Friday, January 2, 2015

Under the Skin

2.5/4

Starring: Scarlett Johansson

Rated R for Graphic Nudity, Sexual Content, Some Violence and Language

I've repeatedly stated that there is a distinction between a foreign or independent film and an art house film.  People often mix the two up, often to the detriment of the film.  "Under the Skin" is unquestionably an art film, and definitely not for everyone.

That's because this is not a plot or character oriented movie.  Not much is said by anyone and even less is said.  We don't know much about the woman the film focuses on, played superbly by Scarlett Johannson, and even less about anyone else.  The only thing we know is that she's an alien who picks up men and lures them to their deaths.

One of the things I admire about Scarlett Johansson is not only is she talented (not to mention beautiful), but she takes chances.  For every big budget spectacular she does, like playing Black Widow in the Marvel movies, she does a number of independent films that allow her to stretch her talents.  She doesn't say much, but the actress has an expressive face, which Jonathan Glazer takes care to capture.  Johannson also shows true dedication to her performance, performing many scenes in the nude and showing every bit of God's gifts to the audience.

Apart from Scarlett Johannson, no one else really matters.  In fact, most of the roles were filled by non-actors who were unaware they were in a movie until after they were told.  How they could be so obtuse that they didn't recognize that it was Scarlett Johannson driving them around, I'll never know, but that doesn't matter.  Of them, worth mentioning are Kevin McAlinden (the first guy she meets), who is impossibly charming and good-looking, and Paul Brannigan (a guy she meets at a club) is also very appealing.  Brannigan is an up-and-coming actor with a few credits to his name, while McAlinden is not.  Adam Pearson shows sensitivity and inner turmoil as the disfigured man (it's not make-up.  Pearson has Neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition that causes excess body tissue to grow on nerve endings, which causes non-cancerous tumors to grow).

The film was directed by Jonathan Glazer, who directed "Sexy Beast," the British thriller featuring an intense and frightening performance by Ben Kingsley, and "Birth," a weird psychological thriller with Nicole Kidman.  I liked the former but not the latter.  "Under the Skin" is miles away from either film, and it's clear that Glazer loves to take chances with his work and without a signature sense of style.

So do I recommend "Under the Skin?"  I'm torn.  It's not for everyone, that's for sure.  But it's also undeniably compelling in a very strange way.  The film also looks fantastic; the cinematography by Daniel Landin is Oscar-worthy.  It's also too long and has some sequences that either run on too long or just don't work.  If you do see it, I doubt that you'll forget it.

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