Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Boogie Nights

What About It?
Boogie Nights is a specialized cousin of a classic Hollywood success story. It owes as much to Charles Dickens however, as it does to Horatio Alger, covering both the rags to riches story and the orphan finds a family story. Like any Dickens character Eddie/Dirk is unremarkable except that there's something special about him which exactly the right people recognize. In Dirk's case, it happens to be his penis, and related abilities, which makes him the perfect choice to be a porn star. We know that Eddie has ambition and a belief that he'll be a star, but given what we're shown of his intellect, coincidence is as much a factor to his success as his unusually large penis. The moment that Jack Horner discovers him reveals nothing of his physical attributes other than that he has a look which Jack recognizes. Jack seems genuinely surprised to learn of Eddie's $5.00/$10.00 peek a boo shows, and likewise Jack seems surprised to learn who Jack is, although once aware, he recognizes his work. Even so, Eddie is dragged into his success, turning down the chance to have a drink with Jack and offering some reluctance to take a ride in Jack's car (although, impressionable as he is, he doesn't require much convincing)

Eddie isn't an orphan, however, he has a family. From what we're shown however, they're nothing positive for him, his mother seemingly unable to offer anything but a barrage of emotional abuse based on reinforcing his worthlessness. Lacking talent, skill or intellect, Eddie turns his hopes to his "gift." He works in Reseda in a club that caters the successful, hoping that this will lead to a lucky break (and in a very Dickensian fashion, it does.) His father is no help whatsoever, being completely cowed by his wife. Eddie is not an actual orphan, but he is in any practical sentence, having no support, other than a place to sleep. Initially his quest is to amount to something, believing that success will give him an identity to be proud of. He very quickly abandons being "Eddie," choosing to be Dirk Diggler all the time. His new family allows him to sustain his new identity as they've all done the same thing, most notably in the case of Maggie/Amber Waves. She provides him the mother figure he thinks he should've had, loving him unconditionally, and seeing something "special" in him. She also encourages his sexuality quite directly, as his first sex on film is with her. Jack is the father he'd like to have, so in charge of everything that he controls everything around him while sitting back in his director's chair. The environment being porn production, his sexual expression is not only encouraged, but necessary. This is in contrast to his mother, who is fixated on demonizing Eddie's girlfriend as a slut to prove Eddie's worthlessness. Since all of Eddie's hopes depend on his sexuality, the difference is a vital one. When he first starts, Eddie is determined not to rely simply on his large penis, but must take pains to make sure the scenes are "sexy." His first sexual act in their company (with Rollergirl) is performed off film, with Jack watching. Eddie/Dirk feels completely validated initially, his "specialness" being recognized, and used.
However, success is not something that Eddie is in any way prepared for. The adjustment from emotional impoverishment to enthusiastic acceptance proves to be too much for him. His attitude shifts from gratitude to entitlement. Even this is tolerated, until his growing drug habit takes its toll physically making him look terrible and even worse robbing him of the ability to use his "special gift." As enthusiastic as Jack was to welcome him into the fold, he is unable to tolerate Dirk when both his ego and his lack of performance become too difficult to handle. Jack's first priority is looking for talent, and making money with it. Dirk is threatened when Jack finds another "new boy on the street." This (along with his drug habit) leads to his outburst with Jack, and their parting of ways. In a sense Dirk is undone by the fact that his special gift is not so special in the porn industry, just the expected equipment. Essentially his success, is only a chance to be common in a different circle. He can't be "special" if he can be replaced. Mark Wahlberg plays Dirk Diggler convincingly and it's easy to believe every extreme of his personality, from good natured and grateful student, to paranoid, drug addled maniac.

Jack Horner has quite a journey here himself. He makes his money on sex, yet views sex as nothing more interesting than acting. He lives with Amber Waves, yet there appears to be no sexual interest whatsoever. Jack thinks of himself as an artist, and film is what he loves. His dream of making a film that keeps people watching after they come reveals a lot about him. He takes his duties as a director very seriously, with an eye always out for talent and much devotion to watching over the talent he has. He's interested in sex, like a painter is interested in paint. The advent of digital tape however puts him in a spot, not too far from Dirk's predicament. Film is what makes Jack special, without it he's nothing, as anyone can shoot on tape and the lower cost makes talent less important. Like Dirk, he achieves his goal, making what he considers "a real film" using Dirk's "Brock Landers" idea, and ultimately achieving his goal proves unfulfilling as he must continue to live after he's done it.

We see that Dirk's original idea to be different than the John Holmes films by being sexy and not slapping women around, is eventually abandoned and the Brock Landers films end up in the same territory as Holmes'. Jack has to relent on his comittment to film and tries to adjust to video, attempting a series with Rollergirl, which we see doesn't go well. Jack is not skilled at handling the spontaneous, and Rollergirl is not equipped to deal with someone who knows where she came from. Jack endures however, because he knows who he is, unlike anyone else around him. He has to know who he is, as he's become a caretaker of people pretending to be different people. Despite his remoteness from the sexual act, Jack has genuine concern for these people. He needs to take care of them as much as they need to be taken care of. Burt Reynolds gives much depth to the part in one of the best roles of his career.

Julianne Moore also gives a tremendous performance as Maggie/ Amber Waves. Jack describes her as "a wonderful mother, a mother to all who need love." And she Moore does a remarkable job getting this across. However, like Dirk and Jack, the means with which she can "mother" are limited. She can care for and encourage her porn family, but isn't able to take care of her actual children a fact she is unable to come to terms with. Like everyone in her sphere, Amber is lacking certain tools. Her unpreparedness at the hearing for custody of her children shows how out of touch she is with the practicalities of being "Maggie."  In her "family" with Jack all that's required is for Rollergirl to suggest that she be her mother, and they both agree on it. She is not blind to this fact and points it out herself that Dirk replaced her own kids (since she couldn't see them)

Heather Graham is great as Rollergirl, a character who has no idea what she's doing most of the time, and isn't interested in knowing more. Like all of them, she simply wants to disappear into the role she's created. She isn't as accepting as she tries to appear however, and a reminder of where she came from is enough to unhinge her completely, changing her from utterly docile to murderously violent. Although she tries to maitain the appearance, she is not ok, with who she is. John C. Reilly's Reed Rothchild is different than the rest of them in that we don't see him playing two personas. He has little ambition, other than the habit of lying to inflate his own importance. His affability proves a good fit for Dirk's temperament, in that he is perfectly comfortable playing the sidekick, once he and Dirk are friends. Friendship seems to be Reed's main desire.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's small part as Scotty J. is similar, except that he can't help but want more than friendship. His social skills are lacking however, and he can't help but make a romantic advance on Dirk, settling for friendship seemingly gratefully, for the chance to remain close, even if the relationship is entirely masochistic. Thomas Jane's, Todd is an element of overlap. He is not quite in their world, but touching it as an adult dancer, until the drugs become their common bond. It's obvious that he's an outsider though, and this leads to his surprise behavior at the drug scam. Luis Guzman's Maurice is always entertaining. Alfred Molina's brief role is hilariously over the top and frightening at the same time.  Don Cheadle's Buck Swopes is also great as a kind of misfit in the group, being the only one with aspirations outside of porn. He benefits from another Dickens type twist, having the money fall on the ground in front of him with no witnesses left alive.

William H. Macy is top notch here. His Little Bill serving as a reminder that despite the group's dedication to pretending, all is not ok. He routinely endures his wife's blatant humiliation of him, until it becomes their ritual, she having sex with someone else openly, he becoming outraged before walking away. Even in this environment, sex is more than acting, and can be dangerous in ways that no one can predict. In this situation, with sex treated as a product, performed by sexually damaged people, there are bound to be consequences, Little Bill's murder/suicide being the loudest example. Everyone here is damaged, but they have no other way to be. As much as they try they can't always be the people they've invented because they all came from somewhere, and the problems they had are still inside them. Even when they achieve their goals, they're left unsatisfied.
P.T. Anderson creates a world of specialized celebrity and damaged success. The casting is perfect and the dialogue is masterful. We see a world that shifts from impossibly bright to unbearably dark in an instant, success being as temporary as a sexual act. These are characters who can't look at their own stories and finding "success" suddenly, they end up facing huge problems without the tools to deal with them.

Much of the world in Boogie Nights is cold and hostile, but at it's heart, it's really a movie about finding people who care about you, and defining your own sense of family. Dirk and everyone else Jack has taken under his wing are all limited, but they make sense to each other. Their "family" is based on pornography, but ultimately that's just their common banner. Buck gets out of the business but remains a part of Jack's family. Maurice never really gets into the business except for bit parts, but spends his free time in Jack's kitchen. Dirk is accepted back like a prodigal son. When he says "I'm sorry." Jack says "I'm sorry too." and we truly believe them both.

