J. J. Abrams’s STAR TREK

18 05 2009

st

1. For the first half hour or so, “Bones” McCoy repeated jabs James Tiberias Kirk in the neck with his hyperyringe, injecting him with one medical “treatment” after another and making him sicker and sicker. (Funny.) The plot of the film has rather the same effect on the viewer.

2. But the characters are almost uniformly cute and attractive–this being the real reason anybody who cares about this franchise wants to see this film. Three lingering questions: (a) Chris Pine, as Kirk, gives no signs of appetite at all–appetite for food, that is. But he’s relatively slim. How does this particular young fellow turn into the Kirk we all know and love so much, who clearly snacks every time he beams up? (b) The thing with Spock and Uhura, and then the later TV thing with Kirk and Uhura: what do these two things imply about Spock and Kirk? (c) Do they have dentists on Vulcan?  Beyond this, Eric Bana is rather mailing it in; Karl Urban isn’t really there; but everybody else is having a whale of a time getting smashed around as the shields give way and the photo torpedos do their nasty work.





Movie Briefs

27 04 2009

images-4The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968), written by James Goldman from his stage play of the same name, with Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, and Timothy Dalton. One must appreciate Beethoven to grasp the powers of this film, which reside principally in ensemble performance.  O’Toole, as an English king visiting France and spending Easter with his stubborn and brilliantly contentious wife (Hepburn) and three sons (Hopkins, Castle, Terry), glows with vituperation, whines with loneliness, grimaces with intent, and fails in grand spectacular fashion to decide which of the pathetic offspring will wear his crown when he is dead.  The serpentine French monarch Philippe (Dalton), visiting in order to light as many fuses as possible, does nothing to help the situation.  For devotées of screen acting, it is a lesson to watch the young Hopkins, the young (and brilliantly polished) Castle, and the young Terry (who would play King Arthur for John Boorman in Excalibur) dash and pose in the shadows of the great Hepburn and the great O’Toole; every day on the set was an education for them, no doubt.  Hepburn’s Parkinson’s is occasionally evident, a pointer to the fact that she worked against huge odds to bring off this stellar performance with its continual reversals and complex contradictions:  she adores Henry, but she will do anything to destroy him.  As for O’Toole, he is something of a walking orchestra, and there are no timbres he does not strike as he wheedles, cajoles, bullies, supplicates, threatens, and finally embraces his alienated wife and her children.

The shock in this film for those who have seen Timothy Dalton’s later performances–which seem never to fail in their display of unctuousness or smarmy conceit–is a view of the enormous range and delicacy of which he was capable before filmmaking ruined him.  His work in this film is a marvel, and when he is onscreen one cannot afford to blink for fear of missing a tiny flicker in the cheek, an even tinier posture of the mouth.  One of the truly crafted performances in the history of the British screen.

*

images-3Changeling (Clint Eastwood, 2008), with Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich. In 1920s Los Angeles, the mother of a 10-year-old boy comes home from work one day to find him gone.  Agonized, she contacts the LAPD, a bed of corruption.  They do virtually nothing to help, but weeks later the announcement is made that the boy has been found and is being returned to her by train.  She goes to the station, surrounded by press and officials of the force, eager and ready to put the horros of the recent past behind her.  When the boy gets off the train, she is convinced he is not her son.  He says he is, and moves in with her, but she continues to press the police, now in the face of an actual child whose presence compromises her efforts to raise public consciousness to the fact that the actual son is still missing.

The story becomes far more interesting, complicated, revolting, and sad, and potential viewers should be ready to be exposed to scenes of dramatically necessary but nevertheless disturbing violence, both physical and psychological.  The pacing and direction by Eastwood, especially as directed toward a climactic point when Jolie is put into doubt about the identity of the boy who is living with her, are more than brilliant–they give clear evidence that this is a filmmaker of the keenest and most musical sensibilities at work with material that is haunting and beautiful.  Malkovich has–for once–allowed his character to come to prominence.  All the supporting players are perfectly cast, especially Devon Conti as the boy who comes by train, Michael Kelly as the only detective in LA willing to try to help, Peter Gerety as a sleazy doctor working with the police, and Colm Feore as the Chief who is well past his usefulness.  Deeply frightening.

