Rolf de Heer’s 2002 western, which I first saw as the opening-night attraction at the Melbourne film festival, is the best Australian feature I’ve seen in years. Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (Walkabout, Rabbit-Proof Fence) gives the performance of a lifetime as a tracker helping three mounted police find a murder suspect in 1922, and though the film recalls Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man in its grim tale of pursuit, poetic feeling for history and landscape, and contemporary score (performed by aboriginal singer Archie Roach), it has an identity all its own. One of its most original moves is cutting to paintings by Peter Coad, specially commissioned for the film, at every moment of violence. With Gary Sweet and Grant Page. 102 min. Facets Cinematheque.
Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) directed this slapdash but good-natured romantic comedy about a young Hollywood star (Josh Duhamel), a West Virginia grocery clerk (Kate Bosworth) who wins a date with him in Hollywood, and the complications that ensue when he decides to visit her afterward, to the consternation of her secretly smitten boss (Topher Grace). Victor Levin’s script pokes fun at Hollywood cliches but then counters them with other Hollywood cliches and becomes especially mawkish when it tries to be sincere. But the implicit nostalgia for old-time Hollywood registers more than anything else (it’s a bit like Bye Bye Birdie without the songs). Grace conveys this archaic atmosphere best, faintly suggesting Farley Granger; Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes are awkwardly shoehorned in as the star’s agent and manager. PG-13, 96 min. (JR)
Something of a tour de force, this adaptation of Joe Simpson’s nonfiction book about his climbing the 21,000-foot Siula Grande mountain in Peru, breaking a leg, and eventually making it back alive is remarkable simply because the story seems unfilmable. Director Kevin Macdonald has Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, recount most of their adventure in a London studio; selected bits of action are restaged on location in the Andes and Alps, using actors Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron as well as the original participants, while the restwhich is a lotis left to the viewer’s imagination. The monumental settings and the hallucinatory treatment of time, which seems increasingly stretched out toward the end, are both capably handled. 106 min. (JR)
Ultimately more watchable than illuminating, this feature-length, Oscar-winning interview with 87-year-old Robert S. McNamara, secretary of defense for presidents Kennedy and Johnson, is a masterpiece of hemming and hawing for both its subject and filmmaker Errol Morris. Its most impressive achievement may be its power to convince us that we’re actually thinking (as opposed to brooding) along with McNamara, an effect achieved by Philip Glass’s throbbing score, rapid montages of charts and figures we aren’t supposed to understand, and intertitles of 11 platitudinous lessons that structure and punctuate McNamara’s musings. Among the highlights are McNamara’s suggestions that he’d be regarded as a war criminal had the U.S. lost World War II, that the American commitment to Vietnam was a mistake, and that he was less responsible for the military escalation than Johnson. He also, poor guy, can’t remember whether or not he authorized dropping Agent Orange on North Vietnam. PG-13, 95 min. (JR)