Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Days, Nights and Years of Fright

Fright Night [****] and The Devil's Double [***1/2]

This “Fright Night” is not interested in replacing the 1985 version in your memories, but it is as dedicated to being a movie that deserves to be called “Fright Night” as one could rightly hope any movie bearing the title would be. It has a sense of escalation to replace the slow burning atmosphere of the original but it remains largely the story of a kid obsessed with a neighbor who is no good for the people he loves. And he needs the help of an expert to prove it. Enter reason number one why both “Fright Night”s will remain alongside one another rather than one supplanting the other: some of you may prefer the more traditionally garbed/portrayed Peter Vincent (portrayed by Roddy McDowell) to the new Criss Angel style potty mouthed version. I get someone preferring the old version, but Vincent’s newer, crushing backstory invests the character with a level of depth that is both blindsiding and stupefying. David Tennant makes the character vulgar, hilarious and tragic. In fact, every character from “Fright Night” 2011 seems to locate the one thing that makes them tick and has at least one devastating moment that brings it to the foreground. Three viewings later a moment in which a central character meets his demise becomes exponentially more poignant. The death, a fiery and bloody one that results in ashes and forgiveness, is capped off with the proclamation: “it’s okay Charlie.” A couple of my friends insist the line is really “f--k you Charlie!” They are wrong, but the fact that the moment holds equal power either way, speaks to the movie’s utter insistence that humans are ultimately forged by the way that they hold on to traumas and the impossible grace with which they cast them off in the final moments.

If finding the humanity of a character is at the crux of what makes “Fright Night” work so well then consider that as a link to director Lee Tamahori’s “The Devil’s Double” in which Dominic Cooper plays both Uday Hussein and his double Latif Yahia. There are moments in the film in which Uday tries to make Yahia execute someone for paltry reasons. Yahia might not object to having to do this were it not for the fact that, in doing so, he wants what every human needs: motivation. Hussein never obliges Yahia, he just does it himself in vivid sprays of crimson and power. And again we find another link to “Fright Night” as we have a creature so unburdened by conscience and driven entirely by bloodlust, yet, like Jerry in the “Fright Night” remake, he is capable of a fa├žade of extreme friendliness that is so unsettling precisely because we know the monster that lurks underneath. Cooper, like Farrell, gets to play two extremes but unlike Farrell he gets to play it with a little self parody, adopting a high pitch whine and knocking things around as Hussein while as Yahia he combs his hair to the side and remains calmer, more collected. Farrell has the same sort of sultriness no matter if he is being creepy or friendly. At least until he goes into full-on vampire mode. It might be worth noting that Farrell and Cooper hail from Ireland and Britain respectively and I can’t help but wonder if their being neither American or Iraqi performers (as the roles call for) allows them to more easily highlight the inherent monstrousness of these particular cultures that they play monsters of. It might not be a relevant question for Colin Farrell's character, who could literally be anyone but is ultimately an American monster, but once I raise the question I can't ignore it (even when I can't answer it).

Dominic Cooper who plays Uday Hussein portrayed Howard Stark in “Captain America” a genius inventor and father to Tony Stark, another genius who is arrogant and also Iron Man. Does that level of arrogance and power that Cooper is cinematically responsible for make him a more appropriate choice to play Hussein? I think it does. While we're at it, the film practices American excess by being evocative of "Scarface" in addition to being a biopic and an espionage picture.

At the end of the day, both films despite large mostly non-American casts feel utterly truthful because they can happen in our streets and in our countries. The monsters are heightened to a fever pitch, but the need to rule by fear and the desire to simply survive are utterly relatable feelings. Such mad displays of power and struggles against it are also rarely this entertaining.