrogant gunfighter, and Patrick Wilson as a hobbled husband who sets out with the raiding party to try and rescue his kidnapped wife (Lili Simmons). Supporting cast members like David Arquette, Sid Haig, Michael Paré, Jamie Hector, Fred Melamed, James Tolkan, and Sean Young round out the unsuspecting settlement.
Zahler’s script and direction are wise, recognizing the beauty in keeping Bone Tomahawk a simple affair. Though there are some welcome linguistic embellishments to reflect the times, the story is swift and concise, almost primal. Establish, imperil, descend. When the average life expectancy is that low, there’s little time for ambiguity.
The music is as sparse as the landscape and the special effects are a rarely deft blend of practical and computer-generated, particularly potent given the commendably high levels of gore reached.
Just in time for Halloween, Bone Tomahawk is a desperate, bloody, thrilling affair that recognizes the longest shadows are cast in the lowest light. Fans of westerns and horror movies, and those who consider Kurt Russell a minor deity should all be pleased and pleasantly disgusted.
At the time of publishing, Bone Tomahawk is in limited theatrical release and is available everywhere on multiple V.O.D. platforms.
The other day, I was listening to an old episode of the habitually excellent podcast Travis Bickle on the Riviera when hosts Sean Witzke and Tucker Stone started discussing Michael Mann’s most recent film Blackhat. I’d recommend listening to the episode to hear their discussion about it, but over the course of that discussion, they brought up a really fascinating point about great filmmakers. They both enjoyed the movie, but spoke of being excited to watch it again because Mann belongs to the rarified group of masterful filmmakers whose work can change over repeated viewings; Miami Vice being a particularly potent example.
Prior to this, the notion of me ever watching Blackhat again was something I’d hold more akin to a farcical punishment than a willing endeavor, but like anyone else on Earth, I’m wrong basically all of the time.
I hated Blackhat when I saw it in the theater. I’d been excited to see it if for no other reason than it was a new Michael Mann movie, but it looked promising. Solid cast, intriguing premise, exotic locales, violence. Any one of those is a potentially solid building block to an enjoyable film, but I walked out as the credits rolled feeling dejected, confused, and ultimately let down. While commiserating with the only person I knew in Portland who had actually seen the film, I said that it felt like watching a movie made by a robot trying to learn how to be human.
The dialogue felt terse, the pacing and inside baseball trappings of the story made it a formless, messy trudge, and the performances had the resonance and elasticity of a box of cereal. And I’m not usually the kind to pick apart a story while I’m watching it or scream about plot holes, but the events that unfolded in the film were distractingly convoluted. My greatest fears about Blackhat were confirmed and I had another Michael Mann film I didn’t like; an addition to the late period void in a filmography that used to stand as a library of holy texts to me.
So it was with a kind of resigned curiosity that I decided to give it another shot. Worst case scenario: my original findings are confirmed, rest easy. Best case scenario: another Michael Mann film to enjoy, some perceptions and judgments rightfully challenged, unimpeachable personal growth, and glory.
Lo and behold, it only took about twenty minutes before I had a strange, thrilling thought. “Damn. This is actually pretty great.” I sat back and watched the rest of the film, pleased to have a slightly expanded canon (I’m resisting calling it a Mannon, for now). What was once a muddy, tone-deaf chore now felt like a stylish, globe-trotting adventure. But how? What had changed? What had I failed to notice or account for the first time around?
The answer to all of those questions is, of course, Michael Mann.
I’d made the mistake of watching Blackhat under the guise of it being a film made by a man from 1995; a man who made Heat. This is not a movie by the man who made Heat. Heat may be the best crime movie ever made, but it’s twenty years old. Heat can vote and buy cigarettes.
This was something newer. Something stranger. Blackhat’s virtue is embodied in its implausibilities, which like Indonesian tin, can take some mining to get to.