Despite the perceived shallow nature of their business, they all put themselves into it, forming a shared mythology where no one is ever thrown away. We even see a painting of Little Bill, when Jack walks the house like a tour guide at the end. It's an unexpected moment of grace, that despite all their failings, Dirk and his friends succeed in finding others who genuinely care about them, a sense of family that wasn't offered any other way. It's an ending  truly worthy of a Dickens story, tragedies, cruel turns, unlikely coincidence tying everyone together, everyone who works getting rewarded, but mostly Dirk Diggler as our Oliver Twist, (by way of John Holmes) finding people who love him in the end.

What Happens?
Boogie Nights opens on the street outside "Hot Traxx," a busy nightclub in Reseda, CA. We see Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) step out of his car, along with his companion Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) both, oblivious to the long line to get in. Jack is greeted enthusiastically by Maurice TT Rodriguez (Luis Guzman) the club owner, who tells them he's been upset because they haven't been by in a while. They agree never to stay away that long again. He shows them to their own special booth and tells Jack he's ready and willing to be in a movie before walking off to keep an eye on his club. Maurice stops to talk to Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) and Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) two adult film actors who are on the dance floor. Maurice sends Jack some free food, and Jack and Amber are visited by Rollergirl (Heather Graham) who roller skates up to their table. Amber reminds Rollergirl to call someone and noticing her holding herself asks

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hard Eight

John (John C. Reilly) sits against the wall, outside the entrance of Jack's Coffee Shop. We approach him as a man, Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) walks up to him. Sydney offers to give John a cigarette and a cup of coffee. John seems suspicious of the stranger. Sydney asks John, "Come from Vegas? Reno?" and John says he was in Vegas. Sydney then asks if he lost money, but John says he broke even. Sydney asks if he knows how to count cards, and John says no. Sydney then volunteers some advice:
Sydney: In my experience, if you don't know how to count cards, you oughtta stay away from Blackjack.
John: Well, thanks for the tip, Mr. Helpful.
Sydney: Hey John...
John: What?
Sydney: John, we're sitting here. I bought you a cup of coffee. I've given you a cigarette. Hey John, look at me. [John looks] You want to be a wise ass, go outside and take a seat. If you want to talk to me. If you want to talk to me, well then...Never ignore a man's courtesy. Let's talk about Vegas. Let's talk about what happened to you. If something did happen, maybe I can help.
John: You want to help me?
Sydney: You look like a man who could use a friend.
John: You want to be my friend? Then give me $6,000.00. Do you have that? Can you give a total stranger $6,000.00, because that's my trouble. OK?
Sydney: What do you need $6,000.00 for?
John: I need it.
Sydney: For what?
John: TO bury my mother.
Sydney: You went to Vegas to win some money...
John: No, I went to lose some money...
Sydney: You went to Vegas to win some money to bury your mother? To pay for her funeral? That is very admirable. I admire the intention. I can't say it's wise, though.
John: Do you have $6,000.00 to give me?
Sydney: No, I can't.
John: I didn't think so.
Sydney asks if he has any family or anyone else to turn to, and John says he's alone. He offers to loan John $50.00 if he'll go back to Vegas with him, and to show him what he did wrong. John asks him "What are you St. Francis or something?" When he says no, John says "He then asks "Are you looking for a fag? Because I'm not some boy hooker, if that's what you're after." Sydney says "I'm not looking for a hooker, John. I'm offering you a ride. I'm offering to teach you something." John replies "Well, I'm telling you something right now. I don't suck dick, Ok?"
Sydney: I understand that. And, this is the last time I'll ask. You want my help?
John: I'll fuck you up if you fuck with me. I know three types of Karate; jiu jitsu, aikido, and regular karate.
Sydney: Ok.
John: Alright. A:  give me a ride. 2. You give me $50.00 and C., I sit in the back. And, believe me, if you pull anything, I will fuck you up.
Sydney: I believe you.

John gets in the car, sitting in back like he asked. Before long he asks Sydney to pull over, so he can sit in the front. He bums a cigarette from Sydney, but turns down the matches Sydney offers, claiming that he has a rule never to use matches due to a bad experience he had with a book of matches going off in his pocket once. Sydney asks him what he'll do with his $50.00. and tells him that if he plays it a certain way, hard enough and long enough, he can get himself a room and a meal, but he adds, you won't win your $6,000.00. John agrees to play for a room and a meal. They get to the casino and Sydney tells him to shave and clean up and then to come meet him. When he's cleaned up, Sydney tells him he'll actually need $150.00, not $50.00 and then tells him to ask for the floor man, and tells him what to say to him, and to ask for a rate card. Once he gets the card, Sydney gives him $150.00 and tells him to cash it in for dollar tokens, making a note of the amount cashed and the time on the rate card.

Next, Sydney tells him to play twenty dollars on the slot machines, playing slowly, a dollar at a time, making sure the floor man notices him. Sydney notices John ordering a drink and approaches him, telling him "it'll turn out to be a hundred and fifty dollar cocktail. Don't drink." He tells John to leave the slot machines and to cash in a hundred dollars in tokens for cash, and to get a bill.   He's then to give his original cashier his hundred dollar bill along with his rate card for more tokens. After he does this, Sydney points out that he now has $250.00 on his rate card and he's only spent twenty bucks. Sydney tells him to keep cycling the bill, slowly, making sure the floor man sees him and says he'll come find him later. John takes the advice and gets into the pattern. The floor man starts noticing him approvingly. He ends up winning some money along the way, and later we find him in a room. Sydney knocks at his door, and John tells him he got $2,000.00 on the rate card, and the floor man offered him a room and tickets to a show. He tells Sydney "it works!" and asks if that's what he does. Sydney tells him "Not anymore."  John thanks him profusely. Sydney then asks "What are you gonna do?" explaining that he can't do this all week. Sydney tells him that he can't win $6,000.00 but he has a friend he can call to help with the funeral arrangements. He tells John ." John says "I would. Thank you." Sydney tells him he's going to gamble and John asks if he can go along and watch.
We then pick up two years later, in Reno, NV. Sydney is at a table in a casino bar. A waitress approaches and says "Hello, Captain." and asks if he remembers her name, before hiding her name tag under her hand. Sydney recalls "Clementine, just like the movie." Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) smiles and says he's right. He asks if she remembers his name, and she tells him she does, saying "Sydney." He asks her why she calls him Captain, then. And she tells him that he seems like the captain of a ship to her, adding "I see the way John follows you, and worships you, like you're the captain." Sydney tells her "John is a very old friend." Sydney asks her if she's required to flirt, pointing out a table of men. She tells him she's not "required" to do it, but if she doesn't she gets questioned about being rude. She says "I can't tell them to fuck off." He tells her "You don't have to do that with me. She nods and he offers to settle the bill for his drink, but she says "Jimmy paid for your drink." We look over and see Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) at the bar with John. Sydney gives her a twenty anyway. John and Jimmy approach Sydney's table. Jimmy tells Sydney he's working as  a security consultant at the Sand Dunes Casino. John says that Jimmy say Sydney play in Vegas once, a few years ago. Jimmy recalls "I used to live there. I saw you playing craps at the original Dunes. You bet the hard eight for a thousand and pressed it for two."
Sydney: Did I hit it?
Jimmy: No, you didn't hit it. But, it was a big balls bet and I remembered your face.
Sydney: Stupid bet.
Jimmy: You were with that old dude with the voice thing. What was his name?
Sydney says "Excuse me." and looks at his Keno card. Jimmy comments that he gave up "big balls bets." to play Keno. Sydney answers "It passes the time." John mentions seeing a guy win $38,000.00 playing Keno, and Jimmy tells them about seeing a guy have a heart attack and die at the craps table, which didn't stop the game. Jimmy then remarks "We are surrounded by pussy here."
Sydney: Hey. Hey. Jimmy.
Jimmy: What?
Sydney: It's not for my ears, but hers. She can hear that sort of thing across the lounge. It puts her in a very uncomfortable position.
Jimmy: I doubt if hearing she's got a great pussy puts her in an uncomfortable position.
Sydney: I just don't want it coming from my table.
Jimmy: I don't know if you knew this, but half the women who work here are take home whores anyway. They get off on that shit. I got a friend, works over at the Sand Dunes, where I work. This man's in charge of corralling the waitresses for that sort of thing. He's in charge. He is the pussy patrol.
John: [fidgeting] Jimmy...
Jimmy: What? I live up here. I know what flies and what don't. To tell a babe she's got a nice ass is no crime, believe me.
Sydney: You said it as she walked away.
John persuades Jimmy to go back to the tables to gamble. Jimmy tells Sydney to call him if he needs anything in town.
Sydney watches Clementine dealing with a table of men, before heading into the casino to gamble. He heads outside after awhile and sees Clementine leaving one of the guest rooms. She tells him she was visiting her friend, but she could lose her job if they find out she was in one of the rooms. Sydney remarks "But, you'll be fired if you tell them to leave you alone?" She's distraught at the though of the hotel finding out. Sydney takes her out for coffee and asks her about her plans. She tells him she's not into school and is just working to pay her bills. She remarks "You look at me as a piece of shit now, because you saw me coming out of that room." He tells her that he doesn't. She asks him if he's going to tell John about it, but he assures her he won't. She asks him how he knows John and he gives her the story. She remarks "I think he's adorable, the way he follows you around and looks up to you. He orders the same drinks as you. He dresses the same." Sydney says "We share the same tastes, I guess." She asks Sydney if he has kids. He tells her he has a boy and a girl, and says he's divorced. He tells her he doesn't know where they live as they haven't spoken in a while. She remarks "That's too bad." Sydney brings Clementine back to his room and gets her a robe. She asks "Captain, do you want to fuck me?" He asks "Do you think that?"
Clementine: Well, you brought me here.
Sydney: Do you think that?
Clementine: I don't know.
Sydney: Well, you should know before you ask a question like that.
Clementine: Well, it seems like you're being nice to me...
Sydney: So, you think I'd want that?
Clementine: If you wanted to fuck me
Sydney: Stop saying that.
Clementine: Well, it just seemed like
Sydney: Well, don't let it seem that way. This is a comfortable bed for you. I want you to sleep on it, to give you something to...a place to have a nice shower, and a bed.
Clementine: Don't get angry.
Sydney: No, I'm not. Because, I understand how you could ask a question like that.
He assures her that he doesn't' see her as a "piece of shit." and tells her John won't be back until late and won't disturb her.
The next morning Sydney wakes to find Clementine and John talking in the bedroom. He greets them and tells Clementine that John will take her out if she needs to go shopping or anything, offering money and suggesting they go to the mall. They agree but John turns down the money as he has his own. Sydney says "Well, that's that." and leaves them alone. John excuses himself to talk to Sydney before they leave. They compare yesterday's gambling and Sydney mentions that John didn't show up at the bar last night. John apologizes and says he was with Jimmy and mentions that Jimmy thinks Sydney doesn't like him. Sydney says that he doesn't like Jimmy, but tells him not to worry about it, and to show Clementine a good time. Jimmy asks if Sydney had sex with her, but Sydney says no, which John's relieved to hear.

