Sunset Boulevard

Reviewed By Chef ADogg
Posted 12/12/99 07:54:34

"In a word? Perfection."
5 stars (Awesome)

Really one of the best movies I've ever seen. Every performance is a winner, the script is full of zingers, and Billy Wilder's direction is stylish and elegant. If you don't watch it for those elements, at least see it for all the quotable lines--you'll be well equipped for years.

Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond, a faded Hollywood star who lives in a moldy elephant of a house, with only her butler and a chimp to keep her company. When we first meet her, the monkey has passed away and she's looking for a replacement.

Cash-strapped screenwriter William Holden fills the position nicely, until he starts to suffocate and tries to escape. That's when the relationship becomes obsessive, and comes to a somewhat unhappy end.

The plot is delivered with much sun-soaked style; "Sunset Boulevard" really cements Billy Wilder as a genius of cinema. The great trick of his direction is that it feels loose even while he's exerting great control; the only other director to ever come close to pulling that off is Martin Scorsese, and he never quite nailed it.

Wilder paints Hollywood as a beautiful, vicious place where danger lurks around every bend, and then fills it with the most morally bankrupt bunch of characters to ever stalk the silver screen. Our hero sticks with Norma only because it's financially benefical to do so, and she keeps him around by repeatedly threatening suicide. The movie works because it punishes them both equally.

The performances are what make you care. Holden and Swanson get the most screen time, and they're both perfect for their roles. Pay special attention when they're snapping back and forth--there's a veritable treasure trove of great lines in there just waiting to be casually abused.

"Sunset Boulevard" is built around dialogue; it never stops and all of it is delivered with verve and wit. Some people might complain that it's stagy (and it's pretty obvious all the talk has been scripted), but you fall into the rhythms as the movie progresses and it becomes really natural. I personally think it's harder to create your own reality and build atmosphere from scratch than to just reflect what's already out there.

"Sunset Boulevard" has all the requirements for making a movie--actors, director, script, film--but Wilder also includes a very special ingredient that holds it all together and makes the proceedings so grand. I'm talking about class, and this movie has it in spades.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.