Early Reviews of ‘The Road’ and ‘Bad Lieutenant’ are Unfavorable


During film festival season, film journalists and bloggers are anxious to “count out” high profile movies. A few bad reviews come in for a movie and all of the sudden it’s off everybody’s Oscar shortlist. Never mind the fact that many films have come out of bad festival runs and gone on to success at the Oscars. However, lately the internet has successfully killed buzz on many a movie.

The latest victims of the internet buzz machine are John Hillcoat’s long awaited adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Werner Herzog’s remake of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Both films are playing at the currently underway Venice and Telluride Film Festivals. Reviews are pouring in and word on Herzog’s film is mostly negative. Mike Goodridge of Screen Daily says that to call the film a re-make is just untrue. He did not completely dislike the film, but found a lot of flaws:

Curiously Herzog fails to get much mileage from New Orleans itself . The city has never looked so dreary, sunless and devoid of character, and DP Peter Zeitlinger shoots it like a documentary. Fortunately moments of inspired lunacy from Herzog –  McDonagh’s hallucinations of iguanas and a dead man’s dancing soul – add some visual zip to the proceedings.

Guy Lodge of In Contention saw the film in Venice and believes the film to be a forerunner for the Festival’s WTF award. He finds the film “muddy-looking” with no graspable story:

Herzog’s film, by contrast, is about nothing but its own strangeness. There’s certainly little narrative to speak of: a running murder investigation and Cage’s sketchy romance with a heart-of-gold hooker (Eva Mendes, far better than the role demands) form the softest of spines – though the absurdly perfunctory resolution, which also dispenses with the few stylistic flourishes this muddy-looking film already possessed, suggests Herzog has lost interest in the material altogether.

The bad news for Werner Herzog continues as his other film that is making the festival rounds is also getting panned by the critics. Leslie Felperin of Variety says the film is appropriately personal, but the characters are entirely uninteresting:

Pic’s other characters are not a particularly compelling bunch, which is even more disappointing given that they’re played by some pretty big names. Dafoe, Sevigny and Kier seem to be competing to see who can give the most arch, knowingly flat perf, putting invisible air quotes around their renditions of “normal” suburbanites. David Lynch regular Zabriskie (“Inland Empire”), on the other hand, hams it up royally, particularly in a scene in which she smiles creepily at Brad and Ingrid for what seems like a full minute of screen time.

One of the most anticipated films of the festival circuit is John Hillcoat’s The Road. The Cormac McCarthy novel is said to be unfilmable and critics and audiences are anxious to see how Hillcoat and star Viggo Mortensen pull it off. Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter has high praise for the film, although she does believe it will be more of a critical darling than audience favorite:

Shot through with a bleak intensity and pessimism that offers little hope for a better tomorrow, the film is more suitable to critical appreciation than to attracting huge audiences though topliners Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron will attract initial business.

The screenplay by Joe Penhall takes a very different tack from end-of-the-worlders like “Children of Men,” choosing rigorous, low-key realism over special effects. The story is told largely through flashbacks, which are the memories of a father (Mortensen) struggling for survival on the road with his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Todd McCarthy of Variety points out the obvious – that expectations for the film are incredibly high and if it is not going to be great, it’s not worth doing. To that degree, McCarthy thinks the film failed:

Some things were obvious: The film’s style needed to be as terse, exacting, stripped-down, tough and precise as McCarthy’s prose style. The picture also should have been shocking, haunting and, at the end, deeply moving. As it is, director John Hillcoat (“The Proposition”) and lenser Javier Aguirresarobe have come up with some arresting scorched-earth vistas captured on locations in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Oregon, but have missed the bigger picture almost entirely.

These pans, however, don’t limit my excitement for the John Hillcoat film. Viggo’s performance has mostly been applauded as has Charlize Theron’s limited role. As for where the film ends up on my next Oscar prediction update, I’ll let the opinions from Toronto decide.

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2 Responses to Early Reviews of ‘The Road’ and ‘Bad Lieutenant’ are Unfavorable

  1. G1000 Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    Emanuel Levy is one of the few critics I trust, and he gave the road a B+. So don’t start worrying about it yet.

  2. Alex Carlson Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 9:02 am #

    I agree and I hate that critics find a few flaws and are so anxious to beat up the film. It’s undeniable, however, that their voices do have an impact on the awards race.

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