by Greg Muskewitz
Call me mean, but I felt no sympathy with the characters of director Scott Hicks' "Shine," including that of Geofrey Rush's, which in my opinion was not even close to Oscar-calibre. I feel the same way about the characters in "Snow Falling on Cedars," a lack of interest, a lack of care, a lack of sympathy. This slow paced, monotonous, bore, lacked any elements of holding an audiences' attention.Ethan Hawke is Ishmael Chambers (an unfitting first name I must say). He writes, or owns a local newspaper, something which you never see him bother with. Apparently when he was young he was smitten for a young Japanese girl, who also dug him at the time too. But her mother was a very traditionalist, and forbid her to see a white boy. Now she's grown up, and her name is Hatsue Miyamoto (Youki Kudoh). She's married to a decorated war hero, Japanese, but on the American side. When the film opens, which is when it was at its best, a white fisherman is killed, or somehow ends up dead. Hatsue's husband, Kazuo (Rick Yune) was also on the ship, and the local police take him into custody. Being Japanese, and knowing of our racial prejudices, he's the suspected murderer. Not to mention, the day before Kazuo approached the now post-corpus fisher about buying some of his land, which serves to further the necessity for a motive.
"Buried Alive...by snow"
The movie follows Ishmael as he flounders around, watching the trial, having flashbacks of his pre-pubscient affair with Hatsue, and nothing much else.
There were certain scenes which would flash back to Hawke being in a military uniform, presumably during WWII, and during one of those many sequences, there was a montage-like part where part of his arm is blown off. He then picks it up and holds it. Upon cogitation, my guess is that that was only a dream, nothing more. Because there was nothing before or after to support either his being in the service, or having to have his arm put back on; and he did use his arm, no sign of a mechanical one either.
What "Snow Falling on Cedars" needed, was to borrow some of the empathy felt for the Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale characters in "Brokedown Palace." "Cedars" (which for some reason I consistantly mix up with "The Cider House Rules") is utterly lacking a connection with the characters; they are afterall what are supposed to run the show with this movie. But I felt no catharsis, and nothing that was happening with them on screen made me want to feel for them either.
If the point of the movie was to make us feel for the characters, they needed to have some common bond, or likable trait. Like the characters in Gustave Flaubert's novel, "Madame Bovary," you really didn't care what happened to them. There wasn't even an equivalent of Charles Bovary, of whom you could have at least felt sorry for. It lacked the sharpness and lyracism of Egoyan films, like "Felicia's Journey" or "The Sweet Hereafter" or "Exotica." There's nothing interesting enough to keep you interested in them.
Most of the time, the characters stare around, looking at walls, snow, landscape, water, or other people, acting as if they're waiting for everything to come to them. God forbid what would happen if someone with ADD were to watch this.
To me, it seems if Scott Hicks purposely removes any emotions from his characters. They're more than cardboard --not by much-- but their emotions feel like the temperature of the air outside of their little houses and igloos (no, sorry to disappoint, there are no igloos). I didn't read the novel by David Guterson, so I have no idea how closely they followed the outline of the story. Seeing as how much of it is a court room drama, I'm sure the novel was a slow paced one, but other films this year that dealt with court related events or settings kept you interested in what was happening. Not here.
The film had a very somber atmosphere which stood out at first, but quickly became very monotonous. It never changed, and it was as if the film kept burying its audience underneath the snow, alive. The tone stayed the same, which isn't the same as when I say that "Sleepy Hollow" was consistently creepy and spooky; one works a rhetorical effect, while the other drives on not caring. One is established and carried out, and the other keeps on plowing. The soporificy detracted even further from the film, and over the course of the first 30 minutes, I dozed every so often. I was not lacking sleep, I was feeling just fine. I felt almost cheated by Hicks' direction, like he purposely drained the film of any spirit. He took a total lackadaisical approach, and it showed, just like it would on an unloved orphan child.
The actors gave it a shot; Hawke seemed like some variation on a Hemingway character, but meandered around and was too constantly in a daze to care about. James Cromwell was decent in a minimus role, though breaking no ground, and Kudoh held no intriguing characteristics. The love affair as children was profusily romantic, but became repetative and dull. The kids meshed well, but eventually all it was, was running and hiding and touching and kissing.
The cinematography by Robert Richardson, who so beautifully graced screens last year with "The Horse Whisperer" does capture a gorgeous look, one of the few meritorious and noteworthy aspects of the film. The snow, at least for a while, seemed sensual and penatrating. But even the score, by James Newton Howard was bleak and very similar of the THX soundtrack that plays in the auditorium to display the sound system before the movie starts (you know, the one with the little robot that has to fix the THX sign?).
It's draining in the sense that it takes anything you have for it away, and never rewards you.Final Verdict: D+
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=560&reviewer=172
originally posted: 11/24/99 18:17:56