"Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana." I’ve watched writer-director Michael Winterbottom’s four “Trip” comedies more than I’ve watched any other films. I’ve streamed them, watching just five or ten minutes at a time, or repeatedly all the way through, to savor every line or lush vista of the films’ stunning locations.
The movies have helped me stay rational during the insanity of Donald Trump’s trademarked Covid19 virus era that has no end in sight. I have no plan to ever stop watching the “Trip” films either, so there.
The “Trip” films have taught me things about comedy that I would otherwise not have been privy to, namely how seamlessly such a satisfying comic franchise could be constructed and executed. Coogan and Brydon provide a masterclass in timing. They bounce impressions off one another in an ongoing process of improving their craft as actors of impeccable skills. Coogan plays straight man to Brydon's sidekick relation. Talent is like a nude, you know it when you see it. These are two very talented and hard-working individuals with a knack for naturalism. They make it all look so, so easy.
I can’t say the films are flawless, but most of what I take issue with rests with my own desire for more. I want to see more of the lovely historic locations that Coogan and Brydon go on at length about as if they were tour guides or erudite participants in filmic podcast. I want to see more Russian-doll layering of Brydon and Coogan doing kooky film-within-the-film skits, as when they play Italian Mafioso and Brydon gives Coogan the blade right in the garden, I mean the gut.
Now that our bickering, impersonation-prone tour guides (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon) have taken audiences through the English Midlands, around Italy, off to Spain, and around Greece, their work appears to be done. Michael Winterbottom has stated as much. “Keep ‘em wanting more” is an old entertainment tenant that’s hard to argue with. Still, I wish there could be another installment. Wales perhaps.
Everything about the “Trip” movies is designed to disarm the viewer so that when Steve Coogan, or more frequently Rob Brydon, deliver yet another punishingly funny punchline or hilarious Michael Caine, Robert De Niro, or Sean Connery impression, we bite — hook, line, and sinker. The comedy comes in measured doses for maximum impact.
One of Winterbottom’s many ruses hides in the set-up for our fearless duo’s weeklong vacations that ostensibly come at the behest of The Observer and or The New York Times for a series of restaurant reviews for which only Brydon will do any pen-to-paper work. It sounds plausible enough. Who needs to hunt down any supposed article when we’ve already seen the movie? But if you do go digging on Google, you’ll find out soon enough that no such reviews exist. Winterbottom doesn’t even take a screenwriting credit even though every line of seemingly improvised speech is pre-written. Clever, very clever stuff.
Then there’s Coogan and Brydon playing near versions of themselves that seem perfectly appropriate. Coogan is a womanizing narcissist actor who values his seven BAFTA trophies more than his family. Brydon plays the affable but height-challenged light entertainer with a complex or two capable of keeping his egotistical pal in check, at least some of the time.
Herein lies one of the series most invisible comic mechanisms. It seems on face value that Steve Coogan steals the lion’s share of the spotlight away from Rob Brydon, but in reality the comedy is tilted to celebrate Brydon's keen wit. It’s this well-shrouded element of dramatic tension that allows the films to breathe with serious actorly camaraderie built on mutual respect for craft as it is on a pad of compatibility that points toward untold depths.
For as mismatched as Coogan and Brydon might seem, their friendship is thoroughly convincing for the compromises that they are willing to make for each other. Their ability to openly criticize one another takes the comedy to another level as well. "That ain't you mate."
It has taken ten years to complete four “Trip” films. However invisibly Brydon and Coogan have grown as actors and as people, the evidence is in plain view. Their “Trip” characters are driven by a love of world history, literature, celebrities, acting craft, and film culture that is infectious. The audience is in on the joke whether we realize it or not. Their way of relating to each other, and to the world around them, is endemic of a uniquely male artistic approach to life, travel, food, sex, and to their audience. The jokes can be pointed, and at times on the rare side, but never raw. Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan, and Rob Brydon are much too sophisticated for that. Go on, savor another bite.
Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.
Stalingrad-born Elem Klimov's "Come and See" is an undiluted expression of cinematic poetry in the service of an unspeakably turbulent, fact-based, anti-war narrative about the 628 Belarusian villages burnt to the ground along with their inhabitants by the Nazis during World War II. The film is a disorienting vision of a genocide hell on Earth that would pale Hieronymus Bosch's most gruesome compositions.
Klimov derives the film's haunting title from the New Testament's Book of Revelations, The Gospel of St. John the Divine, "And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, come and see."
An electricity-buzzing stench of death and social decay hangs over the picture's constant volley between neo-realistic, formal, and documentary cinematic styles that Klimov uses to convert as wide a range of specific wartime experience as possible. The narrative explodes in all directions at once. The leftist filmmaker takes the viewer on a quicksilver descent into an existential madness of war through the eyes of his 14-year-old peasant protagonist Florya. 13-year-old (non-professional) actor Alexei Kravchenko's selfless performance as the film's subjective guide encompasses a lifetime of suffering over a period of a few brutal days of the Nazi invasion. His gut-wrenching portrayal is the traumatized soul of the movie.
Born into a communist family on July 9, 1933, Elem Klimov's parents constructed his first name as an acronym of Engels, Lenin, and Marx. In his 70 years, Elem Klimov made only five films: "Welcome, or No Trespassing" (1964), "The Adventures of a Dentist" (1965), "Agony" (1975) and "Farewell" (1981). The death of his much beloved filmmaker wife Larisa Shepitko in a car accident in 1979, eventually robbed Klimov of his artistic desire. Made in 1985, "Come and See" was Klimov's astounding final picture that would establish him as a filmic storyteller of untold narrative depth and intuitive sensitivity. The brave performances Klimov inspired in his actors in "Come and See" are in a class beyond any other.