One goes into a Michael Mann film knowing that whatever they’re about to see what painstakingly researched and vetted for authenticity. There are the famous stories that attest to this from behind the scenes of Mann films. Tom Cruise spent a day delivering packages only disguised by a baseball cap totally unnoticed by their recipients to experience an assassin’s ability to blend into a crowd for Collateral. By the time Heat’s legendary shootout was filmed, Val Kilmer could reportedly change out a spent magazine on his submachine gun faster than the S.W.A.T. team members who had instructed him. According to some, footage of him doing so is still used in official instructions by some S.W.A.T. teams. For Miami Vice, the former undercover agents Mann paired with Colin Farrell to get into character actually staged a meeting with a suspicious criminal, who drew a gun on Farrell and accused him of being undercover.
They didn’t tell him it was all a setup until the next day.
Those are all entertaining anecdotes, but the point is that there was a time where if you were paying attention in the ramp up, you went into a Michael Mann film expecting, if not craving, a deep well of authenticity to accompany the super-cool, stylized action. The marketing leading up to Blackhat’s release touted the involvement of a lot of cyber security and intelligence experts and cited some recent high-profile breaches as inspiration and foundation for the film’s story. All of this would lead one to believe they’re walking into a carefully considered examination of the fragility of security in the digital age.
But that movie wouldn’t have Chris Hemsworth beating someone half to death with a table in it.
Michael Mann already made Heat, and The Insider, and Last of the Mohicans. He has enough research cred under his belt to choke a librarian, so it’s understandable that he seems to have lost interest in making those films again.
Thus, Blackhat is (or was) a glimpse new Michael Mann. Mann Prime. A filmmaker who has transcended a pedestrian reality. Miami Vice was a taste of it, but a lot of the insanity of that movie is baked into the plot. If two undercover guys are going to look like convincing high-level drug traffickers, that’s going to require the occasional go-fast boat. Blackhat takes the hyper-stylish action of Miami Vice and strips it of having any adherence to a commonly-accepted reality.
Does doing a set of inverted frustration pushups against a jail wall explain why a hacker looks like he’s been eating boiled chicken by the barnfull and deadlifting small cars? No, it doesn’t. But it looks cool. Does it make sense that the same hacker also appears to have major facility for Israeli martial arts, improvised weaponry, and marksmanship under duress? No, it doesn’t. But it looks really cool. It also looks cool if the guy is sporting a $15,000 watch and a Rodeo Drive haircut fresh out of the federal clink while he’s dispatching mercenaries with lethal precision. It looks cool as hell, in fact.
And ultimately, that’s what makes Blackhat a really engaging film and what eluded me the first time I watched it. It’s Image Comics circa 1993. Everything is dialed up a notch, reality be damned. There are a thousand actors that could make a film about a hacker compelling, but none of them look like they start every day by ripping a stack of phonebooks in half.
That’s not to disparage Hemsworth’s acting, though. He does a solid job and pays something of a tribute to James Caan’s classic performance in Mann’s Thief. The supporting cast is as solid as any other Mann picture, too. Great actors like Wei Tang, Leehom Wang, Viola Davis, John Ortiz, Richie Coster, and Holt McCallany populate Blackhat.
Their dialogue seems terse and a waste on its accompished speakers initially, but the second time around, it’s clear that in Mann’s new hyperreality, everybody talks on a need-to-know basis. Speaking isn’t about personality in this movie, it’s about conveying information. It’s a movie full of Michael Claytons. People telling other people what’s happening, where they’re going, and what they’re going to do when they get there. It feels cold at first, but in a world where everyone goes only by last names and a computer expert also appears to have won the All Prisons Intramural Stabbing Championships five years running, why wouldn’t everything be a mission briefing?
Fittingly, there are some great action sequences and set pieces in this film. Locales that are probably new additions to American cinema are filmed in stark, interesting ways, seemingly with little reliance on forgiving additional lights or custom-built set elements. Those craving authenticity will find some purchase in the orange halos of Chinese street lamps or the lunar landscape of the Indonesian desert.
Is Blackhat a great movie? Probably not. But, it’s worth watching. It’s evidence of a filmmaker who has created truly legendary work attempting to evolve and supersede the genre definitions he helped create, and there’s a great deal of merit in that. Anybody willing to flip tables over at 72 warrants a second look at the very least.
I purposely kept this piece light on plot details because judging by its take at the box office, you didn’t see Blackhat. I get that. It didn’t look like a very hospitable situation when it came out and there hasn’t been a lot of evidence to contrary since.
