Sunday, May 16, 2010

BLONDE - The Return of Andrew Dominik

It's typical in this day and age for directors to pump out a new film every one or two years. There's certainly nothing wrong with this as it gives cinephiles a chance to build a complete picture of one artist's style and capabilities. However, It's always interesting when a successful director takes their time in between projects to find something (s)he's truly passionate about shooting. One such director is Andrew Dominik, who will return in 2011 with BLONDE, based on Joyce Carol Oates fictionalized biography of Marilyn Monroe.

The New Zealander's debut was 2000's CHOPPER, the biopic of Australia's most notorious criminal, featuring a star-making performance by Eric Bana.

The film garnered some positive reviews and maintains a decent following. Dominik's follow-up wouldn't come for a further seven years. THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD was worth the wait. All petty gripes about the title aside, this was a great and vastly underappreciated film. It earned mostly positive reviews and a couple Oscar nods (one for cinematography and another for Casey Affleck's awesome supporting performance), but it was still criticized as being slow and overlong. No, it wasn't the shoot-em-up heist film that one would expect with a name like Jesse James in the title, it was actually a hundred-times better than that. The film stunned me with its performances, music, and boldness. It's not the film that everyone wanted, it's something completely out of left-field and that's what makes it a marvel. I believe that time will out this film's greatness and its status as one of the best film's of this young century.

It's because of this film that I'm already convinced of BLONDE's potential. Dominik was supposed to return in 2012 with yet another literary adaptation, CITIES OF THE PLAIN, based on the Cormac McCarthy novel. This sounds like an ambitious undertaking and I hope he returns to it, but I'm glad I don't have to wait as long. I haven't read the Oates book, but its received high praise. When skimming various descriptions of the novel, I can see why Dominik is perfect for the film version: "Emotionally volatile, fey, self-absorbed, and frightened, Monroe could also be tough, outspoken, vulgar--her notorious perfectionism a shield against the ridicule and failure that Oates claims she continually feared" (Publisher's Weekly). Dominik isn't interested in stories that exalt and sensationalize its protagonists. He did a great job making Mark "Chopper" Read human. He could have made a film that demonized Robert Ford and enforced the mythic figure of Jesse James ("He took from the rich and he gave to the poor" as the song says), but he didn't. James is positively psychotic and Ford is vulnerable, but you still think he's a sonofabitch in the end even though James has it coming. There are shades of greys to both men that are thought provoking and elicit complicated feelings. This is what I expect from a Monroe biopic. The woman is too quickly honored as some sort of icon. I feel as though I'd care more about her if I got to see all her dimensions. Dominik is the man to capture the light and dark of her character. There's another Monroe film being produced currently that will likely walk the line of fluff, something this film will not.

More promising news about this project is that it will star Naomi Watts. Dominik has proven that he can bring amazing performances out of talented actors (something that's harder than it sounds). Bana, Pitt, and Affleck have all benefited from his direction. It's hard to imagine that Watts won't be able to put in a performance worthy of Academy recognition.

Hopefully, more news about this film will follow shortly, but all I've heard thus far has me already looking forward to 2011.

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