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Prisoners' Songs

Positing the Gilmore brothers as victims of a primordial curse—an amalgam of Mormon superstition, frontier violence, mental instability, and sexual guilt—Shot in the Heart is framed as a week of death-row visits. Will unhappy Mikal (Giovanni Ribisi) persuade crazy Gary (Elias Koteas) to seek a stay of execution? Or will Gary hypnotize his red-eyed baby brother into witnessing his death by firing squad? Their tense prison meetings are interspersed with quick flashbacks and the successive revelation of gothic secrets. Hard-faced and edgy, Koteas devours his role and polishes off the theatrically suffering Ribisi for desert. A strong supporting cast includes Amy Madigan and Sam Shepard as the pinch-faced Gilmore parents, with Eric Bogosian getting too few appearances as literary hustler Larry Schiller.

Originally made for HBO, Shot in the Heart is energetically directed from Frank Pugliese's deft script by Agnieszka Holland—who is temperamentally well-suited to appreciate the story's spooks, prison cells, and atmosphere of free-floating religious authoritarianism. A small-screen aesthetic is evident in the abundant close-ups and tight framing, but Holland makes it work for her. When the movie intermittently opens up on Utah's postcard vistas, the disorientation is palpable. We're all lost in America.


The sudden spasms of a feverish inner life: Huppert in The Piano Teacher
photo: Kino International
The sudden spasms of a feverish inner life: Huppert in The Piano Teacher

Details

The Piano Teacher
Written and directed by Michael Haneke, from the novel by Elfriede Jelinek
Kino International
Cinema Village
Opens March 29

Shot in the Heart
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Written by Frank Pugliese, from the book by Mikal Gilmore
Film Forum
Through April 9

Panic Room
Directed by David Fincher
Written by David Koepp
Columbia
Opens March 29

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David Fincher's Panic Room begins more or less where his Fight Club left off, with a succession of ominous skyline shots. But a plethora of "impossible" camera maneuvers notwithstanding, Fincher's new thriller is as conventional as Fight Club was provocative—a women-in-danger flick that's as tastefully muted and elegantly minimalist as Hamad Karzai's wardrobe.

A just divorced mom (Jodie Foster) and her androgynous offspring (Kristen Stewart) take up residence in a West Side townhouse nearly the size of the hotel in The Shining. Foster, a scholarly type who is planning to go back to school, is justifiably anxious. On their very first, suitably dark and stormy night rattling around this grotesque surplus of space, the house is invaded by a trio of treasure seekers (sad-faced Forest Whitaker, manic Jared Leto, and sinister Dwight Yoakam) looking for the millions hidden in the impenetrable "panic room" where mother and daughter take refuge.

This situation—women besieged in their own home, desperately telephoning for help—received its definitive expression in 1909 when D.W. Griffith directed The Lonely Villa. (Indeed, Michael Haneke gave the situation a particularly odious twist with his sadistic Funny Games.) Fincher uses the miracle of video surveillance to elaborate on Griffithian cross-cutting while digitally swooping through the house and its innards—generating suspense mainly by cranking up the anxiety music and retarding time in the manner of Brian De Palma.

Like the shelter for which it is named, Panic Room is an efficiently tooled construction (albeit one whose success is overly predicated on its villains' single-minded idiocy). But unlike the eponymous treasure trove, there's nothing inside.


Related article:
"Isabelle Huppert's Pressure Points" by Michael Atkinson

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