For a long time I was afraid to watch this movie; even the trailer made me cry. And, yes, I cried watching it, but it earned my tears in a way that I hadn't expected. It didn't go for the obvious, sentimental button pressing that it could have. Angelina Joli's performance was dignified and restrained, and did honour to the woman she was portraying. The story unfolded to some extent like a police procedural (and although I'm aware there was some criticism at the time of the way the local authorities handled the case, the overall impression here was that everyone cared deeply about it and worked very hard). I found the movie suspenseful, despite knowledge of the outcome, finding that suspense tinged with irony that is at the heart of the most effective tragedies.
I came to this movie with quite high expectations, having read a review of it comparing it to the work of Terence Malick (whose Days of Heaven is one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen). It was a very nice movie, but not in that league, nor as compelling as the review would have had me believe. In telling the story of an immigrant couple, the woman coming to the US as a mail-order bride, neither of them speaking good English and both encountering prejudice on the heels of WW1, yet also attempting to show the importance of Land and love of the Land, it had too many different messages to convey and weakened all of them. At its heart is a very tender love story, and I wish it had focussed on that. The framing story about the generations to follow was to some extent unnecessary and distracting. All the players were good - it was quite nice to see Alan Cumming playing a "normal" person, and John Heard plays a fairly sympathetic preacher-man. The two leads were attractive and interesting - again, this was pleasant viewing but by no means earth shattering.
The Dark Knight
This was, to coin a phrase, awesome. An exceptionally polished and - yes - even profound piece of filmmaking. Dark, violent, noisy, full of spectacle, but ultimately focussing on the heart of humankind and what it means to be good or evil and whether or not it is possible to fight the darkness underlying our societies. My friend lidocafe, with whom I viewed this at the theatre, wrote a long and thoughtful review that conveys more than I could in this brief discussion, and her knowledge of the comics adds more depth than I would be able to. I need to say though, that as good as Heath Ledger was, I don't think it was "his" movie. The depth and gravitas that the movie conveyed would not have been possible without the support of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart. And of course there was Christian Bale. I love Christian Bale.
And here he is again. In fact, I've seen three movies of his in the last month, all fine films, all graced with his intense, intelligent presence. And seeing three performances within a relatively limited time period highlighted his ability to inhabit a role, to lose his own ego within his presentation. For me, that is always the mark of the finest actor, when you can see the character from his eyes, when it is not simply a mask or a set of twitches. This movie was also an effective piece of film-making. I'm not sure I would have realized that it was Werner Herzog at the helm had I not known in advance, yet in hindsight I realize that its focus on Man in Nature is extremely Herzogian. Like A Mighty Heart, this is based on a true story, yet I found here that knowledge of the outcome did lessen the suspense somewhat. What was enjoyable was watching Bale's performance and his interplay with his fellow prisoners of war. Steve Zahn is a revelation, equally intense and compelling. Jeremy Davies is more a collection of twitches; we never really get a handle on what motivates him, unless it is that he has been broken by his time as a prisoner (his performance in Saving Private Ryan is far more affecting).