Wednesday, October 27, 2010

TALL TALES with Edward Norton #2: STONE

Why 'tall tales'? Because I don't want to sell the actor short ;)

'Oh, and SPOILERS'

What does a man have to do to get through the last stage of retirement?  Why a good ol' mind-fucker-game of course.  Robert De Niro plays Jack Mabry, a parole officer for his whole career in some rural area of Michigan.  His latest case, one of the ones he will get through before he's all gone from the job, is Stone (Edward Norton).  Sure, that's not his 'real' name, but why not, call him what he likes.  Stone burned down the house his grandmother was in years before, and he's up for parole (he served time for arson, not murder as it turns out).  But Stone has something else in mind: he wants to connect on a human level with this guy Jack.  All Jack wants to do is to get this guy processed, and he doesn't really have a good sense about him.  At least, not at first.

This is a mind-game type of movie that provides so much in the way of character for its actors and gives them so much to work with - not least of which De Niro and Norton, two of the finest and most intense actors of their respective generations, who previously worked on the underrated heist flick The Score - that it's a shame that ultimately the plot kind of twists and turns itself into some knots to try and make some sense, when it actually doesn't.  I have to wonder the logic in a guy like Stone: how can he make a guy like Jack believe he's genuinely changed if a) his religious conversion in jail might seem like a lark to most involved who may not be seeing him by himself in his jail cell as his mind goes all over the place, and more importantly b) that he is kind of pimping his wife out (or she is pimping herself out) to Jack in order to curry some favor on the outside?  Furthermore, shouldn't Jack know better?

Oh, that's something else I should mention before going any further: this is a time for Milla Jovovich to shine as an actress.  Somehow she has a way of finding herself into plots that have rich character if not rich story (last year's A Perfect Getaway was another), and here she really gets to stretch her legs (some pun intended) with her flirty "animal" of a character Lucetta.  It's hard to peg Lucetta's motives: is she screwing around literally and figuratively with Jack because she wants to, or all part of the greater-plot-to-get-Stone-out?  Or is she even genuinely attracted to the grubby old guy?  She writhes around and wiggles in some scenes and has a look in her eye like a dirty descendant of a femme fatale.  All of these characteristics are fulfilled by Jovovich.  That she's also rarely been so sexy and dangerous on camera is a testament to her skills when she's NOT in Resident Evil movies.

Speaking of motives, this is where the other characters, and by proxy the actors, come into play as the kind of joyfully mixed bag.  I loved seeing how Norton's character goes through some changes in the film, and yet there's always (perhaps as a flaw) the nagging feeling that it could all be for not.  But, and maybe I've been suckered in like a fresh-faced gent at a used car lot, I was sucked in to Stone's arc where he gets sucked into a religious epiphany of sorts involving a bee hum.  We're also lead to believe another character at the start of the film and then another at the end get that same epiphany.  I don't know if I believe, however, for a moment that director John Curran wants to make some big point about religious fervor or redemption.  It's really all about what's subjective; one of the most effective and startling scenes is when Luetta comes to visit Stone, she's all excited about the possible plan coming to shape for the possible appeal... and Stone is just off in his own zone, buzzing away about his connection to God.

Jack also gets a full character as well, a very flawed man who put his wife (Frances Conroy) into a troubled marriage by means of entrapment as we see in the first weirdly intense scene of the movie.  Jack prays at the table, he keeps his vigil on the front porch, he says little of any real love for his wife, who herself is submerged in Jesus and alcohol (whether she believes it totally is also in question, she's thankfully kept a little more subtle in her portrayal).  And now he has this Stone character fucking with him, working on him.  It's a strange thing in the movie Stone as I kept going back and forth about the story.  At times I was completely sucked in, gripped by the raw emotional power that was in it (there's a scene where violence and sex cut back and forth in rough style), and other times I was wondering when the twist would come.

