"Great" Scott? | Bleader

"Great" Scott?

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Just getting in on the tail end of this, but there's a feisty appreciation of action director Tony Scott in the winter issue of Cinema Scope, the invaluable Canadian film quarterly, that--up to a point, anyway--seems to me very long overdue. The two authors, Christoph Huber and Mark Peranson, insist that Scott's critical reputation, as "ADD action hack" and axiomatic Jerry Bruckheimer house pet, isn't nearly what it ought to be, and I'd say bully to that--yeah, he's way better now than stodgy old Ridley, the brother from another planet whose search for the respectability of Oscar ("maturity" is what they call it, I guess) has turned him little by little into the cinematic equivalent of a stately mahogany chest. Wasn't always that way though, and in the beginning it was Tony who seemed criminally deficient in chops--lots of flashy iconographic posturing and Top Gun attitude, with hard-metal surfaces the sum of what he aspired to be about: no soul moments please, might spoil the reflections on the windshields, the hood-ornament highlights ... Which is still largely true, fortunately or unfortunately, though over the last 10 to 15 years (since Crimson Tide per Huber/Peranson, though I'd vote for '93's True Romance as critical turning point) he's arguably taken everything to a higher level--or at least another level, where sheer edited density, an almost literal exfoliation of images, like pointillistic waves, has become the rough equivalent of ordinary narrative investigation. Think Marcel L'Herbier, arch-cinematic impressionist of the 20s, and the frenzied aestheticizing begins to make more than a little sense.

Which brings us to last year's Deja Vu, Scott's latest Bruckheimer plunge and, according to Huber/Peranson, his masterpiece, the auteur's equivalent to Hitchcock's Vertigo (Peranson's even gone so far as to put it on his 2006 Indiewire best list: courage, my man, courage!). And yes, yes, I can see what they're driving at, but no, no, I'm definitely not buying, since however elegant the visual result--and it is; you almost hate not liking the damn thing--there're still a couple fundamental issues that aren't being addressed. Like the incredible opening sequence, where mobs of beaming families and sailors on leave queue up for a "happy" New Orleans holiday on the water: the authors extol it and I have to agree, formally it's simply breathtaking. Except: there's nothing to anchor it, not a single establishing shot in the hundreds (thousands?) of outtake candidates rushing past you, just a lot of "perfect" Kodak moments packing in together like fish in a barrel. But what handsome fish they are, each a perfect specimen of the type--except they are all types, and they do only connote one way: this deliriously joyous time that will all too soon be shattered. Which applies to the rest of the film as well: shots that do only one thing, performances that register at just one level (but are there any actual performances?--everything's so edited into fragments, just these "perfectly" sculpted shards ... ). Even ambiguity has to be literalized in Scott's action universe--this scene connoting paradox, this one conflict or confusion, etc. And yet: there's a single edit to a line of Denzel Washington dialogue--involving a sudden shot shift, from medium to close-in, on Scott's perennial star--that's so exquisitely calibrated to the nuances of the moment you're actually forced to marvel: how many commercial directors would even think to uncover this snippet of situational "truth"? Much less one who's only an "action hack" ...

 

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