Monday, March 19, 2012

The Netflix Files: March 12 - 18

The Servant (1963) dir. Joseph Losey: An outstanding domestic thriller that owes more to its screenplay (adapted by Harold Pinter from Robin Maugham's novel), The Servant starts with ordinary ingredients and few predictable turns, but manages to end up in a frightfully exciting place at the end. Aside from the fascinating is-there-isn't-there? homoerotic subtext to the relationship between aristocrat Tony (James Fox) and socially awkward servant Barrett (Dirk Bogarde), the film's sharp deconstruction of employer-employee power dynamics is thrilling to behold. Throw in the fact that it's edited and paced just about to perfection, and even the more mundane conversations feel as though they're richly layered with barely visible tension. The final half hour is a bit of a sharp turn stylistically, like something that Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch might have cooked up over coffee, but in the end it only elevates the film, which owes so much to Pinter's excellent script to another level. Not terribly deep from the human side of things, but as a work of narrative manipulation and character maneuvering, it's a wonderful little gem of a thriller.

Grade: A-

Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle) (1970) dir. Jean-Pierre Melville: Melville's last noir (and his penultimate film as a director) also stands as one of his best. Understatement is the name of the game, but even coupled with the film's deliberate pacing it never fails to intrigue, if at times from a very chilly distance. Melville takes his time setting up the four principals (three criminals, one cop) and their loose connections to each other. The film won't ever be remembered as a strong work of character study, but at least the gradual pacing and extreme understatement lend the material more depth than would have been there otherwise. Much more impressive is the narrative's build towards its masterful highlight: a near-silent heist sequence set inside a supposedly impenetrable jewelry house. It's stripped down, icy stuff, but Melville ultimately makes all of the pieces worth caring about, even if the emotional reactions it inspires are often rather muted.

Grade: B+

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