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Macbeth (1971)
August 16, 2017, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Roman Polanski
5 Stars
MacbethIn bringing Shakespeare to film, directors such as Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier have hyper-stylized the material in order to visually demonstrate the depths of conflict wracking the characters. In Welles’ highly expressionistic Macbeth, for example, the kingdom is rendered as rubble scattered throughout the hazy landscape. In Roman Polanski’s 1971 adaptation of the same play, on the other hand, he humanizes Shakespeare to the point that few directors have managed. When Macbeth (Jon Finch) and Mcduff (Terence Bayler) have their final duel, they clumsily struggle to maintain balance as they swing their weapons in bulky armor. Similarly, the violence in the film is rendered horrific through its bluntness—when Macduff’s family is slaughtered, the burning village with rape and murder in the streets is genuinely frightening. Beyond taking a grimly realistic approach to the violence, Polanski grounds the film significantly by having the soliloquies delivered in voice over rather than spoken aloud. In previous filmed Shakespeare adaptations, this had often been a problem—that is, the nature of soliloquies is counter-intuitive with what the audience expects of film language. When Macbeth is plagued by self-doubt prior to the murder of the king, however, Polanski allows Finch to convey the emotion of the scene simply through his facial expressions while the voiceover plays on the soundtrack. In bringing the audience further into the character’s heads and by filming violence in a realistic way, Polanski furthers one’s understanding of the gritty, raw heart at the center of the play, bringing greater horror to the story of Macbeth’s figurative descent into hell.

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Chinatown (1974)
July 24, 2016, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Roman Polanski
5 Stars
ChinatownThe title sequence of Chinatown does much to remark on its genre—with sepia tones, a blurred iris, and a vintage font, it immediately recalls the noirs of yesteryear (it is jarring to see names like Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in this context). It also begins an elaborate game of misdirection and sets the stage for the film’s bitter reveals. Just as many noirs have a dependable moral compass to route for, Nicholson’s Jake Gittes is a man with a haunted past facing a world of corruption. History tells us that not only will he come to the bottom of the mystery at hand, but his past will be redeemed. But Robert Towne’s screenplay keeps unveiling elaborate levels of deceit, and the political and murderous scandals make way for twists more personal, the sort that recontextualize each character’s relationship with one another. In the end, it is a devastating, castrating film about powerlessness, where good intentions come up against corruption and ultimately fall short. It is not merely a fatalistic tale, however. These characters are wrought to have lived many lives already (nearly everyone has a past that is regularly alluded to but never explicitly spelled out), and it is clear that their lives will continue into a future that has increasingly become uncertain and dire. Chinatown is not just a film about failure, but about how one copes and pushes forward despite a lifetime of it.