*

images-2Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008), with Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates.  A young couple in the suburbs, with the husband training into New York à la The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and the wife going slowly mad in her chokingly feminine domestic world.  Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique come to life.  The marital stress might have been more convincing with other performers; these two, who can both be convincing, haven’t found the right material here, and Mendes’s penchant for theatrical staging keeps forcing him to set up situations for their rise and fall but without regard for truths the eye can see.  Leonardo just doesn’t look old or worn enough, and his voice, as he screams again and again, keeps breaking up.  The story points couldn’t be more conventional, and the depiction of the 1950s is as flawed as it was in Todd Haynes’s over-sung Far From Heaven.  The film is saved–just–by a too-brief appearance of Michael Shannon in the role of a neighbor’s socially and psychologically maladjusted son:  he’s no toddler, but looms almost seven feet tall, an incarnation of the giant Diane Arbus photographed, with a far too extroverted sense of social propriety and a gaze that is discomfortingly straight.  Shannon appeared, too briefly again, in Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, as the heroic cop who finds the survivors; here he puts DiCaprio and even the hard-working Winslet out of their league.

*

images-1Doubt (John Patrick Shanley, 2008), from his stageplay, with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis.  A Catholic elementary school in Boston, c. 1965.  The friendly priest is detested by the principal, who doesn’t like his strategies for opening the Church to the modern age.  When at one point it seems he has been a little too friendly and protective to a black child, she makes it her purpose in life to reveal him as a reprobate whose morality has been corrupted.  Finally, threatening him with his past, she succeeds in forcing his resignation, it becoming clear only later, as she confides to a young nun, that she never really did investigate him at all, only claimed she would–and his resignation is therefore proof of his guilt.  A fascinating enough proposition, focussing on the importance of doubt in our moral evaluation of one another:  ultimately the film resides less in the doubt than in the awkward and beautiful chemistry between Streep and Hoffman.  He turns in a competent, and modest, performance while she goes a step beyond The Devil Wears Prada to construct an icon of moral certainty and hellish conviction. If Streep has too often over the years punctured her performances by drawing overt attention to her technical strengths, here she holds herself under, and inside, the role all through, so that the character becomes one of the great figurations of cinema.  A cat self-purposed to catch its mouse, we know from the start that she will have him, but not quite how.  Shanley has a fine ear for language and for feeling; but he doesn’t compose with a filmmaker’s eye.

*

imagesMilk (Gus Van Sant, 2008), with Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Pena, Victor Garber, and James Franco.  At once, one of the supreme performances of Sean Penn’s career–delicate, playful, sincere, convicted, urgent–and another of those Gus Van Sant fiddlings with homoerotic experience, in which all the elements come properly gift-wrapped but some dark shame or embarrassment prevents the filmmaker from showing, in plain light, what all the fuss is about.  One senses here the importance, historically, of the Castro district gay scene in 1970s San Francisco, and one is confronted with a huge array of extremely energetic and well-meaning young characters thrown together by a conviction that the gay experience should be as open and free as any other in modern America.  But that experience–which is shown to mobilize all sorts of political and personal resentments and to erect all sorts of obstacles in this film–is itself kept largely off the screen, excepting a few passionate kisses and a large number of “knowing” glances.  Like Brokeback Mountain, ostensibly about gay life in the 1960s, Milk remains in a kind of closet, where Harvey Milk can beckon his boyfriend laughingly to wear the tighest jeans possible when he comes to visit at City Hall yet at the same time never try to touch those jeans on camera.  Who, one has to wonder, is the audience this film is aimed at; and why must that audience still continue to repress creative artists like Van Sant so that they must only whisper their home truths?

Aside from one brief shot of Penn and Pena rolling naked on a shadowy floor, there is nothing here offensive to the bourgeois homophobic audience; and indeed the most profoundly offensive imagery consists in the tv closeups of Anita Bryant as she campaigns to eradicate homosexuality from America.

Penn, meanwhile, is galvanizing, and shows that he is the most under-rated actor in America.