As it turns out, the twist is pretty much expected, or rather is expected in the gradual scheme of things.  But I would still tell people to see Stone for its big four actors, especially Norton who does give an eerie, believable performance with overtones of menace, compassion, insanity and a sharp intelligence, and De Niro, who perhaps compared to some of the crap he's been in over the past decade really gets a chance to shine in that gruff way he has about him.  On one hand as a character study it has a lot of odd contours that could become clearer or more fleshed out on a repeat viewing.  On the other hand it tries to pull some logical gaffs about the nature of a parole-officer job and his subject in the face of making bigger statements about the existentialism.

Hey, you can trust a face like mine... can't you?

Kaneto Shindo's KURONEKO (Black Cat)

And as Halloween draws nearer, how about some Japanese-flavored horror?  Say from the 1960's?

"Is that a cat?"
"One of the strays."

You may have seen one of those "Grudge" movies in the past, either from Japan or one of its American remake-counterpart.  For those not familiar, her is a summary via wikipedia: "The Grudge describes a curse that is born when someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage or extreme sorrow.  The curse gathers in the place where that person died.  Those who encounter this murderous supernatural force die and the curse is reborn repeatedly, passed from victim to victim in an endless, growing chain of horror."

So yeah: ghosts, haunting, vengeance, check, check, double check.  What sets apart at least the beginning of Kuroneko (or Black Cat as it's easily translated as) from other Grudge movies- hell, a lot of other movies period- is how frank and perfect the visual storytelling is.  Not a word is spoken in the first five minute scene of the picture, but it holds real raw, disturbing power at the horror possible in man.  The shot opens as the one right here:

And out of the forest come a big group of men.  At first they look like bandits, and they come trudging along through the grasses to the home set up on the left side of the screen.  They enter inside without any invitation.  Why bother?  The women- one older than the other- look and know what is to come, though this doesn't take away from any of the horror that they feel knowing what's to come.  The men take the food (all of it actually), rape the women, and leave them for dead in the hut, completely engulfed in flames... but then, as if out of that scene in Batman Returns, only somehow creepier, they become 'reborn' in the form of two black cats.  They nibble a little at the bodies, get their essence down, and get to work on what needs to be done: killin' samurai.

This opening is shot, acted and edited (without any musical score) to a completely chilling effect.  I'm reminded of I Spit on Your Grave, only that used rape and revenge as a really cheap, stupid and poorly executed tool, while Shindo is anything but.  His opening to the film is cold and brutal, but it is completely in and of itself human for all of the characters involved.  There's a great moment where as the women are being raped the shots stay on the faces of the other men.  They're not overly excited, they just look on in a kind of daze, sweat beating down, rice all around the sides of their mouths.  Maybe they're waiting a turn, maybe not.  The whole opening carries a flavor like a dream, or, as it's probably intended, a super-dark fairy tale (don't forget, for example, Little Red Riding Hood and the X-rated portion where the wolf actually *eats* the grandmother).

So after this opening, how does the rest of the film live up?  For a while, that is the first half hour or so, pretty darn good.  We see the female-feline process at work, as they lure in samurai - maybe they were the ones who did the rape, probably not - into their lair, fill them up with sake, float in and out of rooms, and the younger woman seduces the men and proceeds to rip right into their necks and drink their blood.  This happens to so many samurai that the lead-samurai man has no choice but to bring in some *good* samurai to try and hunt whatever this ghost is (at first it's thought of as one).  As it turns out the very man that is called in on the mission- a vicious killer who we see in a scene in a grassy field take out an opponent with cunning and (for us) suspense and horror at the other man's fate- happens to also be the man who used to live at home, three years before, with a mother and wife.... and they do look awfully familiar, don't they?

At a certain point, it becomes a little more routine in its plotting.  We know that there can be no real way that the honorable samurai can neglect his task, but, gosh-darnit, she so does look like his wife, don't she?  There are plenty of tender love-making scenes that should go without saying the suspension of disbelief to make love to a ghost-cat-woman (at the least Shindo does give a tender soft-eroticism to the scenes, however they do ultimately drag the narrative).  It's when it comes time to buckle down and do his task that things get trickier and, thankfully, more and more rooted in the atmospheric 'holy hell' that the samurai has gotten himself in to.  

