They want us to understand fully the meaning of life with no horizon.


An Illusion movie review by Joan Ellis

                Are you trapped in boredom?  Might the parameters of your life just as well be prison walls?  Well, hang on.  Nothing you are living can beat the daily life of Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston), a clerk in a small town Texas discount store that is a cross between early Wal-Mart and late Woolworth.  This is Retail Rodeo, an enormous space whose few customers wander in with time on their hands.  Thin customer traffic means low inventory, so there isnít much to look at in this store.  The awful fluorescence of Retail Rodeo is their light. 

                Director Miguel Arteta and his fine cast do such a good job of conveying the emptiness of this store and its staff that your breath may begin to catch in your throat.  These people have learned to live without air.  To their credit, the filmmakers resist any temptation to inject color in the characters or the place.  They want us to understand fully the meaning of life with no horizon.

                Justine is a smart 30 year-old who knows her life is a jail.  Customers and co-workers have nothing to do.  She goes home at night to Phil (John C. Reilly), her housepainter husband, a pothead who sits on the couch each night getting stoned in front of the TV with his best friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson).   

                Because she has at least something struggling inside, Justine will reach for life at some level.   As anyone beyond thirty knows, reaching means trouble, but for Justine, trouble is better than nothing, and nothing is the alternative.  When she gets involved with Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal) the new store clerk, it doesnít much matter that heís a psychiatric case.  Heís new, and thatís all that counts.

                In this movie itís not the story but the atmosphere that finally seizes you.  Director and cast create their world with an astonishing consistency, each actor playing his part in perfect harmony with the others Ė and itís tough harmony to hold.  John C. Reilly gives Phil a sweet heart and the mind of an oaf.  Tim Blake Nelsonís Bubba is creepy right down to his boots.  The mold of slowness is growing on these people.  They will grow old in lives that donít change.

                Watch for the store managerís small bubble of compassion, for the hilariously dead voice of Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel) as she announces the dayís specials.  The movie, grim in its impact, is still peppered with the laughter of irony.  Each character sustains the rhythm without a misstep.   

Jennifer Aniston and her colleagues pick up the tone from their director and build their characters slowly until we are riveted by their emptiness.  Playing against her past, the actress adds nothing that might distract us from Justine.  She manages beautifully to convey despair without even considering an explosion.  There is no way out of their prison, and most of them havenít even thought of looking.  Itís a grim movie, but a good one.  Your choice.  


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