Friday, October 30, 2009

Special appearance by God

No Friday Random Ten. Saturday, probably. That way it can be a special Halloween list.

Now, I have tended to make a point of seeing the films of the Coen Brothers when they've first come out, or soon after. So I caught A Serious Man at the end of its only confirmed week at the Avon. While it's possible to find fault with it, I would say this is at least one of their 3 or 4 best, and maybe their most original.

A large part of the film's uniqueness is creditable to Roger Deakins. He's been the Coens' chief cinematographer since Barton Fink, but his images have never looked like this before. An uneasy shimmer lies over the Minnesota suburb seen here, and the movie is at its spookiest when it's daylight and people are outside. Deakins captures the feel of a home movie that's been moldering in a can while the family forgot it. The relative obscurity of the cast helps get this feeling across as well. The biggest names are a handful of supporting actors from TV, the leading actor has appeared little outside of live theatre, and much of the cast is making its first on-camera appearance. So while you know the actors aren't the characters they play, you probably won't have any previous images of the actors either.

This is the Brothers' deepest exploration of the Jewish faith, or more precisely, Jewish doubt. Michael Stuhlbarg's Larry Gopnik is both a harried sitcom dad and an updated Job. If his life isn't completely going to hell, it's at least going somewhere he doesn't like. And the tension shows, all over.

While the three rabbis in the movie all prove to be unhelpful in their own ways--the eldest can't even be lured out of his private sanctum to meet with Larry--the ritual aspect of Judaism is beautiful in its presentation. Maybe there should be more bar mitzvahs in the movies.

The plot unravels in a way during the last fifteen minutes or so. It does so in a way I'm pretty sure is intentional. "Embrace the mystery" is a recurring catchphrase. Someone's been following this advice.


susan said...

Nice review and one that pretty much allows us to be sure we're safe waiting for it on dvd. They've done pretty good at getting us to the movies several times so they're still batting 500.

Ben said...

Thanks. About the review, I mean, since I can't take credit for the movie. I'm pretty sure there was other stuff I wanted to say, but sleep was calling me.