Spotlight, a bland chronicling of the uncovering of the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church by an investigative team at the Boston Globe around the turn of the millennium, is so dim in its perception that it could more aptly have been titled Nightlight. Suffering in particular from an obtusely linear script, this mediocre piece of documentary-like storytelling illuminates few aspects of the seamy affair that we couldn’t have discovered ourselves through a bit of Internet detective work.
One would expect a Baz Luhrmann, Tim Burton, or Steven Spielberg to be responsible for tedious, rambling fluff like The Aviator. Indeed, I can scarcely believe that this way-overlong, splashy biopic about the aviation movie-maker and entrepreneur Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) could have been directed by the same man who helmed Goodfellas and Taxi Driver. Yet it was. The man’s name is Martin Scorsese, and his understanding of the word “sellout” is second to none among Hollywood’s elite.
That Blackmail should be Hitch’s first talkie is tacit in the film’s very title: a blackmailer’s irony would be difficult to capture solely through facial expressions and intertitles. The opening scene, however, initially seems a preamble to a silent film. It commences with typical Hitchcockian energy, a hustle-and-bustle approach that presages Rich and Strange or North by Northwest.
The first few minutes of Lars von Trier’s genre-defying film Melancholia do what so few films in recent memory have done: celebrate the unexpected. A woman in a bridal dress? Birds falling slowly to earth and horses collapsing on their rear ends? A dark planet drifting through space? The “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde playing in the background? And it’s all shot in super slow motion. Later on, these seemingly disparate elements will begin to make sense, but they ultimately leave the viewer in a state of quiescent post-contemplation, never clarifying their intentions with semaphores.
From the outset of The Wrong Man, it’s evident that this is a very different kind of Hitchcock film. Which turns out to be both good and bad. For one thing, Hitch’s beloved cameo appearance is absent for the first and only time in his oeuvre. Instead, he sets the stage by walking toward the camera as a brightly backlit silhouette in a dark alley, informing us that unlike any of his other pictures, this one is a true story. Whereupon the ensuing explanatory note tells us that this tale is “stranger than the strangest fiction.” In this stark docudrama, in other words, Hitch’s characteristic flair for the melodramatic and suspenseful take a back seat to realism. The result is a film that becomes a bit clinical at times, dragging from event to event along a timeline as the wheels of justice churn ahead slowly. Nevertheless, as audiences had come to expect from Hitchcock, The Wrong Man exhibits a trenchant eye for details of both the visual and the verbal kind.