Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hello, Newman

To Die For (1995)
directed by Gus Van Sant
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Nothing about this movie is exceptional, except for one dramatic shot (agents marching into the surf to arrest a kid while he harvests clams with his dad) and one funny dramatic resolution (the Italian family really does have mob connections). Nevermind any real-life inspirations: the whole conceit for the crime Nicole Kidman and Johnny Cash commit together is ludicrous from the start. Her husband is what? Crimping her style? Certainly he isn't any real impediment to her career, and her voraciousness in offing him goes above and beyond any relation to the tone and narrative of the movie itself.

And what's with these kids? These one-note stereotypes abused by their mother's boyfriends and ignored by their teachers at school? Didn't they get the memo that Gus Van Sant understands teenagers? Maybe I'm being hard on the guy, but it's hard to see the positive reviews for To Die For as much more than a generational crush on Mrs. Keith Urban acting out too many critics' self-loathing fantasies. Unless everyone just loves Matt Dillon's early, hammy audition for There's Something About Mary. Honestly, he might as well be wearing the mustache.

More importantly, if Psycho wasn't proof enough, Van Sant doesn't understand the pliable nature of filmmaking's fundamentals. When Kidman wows the producers of her small-town television station with a speech she stole from a newscasters' convention, the camera is tight on her face (presumably to show the dramatic effect of a TV close-up). Later, when Dillon suggests she quit the biz to help him with his restaurant, the camera is far away (from her angle, I guess, to show how little she thinks of him). But if this is really a comedy, like the reviews say, why not do the opposite - let Dillon and his absurd pep talk get the dramatic framing, and use the long shot to make Kidman, well, funny.

At least To Die For shows a nice side of New Hampshire Ontario!