Tell me, is that a human-cat hybrid arm or are you just happy to see me?
I also have to wonder at certain times if the samurai is really the one that should be on this assignment; the lead-samurai thinks so- nay, demands so- despite the obvious pleas to the contrary by the one charged to do the killing (there's a somewhat ridiculous if perhaps expected for a dated samurai movie scene where the head samurai expresses the thoughts that 'there's no such thing as ghosts' and 'only you can kill it, or I'll kill you' kind of logic).  But then again it also leads Shindo to a warped finale, involving the samurai, the mother, and a miscommunication that should be laughable but feels weirdly tragic in its scope.  

All the while the film is a feast for the eyes, if one is looking for a dark tale of the supernatural that uses all practical effects.  By this I should note that nothing ever looks "fake".  There are scenes of gore that are quite vicious, or more-so than I expected for the period (watch out for your neck!)  And Shindo gets plenty of fantastical moments for his actresses to float, fly, jump, cartwheel, and do all kinds of cat-like things in the air, in the sky, in cramped rooms.  There are moments where one forgets the women are cats, or even dead, until it's reminded, sometimes in melodramatic fashion.  Ultimately, there is a sparse poetry to the horror that is going on, and it's more mournful for the disarray that the pig-headed we-can-do-no-wrong samurai have done to farmers and their families that is meant as the main message here.  

This isn't to say that Shindo thinks *all* samurai are bad.  Just, naturally, the ones that are in this film who are vain and proud and ultra-violent, leading a kind of hell-bound charge that all samurai must die.  It's meant to give chills more than outright fright.  This isn't for the kind of Grudge crowd that rushed in droves for the Sarah Michelle Gellar claptrap from 2004.  Quite the opposite, it's for people who just love a good ghost story; if boiled down to its  essentials Shindo has a story that could be told around the campfire.  As it is he's crafted a flawed masterpiece that burns a little slow, and pays off for the patient viewer with some dazzling set-pieces.  And of course that opening.


Australia's Kinda F@*%#d up Vol. 1 - ROAD GAMES and DEAD-END DRIVE-IN

G'Day mates!

After watching the wildly informative and entertaining documentary Not Quite Hollywood earlier this month, which charted the history of Australian exploitation/genre movies (horror, action, thriller, sex, etc), I decided to dive right in pouch-deep to check out some of the offerings from the period. I haven't gone into it so much as to watch a movie a day, but I do intend to try and keep up with a lot of the most promising titles from the period that the doc highlighted.

Starting off this week are two films by two of the most highly regarded exploitation directors: Richard Franklin and Brian Trenchard-Smith


The logline featured on that not-so-subtle poster right above here could give an indication of what to expect here, except that a little explanation - or just comparison - is in order.  Richard Franklin's Road Games is the natural descendant of Spileberg's Jaws (the name 'Quid' might be a nod to 'Quint' in Jaws, though perhaps that's where it ends there as Quid is far-less a bad-ass than Quint if just as smart and instinctive), and especially Duel.  One right remember in Duel how a madman truck-driver doggedly pursues a man in a station wagon for a minor road altercation (that is as much as I can recall from that picture, mostly the chase is what stays with the viewer after that ends).

In Road Games the situation is reversed and given more of a horror-movie edge to its road-movie aesthetic: the truck driver played by the ever-capable and solid Stacy Keach is a guy driving a truck over many miles to Perth and one early morning sees a guy looking through his curtains at a motel at the garbage being picked up.  It's an odd moment, but one that Quid shakes off and then goes on with his day.  He then notices a van, one and the same he saw the night before, following him.  And the same woman with a hat keeps trying to hitchhike, which Quid resists.  And that van seems to have a peculiar thing about it - especially when Quid sees said van off the side of the road in the desert, the man with it digging a hole there... which may tie into a report about a missing teenage girl recently abducted.