*

Cherry BlossomsCherryblossoms – Hanami (Dorrie Dörrie, 2008), with Elmar Wepper, Hannelore Elsner, Aya Irizuki, Maximilian Brückner. In a small town in the German Alps, an aging public worker has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and only his wife knows.  She persuades him that they should visit the children in Berlin, which they do in a lengthy sequence delicious for its squeamish discomforts:  the children care little for the realities of their parents’ lives, and act purely out of propriety in hosting them.  The man and his wife go off to the Black Sea, where they meditate on their future, and he talks of how he would like his ashes disposed of (still ignorant of his condition).  Suddenly, however, the wife dies in the night.  Now, to try to live out the life she could not live, the old man takes himself off to visit his second son, who lives in Tokyo.  This son, too, has no time for him, and leaves him alone all day.  He wanders, and meets a young dancer whose mother has died.  They become friends.  She accompanies him on a pilgrimage to the place his wife had most wanted to see, Mount Fuji.

A touching and observant film, somewhat in the style of Ingmar Bergman’s The Touch.  Elegant cinematography of Berlin and especially of Tokyo and Fujiyama by Hanno Lentz.  And remarkable performances of polite family disunity, in which it becomes pungently apparent that not only can children cease to understand or care about their parents, parents can cease to understand their children.  The little Japanese girl’s occupation is a dance beside a busy canal, where, dressed in kimono, she twists around the coils of a pink telephone wire, holding the receiver to her ear and trying to speak or hear across the abyss:  this recurring image beautifully addresses the many chasms that have opened between the characters here, and their continuing hopes to cross them by way of some special attention, some special intensification of concern.





Grand Gran

5 02 2009

gran-torino_l

The reason Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) has a forest green 1972 Ford Gran Torino under a tarp in his garage, in Eastwood’s stunning Gran Torino, is perhaps easier to understand than to say.  He worked for fifty-one years on the assembly line in Dearborn, and installed the drive shaft in that car.  He has been tinkering with it–and with other mechanical devices–almost obsessively, for a long time, too.  He believes in the American Way, which is to say, the big money that founded the big businesses that kept America dominant during the Korean War and the 1950s but that also underpinned the structure of post-agrarian American society since the late nineteenth century.  That means ingenuity, forthrightness, practicality, emotional reserve, respect for tradition are all central to his–for him–coherent and complete system of beliefs.  He has no time to waste with the frivolities of the Church, though he is a Catholic; or with civility to uintelligible strangers who now inhabit the Detroit neighborhood where he has lived his life; or with being cute to his aggressive and self-centered children and oblivious grandchildren.  Leave Walt alone and he’ll leave you; don’t trespass on his property; don’t treat him like he doesn’t exist; and don’t preach to him about how nice it is to be nice.  He’s not nice, he probably never was particularly nice, he doesn’t value people who are nice, and time is flying.

Walt, in fact, has just buried his wife.  And he has been coughing up blood.  He doesn’t want to go to confession–as the young priest his wife confided in has been urging him to do.  For Walt, the priest is a 2y-year-old virgin who preaches about the beauties of death to old women.

Next door are some Hmong immigrants, some grandparents and teenaged children with a solo mother.  Having fled from persecution in Vietnam, they are trying to make a life in the United States.  The kids speak fluent English, and are trying to grow up.  But they are also being tormented by a street gang, who want to seduce the brother into violence and ultimately rape the sister and shoot up the Hmong house in a drive-by.  This is all fairly conventional fare, with a satisfying liberal ending in which Walt, having slowy and begrudgingly befriended the two kids, finally acts with heroism and courage to save their futures.  The priest comes to learn there is more to life and death than sententiously sermonizing about them.

But none of these quirks of plot come close to conveying the density of feeling and intelligence that Eastwood has injected into all the characterizations and, most especially, his vision of the film’s world.  Racist Walt is imprisoned by his own racism, for example: Thao, the teenaged boy (Bee Vang), goaded by the gang, tries the initiation rite of stealing the Gran Torino but Walt comes at him with a double-barreled shotgun.  The kid flees, and now Walt, aware that his sentimental icon is someone else’s target, must barricade the garage windows and door with steel grilles.  In another scene, he is at first bemused but finally won over by the Vietnamese family’s sumptuous cooking.  He sits in the kitchen, surrounded by delighted old women, chewing on honeyed chicken as though he hasn’t eaten for years.  In yet another scene, as he confronts the priest about justice and mortality while the two chug Budweisers in his living room and he makes plans to avenge the rape of Sue (Ahney Her), Eastwood’s camera shows the character calmly seated next to a wide swath of shadow; but the shadow area in the room has actually not been fully lit at all, so that on film it comes out as a pure and unadulterated black, a black to end blackness, an unearthly blackness, the blackness of The Void.  At this moment, we come to know by seeing, not merely by calculating, that Walt is a man who is living at the edge of mortality, whose every gesture, every feeling, every expression has been a direct address to the truths of limited life, limited time, limited ability.  This old man is actually old–no mere trivial reconstruction of the character from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

