Don't assume a film is great just because it's gloomy

the gripe

the gripe

January 12, 2007|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

"Everyone assumes great art has to be gloomy," writer-director Ron Shelton noted shortly after he made Bull Durham, a movie that proves great art can be fun.

The over-praise of films such as Babel, Children of Men and Notes on a Scandal bears out his complaint.

They're brilliantly made. But they're also dramatically flimsy or monotonous.

In Babel, two boys playing with a rifle in Morocco set off a chain reaction of near-catastrophes in Japan, the United States and Mexico. It's like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon played with life-or-death stakes and a soul-crushing existential overlay.

Children of Men packs contemporary hot-button issues such as immigration, the curtailment of civil liberties and the Iraq war into a nightmare future. The reluctant hero says, "I can't really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can't remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what's left to hope for?"

On a smaller, domestic scale, Notes on a Scandal presents the poison-pen diary of a teacher at a state-run secondary school in London - and a picture of friendship, romance and family life as cutthroat transactions.

Would any of these movies be receiving deep-dish attention if they were better (and deeper) humored? Their acclaim may just reflect the group depression of the babbling class.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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