But I would tell you dear reader, you and your finely honed cinematic instincts might be wrong; and sometimes, wrongness should be celebrated.
I should know. I’m wrong all the time.
Since the late 1970’s and early 1980’s Tommy Lee Jones has been one of the most recognizable and reliable personalities punctuating American films. He’s aged into the kind of battle-hardened, nonsense-free veteran that can impose gravity with nothing but a craggy, hang-dog look. In 1994, he won an Academy Award for playing a character who’s signature catch phrase was “I don’t care!”. He’s played politicians, cowboys, lawmen terrestrial and extra, a baseball legend, a terrorist, Loretta Lynn’s husband, and just about everything in between. Simply put, when it comes to acting, it’s no secret Tommy Lee Jones is a precious national treasure.
Since 1995, he’s also quietly become one of America’s most intriguing filmmakers; crafting difficult, searching films that belie an outer simplicity in favor of diving into some of the human experience’s deepest abysses.
The Good Old Boys
1995’s The Good Old Boys is undoubtedly the most lighthearted of Jones’ films, but it gives an inkling of the direction that his following three pictures would follow.
Based on Elmer Kelton’s 1978 novel, The Good Old Boys follows the ambling exploits of Jones’ character Hewey Calloway, an aimless, dimly good-natured ne’er do well cowboy continually at odds with an evolving world. Hewey finds himself always saying the wrong thing or screwing up in ways that seem only to hurt the ones he loves despite harboring only good intentions. His zest for living purely in the moment and eschewing any kind of plan or strategy for navigating the remainder of his life puts him in the crosshairs of land barons, a Sheriff, a rich, vengeful dandy, and his rigidly resentful sister-in-law, played by a pre-Fargo Frances McDormand.
Though it may sound like some kind of western farce, Hewey’s plight is that of a man plunged unwittingly into a quiet war with an unwanted reality. All he wants to do is be left to go about his business unbothered. To work when he needs money, to worry only about feeding himself and his horse, and to be free of the loathsomely disingenuous characters that seem to be in charge of the machinations that constitute everyday life.
More of an incorrigible goof than misanthropic outlaw, Hewey reacts to the highfalutin posturing of his brother-in-law’s seedy landlord by coaxing a dog to piss on his seersucker-clad leg. When an imperious small town Sheriff tells Hewey he can’t walk down a certain street with his horse, he knocks him out, oblivious to the impending legal entanglement that awaits him, fists propelled by pure principle. Holding the simple ideal of individual freedom above all else also sets the stage for the film’s funniest moment, when Hewey and his friend Tarnell—played by Sam Shepard—literally chase down and lasso the automobile of a boorish fop who mocked them at the rodeo. The story comes to a head when Hewey begins seeing a school teacher played by Sissy Spacek. All signs point to him settling down and getting his act together, his wayward urges finally cured by the love of a good woman, but clearly though his feelings are real, that’s an attachment Hewey cannot abide.
Being a made-for-TV movie, The Good Old Boys is very workmanlike in its presentation and sometimes feels stilted and cheap, but it’s easy to imagine TNT wasn’t exactly backing up the Brinks truck to get this one made. But, the cast turns in some admirable performances and the story is affecting in its own strange way. Though it may never ascend to the pantheon of great films, if his experience making The Good Old Boys had any bearing on his next film, it was well worth the trouble.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
2005 would see the release of Jones’ next film, a collaboration with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga mercurially titled The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Arriaga had come to Jones’ attention due to his work writing the stellar Mexican film Amores Perros, released to great acclaim and an Academy Award in 2000. Jones and his friend and producing partner Michael Fitzgerald were taken with Perros and reached out to Arriaga, quickly becoming friends and deciding that the only sensible thing to do was to make a film together. Though it would take a few years—during which Arriaga would write another acclaimed film, 2003’s 21 Grams—the men settled on a tale of disparate characters whose lives would be transformed and set on a collision course by a mistaken act of heinous violence.
The device of seemingly unrelated characters brought close—and often low—by a cataclysmic act is one that has permeated all of Arriaga’s well-known features, but under Jones’ direction, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada would put into sharp focus the existential western quandaries hinted at in The Good Old Boys.
