You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
Woody Allen


You Will Meet A Tall Dark StrangerIf you can get past its bone-deep cynicism, Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010) is not half as terrible as it is made out to be. For those like me who’ve actually cared to follow Allen’s career in the noughts (or his career, in general), the message of Stranger shouldn’t come as a big surprise: The world is nondeterministic, completely random and morally neutral and those of us who’re lucky enough to have been caught in the right currents live happily, As for the less fortunate, we can always trick ourselves into believing that we are all special in our own way and we actually matter – in this life or the next. Or whatever else works. Given this unbridled pessimism, it is something of an achievement that Stranger is one of the most lighthearted films of the year. Of all his recent works, it is here that Allen makes the best use of voiceover. Where storytellers like Inarittu abstain from voice over to heighten the sense of haphazardness and unpredictability of the universe, Allen employs it to obtain a godlike ironic distance from the equally haphazard and unpredictable transactions. Allen keeps divorcing morality of actions from their consequences in such a systematic manner that even immorality is deemed pointless and left at the mercy of Lady Luck. With an effortless control over his expansive canvas of characters, he plays out every combination of attitudes and situations possible, all of which, as expected, dovetail into meaninglessness. (The film’s almost like a treatise on atoms and their various bonds. Someone even mentions Heisenberg). Stranger is additionally a meditation on spaces – private and pubic – and realms – art and reality – and the way their internal tensions influence the relationships between the people inhabiting them, as is underscored by the adept cinematography, editing and blocking. But then, what’s the point of it all?

Director: Gus Van Sant

Cast: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch

The Buzz: Nominated in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Costume Design and Best Original Score categories

The Run: Won SAG Award for Best Actor


A Bit Cheesy

Sean Penn is one of the best actors around. No other actor, save DDL, has been so prolific and so perfect. Every gesture, move and expression that he presents is an indication that the academy has to more than make it up for their gross overlooking of his directorial film Into The Wild (2007). And Sean Penn is the only thing in Milk that actually lives up to all that hype.

Milk depicts the last eight years of Harvey Milk, America’s first “openly gay” statesman. This is a clever decision by Van Sant to spare us of the emotional torture and discrimination that Harvey might have faced in his teens and twenties. He makes the film event driven instead of character driven (which the subject matter might have readily prompted to). He starts off well utilizing newsreels to depict the political drama (without further unnecessary dramatization like Oliver Stone or now, Ron Howard) and shooting only the process of revolution using the most trivial of conversations taking place inside petty buildings. He never highlights Penn’s character and treats him as any other friendly neighbourhood hero. But all is consistent only till the half way. Van Sant is tempted to stage the political rising and breaks out into the open (may be that is the bloody point, but I don’t buy it). Newsreels take a back seat and Van Sant goes Hollywood. The underdog victory, the gruesome and sympathetic murder, the cut to the past, the consequence – we’ve all seen that before. All that one takes back is Penn’s wonderful portrayal of Harvey Milk – a person much more inspiring than the film.

Gus Van Sant has always been an enigma to me. I do not know what people saw in his earlier Palm D’Or winner Elephant (2003) and I do not understand what the hype around Milk is all about. Sean Penn’s masterful performance coupled with Obama’s dream run was perhaps the catalyst required to make emotions soar for the American audience. For me, it remains one of the most disappointing films of the year.