So it becomes a cat-and-mouse chase over the outback, where everyone on the side of the road seems to be in on something Quid can't quite pin-point.  Could it be his dingo-dog who isn't really allowed out in these-here parts?  Or does Jamie Lee Curtis' character, the woman in the hat, have something to do with this man with the van after she gets unwittingly kidnapped by him?  The mind-games are quite intense in this thriller, and its the combination of smart writing and capable direction by exploitation-veteran Everett De Roache and Franklin that makes it as good as it is.

There are little moments where one wonders if it it'll go too far with Keach's talking to himself (er, his dog) after a good start with him being a kind of natural observer of the sort of odds-and-ends people he sees driving on the road as a trucker.  But there's a great moment where this convention is challenged: he's driving at night, paranoid as fuck from the news report on the radio saying that a "man mid-40's driving a truck" is the main suspect after the Man-with-the-Van forged his signature as Quid's.  He talks a little to himself, but in the same scene he talks in voice-over as well.  I love when a character's voice-over and thoughts blend together just right with what's spoken (i.e. The Informant!), and this is another fine example, as Keach gives us a mind that is stuck between a rock and a hard place as the typical 'wrong man' on the run while tracking the killer.

While her role isn't that prominent, maybe Jamie Lee Curtis is the weak link here.  It's uncertain whether or not she's meant to be the love interest, and is just a little too eager to make this a Scooby-Doo mystery or something to be totally trustworthy (she's a better written character than played).  But she's on-screen for only a short time.  The real stars here are Keach, who commands the screen while seemingly at times laid-back and playing his own games before getting stuck into the killer's terrifying ones, and Franklin's action set-pieces.  One of these involving a confrontation with Quid's truck and a man driving with a boat attached to the back of his station wagon carries a total air of unpredictability as to who will ram into who or what will happen with that boat (it's also telling that while Quid is the good guy he does some questionable-embarrasing things like accusing a biker he doesn't see through a bathroom stall of being the killer).  The other is near the end as Quid catches up with the Van-Man in Perth, and they're both in a showdown down a narrow alley with the cops stuck behind the truck.  How this is resolved is a moment of bad-ass verismilitude and had me laughing at the absurdity while admiring the suspense therein.

Other scenes also provide Franklin and De Roache some fine atmospheric touches when Quid pulls off the road.  There's a scene where Quid is on a (badly connected) phone line trying to spell his name and alert the police about the whereabouts of the guy with the van.  During this time on the phone, the camera contemplates everyone else inside of this dingy pub that has a loud jukebox and people just drinking away and/or watching this intense man trying to get through on the phone.  The camera goes in a 360, taking its time, getting in all of the scenery.  None of this really goes too far to make the Aussies in the place seem so outrageous as to be parody, but their presence is known as "we don't take kindly to you, American asshole".  It's this sort of scene that adds to the paranoia later on in the film, and Quid's need to clear his name.  It's hopefully a high compliment to say that as far as knock-offs of Duel go, this is one of the few that get the tone right of man and machine in manic struggle.

ADDENDUM: Note, if you see Brian May in the credits for this movie for the music, is is NOT the same Brian May of the band QUEEN fame; I thought at first it strange, too, considering the score for this movie is your basic thriller score, nothing too fancy, not bad at all but nothing special to make it like something the man who wrote 'Killer Queen' would do.  Indeed the *other* Brian May is responsible for many Aussie scores, including Franklin horror flick Patrick (1978)



Doesn't that sound like a Roger Corman movie-loglin: "The price of admission is the rest of your life!"  As it turns out it's really like the mid-1980's (and VERY 1980's, I'll get to it in a moment) version of a Roger Corman cheapie from the 60's, only here given the Aussie treatment of post-apocalypse/tight-government/poverty angle.  Rather, it's what one might call a sub-genre of the post-apocalypse movie called 'neon-pocalypse'.  By this I mean that the landscape is not really gray (The Road) or deserty (The Road Warrior), but it's brighter with its primary colors, and its devastation is almost inviting in a kind of punk-rock way.  Indeed if one is a 15 year old guy without much future jerkin the gerkin' to Kim Kardashian's ass and knee-deep in comic books, the Dead-End Drive-In looks like utopia.

