Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Film Review: ADAM RESURRECTED (2008, Paul Schrader)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 106 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi (DEAD AGAIN, GLADIATOR), Ayelet Zurer (MUNICH, VANTAGE POINT).
Tag-line: "In a world gone mad, being insane was just a way to fit in."
Best one-liner: "Who let a dog in here?"

Paul Schrader is quite possibly my favorite filmmaker of all time, and even on those rare occasions when I can't connect with his material (TOUCH, FOREVER MINE), I still have nothing but respect for the man and his movies. ADAM RESURRECTED never quite works, and it's certainly not for lack of trying. I can't help but feel that Schrader himself never connected with the material: written by Noah Stollman, based on the novel by Yoram Kaniuk, and self-distributed by (according to some accounts) hubristic producer Ehud Bleiberg, the film just doesn't 'feel' like a Schrader project, even when placed in context with other films he's directed but not written (AUTO FOCUS, THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS). I feel like the producers wanted ONE FLEW OVER THE SCHINDLER'S LIST, and Schrader probably wanted something closer to ISRAELI GIGOLO. Consequently, the film has a forced weight to it that usually rings false- you can have crying, screaming, breast-beating, crazies, and men barking like dogs; but if it's not in service to a story that carries real, passionate, connected poignancy, it's going to fall flat. One of the biggest cracks in the foundation here is Jeff Goldblum. I love Goldblum.

I wanted to believe that he was this character, but he simply couldn't sell it to me. On the surface, you could say that the problem was the German accent, which seemed to come and go with no real consistency, but the deeper problem was that the performance was based on affectation. There are many ways to tell a story from the point-of-view of a deeply disturbed individual. Look at Schrader's TAXI DRIVER, ROLLING THUNDER, or AUTO FOCUS. We delve deeply into the protagonist's minds, and emerge with not absolution, but an understanding of their lives, their motivations. Here, we just turn crazy up to eleven, and let it ride out. More like Nic Cage in VAMPIRE'S KISS or THE WICKER MAN than Devane in ROLLING THUNDER. And the asylum inmates are just terrible...terrible. Painful to watch. Time to get a new casting director. The silver lining here is clearly Willem Dafoe, as if we required more evidence that he has never delivered a poor performance. From his first appearance as a meek audience member at the CABARET-inspired Weimar venue

to his vile (but oddly pathetic) Nazi Commandant,

he's sharp, occasionally funny, often terrifying, and completely in the moment. I really wish I could say the same for the rest of the film. To see a film about human debasement in a similar vein but with genuine poignancy, check out Lina Wertmüller's SEVEN BEAUTIES.

-Sean Gill

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