Sydney keeps himself occupied, ending up at the craps table. An obnoxious younger player (Philip Seymour Hoffman) taunts him, calling him old timer. Sydney bets $2,000.00 on hard eight while the other player runs his mouth. The other player starts calling him "big time" after that. The hard eight doesn't come up, however and Sydney leaves the table.

Later he gets a distressed call from John, to meet him at a hotel. He agrees to come down. When he gets there, John is reluctant to open the door, asking "Is everything cool?" ove rand over, annoying Sydney. John tells him he has to promise to help. He doesn't promise just say "open the door." John insists that they keep the lights off, but Sydney refuses, turning them on to see a guy on the bed with his head bloody. Clementine is sitting in the corner of the room. John and Clementine explain that the man was a client of Clementine's but refused to pay her and hit her. She called John for help and they hit him and decided to hold him hostage, calling his wife to give them the $300.00 he owed her. Sydney gets all the detail of the situation, asking how long they've been there and who knows about it. More details keep coming out as he questions them. John reveals he threatened to kill the man if the wife doesn't pay. He gets angry when he realizes John has a gun, which he says he got from Jimmy. John takes it away and asks if Jimmy knows about the situation. John says he doesn't but Clementine tells him not to say that. Sydney starts questioning Clementine, telling her not to look at John. He has her tell him about the whole day. She tells him to just ask her what happened and he asks "Where did this thing go wrong?" She tells Sydney "He thought he was smart and I was stupid, but I'm not stupid." Agitated, Sydney remarks "Well, this is a pretty stupid situation, isn't it?" Clementine says "We'll see how fucking stupid I am when we get my money, won't we?" Sydney tells her "You know the first thing they should have taught you at hooker school?  You get the money up front."

John tells him not to talk to her like that, but Sidney tells John "Shut the fuck up." John won't calm down and says "I'm warning you Syd. Don't fucking talk to her like that. She's my wife. We got married this afternoon."  John kicks the man on the bed a few times. Sydney says "I am glad to see you are having a wonderful honeymoon." and then walks out the door, prompting John to beg him not to leave. Sydney tells John he can't be involved in this, reminding him how serious the situation is. He advises John to get in his car and leave and he'll help him get far away. John says he can't and Sydney asks, how he let her do this. John says "I was at the bar. I just turned around, and she's gone. I didn't know." He tells Sydney he knows he fucked up but he really loves her. They go back in the room and John tells Clementine they have to leave. She insists that he has to pay her, but John can leave if he wants. John gets angry and calls Clementine a "stupid fucking whore" when she says she doesn't care if she's separated from their marriage. She says "Fuck you, John." and he slaps her across the face and then starts apologizing. Sydney calms John down and tries to reason with Clementine, getting her to admit that she loves John, and doesn't want to spoil that with the kidnapping.

Sydney uncuffs the man who's still unconscious and they start to leave when the phone rings. Sydney asks John who it is, but John says he doesn't know. He starts stumbling over his words, saying maybe it's the guy's wife or the front desk. Sydney says "Don't fuck with me, John." Clementine speaks up and says "Jimmy knows we're here." John insists that it doesn't matter, they should just go. Sydney agrees hitting the man on the bed when he starts coming to, and then leaving. Sydney tells John he'll drive Clementine, and he is to follow them. Clementine gives Sydney the keys to her place and he agrees to feed her cats while they're gone. John catches up to them and Sydney tells them that they can call him and he'll get them as much money as he has when they need it. He suggests they go to Niagara Falls, and tells John he's not going to let anything happen to him.
Sydney throws the handcuffs and gun from the kidnapping down a drain in the street. On the road, Clementine promises she won't fuck up again. Back in Reno, Sydney watches video of John and Clementine's marriage ceremony in his room. He then heads to the Sand Dunes and Jimmy sees him from his car, flashing his lights to call him over. Sydney gets in the car, and Jimmy tells him to put out his cigarette as it ruins the resale value. Sydney refuses, so Jimmy asks if he can give him a cigarette then. Jimmy remarks that Sydney must have gotten his note. Jimmy informs Sydney that he saw the hostage in the casino that morning and that he hadn't called the cops.Sydney asks what Jimmy wants. Jimmy says, "SO, John and Clementine are on their way to safety in...Niagara Falls. So everything's alright then?" Sydney asks when he talked to them, and he says it was last night. Jimmy tells Sydney, that he knows some things about Atlantic City. Sydney laughs and gets out of the car. Jimmy is upset that he's walking away and tells him "I haven't told John, but I know about Atlantic City. You shot his father in the face." Sydney keeps walking and gets into his own car. Before he can leave Jimmy breaks his window and points a gun at him.
Jimmy: John doesn't know you killed his father but I will tell him. I;m threatening you with the words, you understand?
Sydney: Yes.
Jimmy: You want me to do it?
Sydney: No.
Jimmy: Then I want $10,000.00 to keep quiet.
Sydney: I don't have it.
Jimmy: Bullshit. Yes you do.
Sydney: No. I don't have it.
Jimmy: I will go to Niagara Falls and tell him.
Sydney: Please don't.
Jimmy: Ten thousand dollars, Sydney.
Sydney: Alright, I'll get it.
Jimmy: Yes, you will.
Jimmy insists he wants the money now, but Sydney says he has to get it from the bank.

Jimmy walks Sydney to a hotel room and tells him to sit on the sofa. He informs him that they're going to sit together until John calls or the bank opens. He tells Sydney "In the stories I've heard, you used to be a hard ass. You were a hard ass and you took his Dad out, Sydney. SO you think, what? That you can just walk through this life without being punished for it? Shit, man. I know all those guys you know; Floyd Gondoli, Jimmy Gator, Mumbles O'Malley. They like to sit around in Clifton's and talk, talk, talk. They love to tell stories. You can sit there and look at me sideways all you want. You probably think I'm some kind of asshole or something, but, I'm not a killer, like you. You walk around like you're Mr. Cool, Mr. Wisdom, but you're not. You're just some old hood.The other night, in the bar, you asking me a question, like, do I do parking lot security? Well, the answer is no! I'm trusted security, inside the casino, and I don't fuck it up."
Sydney: Good that you have such a sturdy sense of responsibility.
Jimmy: Don't fucking do that! You understand? I can see right through that shit. You look at me as some idiot, huh? I know you do. I know you. You old guys, you old hoods, you think you're so fucking above it, so high and mighty. What am I to you? Some Loser? No. Not with a gun in my hand, not with the facts I know. Bottom line Sydney, no matter how hard you try, you're not his father.
Sydney: I have the money here. I have the $6,000.00 here. Not in the bank. I have it here.
Jimmy: I knew that. I knew you did.
Sydney: I have the money to give you, right now. In this moment. I will give you all that I have. Maybe, before, you were gonna kill me. I don't know. I know John, and I love him like he was my own child. But, I can tell you this, I don't want to die. I killed his father. I can tell you what it was. This is not an excuse. I'm not begging for clemency. All that matters. I do not wish to sacrifice my life for John's well being. But I will sacrifice this money for mine. Because you have asked me. Because, after this, I will have done all I can for John and for myself. I'm gonna ask you with all the heart and sincerity that I have, please do not put a bullet in me, and please do not tell John what I've done. I trust that once I give you this money, you and I will take separate paths and that this negotiation will settle everything. That is my hope. I don't want to die.

Sydney goes to see a cashier at the casino and gets some money, handing it to Jimmy. Jimmy whispers to Jimmy and laughs, leaving him. Back at his room, Sydney gets a call from John who's heading back.. He tells John everything is fine. John tells Sydney how much he loves Clementine. He tells John he has to tell him something important, and then says he loves him like he was his own son. John says he loves him too. We see that Sydney is packing a suitcase. He parks across from Jimmy's house and watches Jimmy leave. He then breaks into the house and finds Jimmy's guns and takes one, before sitting in a chair facing the front door.

Jimmy goes to the casino and gambles, betting two thousand on the hard eight and winning. We see John and Clementine on their way back. Jimmy picks up a girl leaving the casino. We see Sydney look at the door as Jimmy opens it, walking in along with the girl. They're about to have sex on the couch, not noticing Sydney until he points the gun and shoots Jimmy several times, killing him. He tells the girl to get out and checks Jimmy's body, finding a wad of money in his pocket. He takes it and drives off. John is still driving as well. Sydney goes to a restaurant and has coffee. He notices blood on the cuff of his sleeve while putting a cigarette in the ashtray, and pulls his coat sleeve down over it.

What About It?

Hard Eight is essentially Sydney's story. In fact, "Sydney" was the original title. We're given a glimpse into the character of a man who has been around a long time, has a very good understanding of how his world works, and a firm set of beliefs to follow. Philip Baker Hall plays this character perfectly, as a man who says what he thinks as exactly as possible, with no need for hyperbole. His defining characteristic is his courtesy, which he never abandons. In the beginning of the film, he tells John, "Never ignore a man's courtesy." and it becomes clear that this is a larger statement than we imagine at first. Seeing Sydney react to certain situations, particularly crude statements and language, reveal much about him. Although on the surface you might take him for "proper" and easily offended, that's really not the case. At their first meeting John tells him "I don't suck dick." and Sydney doesn't blink. That has nothing to do with his intentions, and a less secure man might find the statement insulting. Sydney does not, because he understands where the statement comes from and realizes it's not an unreasonable statement to make. While not offended, he does begin to lose patience, as to him the exchange is simply a waste of time. He's a man who strives for the utmost clarity, so time and economy of words is more important to him than most.

Sydney has similar exchanges with others, when Clementine asks "Do you want to fuck me?" He doesn't simply end the exchange with"No." He tries to teach her something, asking "Do you think that?" until she finally answers "I don't know." and he is able to tell her the lesson "Well, you should know before you ask a question like that." As with John, he doesn't take offense at this. And he tells her why "Because, I understand how you could ask a question like that." He is well aware that kindness is often perceived as a trap, and used to set up conditions which can be called on later. Again striving to keep things clear, he informs John "I want you to see that my reasons for doing this are not selfish. I'd hope that you will do the same for me." Such a statement is unusual enough that most would dismiss it, but Sydney is quite serious. At the same time, however, he rejects John's comparison to St. Francis. While he is making great efforts to dispense kindness, he is not at all a holy man. His willingness to help, share, and teach simply fit into his own idea of what he should be doing. He has accumulated much knowledge in his years, and he chooses John to pass it on to, and he is chosen for good reason. We learn from Jimmy late in the movie that Sydney killed John's father years ago. We can guess that Sydney feels some guilt over this, but his characterization doesn't quite support that. When he requests that Jimmy not tell John, it seems to me, he is more concerned about what it will do to John's life, than any personal consequence. "You were a hard ass." Jimmy tells him, and he's right. This revelation however, doesn't cause any change in Sydney's demeanor, it's simply a fact as much as what he had for breakfast. He was a hard ass, and what he's learned over the years has taught him that there is a better way to conduct yourself when possible.

He chooses kindness over violence when given the choice, although as Jimmy learns he has no compunctions about being a "hard ass" again, if his hand is forced. The choice he has made is evident however, in his choosing to let the girl who came in with Jimmy, run away. Jimmy however, made his choice, simply by being who he is. The sting he felt over Sydney's insult, asking if he worked "parking lot security" is all that Sydney needs to know that the matter will never be settled with Jimmy.  When confronted with John and Clementine's mess in the hotel room, he advises the simplest solution. This is the only occasion where we see his patience tested. He can't come to grips with the lack of logic in holding a man hostage and risking long imprisonment, for the sake of $300.00. Beyond that, his common sense is useless as John and Clementine are both acting out of intense emotion. The two of them are essentially "ignoring his courtesy" by asking for help and then not listening to him, and by not giving him all of the information. John even lies to him about Jimmy's participation. (foreseeing his disapproval) Due to John's desperation, he rethinks his decision to leave them there, perhaps realizing that they have no idea what they're doing. Learning that they got married, he again comes to a place where he understands how this has happened. The other thing about Sydney is, he commits to his decision, and is never forced into anything. Thus, when he does convince them to leave town, he helps them. not begrudgingly, but 100%, offering to send them "as much money as he has, whenever they need it." To him, John and Clementine are simply children, who made a mistake and this doesn't warrant any ill will.

Sydney's reaction to the hotel room scene is also very revealing about his character. He treats it in the same way, as he deals with vulgarity. He's seen it all before, but he strives for clarity, asking for all the facts of the situation until he understands. He remains calm in the face of it, until John and Clementine, prove unhelpful. Even then, once he takes into account their positions, he factors them in and proceeds accordingly. He's a guy who has nearly everything figured out, but still recognizes that he doesn't control everything. He has gambling down to a science, so much so that it may as well be steady employment. There is still a part of him however, that remains a gambler, as we see with his habit of betting $2,000.00 on the hard eight, and often losing, of course. But losing, is also not a surprise, just another factor to be considered. Even in the losing he gains something, as we see in Jimmy remembering him doing the same thing years ago as "a big balls bet."

In a sense, the action is a personal statement, that win or lose. it's all the same to him. This causes resentment in someone like Jimmy. We see that once he's given the blackmail money, betting $2,000.00 on the hard eight is one of the first things he does. Jimmy wins the bet, but he doesn't really win, ending up dead a little later.  He doesn't understand what Sydney is at all, justifying his own inferiority, by imagining that Sydney is simply an act, when in fact Sydney's knowledge has come directly from the life he's lived. To Jimmy however, even Sydney's courtesy is an insult, because he wants to believe they are equals, although they're not. Jimmy argues the point, defending his language as acceptable. Again striving for clarity Sydney asserts that he simply doesn't want Jimmy's language coming from his table. This is another example of his effort at courtesy. We see where he's coming from in the previous scene, when he tells Clementine she doesn't have to flirt with him.

Compared to Sydney, John is a blank slate. He starts out perplexed and somewhat hostile, but once he realizes that Sydney is what he says he is, he learns from him eagerly, clearly moved that Sydney would expend his effort to teach him something. He regards Sydney as a father figure and reveres and imitates him. On some level though, he has a need to assert his own person and thus he ends up befriending Jimmy, another person who gives off the appearance of knowing more than he does and treats him kindly. John C. Reilly portrays John as extremely simple. He is able to follow a system if it's given to him, but coming up with a system of his own is well beyond him. This is also seen in his relationship with Clementine. He suggests they get married, the first day they spend any real time together because dating is just another system in which he doesn't understand the rules. John is impulsive and greatly impressionable, but very good hearted for the most part. We see how easily influenced he is though, by his attempt to keep both Jimmy and Sydney as mentor figures. Without question he accepts a gun from Jimmy. He clearly has some anger in him as we see when he slaps Clementine, but it was certainly a heightened situation, almost designed to bring out the worst in him. Once they leave, he quickly forgives the fact that she spent their wedding day having sex with a customer, seemingly content in the fact that she's with him.

Clementine is the most driftless of them She seems to have very little in the way of personal convictions and tries very hard just to give everyone what they want from her. She feels little obligation to anyone, and has no clear goals. She tells Sydney, that she's making money, mainly to keep her credit rating from getting bad. She has no problem with having sex for money, but is determined that she will be paid what she's owed, so much so that she would risk her freedom for it. Clearly, she's emotionally unstable and acting out of anger, against her own powerlessness. She is not typically aware of her own motivations, and her mind is easily changed with the right approach. Gwyneth Paltrow is very convincing in giving us a believable character, necessary for the turning point in the hotel room. Of all the characters, Clementine is the gamble for Sydney, the reminder that he can't anticipate everything. He certainly knows this when he brings her into the equation, but perhaps reasons that John is at a place where Clementine is the next logical step in what John needs.
In a sense, he's again putting $2,000.00 on the hard eight by bringing her in. For the length of the movie at least, it seems his gamble pays off, he is able to move on and John has a companion now that he knows enough to get by on his own.

The world that Paul Thomas Anderson creates is an interesting one, with Sydney at the center of it, a man with many sins practicing kindness in an environment where kindness is always a con. Gambling is the background of the film, and at the forefront is Sydney's unflappable courtesy. We end up with the contrast of chance vs. conscious effort. This is a struggle which has clearly taken it's toll on Sydney, but he appears aged and perhaps resigned, rather than beaten. Sydney like to play the hard eight, but how he plays it is the one thing in his control. His kindness and generosity are not altruistic, and likely not his nature, but that again, is him establishing what control he can over the unpredictable. He's capable of shooting people dead without flinching, yet he can also choose to help the son of one of his victims. This gives him a legacy in a way, as all of his knowledge isn't wasted when he's gone. He seems to care for John, but when his own children are mentioned he doesn't show any emotion, but agrees that it's "too bad" that he hasn't seen them in a very long time and doesn't know where they live.  The characters in the film are well rounded and fascinating. The dialogue is sharp, unique and riveting. We enjoy getting to know these character as much as thy enjoy getting to know each other. These are exchanges we don't often see. These are not good guys and bad guys, but particular people living with the messes they've made for themselves, Sydney included. In a sense, Sydney's code of conduct, kindness and courtesy, is the ultimate bet on the hard eight, a reward isn't likely, but then Sydney can only control how he plays. To the very end we see Sydney's determination to live with dignity. He's not shocked by the blood on his cuff, but he is able to cover it up as best he can, out of courtesy, perhaps because nobody in the restaurant asked to see it.

Midnight Cowboy

What About it?
(for a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?")

Midnight Cowboy is a film about two very lonely, abandoned men trying to survive with no resources in an uncaring environment that requires a lot of them. Both are terminal outsiders, Joe due to his terrible memories, and Rico due to his failing health. While initially their meeting is "naive country guy meets jaded city guy" it quickly steps out of that model. The two have more in common than it appears. Joe believed that coming to NY would let him reinvent himself, and Rico believes the same thing about Florida. Despite each man being irreparably damaged, they are able to establish a very deep friendship, outside the conventional rules.

Jon Voight gives an astonishing performance as Joe Buck. Watching him practice lines in the mirror, it's amazing that he believes his own act. But, it's clear that Joe believing his act is an act of determination as his terrible memories are never too far away. He desires to be a take charge kind of guy, but at every moment of confrontation he's crippled by memories of his past. It's sad to watch the build up, as he asserts himself only to back down, as if he knows deep down that there's no point. He grabs a bottle, thinking to threaten a bartender, but his grandmother's voice yelling at him in his head, kills his resolve. His first attempted hustle ends with him giving Cass his own money. He knows he was tricked, but can't do anything about it. His hustle with the man at the movies goes the same way, when the customer reveals he has no money. Joe takes the man's watch as possible payment, but hands it back, when the guy seems distressed. His first confrontation with Rico follows the same pattern. Joe confronts him aggressively, but when Rico empties his pockets, Joe just gives up. Joe is terribly confused, in many different ways. It makes sense that when presented with his first real gig, sex with Shirley, that Joe is initially impotent, and only able to get his performance back when teased about first his intelligence, and then about being gay, as if he has something to prove to himself. Rico also teases him about being gay, suggesting that gay men are the only ones who would appreciate his cowboy act. Joe himself is more aware of this than he lets on, and he's quickly able to pick up a gay man as a last resort when he runs out of options (although he doesn't get paid.) When he's desperate to get Rico to Florida, he turns to a man again. His last encounter ends differently however perhaps due to his desperation. As if admitting he's not a good hustler, he simply takes the man's money by force, an act that is very uncharacteristic for him, given his own crippling memories.When Rico asks if Joe killed him, he declines to talk about it, clearly troubled by what he's done.

Joe's world is as much memory as it is reality. The cruelty of it is that his fond memories are intertwined with the horrible ones. He misses his grandmother and Annie, but he can't think of them without recalling the horrors that happened. We're shown flashbacks without being given every detail but we get more than enough to know that everything centers on sexual abuse. Joe's naive wholesome cowboy act keeps him from having to commit to the real world where these these happened to him. It's no accident that he cites John Wayne to Rico, as a defense against his assertion that he is gay. The picture of Paul Newman from "Hud" is also telling, as Hud is aggressively heterosexual, and has a habit of sleeping with married women, which is certainly part of Joe's imagined new life in New York, with the added element of charging the women for the service. Joe gets a lot of his information from the movies, as we see when he imagines chasing down Rico. Even when faced with the reality of having nowhere to live, and being completely alone, he maintains his stance, telling Rico that he's a "truly dangerous man." He doesn't realize) chooses not to realize) that no one is fooled by his posturing and that Rico is sympathetic because he sees the true situation, a man hopelessly out of his element, with little chance of surviving alone. However, Rico has to remind him of his own image, telling him he's starting to smell, which he says "is a handicap."  Rico helps him get it back, helping him clean his clothes, and shine his shoes via theft, which Joe goes right along with having no other options.

The experience in New York changes Joe. In the end, he abandons his dream, to help Rico realize his. He brings his own impossible hopefulness to it, thinking perhaps that Rico will be ok if he gets to Florida, much like he imagined he would be ok if he got to NY. On the way, he finally realizes he isn't a hustler, resolving to get a regular job. Rico doesn't hear this however, as he's just died, having served a purpose, in a sense having gotten Joe where he needed to be. Rico and Joe essentially end up taking care of each other, Rico when Joe is out on the street, and Joe, when Rico is finally unable to walk on his own anymore. Neither is begrudging about it, and one the most remarkable things in the film is the genuine affection they have for each other.

Dustin Hoffman's Rico is a tremendous piece of acting. We never wonder why he's nicknamed "Ratso." He tells us with his performance, initially he resembles a rodent very much. It isn't until he gets close to Joe that we realize how much the nickname bothers him. His dream is not so much Florida, as it is being anywhere where no one knows to call him Ratso. Despite his scheming exterior, Rico is very fragile and feels every slight, often even before they arrive. His eagerness to offer to "get lost" so Joe can go to a party shows this side of him. Rico actually has a big heart, but this is hindered by the fact that he has trouble surviving. It's clear that his health prevents him from keeping any regular job, as well as a possible legal troubles (he's insistent that Joe doesn't call a Dr. or the cops.)

Rico has a long history of feeling inferior, clearly identifying more than he would like to with his dead father. His contempt for his father's physical condition (a hunchback) and his lack of intelligence (his gravestone, should have a big X) don't alter the fact that he feels compelled to visit his gravesite, or the fact that he can shine shoes well enough to do it for a living. Certainly he feels abandoned by his father's death and wants to be something more than his father was. He paints a picture of his father as a man whose whole life was spent underground in the subway station, but didn't know any better. It's significant that he compares the proposed X on his father's gravestone to the X's on the windows of the building he lives in. He's just as trapped as his father ever was.

When Joe arrives, it's a change for Rico, who is surrounded by people who couldn't care less what happens to him and even view him with contempt. Joe's genuineness touches him, and he feels compelled to help. This results in Rico finding the only person in the world who cares what happens to him. Rico is shrewd, but like Joe, he has his own fantasy life. His imagining the scene in Florida while Joe meets with a client he set up, is every bit as vivid as Joe's fantasies and reveals a lot about what he wants for himself, to be celebrated and not reviled. Seeing Rico accept kindness is fascinating. When Joe informs him he won't go to the party without him, we see that Rico is moved, but makes an effort not to show this. He ends up being a very giving person, although he has little to give. The care he takes to clean Joe up, back to his cowboy image give us someone very thoughtful and meticulously so.

The New York City John Schlesinger presents here is a very cold and busy one, not so much mean, as uncaring. Everyone goes about their own business without looking around very much. For example, early in the movie, Joe finds a dead man on the street, and no on else seems to notice, just walking around him. The song "Everybody's Talkin' at Me" gives us a good indicator of the environment, everybody sees everyone else, but nobody really connects. The odd pairing of Rico and Joe should on the surface, end up simply as con man and mark, but the two of them are really a lot more and a lot less than that. They can connect because both are so terribly lonely and broken. For both of them, just having someone else in the world who cares about them, is a tremendous thing. This bond does not however cure all of their problems. Rico is still dying, and Joe is still largely clueless as to how to interact with people. But they both end up with a better ending than could logically be expected. Rico isn't totally forgotten and Joe realizes he's not a hustler. Hardly a Disney ending, but it's something. Shown with the strength of both brilliant performances, it's a genuinely affecting journey, warm, sincere and tragic.

