Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Unexpectedly Great: The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Finally caught up with on DVD, and was amazed by, the savagely reviewed "The X-Files: I Want to Believe." It would be on my 10 Best list this year if I was doing one.

Rich production values but basically a very small story. No cosmic "mythology" material. Maybe that's what some people found disappointing. But simply stated this is filmmaking on a very high level: Gorgeously staged and shot in snow-bound small-town Canada by director Chris Carter; clever, creepy, simple, ground-level EC Comics type story about a Russian mafia organ-harvesting ring; amazingly intense performances filmed in intimate hushed tones; Gillian Anderson especially magnificent, recognizably the same Scully but with stronger currents glittering under the surface.

The movie is in effect a story about a passionate but doomed marriage. This is such an intense partnership that that's what it ultimately feels like: a marriage that really should work, considering how deeply the parties sympathize with each other, but that fails anyway, and for the most wrenching of reasons: because the partners' dedication to incompatible careers has moral dimension that can't be denied, a sense of taking on work they truly believe is important. Carter pulls off a scene toward the end in which M & S acknowledge this hopelessness in a way that makes them admire each other even more. A mixture of sadness and courage that is not sentimentalized. This would be an amazingly powerful moment in a movie of any kind, much less in a mega-budget major studio genre sequel.

American movie critics are such losers. Too often now they cast themselves as the guardians of the status quo, piling on anybody caught coloring outside the lines of the commercially orthodox. And if the critics don't support this kind of risk-taking (turning a big-budget franchise installment into a small-scale personal statement about love and honor!), who the bleep will?

Roger Ebert alone, apparently, among the major mainstream U.S. critics, shares this view.

Cool trackback. Which produced this comment in support of my position:

Kudos to Chute for praising the X-Files movie. I recently watched it and enjoyed it quite a bit.

But first a complaint: I thought the movie was structurally rather botched. Despite being intrigued by the plot, I found myself frustrated by it on more than one occasion. (It doesn't really accelerate like it should. As a horror-thriller, it feels hesitant.) But there's so much to like here in terms of sensibility, character, and approach that I can hardly complain.

Carter shows real courageousness in jettisoning the alien "mythology" that bogged down the show and the first movie and instead sticks with what always made the X-Files tick: Mulder and Scully (with a good bit of the macabre thrown in). Their relationship, which has always been romantic-comic in nature, is picked up in middle age, and it's mulled over in ways both concrete and abstract. The movie asks questions like: What brings people together? How do we keep ourselves going every day? Can anything we do in the present make up for the past? Is it possible to be both human and alone?

The snowy, expansive landscapes and the terrific lighting underscore this questioning, desolate mood, and the main subplots effectively accentuate the theme of people trying to come to terms with both themselves and one another.

In short, there's a lot of abyss-gazing going on in this little genre movie, and a lot of heart-rending. It seems to me one of the more pointed movies about aging and relationships I've seen recently.

Posted by Ron at January 26, 2009


GoJoe said...

I enjoyed the movie overall and admired its thematic ambition. The few friends I know that saw it felt the same way. Not sure why it was raked over the coals with such vigor.

GoJoe said...

P.S. Additional kudos for an elegant, unexpectedly witty, end title sequence.

c said...

"American critics are suh losers"

Dont look at me! I'm canadian..


Pyotr the not so great said...

Brilliant review, spot on. Was X-Files a better film than Wall-E or most of the other lauded films of the year? Yes, I think it was. But you're right, it was not what critics or (to be fair) audiences expected.