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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Damien Chazelle
prd Olivia Hamilton, Marc Platt, Matthew Plouffe
with Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Max Minghella, Lukas Haas, Rory Scovel, Flea, Jeff Garlin, Tobey Maguire, Olivia Wilde, Samara Weaving, Katherine Waterston, Eric Roberts
release US 23.Dec.22,
22/US Paramount 3h08
Is it streaming?
An ambitious, often jaw-dropping depiction of Hollywood's early days, this epic is packed with bracingly visceral sequences that recreate both the uncanny magic of cinema and the decadent lives of wealthy people in the industry. Writer-director Damien Chazelle creates enough visual panache to hold the attention for three hours, even if some plot strands feel like overwrought sideroads. But it's also a dazzling take on the true cost of moviemaking.
In 1926 Hollywood, top star Jack (Pitt) holds court at hedonistic parties. When aspiring starlet Nellie (Margot) crashes one, she catches everyone's eye, including immigrant Manuel (Calva), who also wants to get into the business. And a bit of luck sees both of them finding dream jobs on chaotic silent movie sets. Then the advent of synchronised sound changes the way films are made, and Jack finds his career in a sudden spin. Meanwhile, Nellie's chaotic behaviour is distracting Manuel from his new responsibilities. And all-powerful gossip columnist Elinor (Smart) is having a field day.
We also meet Black trumpeter Sidney (Adepo), whose charisma makes him a topline star, while the seductive Lady Fay (Li) relishes her bad-girl image until morality police sweep into the industry. Their stories feel sidelined compared to the central trio, who ping off each other through a series of lavish set-pieces that should be seen on a huge screen, thanks to Linus Sandgren's expansive cinematography and Chazelle's intricate and enormous direction. All of which is fabulous with the film business in the spotlight. But the narrative wanders indulgently into other kinds of sordid behaviour.
Performances are multi-layered, anchored by Calva's intensely passionate turn. Manuel's actions and reactions reverberate with ideas about how his humanity is strained by what he encounters along the way, creating an arc the audience can identify with. Pitt and Robbie are both terrific as troubled souls whose deeply internalised problems aren't solved by fame or fortune. They're sympathetic but not hugely likeable, which is a tricky line to walk. And both Jack and Nellie feel unusually real as a result.
Chazelle skilfully creates debauchery that actually feels excessive, and perhaps goes too far when a story-thread veers off-topic into a darkly criminal corner. And a climactic cinematic meta-montage feels like an overreach. But the parallels with Singin' in the Rain are astutely rendered, complete with a more direct emotional kick in the final sequence. And while Chazelle uses tragedy and irony to drive his point home, it's the exuberance of his unflinching trip into Hollywood history that makes this worth a look for movie fans.
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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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