What Happens?

We begin the movie with a young man named Joe Buck (Jon Voight) in a hotel in Texas, getting into an over the top outfit, including a cowboy hat, suede fringe jacket and gaudy cowboy boots. He practices a line he plans to say, "You know what you can do with them dishes. And, if you ain't man enough to do it for yourself, I'd be happy to oblige." He takes a look in his mirror, obviously pleased with himself. At the restaurant where he works, we hear people calling for him, but when he finally gets to work, he asks his boss to talk for a minute. His boss brushes him off and tells him to get to work. Rather than confront him, Joe heads to the kitchen and tells another employee, Ralph (George Epperson) "He knows what he can do them dishes." He tells Ralph that he's not going to work, but "heading east." Ralph asks what he's going to do there, and Joe replies "There's a lot of rich women back there, Ralph, beggin' for it payin' for it too. And the men are mostly tutti-fruttis." Ralph doesn't seem entirely convinced but Joe leaves to catch a bus for NY City. He has flashbacks on the way out of town, of his grandmother Sally Buck (Ruth White) complimenting him while he gives her a back rub, and of a girl, Annie, who tells him he's "better than any of them." He has some awkward exchanges with people on the bus, and listens to a portable radio getting excited when he gets a NY station, where women are being asked what they want in a man, and he assumes they're describing his qualities.

He gets a hotel, and after unpacking (hanging up a picture of Paul Newman from HUD) starts practicing lines in the mirror. He goes out into the streets to figure out how to approach women as prospective clients, but no one seems very interested. He approaches an older woman,  and asks her where the statue of liberty is as an opener, but she brushes him off. He approaches another older woman, Cass (Sylvia Miles) who lets him into her place. They start undressing as she talks to her husband on the phone. They have sex and afterwards she starts rushing to get ready for an appointment. Joe awkwardly tell her that he "almost hates to bring up business." Cass isn't paying any attention to him, and just asks "what line are you in?" He tells her, "Well, I'm kind of a hustler." She tells him that "everyone needs to make a living." without registering what he'd said. She suggests they exchange numbers and get together again soon, and then asks him if he has a little money so she can get a cab. He explains that he was going to ask her for money. She gets angry and hysterical, and he gives her $20.00 to settle her down.
At a bar later he runs into Rico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) a sickly, slick talking character, with a bad limp. Ratso compliments his shirt. Joe starts explaining what happened with the woman earlier to Ratso, who suggests he seek management with his friend Daniel. The two of them go for a walk and Ratso tells him he might make $100.00 a day. Joe asks to meet Daniel right away, but Ratso tells him he needs a cut. Joe gives him ten bucks and Ratso, tells him he'll need another ten when they get to Daniel's place. Ratso makes a phone call to Daniel and brings Joe to an apartment. Daniel (looks him over and starts ranting wildly when Joe admits he's a little lonesome. Daniel tells him he'll "run him ragged." which excites Joe. He insists then that he and Joe, "get down on their knees." which makes Joe clearly uncomfortable. Daniel reveals a plastic lighted Jesus in the next room which triggers an uncomfortable flashback for Joe, involving him getting baptized. He runs from the room, and imagines chasing Ratso as if he was in a movie chase scene. He has another flashback of being held back by a bunch of men, while the girl he was with and possibly Joe himself are raped.He returns to the bar where he met Ratso, but the the bartender tells him he doesn't know anything. A cross dressing man who was there at he and Ratso's first meeting laughs loudly at Joe.   Joe picks up a beer bottle, only to have another flashback of breaking a mirror as a boy while being yelled at by his grandmother. He puts the bottle down and leaves.

Watching TV at his hotel, he remembers his grandmother, leaving the house when he was a boy. She calls him loverboy and tells him she'll leave him "movie money." He starts walking through the city at night with radio in hand. Returning to his hotel, he finds he's been locked out of his room until he settles the bill. He goes into a restaurant and gets some crackers from some people having soup. Attempting to put ketchup on the crackers he ruins his pants. He tells himself "you know what you gotta do, cowboy." We see him standing on the street, when a man approaches him. They nod at each other and then go to a dark theater where the man gives him oral sex while Joe remembers the girl from his past. The man then tells him he's sick and doesn't have any money. Joe takes the man's watch off, but the man says his mother would die if he lost the watch, so Joe leaves him with it and watches a movie.
The next day he runs into Ratso at a diner and demands his money. Ratso empties his pockets and says he only has 64 cents. Although initially confronting him angrily, Joe gives up, realizing he's wasting his time taking to Ratso, and leaves but Ratso follows him inviting him to stay at his place if he has no place to go, yelling at him "I'm inviting you, god damn it!" Joe gives in and goes home with Ratso. Ratso brags about the x's on the windows of the building he lives in saying "it's good, because you can't be evicted. It's condemned." He leads Joe into the dilapidated building, having Joe carry a refrigerator up the stars for him. There's no electricity but Ratso reasons, they can keep perishables in it to protect them from roaches. He explains that there's no heat, but says in the winter, he'll be in Florida. Joe quickly falls asleep and has disturbing dreams of the girl and of his grandmother. He works Ratso into it as well, dreaming Ratso is trying to attack him with a broken beer bottle. He wakes up and grabs his radio from Ratso, demanding to know where his boots are and questioning him about how the boots got off. Ratso explains that he took them off so he could sleep. He questions Ratso's motives for having him stay, figuring Ratso is after something. He says, "You don't look like a fag." Ratso reminds him that no one's forcing him to stay, and Joe gets offended, causing Ratso to reassure him that he does want him to stay. Joe tells him "Well, I hope you know what you're in for. I'm a truly dangerous person, I am. Someone does me bad, like youI swear, if I'd have caught up with you that night there would've been one dead Ratso right now, you understand me?" Ratso answers deadpan "I'm impressed. You're a killer." Joe agrees to stay for a couple days.

Ratso takes a minute and says "Joe, do me a favor, this is my place. Am I wrong?"
Joe: No, you're not wrong
Ratso: In my own place, my name ain't Ratso. I mean, it just so happens, in my own place, my name is Enrico Salvatore Rizzo
Joe: Well hell, I can't say all that.
Ratso: Rico, then. Please call me Rico, in my own goddamned place.
Joe: Okay, Rico, Rico Rico....
The next morning Joe and Rico walk together. Rico gets confronted by a fruit vendor for stealing a coconut, but Joe sticks up for him. They go back to Rico's place and he tells Joe all about Florida, while he cooks. Joe complains about the food, but quickly takes it back when Rico tells him he can cook from now on. He goes on about the ladies in Miami.
Rico: Miami Beach, that's where you could score. Anybody could score there, even you. In New York, no rich lady with any class at all buys that cowboy crap anymore. They're laughing at you on the street.
Joe: Ain't nobody laughing at me on the street.
Rico: Hanging back, I seen them laughing at you.
Joe: Oh what the hell do you know about women anyway? When's the last time you scored, boy?
Rico: That's a matter I only talk about at confession. We're not talking about me now.
Joe: When's the last time you been to confession?
Rico: That's between me and my confessor. And, I'll tell you another thing, frankly, you're beginning to smell, and for a stud in New York, that's a handicap.
Joe: Well, don't talk to me about clean. I ain't never seen you change your underwear once, the whole time I been in New York.Now that's pretty peculiar behavior.
Rico: I don't have to do that kind of thing in public. I ain't got no need to expose myself.
Joe: No, I bet you don't. I bet you've never even been laid. And you're gonna tell me what appeals to women?
Rico: I know enough to know that that big dumb cowboy crap of yours don't appeal to nobody, except every jockey on 42nd Street. That's faggot stuff! You wanna call it by its name? That's strictly for fags!
Joe: John Wayne! You wanna tell me he's a fag? (Rico doesn't answer)
I like the way I look. It makes me feel good. It does. And women like me, god-dammit. Hell, only one thing I've ever been good for is lovin'. Women go crazy for me. That's a really true fact. Ratso, hell, Crazy Annie, they had to send her away.
Rico: Then how come you ain't scored once, the whole time you've been in New York?
Joe: Cause, 'cause I need management, god-dammit. 'Cause you stole twenty dollars offa me. That's why you're gonna stop crappin' around about Florida. And, and get your skinny butt movin.' And earn twenty dollars worth of management which you owe me.
Joe grabs Rico's coconut and drops it out the window.

