I don’t go to the cinema as much as I would like. Even though I am a big fan of everything that has to do with the silver screen, I don’t find myself in front of one very often. However, at the end of October I happened to go to the pictures twice in one week, and both times I felt satisfied, enthralled, but also disappointed. My cinematic experiences of choice were Fury and The Judge. Now, let me explain why they were disappointing, using some spoilers here and there.
First, let us have a look at Fury. It’s the newest film starring Brad Pitt, in which he is the commanding officer of a tank unit in the Second World War. It is an engaging film that is at its best when tank warfare is displayed in minute detail. Pitt has a crew of men that would never have formed any kind of camaraderie were it not for the war, and the group is shown from inside their tank, nicknamed Fury, in all its greasy and dirty glory. Both the strength and chocking confinement of a tank is on full display in this film, and the abruptness of war is aptly translated to the screen. Almost the entire film is gritty, darkly funny at moments, and true to its characters and their historical context. It’s a shame, therefore, that the film takes a number of leaves from the Book of Cliche. For no believable reason at all, the characters decide to take on two hundred, well-armed German soldiers, in a broken down tank. You can sniff the heroic sacrifice coming from kilometers away, and it stinks. The ensuing battle scene is exciting, but hollow. What could have been a tense film that tells a story not heard very often, thusly turned out to be a shallow flick for the masses. Shame.
The bigger disappointment turned out to be The Judge. It was sold to me as a film that would make me want to call my dad and tell him I love him. What it made me do was turn uncomfortably in my chair, keeping myself from shouting at the screen. It stars Robert Downey Junior as an arrogant, witty lawyer who “can’t be afforded by innocent people”. He has to do some pro-bono work, though, when his father, a judge in a small American town, faces murder charges. The two headstrong men have not spoken to each other for years, and don’t seem to like each other very much. Downey-Junior and his on-screen dad, Robert Duvall, show off their considerable acting talents in every shot they’re in. They are great to watch.
The trouble with the film comes from the same book Fury took some words from, but to a much more annoying degree. For instance, at one point a windstorm is blowing through town, and right when it really starts to get going, the main characters get into a fight and leave their shelter because they can’t stand being in the same room with each other. They walk through the storm, only to start hurling comments at each other again. The windstorm is a dreadfully boring metaphor for the inner turmoil of the main characters, and because it is so stupidly blunt, it feels sad and silly. More annoying, to the point of actual frustrating, are the melodramatic turns in the final court appearance, and the way the film wraps everything up. Especially the send-off of Duvall’s character is laughably terrible. The sad thing, though, is that one of the best shots, if not the best shot of the film, follows that dreadfully soppy goodbye: Downey-Junior playing with his father’s court chair. It’s quiet, expressive and almost lyrical. The film could have been a lot more if it had only done less.
That is how these films disappointed me: they could have been so much better. Fury and The Judge could have been films that struck a chord at once subtle and bombastic. Now though, the music sounds off, because too many strings are strummed. Shame.
Oh, and I really need to mention this: I found it hard to take Downey-Junior’s younger brother in the film seriously, because I thought I recognized him as a guy who teaches dogs to French-kiss. Actual dogs. Real, furry, dogs. Kissing, not just licking.
Header image courtesy of www.screenrelish.com