At film’s end, Walt gives Thao his precious car.  The American future, this gesture seems to say, is no longer White, no longer middle American, no longer merely urban and industrialist, but, for all that, bright with promise and the same hope for the future that has always made America enviable as a myth, if not a place.  Walt has a foul mouth, and a cluttered consciousness.  He is a Yahoo, and a control freak.  But underneath all this facade we find something far more vital, more endearing, and more crucial:  he knows right from wrong; he understands what it is to respect another person; he cringes in pain, still, from the killing he perpetrated in the Korean War, to such a degree that he seems plagued by ghosts; and he knows that the young must be loved.  More than that, when the chips fall, he is a man who can be counted on to come through with whatever it takes.  If John Wayne comes to mind, it’s because of the inherent dignity and uprightness (often misread as uptightness or conservatism) of his characters’ values.  But Wayne was a reactor, not a thinker as Eastwood is.

Why, in the end, must the Gran Torino be green?  Because green is the color of hope.





Defying Defiance

24 01 2009

defiance

Liev Schreiber (l.) is alternately sparky and taciturn, a bearish grumbler.  Daniel Craig (r.) is alternately catatonic and taciturn, a grizzled moper.  They are brothers, who, along with their younger siblings (Jamie Bell and George MacKay) lead a band of courageous but tortured Jews from various town in the Byelorus into safety in the forests in the early days of the 1940s.  This film intends to be revealing and fresh in its take on the Nazi problem, but in the hands of the formula-addicted Edward Zwick the film quickly becomes a steaming soup cauldron containing bits of Exodus, Fahrenheit 451, The Diary of Anne Frank, Fiddler on the Roof, and, of course, Schindler’s List, not to mention Saving Private Ryan and countless other anodyne recapitulations of the gray-suited Nazi troupe motoring through history and mowing down anyone touching, friendly, and civilized in their path.

It is especially disarming to see scenes cut short, in the manner of a television series, and an almost total lack of tension between characters among the forestial Jews.  One dissenter is clearly a roughian and a slob and he’s quickly shot by the leader (Craig) when he tries to mutiny.  (No conflict permitted here that might obfuscate the greater opposition between unfeeling Nazi pigs and Jewish victims.)  And even more troubling, even angering, is James Newton Howard’s rip-off of John Williams’s rip-off of Sheldon Harnick’s violin motif from Fiddler.  That the forlorn and tramatized Jew must once again be symbolized by the plaintive elegies of a solo violin (here played, predictably, by Joshua Bell), no matter how beautiful these may be, and they typically are, suggests a failure of invention, and worse, a packaging of the Holocaust theme by Hollywood into a neat set of icons and configurations that mock the horrendous truth of what real victims suffered and real survivors lived through.  At once sickening instant the youngest brother stumbles upon a mass grave in the forest, a kind of meandering pink river that is actually a trench filled with naked bodies.  But Zwick and cinematographer Eduardo Serra cheat the situation, and the history that the situation refers to, by performing one of the truly mammoth focus pulls in cinematic history, so that the boy almost immediately seems to be having some kind of  hallucinogenic experience.

Craig is rather interesting to watch.  One is looking hard to see whether as the scenes skip by he will prove that he is not quintessentially James Bond and, in truth, almost from the start, he does.  He is properly purposive, haggard, and sympathetic, and the intended “realism” of the situation (as opposed to the glamorous fantasy of Bond) pushes him to new limits, often quiet ones.  Yes, he can act, but the Russianized English slips once or twice too often into Scottish brogue.  Schreiber is much better, even in his pronunciation of lines in Russian—which, prospective viewers should know, are legion in this film:  more than half of it requires subtitles.

