Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir-scr Andrew Dominik
prd Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Tracey Landon, Scott Robertson
with Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Julianne Nicholson, Xavier Samuel, Evan Williams, Lily Fisher, Toby Huss, Rebecca Wisocky, Caspar Phillipson, Scoot McNairy, Garret Dillahunt
release US/UK 16.Sep.22
22/US 2h46

brody cannvale nicholson
venice film fest

Is it streaming?

de armas
As required, Andrew Dominik takes a big swing at the life of Marilyn Monroe. It may be reductive to define such an iconic star using her unresolved daddy issues, but the film is charged with energy and passion, ambitiously visual and anchored by a fiercely layered performance from Ana de Armas. It also has strong things to say about celebrity culture, even as it knowingly deploys the myths.
Never knowing the identity of her father, young Norma Jeane (Fisher) is left alone when her unstable mother (Nicholson) is institutionalised, eventually becoming a pin-up (now de Armas). And Hollywood quickly latches on to her rising star. She takes acting seriously but, as she's rebranded as Marilyn Monroe, she is ruthlessly used by the studios. She befriends the sons of two major stars, Cass and Eddy (Samuel and Williams), marries a violent former athlete (Cannavale) and a brainy playwright (Brody), and is acquired to satiate a US President (Phillipson). And everyone underestimates her.
According to this script, which is based on Joyce Carol Oates' novel, Marilyn always felt that she was in need of a man. But this feels extremely simplistic, so it's a good thing that the film throws several far more intriguing themes into the mix. Dominik shoots it like an archival documentary, with varying scenes in different aspect ratios, colour or black and white. It's a cool effect that's more than a gimmick. And the various chapters in Marilyn's life play out with artfully dreamy touches that continually circle back. This creates strong emotional throughlines, propelling the audience through this wrenching journey.

In virtually every shot, de Armas creates an often uncanny vision of Marilyn, capturing that unique mix of intelligence, earnestness and seduction. The performance explodes with extreme emotion and physicality (she's often naked), plus steely strength and sometimes frightening vulnerability. Costars have their own moments, most notably Brody as a deep-feeling playwright. While Samuel and Williams share the film's sexiest sequence with de Armas, complete with swirling funhouse mirror imagery and an epic waterfall.

The film certainly doesn't shy away from the darker sides of both show business and politics, although Dominik's dream-like approach leaves many scenes open to interpretation as either fact or fiction. Still, this is a razor-sharp depiction of how show business can devour someone without mercy, neglecting to help even when they ask for assistance. And while the film's extravagant approach can't help but entertain and repulse in equal measure, it's impossible to look away.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 8.Sep.22 vff

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall