By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
Initially, the results are fascinating. Faces are abstracted, but facial expressions are remarkably precise. Landscape is rendered as swaths of color characterized by shifting paint-by-numbers highlights. Outlines are unstable, with a woozy Soutine-like flow. The earth heaves and shudders; space bobs and weaves. After a while, however, the image begins to choke on its own impasto. The animation comes to seem turgidly literal minded. Characters may float over the city or set themselves afire on the University of Texas campus, but the movie feels earthbound; it doesn't revel in cartoon liberation from time and space.
So, too, the earnestly whimsical riffs. As the "show" fades, the "tell" begins to grate. Less altered-states trippy than barroom garrulous, Waking Life doesn't leave you in a dream, specifically the dream of Linklater's previous films, so much as it traps you in an endless bull session.
Written and directed by Richard Linklater
Directed by Neal Slavin
Written by Kendrew Lascelles, from the novel by Arthur Miller
Opens October 19
Speaking of nightmares, Arthur Miller's 1945 novel Focusbrought to the screen by photographer Neal Slavinis an expressionist fable from the days when anti-Semitism was understood to be the defining trait of totalitarian fascism. Lawrence Newman (William H. Macy), a staid personnel officer charged with enforcing his company's bigoted hiring practices, gets a pair of glasses, and is piqued to discover that people now take him for a Jew.
Like the gentile hero of Gentleman's Agreement, which was published the same year as Focus (but filmed in 1947), Newman passes in reverse. As a result, he loses his job and finds himself suspiciously regarded by his prejudiced neighbor (Meat Loaf Aday), as well as unwillingly bracketed with the local newsdealer Finklestein (David Paymer), already the target of anti-Semitic harassment. To compound the irony, Newman marries the brassy Gert (Laura Dern), a dame whom he once rejected for a position because he mistook her for a Jew and who assumed that he was a Jew as well.
"Nobody makes a Jew out of me and gets away with it," Gert snarls after the honeymooning couple are turned away by a restricted resort hotel. Her point's well-taken. Dern and Macy give doughty performances in schematic roles, but glasses or no, these have to be two of the least Semitic-looking actors in American movies. Like the huge "American Way" billboard that's positioned directly across from Finklestein's newsstand or the fascist gang that tries to run them out of the neighborhood, their presence is pure Kabuki. This, of course, makes Miller's point. "Jewishness" is not just an abstraction but a purely negative identityexcept in so far as it creates a bond of oppression.
Not altogether unconscious of its anachronistic premise, Focus fine-tunes the novel's original ending for greater optimism and universal uplift. Still, recent events have helped this period piece even more. In its flat-footed warning against guilt by association and blunt evocation of vigilante Americanism, Miller's antique has taken on an unexpected topical relevance.
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