Taking place in the deserts of Texas, near the Mexican border, Three Burials begins with a discovery. Two hunters fire at a small pack of coyotes, only to discover the canids had been feasting on a moldering corpse. This is, of course, the tragically titular character of the film, whose death is the engine for everything that follows.
Melquiades Estrada is an illegal immigrant who comes to Texas looking for work so he can send money home to his family in Mexico. He comes across a ranch overseen by Jones’ character, Pete Perkins, and is put to work. Over a few tastefully subdued flashbacks, we see that Mel and Pete develop a close and dear friendship, brought to bear at Pete’s taciturn devastation upon learning of Melquiades’ death. Pete, largely the archetypically stoic cowboy, finds himself crashing headlong into a local justice system wholly unconcerned with apprehending Mel’s killer. He asks the Sheriff, played by Dwight Yoakam, to return Melquiades to him, so he can take his body to Mexico and return him to a family that would otherwise only receive silence in lieu of a report of their patriarch’s murder. The perpetually overburdened Sheriff, clearly at a crossroads himself, ignores Pete’s request and buries Mel in what amounts to a modern pauper’s grave. While this storyline plays out, and we see Jones at his best, radiating crushing grief and simmering rage with every steely gaze, another integral part of the story begins to take shape.
Mike and Lou Ann Norton, a young couple played by Barry Pepper and January Jones, move to town. They view a manufactured home for sale with resigned indifference and Mike sets about his job as an overzealous U.S. Border Patrol agent. Scenes from a fracturing marriage follow. Lou Ann grows bored, Mike grows overly aggressive at home and at work, it’s pointed out that they were both very popular in high school. One day while on patrol, through a series of tragic misunderstandings, Mike shoots and kills Melquiades.
While the shooting clearly takes a mental toll on our antagonist, he does not admit to his crime, nor try to absolve himself. With the Sheriff hardly interested in pursuing the case, it falls to Pete to put the pieces together and play amateur detective to ascertain who killed his friend. Upon discovering it was Mike, he kidnaps him, makes him dig up Melquiades’ corpse, and puts the whole family on horse and burro-back, setting out for Mexico and something with at least a passing resemblance to closure for the dead man now wrapped in a blanket and draped across the back of a horse.
He handcuffs Mike, takes his boots, and spends the next act of the movie brutalizing him as they ride across the desert. Mike apologizes and cries and screams, but his debt is not paid. Like Hewey Calloway, Pete Perkins is a man at odds with a world he no longer recognizes or understands. Good men are punished, bad men go free, and those tasked with maintaining a balance between the two look on and do nothing.
It’s at this point that Jones and Arriaga begin to wrestle with the big questions. In a world gone so wrong, is there even such a thing as redemption? Does revenge or moral justice serve any purpose beyond dubious personal satisfaction? If the universe is as coldly indifferent as it seems, what end lies in the pursuit of anything outside of one’s personal stake?
As in life, relationships shown as warm and seemingly tender crumble in a matter of instants. Loves are unrequited, innocents are harmed, and all of it absent any grand purpose or design. A terrifying objectivism is put to work. In this world, a person isn’t truly defined by the image they project or a uniform they wear; they’re defined by their actions. And in the moral Thunderdome of life, the world one wants to see can only be hewn by their own hands, even if it means imposing their vision of the world onto others.
To Perkins, there’s no stretch of incarceration that can repay Norton’s debt. He’ll only find satisfaction—and Norton will only learn the severity of his transgression—by crushing him with the gravity of his convictions.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada was met with some well-earned accolades and nominations when it came out, but was absent from the gaze of larger award shows and didn’t make waves at the box office. It seems to have been well-received by critics, but also appears to have been somewhat forgotten. It’s a film that a lot of people have been meaning to see.
Despite it’s existential brutality, Three Burials is an immensely rewarding film to watch. Realizing the vast expanses of desert needed a cinematographer adept at imbuing scenes with the requisite awe, Jones hired Chris Menges, best known for shooting The Killing Fields and The Mission. It cannot be understated that this is a beautiful movie, clearly made by a man with a reverence for the strange beauty of the desert. The music was composed by a young Marco Beltrami, then best known for big screen genre fare and television work, with the promise from Jones of near carte blanche for the film’s score and soundtrack.