Rico and Joe go to the laundromat, and Rico sneaks Joe's clothes into a washer with another customers. He also helps Joe get his hat back from the cleaner's without paying by distracting the store owner. Rico shines his boots and Joe tells him he does it so well he could do it for a living. Rico says "And end up a hunchback like my old man? You thin I'm crippled, you shoulda caught him at the end of the day." They go back home and Rico cuts Joe's hair and finishes the story "My old man spent fourteen hours a day down in that subway. He'd come home at night, 2-3 dollars worth of change, stained with shoe polish. Stupid bastard coughed his lungs out from breathing in that wax all day. Even the faggot undertaker couldn't get his nails clean. We had to bury him with gloves on."
Joe admires himself in the mirror, now clean with a new haircut. Rico says "Not bad, not bad, for a cowboy. You're ok. You're ok."
Rico stands outside a male escort service, catching an official escort as he hails a cab. He distracts him and steals his appointment information from his pocket. He then calls the escort agency and tells them the appointment is cancelled, sending Joe to meet the woman at the "hotel for women" where she's staying. He reminds Joe to get cash. Rico watches from across the street, imagining he and Joe living it up in Florida, where everyone calls him Rico. His vision turns sour however, when he sees the woman slap Joe for grabbing her ass, before getting kicked out of the hotel.

The two of them have a tough time when it starts getting cold, as the water freezes in Rico's place.They dance in place to keep from freezing, and Rico's cough gets worse. Joe agrees to sell his radio for five dollars at a pawn shop. Joe figures out that he can sell blood to make some money, and surprises Rico with some groceries. Rico's cough is horrible by now. Rico accuses Joe of "going down to 42nd Street." and Joe notices Rico has a new coat and accuses him of stealing it and letting some poor guy freeze. Rico says "I stole it for you. It's ten sizes too big for me."

The next day Joe goes with Rico to the cemetery to see RIco's father's grave. He tells Joe " He was even dumber than you. He couldn't even write his own name. "X" that's what it should say on that headstone, one big lousy X, just like our dump, condemned by order of city hall." Joe tells him "My Grandma, Sally Buck, she died without letting me know." They go to a restaurant and eat. Rico talks about reincarnation, Joe choosing to come back as the president instead of as a dog. While they're discussing it a couple dressed all in black, take Joe's picture and then hand him an invitation to a Hansel and Gretel McAlbertson's party, before walking off. Rico insists that it's a scam, but Joe teases him about not being invited. Rico offers to get lost, but Joe insists he'll tell them "I don't go nowhere without my buddy here." RIco thinks about dressing for the party.
It's snowing the night of the party, and when they arrive, Rico isn't doing well. The party is ridiculously elaborate and theatrical, with a film crew moving from guest to guest. Rico exclaims "Wacko's, they're all wacko's."  Joe ends up smoking a joint with a woman named Shirley (Brenda Vaccaro) , while Rico loads up on free food and pickpockets some cash. A little high, Joe is captivated by his surroundings. Rico gets questioned about stealing food, a woman telling him "It's free, you don't need to steal it." He counters, "If it's free, I ain't stealing it." He has a hard time with the attention and lays down. Shirley runs into him again and they kiss and touch a little bit, both stoned. She suggests they leave and go to her place or his. Rico sets up the transaction telling her it'll cost $20.00 to have sex with Joe. Rico also includes a dollar for his own cab fare. Before they leave, Rico injures himself falling down the stairs, but he tells Joe to go on.
In bed, Joe can't perform, and the woman reassures him, although he feels bad. She suggests he doesn't call her ma'am and it might work better. He swears it's the first time it's ever happened to him. Shirley suggests they take a nap and see what happens, but he insists he isn't sleepy. She convinces him to play a word game and he attempts to spell "Money" as "Mony" He tries to think of another word starting with Y, and she tells him it could also end in Y, teasing that "gay" ends in Y. He determines he'll prove her wrong and is able to perform again. The next morning Shirley suggests Joe to one of her friends, even setting up a date for him, which he eagerly agrees to. She pays him and he heads home with groceries including something for Rico's cough. He enthusiastically tells Rico, they won't have to steal anymore. He gets Rico some soup, and Rico tells him "don't get sore or anything. I don't think I can walk anymore. I mean, I've been falling down a lot. I'm scared!"
Joe: What are you scared of?
Rico: You know, what they they do to you when they find out you can't walk. Oh Christ. I've gotta lay down. Joe helps him to his bed and tells him to stay there. Rico asks where he's going, and Joe says he's getting a doctor. Rico insists no doctor or cops and tells him to just out him on a bus to Florida.
Joe makes a call to Shirley, and finds she won't be home for some time. He goes out and attracts a gay man who wants him to go back to his hotel. While the man is on the phone, Joe practices talking tough in the mirror, explaining that he has to get his sick friend down south in a hurry. Joe confronts the man about what he wants, and the man starts reproaching himself and gives Joe his own St. Christopher necklace. Joe insists that he needs money, and the man offers him ten dollars which he pulls out of a drawer insisting that Joe stay back. Joe overpowers him and takes the money he needs from the drawer, beating the man when he resists, although opting not to him with a lamp. When the man picks up the phone before Joe leaves, Joe comes back and shoves the telephone in his mouth/

The hotel room scene is mixed with scenes of Joe carrying Rico out of their place, into a cab and onto a bus. Rico is covered in sweat, but he talks about when they'll arrive in Florida. He asks Joe "You didn't kill him, did you? You got blood on your jacket." Joe says he doesn't want to talk about it and Rico closes his eyes before he finishes the sentence. Rico gets steadily worse, and Joe tells him to pull up his blanket. Rico tells him he's concerned about Joe calling him Ratso, and he wants to be Rico all the time when they get there. Joe agrees. Joe notices Rico seems bothered and Rico tells him he wet himself. Rico tells him "Here I am, goin' to Florida, my leg hurts, my butt hurts, my chest hurts, my face hurts, and like that ain't enough, I gotta pee all over myself." Joe laughs and Rico says "That's funny? I'm falling apart here?" Joe laughs and says "You just took a little rest stop that wasn't on the schedule." He asks Rico what size pants he wears and picks up some clothes for the both of them when the bus stops, throwing out his cowboy outfit. He tells Rico, he's planning to get a job in Florida saying "I'm no kind of hustler." When Rico doesn't answer, he checks on him and realizes he's died. The bus stops and a man gets on to check Rico. He asks Joe "Is he kin to you?" and then tells Joe to close his eyes, which he does. They drive on, a few minutes away from Miami. Joe holds Rico while everyone stares back at him, and then we watch the two of them through the bus window.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Luther is a BBC Television Series that was recommended to me for Criminal Movies, and I'm certainly glad it was as it's some of the most interesting crime television I've seen in some time. For this post, I'll be looking at the first series (or season) and give some details of the first episode. I'll avoid most spoilers here beyond the first episode as the episodes are much more rewarding when the twists are revealed naturally.

The title character, John Luther (Idris Elba) is a brilliant police detective who excels at catching depraved killers. The first minutes of the show tell us a lot about him. Having cornered serial killer Henry Madsen, into a warehouse, while other officers search for the location of the killer's last victim, he maneuvers a standoff. Henry falls through old scaffolding many stories from the ground and desperately hangs on to the edge. Luther taunts him saying "You're gonna fall, Henry." and stomps the scaffolding to remind him of his plight. The panicked Henry reveals his victim's location, and with his cell phone, Luther alerts the officers and waits while they find the missing girl. Henry pleads for help, but Luther yells that he could be lying, as he's done that before, and makes no move to assist him. The officers find the girl in a trunk, not breathing as Luther listens. They manage to resuscitate her, and a relieved Luther turns back to Henry, asking him how many more there were, naming them off to Henry, as well as the details of him finding their bodies. Henry pleads for help, but Luther watches as he loses his grip and falls straight down.

The true starting point of the story, however, is seven months later. We see a young woman, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) calling the police, sobbing hysterically and covered in blood, from her house, where her mother father and dog have been brutally murdered. Meanwhile DSU Rose Teller finds Luther at the scene of Henry's fall, to inform him, he's been cleared and can have his job back, "if he wants it." He replies "I want it." She then informs him that all "proactive strategies" must be cleared by her and asks about his situation with his wife. He informs Rose, that they've been seperated, but he doesn't like it.  He explains that "I did everything she asked for, got myself together, now we'll see." Rose introduces him to his new partner DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) The partners get acquainted, Ripley telling Luther that he requested to be assigned with him nine months ago. Ripley gives Luther the facts on their first case, that of Alice Morgan's family. They investigate the crime scene and Luther determines that "it's not right."
Luther calls his wife Zoe (Indira Varma) to tell her he's been cleared and back at work. He asks her to talk to him over dinner, and reluctantly she agrees. At the station, Luther catches up with longtime and former partner DCI Ian Reed (Steven Mackintosh) who seems pleased that Luther is doing well. At Zoe's office, we see that she is seeing a coworker, Mark North (Paul McGann) who insists that she tell Luther about them.  Luther then interrogates Alice, asking about possible motives for her parents' murders. He yawns in front of her and when she doesn't yawn, he leaves the room to inform Rose and Ripley that she did it, reasoning that her not yawning shows her complete lack of empathy. Rose reminds him that she didn't have time and without a gun they have nothing. He reenters the interrogation room and discusses her history as a child prodigy, going to Oxford at 13, and her hatred of her parents for making her a freak. He reveals that he knows she did it, and also knows that they won't find any evidence, informing her that she could slip up and criminals aren't as smart as they think they are. She seems flattered by the attention, and Luther is forced to release her without evidence.