In the end we find those sweet little credit cards that inform us what happened in “real life” to our characters.  The eldest brothers ended up running a business in America.  The older teen went off fighting and died a few years later.  Of the youngest, bizarrely, we learn absolutely nothing, as though just like the mass grave he witnessed he simply became a blur and disappeared.  This film was designed to achieve one principal effect, and, rather relentlessly, it does:  to show the world that Jews don’t just stand there and take it, that they can fight back, that when provoked they, too, can be vicious.  Given that anti-semitism is alive and well, and that some anti-semites harbor very negative thoughts indeed, this is not a bad message for Zwick to be sending.  But it would be so much more credible, and even thought-provoking, without that wretched violin.





Hot Damme!

3 01 2009

jcvd4

Mabrouk El Mechri—remember that name.  His JCVD is more than an arch and skillful parody of action flicks, more than a comment on disposable culture, more than a reveal of the international police/justice system, and more than an escapade with bizarre, intoxicating computerized color techniques:  it is a heartfelt and urgent portrait of an aging and personable star, burdened by celebrity, unhappy in marriage, agonized over the disaffection of his teenage daughter, and now trapped by mindless thugs in a Belgian heist that has been catapulted into worldwide media coverage so that he loses his agent, his lawyer, his reputation, even, to some horrible degree, his identity.  None of this is what’s best about this film, however.  El Mechri has an absolutely sure sense of how scenes must play for maximum comic, dramatic, and musical effect, and so there is not one shot, not one breath, that lasts too long or carried in the wrong direction.  As to whether Monsieur Jean-Claude Van Damme can act:  you’d better believe it!  The film has violence, but because the filmmaker insists that it be real, because this film is about the boundary between fiction and the everyday, it is neither stretched nor exaggerated nor rained upon us.  At one point, our hero is struck in the head with the butt of a pistol, and he feels the pain for the rest of the film, as do we.  Much of what is being critiqued here is the blasé attitude we have learned to bring to screen violence:  here the shocks are palpable, and therefore they do not need to be larger than life.





The Reader

3 01 2009

images

Not all movies that revolve around a serious topic, or that have intelligent dialogue, are necessarily either coherent or intelligent themselves.  This might be a very good example of a work in which the parts, each rather finely tuned, don’t fit well together to leave the viewer with a sense of what is going on, or why.  It’s far from a bad movie, but it may also be far from a good one.

{SPOILER ALERT}

Michael (David Kross), a German teenager at the end of World War II, becomes ill with scarlet fever and is befriended by a tram conductor, Hanna (Kate Winslet).  They sleep together, again and again, and he is enraptured not only by her but also by the thought of being her lover.  She develops a pattern of having him read to her before sex.  He reads all sorts of things, and with the exception of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, she loves it all.  One day he takes her to the country for lunch at a little restaurant, and she is so charmed by him and by being there that she lets him do the ordering; he feels grown-up and proud, especially when the innkeeper mistakes her for his mother.  She does such good work on the tram, meanwhile, that her supervisor indicates one day she is to be promoted to a desk job.  Instantly she packs and leaves town, without a word to the boy.  Years later, he is a law student learning sophisticated criminal technique from a famous professor (Bruno Ganz), who takes his students to a war trial in which several women have been accused of working for the S.S. during the war, and of torturing and killing Jews.  One of the women, he sees to his shock, is Hanna.  She is found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Part of the evidence involved a document she purportedly wrote–a report of an atrocity the women committed when they failed to free three hundred Jewish prisoners who were locked inside a church that was struck by a bomb and caught fire.  The principal witness for the prosecution, visiting from America, is the sole survivor of this catastrophe, and her daughter, author of an important new book about it.  Michael suddenly realizes about Hanna that she must be innocent, because she can neither read nor write.  This is why she insisted he read to her, and why at the country restaurant she did not read the menu.  But instead of sharing his knowledge with the court, he silently witnesses as she goes off to prison:  the alternative would be to shame her.  Then for years he sends her audio tapes, with him reading the books she most loved–the preeminent one being Anton Chekhov’s The Lady with the Little Dog.  Day by day, using his tape as a guide with which to read a copy of the volume she has borrowed from the prison library, Hanna learns to read and then to write.  When, finally, she can be released, he agrees to find a job for her and to help her find an apartment.  But on the morning he goes to the prison to collect her, he finds that she has killed herself.  For him, she has left a little decorative metal tea caddy full of money, with instructions that he give the money to the daughter of the woman who had testified at her trial.  He goes to New York and meets the woman in her lavish apartment.  She will not take the money, but agrees to let him found a charity for addressing illiteracy among American Jews.  The tea caddy, however, reminds her of one she lost in her youth, and she will accept it.

