Until the NightReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 06/09/04 11:28:03
(Worth A Look)
We end up meeting a lot of people when we go to the movies. There are the jackasses with their phones going off that you just want to punch, but naturally I’m referring to those on the screen in front of us. Some characters are written to be good or bad while others tend to take on a life of their own, independent from the written page with a strong performance that makes them real. Eventually a few are invited back to our place in the form of a DVD and we want to file restraining orders against others. Point is that audiences only have some 80+ minutes at the very least to make up their minds. So a filmmaker can show or internalize who these people are all they want, but we better feel something for them one way or the other.Until the Night immediately invokes thoughts of Sex, Lies and Videotape with a woman talking straight to us, the moody tones on the soundtrack and the reveal of a non-therapist holding a camcorder. As the film progresses we’re not quite sure where in their history this has taken place but is symbolic of the give-and-take emotional detachment of both characters. Robert (Norman Reedus) is a fashion photographer in a relationship entering the final act and Elizabeth’s (Kathleen Robertson) marriage never appeared to have even began. “A very realistic kind of love. No fireworks,” she describes.
Robert and Elizabeth used to be an item years prior. Since then, the only conversations he ever has with Mina (Missy Crider) that aren’t dominated by screaming are the ones he has on the other end of video. Even then, she asks him to turn off the camera. Their social engagements consist of boring friends and wannabe actresses talking about themselves over a steady stream of alcohol. She feels they’re artificial whores, but can’t acknowledge she’s no more real. At work he’s surrounded by underwear models and temptation to pay for. His turnabout flirting is often reserved although he clearly expresses a need for companionship.
Elizabeth’s homelife (and worklife) is no better; the kind that leads to confessions of “being in a fog.” Her husband is an unemployed actor, promising things around the house but usually forgetting and then vomiting on the floor. When a co-worker makes his crush on her apparent, she accepts his advances only for him to announce he’s leaving for a job offer in New York. At an office party, one guy mouths how much he wants her even while he’s standing next to his date; another co-worker of hers.
It takes over 40 minutes for the ex-lovers to meet again and it’s in this moment that the film sparks. As if director Gregory Hatanaka wanted to deluge us in the sorrow and the pity for so long only to make us feel that rebirth when someone special enters (or reenters) one’s life. Their dialogue crackles, the connection is real and we forget that there was ever a time when these two didn’t want to be together.
Hatanaka has some Soderbergh-ian techniques in his backpocket, like the flash-shifting of time. He also has room for some brilliant, subtle little touches as when Elizabeth takes little sips from her glass, contemplating each drink and enjoying every next one, until finally giving in and gulping to the last drop. It’s an advanced textbook example of how film students can learn to use visuals as opposed to words to define a story and character.
But the spark for this pair doesn’t last long and our patience for their problems wears thin as well. Both are either unwilling or afraid to let anyone in and the images of repeated cocktails and prescription suggestions relay the message while keeping us on the outside as well. Why should we invest our feelings in those who cannot invest theirs?
A rather unsettling scene has Robert taking Mina’s cat in for the final nap. The doctor maps out the stages of the injection and we don’t think of it as a metaphor for their crippling relationship. We’re too busy determining who is more worthy of being bludgeoned with a pillow full of pennies.Hatanaka and his cinematographer Yasu Tanida have done a fantastic job of capturing both the color scheme of the nightlife and the claustrophobia felt by the soon-to-be-ex-couples. Visually there’s nothing to sneeze at. The final image is an appropriately heartbreaking stunner for a film that in many ways is about image. But while we appreciate the style of having characters splash around on the beach like the anti-From Here To Eternity, the indecisiveness of their emotional outreach keeps us at too great a distance. Like the scene where Robert and Elizabeth fill-in the final word back-and-forth, viewers may find themselves leaving saying the same thing and filling-in their own blank, “you didn’t give me enough…”
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