Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Liberty Stands Still (as in "still can't believe they made this")

Liberty Stands Still.

You remember the promos, right? Rich woman from a family that sells arms. Black sniper with an axe to grind (pardon the pun). People getting shot. Sanctimony. That's right. Now you remember.

I admit, I was intrigued enough to wonder how it plays out. So when I saw it in the delete bin for five bucks, I figured what the hell. (Five bucks is my "what the hell" point. If it's range of the price of renting it, give or take a buck, and I get to keep it if I like it, well... what the hell!)

This is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It's fucking pointless. Its logic, if you can call it that, is insulting. Let me illustrate.

Suppose, in the 1960s, when Ralph Nader had set out to alert the world about the dangers of the American automotive industy (in particular, the Chevy Corvair), instead of writing Unsafe At Any Speed he had kidnapped John Delorean, tied him to the starting post of a race track, and then proceeded to run innocent people over with an Impala. Sounds brainless, doesn't it? Welcome to the world of Liberty Stands Still. A man whose daughter is killed by a boy with a gun plants a bomb in public and begins to shoot people, and then kills himself at the end (sorry if I'm spoiling it, but come on... in Hollywood, evildoers always die at the end... no surprises here; not really). And why? To instigate a public debate on the Second Amendment (oh, yeah! That's never been done before, has it? That would solve everything!). To her credit, Liberty does point out that all the NRA would do would be to use Joe (the assassin) as a poster boy for why 'decent' people need guns in the first place.

Liberty and her husband and friends are entirely cynical. If that's meant to endear her to you as the movie progresses and she becomes less snarky, it doesn't. Her snotty attitude to a guy holding a gun on her while she's chained to a hot dog stand is bravado of an entirely unbelievable degree. Even if it were believable, it's unappealing. In the course of the movie, she doesn't change or grow. She goes from mouthing platitudes about how her company isn't responsible to begging for people's lives. But these aren't diametrically opposed things. It's hardly surprising, really, that someone could, say, build cars, but not want them used to run people over, particularly right in front of their faces. But they still might think building cars is a good idea, in spite of that. So what the movie really turns out to be is a colossal set-up to let a guy play God, and then getting away with it. He even knows everything about everyone. It's absurd. You can just about hear every potential Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in the audience spraying their shorts over this. Terrific.

I think the worst thing of all, though, is the music. This shitty, jarring, ceaseless disco shit they WON'T STOP PUMPING at you. You know what the director's really saying, don't you? "You're too much of a drooling idiot to judge for yourself the gravity of what's going on here so I'm going to poke you in the ear with my musical dick to remind you to be excited." I sat there thinking just how much more presence the movie would have if the calm of the sound track and the calm of the killer were counterpointed by his actions and the reactions to them. But you never get the chance to experience it.

I tried to think of movies where the music was used sparingly and the action instead carried the story. The first one that came to mind was Midnight Cowboy. While I'll be the first to admit they more than got their money out of that Harry Nilsson "Everybody's Talkin' At Me" song in the first half hour, other than that, there's almost no music in the movie. The exceptions I can think of all seem appropriate, even poignant. The "Orange Juice On Ice" commercial heard through Joe's beloved radio as he and Ratso, freezing and dreaming of Florida, take it to the pawn shop... the weird music as Joe spaces out for the first time at the party... the sad harmonica music at the end as Joe holds the body of his dead friend Ratso the last couple of miles into Miami. Now imagine how much less affecting that would have been if they'd been blowing the tune at you through the whole movie instead of just there (and the moment Joe first runs out of money in the hotel room). But there's no music to tell you how to feel when Ratso's standing at his father's grave with Joe. No music to tell you how to feel when Joe's invited to the party and Ratso isn't. No music to tell you how to feel when Joe, stung by Ratso's suggestion he's gay, turns the tables and embarrasses Ratso by accusing him of never having had sex at all, and probably rightly. Midnight Cowboy trusts the audience to be human, not just Pavlovian dogs with wallets, like Liberty Stands Still.

I wish I'd known this yesterday. Then Liberty Stands Still would still be Liberty Gathers Dust.

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