It is difficult to find enjoyment in watching all this.  Hanna is strained in all her lovemaking with Michael, so the scenes are less than erotic.  The trial scenes clearly debilitate the boy, who is torn between his love for the woman and her modesty, and his love for the professor and the law, which dictate that he reveal what he knows about Hanna’s illiteracy.  Worst of all, the grown Michael (Ralph Fiennes) lacks the spontaneity, the passion, the eagerness, and the directness of the boy he was, so that in  his maturity (as a successful lawyer) he is altogether boring.  The best moments come when we see him alone in his apartment, recording tapes for Hanna.  As he reads from author after author, we hear, in moments, the rich baritone voice of a beautifully trained stage actor (which is what Fiennes is), but even here, he holds back from really committing to the reading or the devotion involved.

The picture is handsomely shot by Chris Menges and Roger Deakins, with modest lighting and a sense of color derived from Balthus.  The performance by Kross is astonishing–this is a major new talent.  Fiennes sounds better than he looks.  And Winslet–who unaccountably has been nominated for a Golden Globe as best supporting actor for this work–has never been more affecting, more penetrating, or purer in film.  This is a truly great performance.  But as with the others, it stands in a kind of moral vacuum.





Valkyrie

2 01 2009

valkyrie3

“To understand National Socialism,” Adolf Hitler (David Bamber) confides to Col. Klaus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) midway through Valkyrie, “One must know one’s Wagner.  Do you know your Wagner?”  Yes, says our hero, but Bryan Singer, who filmed all this, doesn’t.  Nothing about the culture of Nazism as portrayed here suggests Die Walküre, in fact, except that Von Stauffenberg’s kids like to play it on the phonograph while pretending to fight epic battles in the living room with stick swords.  This is a movie about military tactics, political intrigue, and Tom Cruise using the telephone to create an empire.  He is watchable here–moreso, I would say, than he was in Tropic Thunder, and he knows how to keep an erect posture, avert his gaze, be calm under pressure, and generally command the attention of the camera.  We might expect all this, to be sure, but also much more, given that he is in the presence of some of the great character actors of our time, including the stellar Bill Nighy, the perfectly controlled Tom Wilkinson, the deliciously weasly Tom Hollander, the buttery Terence Stamp, and the corpulently flamboyant Kenneth Branagh.  Cruise can match them only because the script puts him in a position to bark orders in their direction.  That pretty face, counted upon to sell millions of tickets, can never let go of itself to get lost in a character.

As to the story, it should make sense but the filmmaker hasn’t put the camera where it should be and so it doesn’t.  Stauffenberg, after a number of mistrials, finally manages to put a bomb under Hitler who is standing at a briefing table, and to make an exit.  Behind him, the bomb goes off.  We see the smoke.  No one in that room should be alive.  But somehow Hitler is.  That all this is historically true may be interesting, but it doesn’t help the moviegoer who is expecting either success or a reasonable explanation for why things go wrong.  Here we get neither.  The plotters are rounded up and summarily shot.  Closing credit cards inform us what happened later to other characters, including Hitler himself, who suicided in 1945.

The film is larded–pardon me–with Hollywood Nazi conventions:  the open-roofed field cars, the uncountable identity checks, the “Sieg Heil”s, the unctuous “Mein Führer”s, Hitler’s haircut, the scurrying messengers with sealed orders on yellow paper, and so on.  Only one thing drifts out of this chaos and takes form, and that is Nighy’s utterly sharp performance as a man whose habits are too meticulous, whose eyes keep fluttering around like a nervous egret’s, whose lips curl when we don’t expect them to, and who is ultimately a coward.  Every instant he is onscreen, the film comes alive.