“Blade Runner 2049”
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Extremely pretty to look at, inventive in it’s restructuring of a now 35-year-old, iconic film, and, like “Dunkirk”, more of an experience than a film, Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” has a lot going for it. But, alas, not enough. Which is too bad, because as much as I wanted to love this film, I’m afraid the pros don’t outweigh the cons.
I think it comes down to the way Villeneuve handles plot. Or rather, mishandles it. Just as in “Arrival”, and to a lesser extent, “Sicario”, he seems to view plot as nothing more than a vessel by which to paint his pictures – and yet, he wants his films to be statement-making and important – treatises on our current culture, etc., etc.. They’re beautiful pictures to be sure, but he keeps forgetting to give us something to keep us invested throughout…and that’s a script. “Sicario” had a great story, but switched protagonists midway through the film, leaving us with a confusing morality tale. “Arrival” was just plain boring with the exception of the aliens themselves. The story could have been told in ten minutes which was not appeased by the crazy twist at the end. And now we can add “Blade Runner 2049” to the canon which suffers from an equally thin plot and uber-repetitive dialogue. Listen, I’m aware that the first “Blade Runner” was equally thread-bare in story, but it FELT like more because it was a true noir piece placed in a future environment. This film feels like a futuristic, dystopian film that happens to have a noir plot. A subtle difference, you say? Perhaps, but by the end of this film it feels more like a chasm. By my count there were at least five scenes that could have been cut…but they were beautiful to look at, so, they stayed. Alas, our attention does not…only our senses.
And what a feast for the senses it is! Like the most recent “Mad Max” film, “BR 2049” is about as visually arresting, captivating even, a film as we’ll have this year. Roger Deakins cinematography and Dennis Gasner’s design paint beautiful pictures on a canvas that seems to be placed in a world over-run with volcano ash. A true achievement. I can’t wait for the Oscar race for Design and Cinematography…or any of the design awards…which will pit this film against “Dunkirk”. Good luck differentiating which is more artful!
The acting is…fine…I guess. The script does nothing to make us give a shit about any of them, really. Ryan Gosling is better than usual (I’m not really a fan, in case you haven’t read my review of “La La Land” or “Nice Guys”), but there’s not a lot for us to connect to – as evidenced by every promotional still showing us his back. Ironically, his AI girlfriend, played by the gorgeous Ana de Armas, has more connective tissue. However, it’s not enough of a connection to care about what happens in the third act. Jared Leto’s character and performance lies somewhere between Bond villain, and “Westworld” bad guy (the HBO version). It’s supposed to be terrifying. It’s not. Better is his henchperson, Dutch actress, Sylvia Hoeks. She alone gives us anything that verges on high stakes. Harrison Ford is, well, Harrison Ford. His contributions, at this point in his career, are like putting on an old pair of sneakers. His appearance gives you a reason to sit back and relax, knowing he’ll bring you along for his ride in whatever story he’s found his way back to. And, finally, nice to see “Halt and Catch Fire’s” Mackenzie Davis get a little big-screen love, small as her role may have been.
Back to those sensory experiences. Originally, this film was supposed to be scored by long time Villeneuve collaborator and Oscar-nommed genius, Johann Johannsson (whose “Theory of Everything” score is, well, everything!). But apparently his score was deemed not Vangelis-ish enough. Enter “Dunkirk” composers, Benjamin Wallfisch & Hans Zimmer. As you would expect, this score sounds a lot like Vangelis recreating the score of “Dunkirk”. Truly. Pick any track from Dunkirk and compare it with “Sea Wall” from this film’s score. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Right?! But just, like Dunkirk’s anxiety-inducing set of soundbeds, this score IS effective and a terrific companion to the visuals (and our memories of the original score). What it LACKS, however, is the human/emotional characteristics of that original score by Vangelis, whose “Love Theme” is about as well known a piece of film music as any from an Eighties-era score.
Listen, if you have a large-format theater near you with a really loud sound system, it is a must-see. But since the way people ingest films these days is SO different than in 1982, I think most will watch it on a TV screen, or smaller, and shrug. It’s simply too long and meandering to have much of a lasting effect. File it under “Visual Masterpiece, Disappointing Film”.
Written on 10/12/2017