The main cast is rounded out by a phenomenal performance from Melissa Leo and a heartbreakingly bleak appearance by Levon Helm as a blind man left alone in a small house in the desert, who feeds Perkins and Norton a meal on their journey before begging them to kill him. Tellingly, all this dire human trauma climaxes in an ending sometimes chastised and sometimes praised for its ambiguity; somewhat presaging Joel and Ethan Coen’s Cormac McCarthy adaptation No Country for Old Men in more ways than one.
And if The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada sounds like a McCarthy story, Jones’ next project makes even more sense.
The Sunset Limited
In 2011, Jones took on a singularly daunting task: adapting Cormac McCarthy. Though we’re talking about a world where No Country for Old Men was released to ceaseless fanfare and a full trophy case, McCarthy has long proven a difficult writer to adapt for the screen. Many attempts to bring McCarthy’s work onto film have languished in development hell, dismissed as foolhardy pursuits from the outset, or botched upon release, but The Sunset Limited was different. The Sunset Limited, after all, was a play.
Taking place in one room of a sparsely furnished apartment, The Sunset Limited tells the story of White and Black. White is a college professor: literate, questioning, suicidal. Black is a former convict who’s been born again. After Black saves White from jumping in front of the titular train, he takes him back to his apartment, and the two men engage in a debate on a number of McCarthyan topics: the meaning of suffering, the value of humanity, the purpose of life, the right to death. It’s many of the questions asked in Three Burials writ large and unambiguous. The men go back and forth, White resolute in his desire for death, Black equally convinced of the potential for good in every life. The only conclusions the men reach are within themselves, just as the only true conclusions one can reach when considering these questions must be met within. A true believer in anything isn’t going to be talked out of their convictions.
Emotionally, it’s extraordinarily intense. Jones plays White, Samuel L. Jackson plays Black and each man brings some new items from their arsenal in addition to the qualities that have led them both to become well-regarded performers. Jones plays White with a slightly manic pitch; an exhausted impatience bubbling underneath the stoicism he’s known for. Jackson, who’s yelled about God in films before, brings a remarkable light and vulnerability to this role. It’s maybe the first film in recent memory where one can see Samuel L. Jackson playing a character who’s afraid. Though he holds his own with Jones, Jules Winfield his character is not.
Ultimately, The Sunset Limited aired on HBO to decent reviews, but not a great deal of fanfare. The subject matter clearly only appeals to a very select demographic and even then, virtuosic though it may be, it cannot be said that The Sunset Limited is a fun watch. What it is, though, is two legendary actors using muscles we didn’t know they had and asking questions many other films are too scared, stupid, or unconcerned to build a story around.
The external trappings are suitably spartan. It being a filmed performance of a play, there’s no attempts to hide the fact that the apartment is a set. There’s a bit of music from Beltrami, and some effects to show flashes of a world existing outside the window, but ultimately The Sunset Limited is a simple story about complex things. It’s the story of a man who wants desperately to die, and a man who wants him to want to live, and possesses the lifelike narrative resolution one would imagine belongs to such a story.
While The Sunset Limited may not have been a big commercial score, it succeeded in furthering this line of questioning that began in relative innocence with The Good Old Boys. When everything else is stripped away, when death is all the promise that remains for a person, how do they define themselves? Are they still human? Does a being motivated solely by death have a purpose to serve beyond that release? The mental space occupied by White is rough terrain. Grief and darkness so calcified that their deadly logical terminus is more akin to gravity than any human urge or desire. Easy answers don’t exist for any of those questions and McCarthy, and by extension Jones, are smart enough to know that. Ultimately, though, White, Hewey Calloway, and Pete Perkins all share an imperative common trait: they want to be left alone by a world they no longer recognize or identify with.
Hewey wants to pursue the life of a freewheeling cowboy unencumbered by laws and mores, Pete wants to take the law into his own hands until he’s satisfied the man who killed his friend has paid according to his singular rubric, and White wants to jump in front of a speeding train without anyone stopping him.
