After being told by bobglob that May was better than 28 Days Later, I fear I’d set my sights too high.
May is quite good, but not great. It’s a bit uneven and unfocused. It’s ultimately a pretty conventional Portrait of the Psycho as a Young Man, but this time it’s a chick. It owes very little to the Frankenstein story and more to influences like Psycho and Magic. Like all movies of its type, it relies mostly on the performance of its lead, in this case actress Angela Bettis, who played Carrie in the TV version. Bettis is convincingly quirky in an endearing way, but she’s hard to believe as a wallflower ignored all her life: she’s way too pretty. I especially liked the way she used her hands – or didn’t use them, in the case of one scene where she’s being kissed and has no idea how to react. Her hands curl and grab at the air like a victim of palsy.
There are two “money shots” in May that really pay off: the Halloween costume and the final moment of the movie. May’s decision to dig out her own eye is, unfortunately, immediately revealed as the movie starts, which I thought was a mistake. Imagine showing Orson Welles’ sled in the first part of Citizen Kane and having him point to it and address it as ‘Rosebud’. But the single quiet gesture that ends May is completely effective.
May is a million times better than the horrid Ed Gein, but only about two thirds as good as Dahmner, all movies shot from the same template.
Dahmer is everything May could have been, but with the weight of reality behind it. It’s also – surprise, surprise – tasteful, thoughtful, and very sensitive to its subject matter. It is not gory. It is not shocking. It’s actually very sad and Jeffrey Dahmer is terrifically underplayed by Jeremy Renner, who you might recognize as the rogue cop in S.W.A.T. And although the final shot isn’t as ‘flashy’ as May’s, it’s one of my favorite movie endings, partly because of how it fits into the movie and partly because of how we know the real story will end.
Dahmer is, on a much more intimate level, structurally similar to Max, a movie set in post WWI Germany about a young painter and an art dealer, both veterans of the war and both struggling to control and channel their frustration. The lead character is John Cusack’s Max Rothchild, a successful Jewish art dealer. He is the best one-armed character in a movie since Ethan Hawke in Snow Falling on Cedars. Unfortunately, I have a hard time seeing Cusack as anyone other than Cusack. He played Norman Rockefeller in Rock the Cradle and the whole time I was thinking ‘C’mon, that’s not Rockefeller, that’s John Cusack…’
Fortunately for Max, the other half of the movie is Noah Taylor as the young painter. Whose name happens to be Adolph Hitler.
Like Dahmer, the power of the movie comes from what we know about what follows. But unlike Dahmer’s quiet simplicity, Max is driven by Taylor’s ferocity. Noah Taylor’s young Hitler is one of the best, most appropriately furious performances I’ve seen in a long time. Amazing stuff. He manages to channel anger, frustration, sadness, regret, and an apocalyptic future of unimaginable atrocity through his voice, hands, the tilt of his neck. Great stuff. Watching Taylor progress from a shy alienated war veteran clutching his portfolio in the snow to a frenzied speaker in a beer hall is what good performances are all about.
Thumbs up on all three movies, in this order: Dahmer, Max, and May.