Thursday, September 18, 2008

Breakheart Class

Hard Times (1975)
directed by Walter Hill
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Imagine your favorite noir movie. Think of the review. "The doomed protagonist cornered by his fate." But what about when it works in the other direction? If Charles Bronson's Chaney can't lose in a brawl - if he mincemeats the first brick-pile he battles - the drama doesn't come from the final bout with a well-dressed Chicago ringer. Sure, there's tension there, but we know that Chaney's unbeatable. So Hill makes the fight about other things: leaving the girl, making amends for the promoter who treated Chaney badly. It's a clean plotline without any easy assumptions about what to expect from the film, and it's great. Let it Ride is like that - what if the good luck never runs out? - and movies should do it more often.

But Hard Times is still a movie that just wouldn't be what it is without its actors: Coburn as Spencer "Speed" Weed; Bronson; and Bronson's wife Jill Ireland. Syl's right, Bronson and Ireland are as good as Bogart and Bacall. Coburn's best when he knows he's right and can have some fun with it - he has that same tick that fellow tall-man Jim Stewart had, loping forward with his left arm bent at the elbow and wrist like he's wearing a sling - and he's an actor who stretches out into the open space around him more than you think, whether it's covering his live-in fiancée with the sheets or windmilling a stack of bills in an indoor New Orleans pool. New Orleans is the deal-maker here, whether it's Coburn and Bronson convening over oysters on the half-shell or pouring beer from pitchers to glasses in some Louisiana marsh.

In a good seven days, still pick of the week.

PS - I'm assuming the five optional Southeast Asian language tracks mean that Hard Times was put on DVD with the Bronson street-fighter fanbase in mind, but there is absolutely no excuse for what pan-and-scan does to this film. Write your congressman!