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Savage Grace

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Marie-Joseé Croze in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  

Bosco doesn’t soften this man or make him easy to read. He has glimmers of awareness, but it’s not in his interest to be too cognizant—it would open him up to rebuke. As in Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited, the siblings have to parent each other, and it’s Wendy and Jon’s push-me-pull-you banter that gives you hope as all the other relationships fall away.

Linney has been this winsome and accessible once before—in You Can Count on Me. But was she this great a comedienne there? Watch Wendy make off with office supplies, tell whopper after whopper to her brother and married lover (Peter Friedman), and bat her blue eyes innocently. Watch her leave her father at the convalescent home and overdramatize—“We are horrible, horrible, horrible people!”—and yet mean every word. Hoffman is the best psychodrama dancing partner imaginable. In Capote and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, he earned foreign-word superlatives: “Bravura!” “Tour de force!” In The Savages, he’s just as good but without the stylization—the tricks—to hide behind. You feel as if you’re watching him—thoughtful, childish, moody, embarrassed about his body, his groggy affect a way of keeping the world at bay. There’s a piano motif by Stephen Trask that captures the movie perfectly—melancholy yet sprightly, it sends you home smiling.

The Mist, based on a Stephen King novella, is a derivative horror picture that somehow rises to the level of a primal scream. The premise is simple, by which I mean both easy to understand and feeble-minded. After a violent storm, an artist played by Thomas Jane says to his wife, “Hey, honey, you ever seen mist like that on the lake? Coming from the direction of that supersecret army lab?” (Words to that effect.) The wife says, “No, that is odd.” And the husband says, “Oh, well, better take the truck into town and pick up some supplies at the supermarket. See you in a flash.” He doesn’t. Shortly after he and his young son (Nathan Gamble) arrive at the crowded market, a man dashes in, screaming, “There’s something in the mist!”

Your reaction to that will either be, “Oooh, scary,” or “Wow, cheesy,” but it’s hard to laugh off the thunderous rattling of the market’s huge windows or the eeriness of the silence that follows. The attacks of the sundry creatures are shot and edited with blistering intensity; they have a fury that’s biblical. The director, Frank Darabont, steals a lot of Steven Spielberg’s tropes—the key image of people (or things) melting into and out of the mist is right out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But Spielberg, by comparison, is a cockeyed optimist. Even his War of the Worlds suggests that a fierce commitment to family will help humanity survive an alien onslaught. The Mist is not so sanguine.

The idea of a bunch of disparate people trapped in an enclosed space is a wheezy horror staple, but the actors are first-rate—among them Andre Braugher as a suspicious city lawyer, Laurie Holden as the new teacher in town who thinks people are basically good, and Toby Jones as the assistant store manager who thinks they’re basically bat-shit. Looming over all is Marcia Gay Harden as the town’s religious fanatic. She says the mist is God’s vengeance on a secular society for its wicked ways—echoing remarks made by Pat Robertson after 9/11. As the beasts start disemboweling people, she begins to attract a following, from a rapt young woman to a butcher with a knife. The threats are from without and within.

Usually, kids in genre movies range from stilted to adequate, but Gamble—who played one of the affluent children in Babel—is so credible it’s almost unfair. You can’t defend yourself against his scenes with Jane, even though you probably should. The Mist builds toward a climax so wrenching that I hesitate to recommend the film, but I think Darabont earns his vision. He touches on so many sore spots: schisms of class and religion, fear of the technology’s impact on the environment, fear of God’s vengeance—or the vengeance of people on behalf of their gods. The movie could be called The Miasma.

Film Forum is screening Alfred Hitchcock’s second-rate but underrated Saboteur and, with it, Matthew Sussman’s brief, loving tribute Who Is Norman Lloyd?, about the now 93-year-old actor who plays the creepy title character. In plummy, actorly tones, Lloyd reflects on Welles and Chaplin and Renoir—and that actors’ godsend, the recurring role on a hit TV show. (He was the hospital patriarch in St. Elsewhere.) I wish there were more documentaries like this, about “supporting” actors. They hold the spotlight beautifully.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Directed by Julian Schnabel. Miramax Films. PG-13.

The Savages
Directed by Tamara Jenkins. Fox Searchlight Pictures. R.

The Mist
Directed by Frank Darabont. The Weinstein Company. R.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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