A Movie Recommendation

I spent the evening making some kind of chinese chicken dish and watching a fantastic little movie with the always-impressive William H. Macy in it. The film, “Panic,” is the kind of thing I think movie critics would call a “gem,” because so few people seem to have seen it.

There I’m tempted to “review” it because I love dishing out opinions about movies, but in truth, I really just prefer doing that as a prelude to a discussion of them with other people who have seen them. And since apparently all of nobody saw this film when it was originally made (I can’t even tell if it had a traditional theater release!) I don’t want to spoil it’s contents. After all, I’ve come increasingly to believe that maybe too much outside knowledge can spoil the value of art, to the point that I don’t even like to see trailers for movies anymore, as they always give away too much of the plot. This is certainly not a movie that relies on twists, but I just think that films should be experienced by audiences who don’t know approximately what’s supposed to happen within them (after all, the people who write them don’t do so assuming the audience know the story). So consider this not a “review” but rather a “handy self-test” description to see if the movie is right for you.

The first thing to ask yourself is “Are you a fan of  William H. Macy”?  If so (and I really mean a “fan” and not just a guy who thought he was cute in “The Grinch”) then there’s already much reason to believe you’ll love this film. He gives an absolutely superb performance, subtle and understated and yet entirely, entirely believable in the face of some seeming madness.

Then, ask yourself “Am I okay if things aren’t always clear-cut or happy?” Because this movies messages are not clear-cut and are not uniformly happy. It’s not intended simply to depress you either, but it’s very far from the “uplifting” end of the spectrum. Are you okay having thoughts provoked if they aren’t always happy thoughts? And as a corollary to the above, did you enjoy Macy in “Fargo” even when it wasn’t a black comedy, but was just black? Alright then, good. continue:

The next thing to ask is, “Am I the kind of person who might enjoy a movie even though one of the idiots who reviewed it in my local paper said it was ‘billed as a thriller, but never really gets off the ground’?” I hope you are. Everyone should be. I get so sick of people who criticize a movie on the grounds that it was marketed poorly by morons who thought it would sell better if it looked like a “thriller” or a “romance” or whatever. This movie is called “Panic” and yet contains no pulse-pounding moments. Get over it, David Nusair of Reel Film Reviews. The plot doesn’t seem strongly driven. No large sequence of things “happens.” I claim it is still a marvelous film. If you don’t think this claim is an inherent contradiction, you’re still good to go,

Finally, ask yourself if you have enough friends around that you can have an exhilirating, vaguely philosophical discussion about life, aging, childhood, morality, hedonism, self-respect, parenthood, the institution of marriage, and the value of psychoanalysis. If you don’t make sure you have a blog where you can babble about the movie at least a little bit, or else you are going to end up frustrated and with too many deep thoughts bouncing around your crowded head. Take my word for that one.

But in the end, I’m glad I saw it, even without being able to discuss it afterwards. “Panic” really is a wonderful, wonderful film. It is tangentially a coming-of-age film, but mostly a being-of-age film. It is full of moments that have become staples of cinema, if not yet cliches, but it executes all of them with such unique honesty that it is mesmerizing to behold. If I were to describe the central idea of the movie to you, you might tell it sounded a little too weird to make a good film. You’d be wrong, because it’s one of the most honest, revealing films I’ve ever seen, thanks predominantly to Macy but also to an absolutely incredibly performance by the 7-year-old David Dorfman (yeah, that’s right, the kid from “The Ring.”) He may turn in the best child-actor performance I’ve ever seen.

So, if you’re in the mood for a quiet, contemplative slice-of-life film, track this one down, and be sure to let me know afterwards what you thought. I know sometimes movies seem better than they really are because of the mood you watch them in, and I had an excellent day today so there’s a chance that colored my perceptions. But I rather think not.

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About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

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