Meeting Zoe, that night, she informs him that she met someone, prompting an outburst from him where he punches and destroys a door and she asks him to leave. Ian meets him at a bar afterwards, explaining that Zoe called. Ian just sits with him. Alice, meanwhile digs up information on Luther on the internet, finding out about Zoe. Leaving the bar in the morning, Luther talks about Alice with Ian, explaining that Alice is a narcissist and needs to impress him. He stops in to see Alice, who has picked up the cremains of her dog in an urn. ALice notices he isn't wearing his ring, and presses about his marriage. Luther informs her that she "will never understand love." as she only mimics emotion. He informs her that he knows she kept the gun, because it was a compulsion and that's what makes her weak and will get her caught. He tells her "I'm coming for you." and she answers "Not if I come for you first."  Luther visit's Zoe's office unannounced and disrupts a meeting, pressing her for reasons about their split, as he needs a "why." SHe explains that he's never "all there" with her, as part of him is always on the job. She encourages him to accept things and he leaves. On her way home, Alice surprises Zoe, and grabs her from behind, frightening her and then letting her go without letting Zoe see her.

Luther is angry when he hears, but Rose reminds him they don't have any reason to hold her. Ian shows Luther a pistol with a polymer frame which inspires a thought. He concludes that the reason she shot the dog four times was to avoid an autopsy, so that the gun could be put inside the dog and cremated with it, and then set on her mantel. Luther breaks into her apartment and finds a piece of the gun. He then surprises her entering her apartment showing her the urn as he leaves. She grabs a knife and pursues him, holding it against him as he holds the urn over the river. She explains that he can't use the gun as evidence as the cremation removed forensic information, as well as his illegal obtaining of the evidence. Luther explains that he knows it isn't evidence, but he wanted to point out her need for the trophy. He throws the urn in the river and she cuts him. He tells her that if she doesn't lay off Zoe, he'll arrest someone else for her parent's murder, threatening her narcissism. ALice suggests that he's a monster acting in a corrupt way to protect a woman who treats him like garbage, suggesting that Love is supposed to exalt, not debase. He throws the gun pieces on the ground in front of her.

Luther stops at Zoe's house to talk to her. SHe calls the police and Mark attempts to force him to leave, punching him and getting himself manhandled before the police arrive. We see Alice visiting the hospital where Henry Madsen is in a coma. Luther calls Alice from the back of the police car, he's being escorted in, and tells her "There is love. You lose." Alice smiles.
The character of Luther draws from many different fictitious detectives. He has the brilliance of a modern Sherlock Holmes, as well as the obsessive methodical nature. Yet, Luther is more dangerous than Holmes, being an imposing physical figure easily capable of great violence. He understand killers very well, knowing what they struggle with, are and and aren't capable of. It's no accident that we are introduced to him, watching a man potentially die, when he could easily save him. Of course the man is a deranged killer, but allowing this to happen is clearly against his duties as a cop. This is not a small thing for the audience, or for Luther himself. We see him returning to the scene a full seven months later. He tells Rose that he's "gotten his act together." and perhaps he has, but the obsession is clearly still in him.
Like most film and TV cops, Luther's relationship is damaged beyond repair. He knows this but can't passively accept it. Indira Varma has a difficult task portraying Zoe but does it well. It can't be argued that Luther's job is of vital importance, or that it would be difficult to live with someone so obsessed with line of work. Theirs is a loving but finished relationship as she needs someone like Mark, who is able to be fully present. When Luther asks if she finds him boring, she tells him he's "the opposite of boring." but also insisting that that doesn't mean Mark is boring. What Zoe wants is the obsessive attention that he gives the job for herself when he gets home, but clearly Luther has no off switch. She's proud of what he does and of him, but simply can't handle it herself.

Mark is quite simply a fairly competent man, in over his head. His only concern is whether Zoe is with him or with Luther. He doesn't understand Luther's concerns whatsoever, having never encountered anything like him. He dismisses serious warnings from Luther, immediately assuming a power play for Zoe. Paul McGann makes Mark decent and likeable. He's not the other man who wants to be on the sly, nor is he afraid of confrontation. He's simply out of his element when he deals with Luther.

We are also presented in the first episode with a murder Luther can't do anything about, even though he knows what happened. His relationship with Alice proves to be an interesting one, and he doesn't regard her as on the same level as the pedophile murderer Henry Madsen, as much as he sees she has that potential. Alice becomes a valuable if unpredictable resource and their debate on love coninues through the series. He accepts her nature, while not condoning it, and she is fascinated by his brilliance and the nature that he struggles to keep in check. Rather than a Hannibal Lecter/ Clarice Starling dynamic however, Luther and Alice are more peers than teacher/student. Neither has anyone else that can meet them on their own level. In another interesting twist, on macho cop roles, Luther has no trouble admitting he's afraid of Alice, even though he refuses to be intimidated by her.  There is a definite male/female dynamic at work, although their sexual tension is limited by the fact that both live a bit outside the world, as well as Luther's stubborn loyalty. WHatever else they are, each is a logic puzzle for the other.

Ian Reed is the closest thing Luther has to a friend, and the two know each other very well from years of working together. Although no longer partners, Ian is willing to stand on the edge of a roof with Luther discussing jumping, knowing that despite his recent mental breakdown, Luther has no intention of doing so. The two rely on each other in many ways and their relationship points out another quality in Luther. For all his brilliance, Luther is utterly loyal and an idealist at heart. This gives his friends (and wife) a large blindspot, where Luther is concerned. The fact that he cares about someone is a fact as much as any evidence which would lead to a deduction. Steven Mackintosh plays the complex role of Ian for all it's worth giving him a journey as large as Luther's in its own way.

Luther's new partner Ripley, also gives us a good window into Luther. He greatly admires the man, but has his own set of principles. He's not at all comfortable operating in a grey area, although he is very competent perceptive, and committed to doing what's right, even at great personal cost. Ripley is not afraid of going against everyone if everyone is wrong. Luther tests his limits, but the two have a good dynamic. Along with Rose, who must enforce the "do it by the book" rules, we get a sense of the cops who struggle to work withing the limits. This accentuates Luther's impatience, being many steps ahead of the game, but having to struggle to build a case to back up what he knows.

At one point in the series, Alice asks Zoe about Luther. Zoe replies "He believes one life is all we have, life and love." and stating further "I think if he'd read a different book by a different author at just the right time, he'd have been a different man." suggesting he'd have been happier as a priest. Zoe suggests at one point that Luther cares more about the dead than the living. The priest comparison works, as Luther is clearly a man who feels he has a calling he can't walk away from. He knows his job and what it takes, and it takes a great deal to make him complain about the cost. Luther shares many things with the killers he catches, but despite his willingness to bend and even blatantly break rules, he is still a genuine believer as his wife says "in life and in love." This is a great help at times but also a hindrance, as he is unable to see what those he trusts are capable of.

Luther is not a mystery show but a show about a man struggling to be his best self. The killer in each episode is revealed right away, the tension is watching Luther attempt to do things the right way according to the law so that killers are punished. His parallel struggle is the attempt to have a relationship when he has no choice but to carry all of the horrible things he knows and encounters by himself. Written and created by Neil Cross, and directed by Sam Miller, Brian Kirk and Stephen Schwarz, Luther is top notch television, both in episode form and as a larger story. Top notch actors ensure that each character has depth. Everyone, even the killers in each episode have complex motivations and a sense of history that draws you in.

The writing and pacing are smart and deep, every character providing pay offs and unexpected twists, both for the good and bad. While some events could be predicted, the whys and whens are handled well with the most possible impact. These characters all affect each other, and the closer they are to Luther, the more unpredictable to him. In a sense, he does have the off switch that Zoe would like, it just doesn't work in a way that's useful to him, other than that it allows him to sustain his beliefs and ideals in his struggle. Idris Elba gives us a fantastic performance and a truly memorable character, a Sherlock Holmes who is both more pure, rough and dangerous.  He's as physically imposing as he is mentally imposing and it's fortunate he's compelled to work for the innocents, although not necessarily for him. Luther doesn't provide any easy answers, but lives in the struggle to live or not, and love or not, not presenting either way as easy or negotiable.