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Film Review Archive


The Tracker; The Twilight Samurai;
Super Size Me and A Slipping Down Life
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
Aired 5/25 and 5/26, 2004

Lots of movies to talk about this week.

I’ll start with The Tracker, an Australian film starring the charismatic David Gulpilil as the eponymous protagonist. This movie has as its subjects racism, revenge, justice and deceit. It might be called an Australian western. The story is simple, on the surface. A posse of four men are in hot pursuit of a fugitive accused of murdering a "white woman". What happens along the way is what elevates this story of a manhunt to near myth.

The Tracker is directed by Rolf de Heer and he employs narrative techniques I can’t recall being used before, at least this creatively and effectively. de Heer uses a series of paintings and a very long song, sung by the world renowned Archie Roach, to tell crucial parts of his story.

The close-ups of David Gulpilil’s face bear close attention. With great subtlty he registers a wide range of emotions and serves as a counter point to the less than subtle behavior of his putative superiors. The Tracker is the best film to bubble up from Down Under in quite some time.

The Twilight Samurai is a film I almost didn’t see. I’ve grown weary of the martial arts genre. But I’m happy to report that this film is far from what I expected. This is the portrait of a man who was trained for an occupation that encroaching modernity has rendered almost obsolete. He finds himself playing the role of a minor accountant in the local royalty’s warehouse of comestibles. He’s literally a bean counter. If his professional life is less than stimulating, his home life is even more challenging. As the film opens, his wife dies and he is left with an ageing mother and two young daughters to support.

Clan politics and familial pride, represented in the person of a patrician uncle, set in motion a series of events that lead to an absolutely great final scene. I will say only that it involves a confrontation between two anachronisms, and that it is great filmmaking. The Twilight Samurai is one terrific movie and I urge you not to miss it.

The third film worthy of your hard earned dollars is a documentary called Super Size Me. I found it at once hilarious and deeply disturbing. This movie has received a lot of press. You may have heard Terri Gross interview the director and star of the film, Morgan Spurlock. Having seen the film, I can’t now believe that anyone else could have made it work. Spurlock, with a disarming sense of humor and no apparent animus for his enormous and enormously powerful target, succeeds in eviscerating McDonald’s. You probably know by now that Spurlock, at considerable risk to his health, turned himself into a human guinea pig. For thirty days he ate nothing but McDonald’s fast foods. You probably also know what happened to him. But just in case you don’t, I’m not telling. I will tell you to see this important, funny and serious film. I almost didn’t. Even though I haven’t dined at McDonald’s for decades, the premise seemed too cute. I was wrong. Everyone should see it. And especially folks still hooked on McDonald’s.

I’ll say only a few words about A Slipping Down Life. I wanted so much to like this movie. It opens with Nanci Griffith’s great version of the Stephen Foster gem, "Hard Times, Come Again No More". Any director with the good taste to put the spotlight on Nanci Griffith, and also the good taste to employ Lili Taylor for her lead has my immediate attention. Sadly, this well intentioned film is an example of stellar components adding up to a disappointing whole. I won’t say ‘don’t see it’, because there is a real story at the heart of this effort. And there are more than a few snippets of satisfying dialogue.

But first time director Toni Kalem can’t quite get the promising pieces into a tight frame.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.