The way it works is, as it usually goes with these movies, it's ten years into the future (in this case now the *past*, 1998), and Australia is in kind of a shambles.  The government has taken over pretty much everything, and a lot of people are out of work.  Oh, and as it's the Australia of post-apocalypse, there are a LOT of cars abandoned or ready to be junked along the side of the road, to which the protagonist works at as a towing-guy with his brother, name of Crabs (yes, a genital-itching name, played by a young Scott Glenn looking chap, Ned Manning).  One night he and his girlfriend Carmen (hot Natalie McCurry) go to the drive-in on the (WAY) far-side of town - it's an unusual kind of place in that there's a big barbed-wire electric fence around it, and when they go inside for the movie they find after a little while that two of the tires of their car are stolen.  How can they get out?

Well, basically, they can't get out: they paid the "Unemployed" price to get a cheaper rate, but this also means that those who enter under that rate can't leave.  For how long?  Well... here's the thing: if you're an unemployed runt in a no-future-or-hope post-apocalypse in Australia, why not just have a government-subsidized drive-in that plays awesome exploitation movies and has plenty of food and supplies and hair-spray?  Crabs is a little uneasy about it as he technically has a life on the outside, but sticks it out for a little while, if only for his girlfriend Carmen, who gets into the hard-knock people all around them.

But as these things go, Crabs turns out to be the kinda prick of the lot of them, and tries to find a way to get out, especially when things get heated-up with the arrival of new acquisitions for the drive-in: Asians, who the unemployed whites don't like, not at'all.  This is the point in the movie where Trenchard-Smith loses some of his footing: he tries to squeeze in this message-y portion about racial strife between white Aussies and other Asians in Australia and other parts nearby, and it doesn't really fly - not because it couldn't (see Romper Stomper for an awesome-angry examination of a racism-message movie with angry young Aussie punks), but because it's wedged into a plot that doesn't really need an extra bump, at least like this.  There's already so much that could be explored with the various characters at the drive-in, the ones who are one step removed from a prison environment (if not just right in there), and it's a unique kind of set-up that Trenchard-Smith and his writers got going on.  Adding to this the corruption between the guy who runs the place, a seemingly swell and well-intentioned dude, and the cops, and there's quite a lot of story to work from there.

Yet the real strength of Dead-End Drive-In is not it's "message", whatever it may be, save perhaps for the underlying one that of the drive-in as a fantastic if flawed experience (a place to watch movies with badly-installed audio and a wonderful set-up to have lots of sex for couples) that is dying out at the time.  It's Trenchard-Smith getting to exercise his chops at commanding attitude, spectacle, and, when it pops up, action set-pieces.  With so many cars it's a wonder that there isn't *more* car chases and violence by cars, but when it does occur, such as the last fifteen minutes of the movie as it charts Crabs' unlikely run-around through the drive-in in a towing truck, that adrenaline gets pushed, the stakes are raised, and mayhem ensues with lots of clever touches and dynamic cinematography.

A member of the Bangles called, she wants her shirt back.
I should emphasize the "attitude" here.  This is the 1980's, after-all, so the soundtrack has to feature lots of synth-pop and fun-happy-techno-sad songs by artists whose time came and went in a flash (I couldn't really tell you who's who on the soundtrack, and it's all Aussie by my estimation), and the hair, the clothes, the attitude, it's all like some warped 80's punk-techno imitation of a 1950's juvenile delinquent movie.  Which means the characters, thin and shallow as they are (at most you get varying degrees of the men as pig-headed and tough), kick some major ass, especially when it comes time for a big fight scene between one of them and Crabs.  As it is a tru-blu exploitation pic, along with violence, some of it self-consciously staged (i.e. a fight happening with the backdrop of the drive-in movie playing a fight scene from one of Trenchard-Smith's other movies), there's some good T&A action, most happily with McCurry.  It's not as plentiful as there could be, but it gets the job done amid the hard-edges and crude culture of the drive-in crowd.

