Winter.......offers us a cinematic abyss.

Find These If You Can

4 Illusion Reviews by Joan Ellis

Winter is a lean time for movie fans. Holding their new movies for later release, the studios offer us a cinematic abyss. What we can do in this dismal period is to catch the good ones we missed during the past year. These four are worth the hunt.

In the Valley of Elah gets everything right. A father is searching for his son who has gone AWOL from the Army. Tommy Lee Jones makes him vulnerable, honest, precise, uncomfortable, unrelenting, and possessed of a will of iron. He shows us who he is by making himself ordinary in the face of bureaucracy. He is a gentleman and a warrior in his own small life. As his wife in a marriage of cool distance, Susan Sarandon captures the worn resignation of a woman living with a silent man. Charlize Theron is a police office clerk who helps a despairing man find the truth of his search. For these three superb actors, itís all in the details; in my not so humble opinion, they made the best movie of this year.

La Vie En Rose is a patchwork that mimics the chaos of Edith Piafís life. Marion Cotillardís daring performance is the central wonder of the film. For all her life, Piaf sang for her supper until Paris took notice. From childhood forward she sang songs of despair that reflected the physical and emotional darkness that engulfed her life, and she sang them in that famous strong, clear voice that belied her fragile self. Addicted to morphine and alcohol, she died at 47. Cotillardís face reflects Piafís frightening range of emotion Ė radiance to petulance to rage. It is a dazzling performance.

The Lives of Others unfolds in the Orwellian state of East Germany in 1984 when the secret police, the Stasi, cast a shadow over a citizenry that is itself riddled with informers. Surveillance, and the threat of it, have erased vibrancy. People, buildings, and streets have turned into a shade of gray. From an apartment above his target, a Stasi spy watches the daily life of a playwright at work and in love. Spy and target become two decent men wrestling with their culture and their consciences. Two fine actors and their director paint in a chilling monochrome.

3:10 to Yuma marks the return of the Western. With this comes the violent reality that can take over in the absence of the rule of law. Downtrodden Christian Bale is paid to deliver the captured killer Russell Crowe to justice in Yuma. It becomes an intriguing journey into the minds of two men. The final exhaustion of the audience is the clear measure of two terrific actors and a fine cast who turn something familiar into something wonderfully new.

Tommy Lee Jones and Marion Cotillard each deserve an Oscar, and these four films stand at the top of the 2007 pyramid. Youíll be glad you made the effort.


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