At their core, each man is attempting to exercise the only agency they feel they have left in a universe in which their existence appears to be of no consequence.
In his next and so far last film, Jones would explore two more thematic cousins to these characters; and show even further the degrading effects of an evolving world on an unprepared humanity.
Ever the great adaptor, Jones, directing a script written by himself with screenwriters Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley A. Oliver set about bringing Glendon Swarthout’s 1988 novel to the screen. The Homesman begins with the story of Mary Bee Cuddy, played by Hilary Swank, is a woman in the anomalous position of having traveled to Nebraska in the 1850’s alone to farm. She’s intelligent, strong-willed, and fiercely independent, but frequently rebuked in her efforts to find a husband and start a family. She’s chastised by a suitor for being too bossy and it’s clear that many of the people in her town are intimidated if not puzzled by her.
Cuddy diligently tends to her homestead, contributes to her small community, and is still something of an outcast. Try though she might, none of those considerable efforts can overshadow the taboo of being unmarried at 31, but she is undeterred.
At a meeting of the local congregation, the Minister reports that three young women from the territory have gone mad, and someone will need to pack a wagon and take them weeks east to Ohio for treatment. This mysterious ailment afflicting all three women is shown in stark relief. Scenes of infant death and spousal rape set the tone for a disturbing and deeply anti-pastoral depiction of the midwestern frontier. Men wrought of cowardice and low moral turpitude dot the landscape in The Homesman.
The men in the congregation waste no time trying to slough off the responsibility of ferrying these women they’ve broken to get help, and Cuddy steps in, taking the place of a man who flat-out refuses to draw for the responsibility and undertaking the effort alone. While preparing a newly acquired wagon for the journey, Cuddy spies a man fit to hang, sitting on a horse under a tree, with a noose around his neck. The man, played by Jones, was judged to have jumped the claim of a man who’d gone east to find a wife, and was left to die by his captors—some of the same men who balked at taking the women east. Cuddy takes something resembling pity on the man and strikes a deal with him. If he helps and accompanies her on her journey, she’ll pay him a handsome sum and cut him down. Over supper, he tells Cuddy his name is George Briggs. It’s never made certain that’s his real name, and his backstory is sketchy at best.
The trip turns out to be suitably tumultuous, with Briggs threatening to quit multiple times and Cuddy reminding him it’s now his duty to help save these women. Over the course of the trip, bonds are formed. Cuddy finds herself in over her head at times while still attempting to contain what is still an extremely dangerous journey. Briggs develops a respect for Cuddy and something resembling a rapport with the three women, who’ve been driven so mad by the insanely harsh frontier that they often resort to maddening bouts of screaming and thrashing and have to be restrained inside the wagon.
The cast is largely limited to Swank, Jones, and the three women, played by Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter; but there are some excellent cameos. Tim Blake Nelson plays a frontier scumbag who picks up one of the mute girls when she runs away from camp and has to contend with Jones and a knife. John Lithgow plays the kindly local minister, and Meryl Streep plays the Reverend’s wife at the church in Ohio that’s the women’s last hope. There are cameos by James Spader as an unsympathetic hotelier, and Jesse Plemons and William Fichtner as two of the mad women’s husbands.
Where the rest of the story goes is territory best left unspoiled, as there are some jarring turns not often found in westerns.
The Homesman not only paints an uncharacteristically brutal portrait of frontier life, but it also uses that unforgiving landscape as a vehicle to address some of the same questions raised by Jones’ other films.
In a world where a person’s virtuous level best is proven time and again to not be enough to achieve their goals, is there really lasting value in continuing to try? In a world that can be so cruel, is there truly a “right thing” to do?
Briggs is a complicated character, so it’s never totally clear whether he’s taking part in the journey out of obligation to Cuddy, to the women, or to some vague, unexpressed sense of duty or honor. He starts and ends the film as something of a scoundrel or brigand, so one’s forced to consider whether or not taking the morally correct path has really had an effect on him. Life is difficult, and it can be even moreso when trying to unwaveringly, steadfastly adhere to a code or expectation. It’s hard enough to simply exist.