The movie is an unapologetic romp through the style and attitude of just such a drive-in movie.  It got balls, danger, outrageous comedy and a little brains and if you do dip out for a little making-out at just the right moment you can come back up for air to get some hard-knock action and cool cinematography.  And the ending... Oh boy.



Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Arthur Penn's MICKEY ONE

And the RIP continues!  This time for Arthur Penn, and his obscure 1965 film, Mickey One

Arthur Penn's film Mickey One, starring Warren Beatty, has been compared in its approach to visual atmosphere and the unconventional cutting and slow-and-fast motion of the piece to the French New Wave.  That is it was compared to the New Wave back when there wasn't anything else to really compare it to.  Penn may have been fans of the Nouvelle Vague (he took over Bonnie and Clyde a couple of years later when Truffaut and Godard turned down the chance to direct), but I'm not totally sure the comparison could apply, except in that both French New Wave and Mickey One try to buck cinematic formula and show the particular way in such a feverish approach that is easy to replicate but hard to truly understand where it comes from.  For me, Mickey One is a kind of anomaly in movies at the time it was made: fierce, darkly funny, uncompromising, a little pretentious, a little far-fetched, and wonderfully expresses the state of mind of its character.

If it reminded me of anything specifically it might be Repulsion only with the mob put in place of just random 'things' and men to be paranoid about.  But what is Mickey One paranoid about?  That's not even his name; Beatty plays this Polish-American Average-Joe who happens to be a stand-up comic (though far from great, at best he can get a gin joint on its laughable side), loses big time at a game of craps and becomes the target of some really bad cats in Detroit.  He hops on a train and scoots over to Chicago, where he lays low - by this he lays on the low side of the class system, at first with no money, then a garbage job at a restaurant, and among the dregs of society.  And then one night he's in a club where a fairly terrible comic is on stage, and with only a few people around Mickey heckles in such a way as to get more attention with his jokes.  It's then he gets the bug back to go on stage... but at what cost?  Mostly to his sense of self-preservation.

This movie is I suppose a thriller, but it is not really a lot like the other thrillers around the time it came out.  It's like a mis-begotten love-child of film noir and jazz (actually this might call to mind comparison to one French film, Elevator to the Gallows, if only as both films have real jazz guys playing on the soundtrack, Miles Davis for Malle, Stan Getz for Penn).  It's a film luxuriating in its dark contours, the black and white a little grainy but not so much as to take away from Beatty's profile.  What makes both the film-noir aspect of a man-on-the-run from nefarious characters and low-lifes, or from the jazzy improvisation of the camerawork and editing a little not-entirely-accurate, is the bizarre nature of characters Penn throws in (or, most likely, dictated by the script by Alan Surgal).

Take this crazy contraption that is made up by the character Katamari Fujiwara plays in the film (though the actor himself didn't make it, it wouldn't be beyond reason that he could have by how he comes off on screen).  He first appears to Mickey as a random guy slamming together trash cans like cymbals.  Then he makes up this thing, which is like if one of those guys you see in the street playing five instruments at once got all industrial.  It's a "Yes" machine, which I guess is made for the audience watching in oddly rapt attention to exclaim "YES!" at the level of detail to it: it plays cymbals, it plays piano by levers attached to boots slamming against keys, it does all kinds of things... until it somehow sets on fire and the fire trucks come to put it out, creating a massive lot of foam-bubbles all over the place, swallowing up Fujiwara's contraption.

What does this have to do with anything in the plot of Mickey One trying to evade the mob?  Really, I don't know for sure.  The same could be said for random things like Mickey having to clean up his apartment room and it being shot at 16fps (a comical fast-speed to be sure in this case).  Or the same could be said for the cut-away to a surreal scene involving a dozen people jumping on trampolines outside near a river in Chicago.  Other things do make sense in the way of mis-en-scene, like when Mickey first gets off the train (and later on in the film as well) with a large car-compactor and its claws and suction-cups that attach cars to be destroyed.  The industrial chaos of this environment, how crude and black and harsh it all seems, goes together well with the mental state of Mickey's in the film.  It also makes for a weirdly hilarious moment where it looks like Mickey is running from the claw trying to catch him.  If only he'd been in Toy Story he could go on to a better place...

