I was over at Tim's last night and was able to catch episodes the two "Exodus" entries of Battlestar Galactica season three. Dropping a capital ship into free-fall officially makes William Adama the ballsiest vessel commander I've ever seen on television. Yes, that includes Jim Kirk, too, because in violation of all of the laws of physics, the Enterprise can somehow maneuver in the atmosphere. The Galactica (more plausibly) can't.
It is obvious why no American studio wanted to touch this film. The topic of arms dealing is politically dicey and the central characters are by nature morally reprehensible. Worse, it actually has the audacity to imply American compicity in these various wars throughout the world that it otherwise ignores. Unfortunately, while the film does make some very valid points, its ultimate purpose is not a dramatic one, and that means that one suffers through this film more than one watches it. When it comes to politically-charged drama, I am a firm believer in Jean Luc Godard's statement that it is not about making political films but about making films politically.
What I'm trying to say is that, despite the best intentions of Andrew Niccol, the film falls a little flat. It is more disappointing to see an ambitious film fail than it is to see a crappy film succeed, and this movie is actually attempting to make an important point about the world that the American public has a tendency to ignore in order to maintain the illusion of moral superiority. Much of the film takes place in areas of the world where life is cheaper than bread, and while it attempts to bring the viewer into this millieu, the characters keep one distant from the action. While this is a thousand times more honest than the usual Hollywood "white person goes to a shitty country/state/inner city school and finds redemption by making life superficially better for a small group of darkies" genre film, it unfortunately hobbles the ultimate point of the film, which is to implicate the viewer as well.
There is an idealist in the film, played by Ethan Hawke (who starred in Niccol's much more satisfying Gattaca), who is shown to be the moral counterpoint to Nicholas Cage's fast-talking apathetic monster. The end of the film is more of a lesson to Hawke's character than it is to Cage's, whose soulless maneuvering is, as he rightly puts it, merely fulfilling a constant human requirement. It is a very pessimistic view of humanity, but ultimately one borne out by observation of the species. I have to admit that while I respected this film, I didn't like it very much.
Speaking of films that are seriously out of the box, Darren Aronofsky's bizarre film is being very wrongly advertised. The ad copy proudly asks "What if you could live forever?" implying that the film is a love story that spans time and space, but this is very misleading. There are three storylines unfolding, the ultimate point of the cumulative effect of each is that one must accept death as a part of life.
Because the film is about emotional ties rather than mathematical concepts, it is much less abstract than Pi, but it is no less elliptical. If anything, the multiple storylines combined with the high-profile cast (Hugh Jackman is nothing less than superb) tend to imply that there is going to be more of a pay off at the end of the film than there is... but in a way that's part of the point of the film. It isn't terribly mysterious once you get to the end of it, but along the way it is very dense and confounding. There's a strange moment right towards the end that implies that things are going to develop along more conventional lines, but it is but an illusion.
The film brings up interesting connections between mythic structures; its central image is a single tree, which represents various things in folklore, but most often a tie to nature and the cyclicity of the life process. It provides a certain visual continuity, but it plays a very different role in each story. Because of the relatively low budget of this film, there is quite a bit of grain in many of the darker sequences, which is only notable because it in no way detracts from the production value of the film. It certainly doesn't mar the beauty of Matthew Libatique's cinematography, but is integrated along with James Chinlund's inventive production design into the overall texture of the film. Brian Emrich's sound design is very subtley and carefully executed. My understanding is that the visual effects were done completely analog in order to maintain a timeless quality, and they do look rather good. Clint Mansell's score will rip your soul apart.
The stories don't as advance so much as they do play out. And in a way, I think that accounts for why the more abstract ending of the film is strange; it is emotionally satisfying but not narratively satisfying. I think that is why I've seen some criticism of the film that it is an some sort of 'riddle,' which I didn't see at all. It is certainly not a film with a linear narrative, but it often seems to feel like one for a while. I don't think that this is so much of a flaw in the film as it is just a by-product of viewer expectation. The film was interesting enough for me to see again, and I'll reserve judgement on that point once I have.