Reviews: Bridges, Sunset Song, Fargo

11 Dec

Sunset Song. The title’s a giveaway. This isn’t a story as we usually expect on our screens; more a lyric poem, Hardy transferred from Wessex to rural Scotland, losing along the way not only those bizarre but convenient coincidences but plot itself. The acting, fit for purpose most of the time, does lapse on occasion but who cares when the cinematography is so good, and intimacy in every sense so richly detailed? A lovely film; its imagery lingering long afterwards.

Bridge of Spies. Here there is  a plot but it’s run of the mill; a spy exchange caper that retreads ground covered long ago by Le Carre … except  that the portrayals of cold war New York are superb, as are those of a devastated Berlin, as is the quality of the two principals; Mark Rylance of Wolf Hall fame and – a man who gets better and better – Tom Hanks. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Meanwhile on the small screen …

The Bridge rattles along nicely, its sub plots and sinister suggestiveness reminiscent of PD James or, at her best, Ruth Rendell. The conceit of having the central character on the far side of the autistic spectrum is still entertaining, if at times credulity stretching, but I suspect a further series will scrape the barrel. Not that such considerations usually prevent a tired formula being milked for all it’s got. After all, there was  a time – when Colin Dexter created Morse – in which the misanthropic, ageing murder detective was actually a novelty.

If the whole Scandinavian noir thing is getting a tad hyped, Fargo continues to set the bar for ground breaking drama. As with Lynch and Tarrantino, and to lesser degree the Sopranos/Mad Men team, the Coen brothers stretch the conventions of realist story telling to just this side of breaking point. (OK, past it in the case of Lynch.) Violence is in your face and rendered inanely recognisable. People behave stupidly; heavyweights are casually blown away – as though, mid Dirty Harry movie, Clint Eastwood is cut down by a runaway bus – and expectations of justice confounded, yet there’s human decency here and there. The genre remains firmly realist, which is where Lynch parallels cease to be useful, but a Fargoism that does stand that comparison is intelligent use of naturalism. Lingering minutiae, and revelatory shifts of character that startle without cheating, do nothing to drive the plot but everything to convey existential madness and precarity. It makes even the better Brit and continental drama look formulaic, and the middle of the road stuff downright lazy.

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