What all four of these films ultimately have in common are the marks of a man attempting to cull some truth from a universe he’s seen is unthinkably massive. It’s an admirable feat for Jones, his collaborators, and the creators of the source material for three of these four pictures. It’s a difficult task as there’s no real measurement for success. Narratively, if these films could find definitive answers to these questions, they probably would’ve never been asked. It’s the kind of big picture, existential dread that keeps artists creating difficult, probing work.
Contending with the infinite unknown that surrounds all of us isn’t an enviable task, but it’s one that Tommy Lee Jones has quietly managed to make some excellent movies out of.
On paper, the 1971 racing picture Le Mans possessed all the requisite elements to be a massive box office success: Steve McQueen, race cars, high stakes, and an exotic French setting. But despite all the cinematic firepower therein, it stands as a somewhat notorious failure. It didn’t earn back its estimated $7.6 million budget nor did it strike a nerve with critics or audiences in any wide regard at the time of its release—though it’s since grown a dedicated cult following. Despite its considerable pedigree Le Mans is a beautiful, compelling, and fascinatingly anti-commercial experience.
In addition to part of a stuntman’s leg the famously embattled production cost itself the marquee name of John Sturges—Director of The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, and Bad Day at Black Rock, among others—who quit after growing tired of McQueen’s obsessive grasp over nearly every aspect of the production. While television veteran Lee H. Katzin was hired on to fill Sturges’ absence, it was still McQueen’s show.
The first thing one’s likely to notice while watching Le Mans is that there’s no spoken dialogue for the first 37 minutes of its 106 minute runtime. This first clue of the film’s inextricable oddness gives way to backstory told through hazy, impressionistic montages rather than explicit exposition. The actual story being told is almost made to take a backseat to presenting a poetic, but ultimately utilitarian documentation of the famous annual race. If this film was presented to someone who didn’t know who Steve McQueen was, they could be told it was a documentary and hardly be any the wiser by the time the credits roll.
The intricacies of the race itself are hinted at via commentators on loudspeakers around the track, but none of the rules are laid out for the uninitiated. Remember the poker scene from Casino Royale? The one where Giancarlo Giannini explains the rules of Texas Hold ‘Em to Eva Green? This movie is the polar opposite of that. There’s no audience surrogate. No handholding. It’s a mood piece that happens to feature thrashing, powerful machines, cutthroat competition, and terrifyingly violent wrecks.
The story of McQueen’s famous racer Michael Delaney grappling with his past and chasing his future is a somber, elegiac affair. He seems to be at turns haunted by the accident that claimed his rival Belgetti’s life the previous year, and concerned with the undertaking at hand and younger drivers eager for victory nipping at his heels. These themes are far from radical for a sports movie, but the presentation is once again where Le Mans starkly distances itself from the pack.
In between some of the most breathtaking, pioneering racing footage ever filmed and the requisite roar of super-powered engines, McQueen and the other drivers are shown almost exclusively in quiet moments. Wandering around the decidedly unglamorous, muddy grounds of the racetrack, hiding out in their trailers, answering inane queries from reporters, eating, and trying any way they can to create some headspace not dominated by the potentially deadly reason they’re all there to begin with. Scenes are not so much transitioned to and from as dipped in and out of. Drivers yelling pointers about track conditions and car idiosyncrasies into one another’s ears are drowned out almost totally by roaring engines and frantic pit crews. The visuals are striking and iconic, from McQueen’s jumpsuit to the blue-faced Heuer Monaco watch strapped to his wrist, to the blue and orange paint job of the low-slung Porsche supercar he drives; but like a race car itself the story itself is sleekly unadorned and made for speed. Extraneous parts are cut for weight and stripped from their moorings, fragile, aerodynamic fiberglass covering precisely engineered mechanical wonders.
It seems like nearly every measure possible is taken to strip a movie about the star of Bullitt as a race car driver of its commercial potential, but the result is a fascinating mixture of thrilling automotive action and an almost documentarian level of immersion in a world that McQueen was obsessed with.
It may not have been ready-made fare for the moviegoers of 1971, but Le Mans is without a doubt one of the weirdest cinematic moves by a star at the height of their powers and one strange and beautiful ride.