Penn's film isn't entirely bizarre or carnivalesque, though this is what it's attempting most along with the on-edge and sense like out of The Trial of a man on the run from forces he can't quite perceive (i.e. paranoia).  There is room for a little conventional romance - that is as much as could be allowed in a story where Mickey can't relax for too long.  He tries to get along with this girl, played by Alexandra Stewart, but at a critical point in the film even his trust in her gets compromised.  There is a solid story in the film, as Mickey gets around to being close to a big deal to do comedy/song/dance at a club, but it's a) not enough money that he'd need to pay off the gangsters after him, who seem to be almost anyone and everyone depending on the scenery, and b) the guy running the club is hooked up with the mob itself.  There is this story, but in reality Penn is more concerned as a director with revealing the psychological state of not just the lead but also what this dark side of town represents.

Penn shoots in certain scenes, such as when a girl is revealing all of her bits in a run-down burlesque, the faces of those watching, shot in close-ups that are meant to be unflattering.  Other times characters are revealed watching, observing, maybe spying and waiting to pounce on Mickey, and maybe just apart of the scenery.  The whole mood is tinged with a sense of "nothing's right here", and the cinematography and editing keeps one in suspense.  Nothing is really too predictable.  By the nature of how Mickey sees things, and by proxy how we see things, the milkman could be the one to do the big-fat-kill just around the corner.

 In some sense there is a neo-realist element to the picture; most of the characters like the vagrants on the streets or those in the clubs don't look at all like actors but local Chicagoans down on their luck or just looking for some quick cash working on a movie.  And then of course there's the music that gives the mood of the piece that hard-American-times feeling of Americana, and the locations bringing out the dark corridors of jazz beats and like, existentialism, man.  Even the stand-up scenes take on a surreal flavor, in part due to how they're cut to bring out only some of the punchlines (albeit there is one very funny scene with Beatty and an over-solo-ing drummer on stage), and especially when the effect of a spotlight comes into play: Beatty is there, on stage, nothing but a spot-light roving around without anyone elses voice, like some mad device from hell out to get Mickey for... well, his life, really.

And as for the man at its center?  Warren Beatty carries this picture as perhaps his un-seen breakthrough as an actor (the 'seen' one would probably be Splendor in the Grass... or even Bonnie and Clyde?) as he takes the film to where it needs to go as the one guy we can try and get behind.  He is flawed, he's made big mistakes, and he can be rude and brash and un-trusting with the ones he's around.  But Beatty also has a natural ability to somehow get likability, or something that seems identifiable or that the audience can latch on to (or just enjoy watching), and this is the start of a series of characters he'd play in his career who are go to some real depths of living (McCabe and Bulworth first jump to mind).  He's kinetic and exciting, charming and humorous, gets the right kind of paranoia across amid the stylization Penn is after, and one hopes that for all of the moments where he could, should, get caught and it to be the end, for him to see it through to the finish.  Indeed this is what the end, as odd as it is, has best with Beatty in its corner.

The film has some rough patches in how it cuts together in a few scenes.  Like jazz not every improvisation grabs the viewer up to saw 'whoa'.  It seems also somewhat illogical that Mickey wouldn't just flee again (though, perhaps, like a ghost possession, he thinks they'll follow wherever he goes).  Yet I really admire the film for its daring to go with the character's psychology and turn it into a film-noir really on the edge of society.  That it came out of the (then-crumbling) Hollywood system goes to show it as one of the underrated (or just over-looked) films that broke out of the 'Golden-Age' and looked ahead to the future.  As a pre-amble to Bonnie and Clyde and a tribute to The Trial, it's really a lot of fun, and important in 60's film history.