For the film, Klimov fashioned a detailed visual vernacular of dialectic cinematic form. His unique, rigorous narrative format compresses the overwhelming heartbreak of Hitler's War as an earth-shattering visceral experience. We feel the war's many jolts, shocks, and horrors with a force that pries into our bones. By the film's end, we witness a young boy's spirit so terribly ravaged by the horrors of war that he resembles an old man nearing the end of his life.
When Klimov sat down to write the script with his collaborator Ales Adamovich, the ardently intellectual filmmaker crafted an acutely personal story about a peasant boy who goes to fight against Nazi troops occupying his native Belarus in 1943, after joining up with a ragtag army of partisan soldiers taking shelter in the middle of a wooded area.
Objectively, "Come and See" is Elem Klimov's brave attempt to cinematically compartmentalize and contextualize his own wartime experiences as a nine-year-old boy escaping the battle of Stalingrad in the company of his mother and baby brother by raft across the burning Volga river while the city collapsed to the ground behind them.
Klimov said of the indelible event, in relation to "Come and See," "Had I included everything I knew, and shown the whole truth, even I could not have watched it."
Klimov establishes the narrative's peculiar social parameters with an old man holding a horsewhip while calling for two boys guilty of incessantly "digging."
"Playing a game? Digging? Well, go on digging you little bastards," the old man shouts at the boys. Dig they do.
From the distance we witness what seems to be a short, stout military officer carrying a stick and frothing at the mouth with recriminations for the little old man that he approaches with measured steps. We realize that the apparent military officer is, in fact, one of the little boys — speaking in a raspy fake adult voice, playing his imaginary role as a menacing armed forces commander.
Exasperated, the old man who fathered at least one of the "bastards," gets on his horse and cart, telling his defiant son that if he won't listen to his father then he'll "listen to the cane." Klimov uses the vision of a young boy appearing as an old man to bookend the story as a manifestation of the war's aging effect on its survivors. No one will go unscathed. The once fresh-faced Florya will switch places with his young friend, whose fate falls to Nazi soldiers. Florya's young comrade deliberately chooses to comport himself as a veteran soldier.
Florya's smaller companion walks along the beach to find Florya laughing manically at nothing in particular while crouched down in the bushes. We are introduced to Florya as a child not in control of his behavior. There is already some madness present in his manic laughter. Florya is subordinate to his peer, who orders Florya to get back to work "digging." We, the audience, know already that everything is not right with the boys and their surroundings.
Klimov employs a powerful metaphor of the boys attempting to gain escape from the outside world by digging deeper into the earth. The oddly naturalistic scene exerts a primal human motivation at odds with the noisy warplanes that pass overhead.
Buried in the sand up to his shoulders, Florya struggles with both arms to pull something from under the sand — it appears as if an unseen monster is swallowing up the innocent boy, attempting to drag him to the depths of hell. After much struggle, Florya excitedly extracts a prized rifle that he believes will give him entree into joining a partisan troop of soldiers so that he can help battle Hitler's rampaging armies.
A German recon warplane flies overhead to the sound of German radio-broadcast propaganda. Klimov will reuse the same archive footage of the bomber plane many times over during the course of the film as a repeating motif of deadly menace from above. The authentic historical reference contributes to an unrelenting rhythm of sudden violence and brutal spatial dilemmas that come at asymmetrical angles throughout the film. We are submersed helplessly into Florya's dark journey with an all-consuming involuntary commitment.
The endemic breakdown of family and society is confirmed in the next scene where Florya's frantic mother pleas directly to Klimov's empathetic camera for her son to take the axe that she places in his hands. She begs her son to kill her and her twin daughters rather than abandon the family to certain death at the hands of the enemy. Better to die at the hands of a family member than to suffer torture and death from the Nazis. Florya's peasant mother is disconsolate as she beats him with a bundle of rope, refusing to allow him to leave. But Florya is immune to his mother's panic. He winks at his little sisters while he holds the axe, playing a secret game with them. He still has a fleeting sense of humor that he will soon lose forever. Klimov returns again and again to these formal fourth-wall breaking compositions that incite the viewer to question our own emotional and intellectual connection to the horrible struggle of empathetic characters we relate to more as family members than as mere victims of war.
Two protestant soldiers peer in through the family's window before entering the home to take Florya to join a nearby regiment of soldiers. It is the last time that we will feel any sense of home or normal life in the film. The soldiers' politeness turns abruptly to that of menacing authority figures taking Florya with them as a willing prisoner.
In the military camp, Florya meets a lovely but deranged teenaged girl named Glasha (disconcertingly played by Olga Mironova). It would be the only film role that Mironova would ever play. The wild-eyed stare of her steel-gray eyes makes Glasha as much of a potential monster as that of a would-be love interest for Florya to gravitate toward. Her sensuality and charisma is undeniable. That Glasha, dressed in a pretty green party dress, is carrying on an affair with the troop's boorish military chief only momentarily distracts from the extent of her mental instability. Inasmuch as we subjectively bestow sanity to the Partisan group's leader, Glasha is already a casualty of war. There is a contagious insanity in the air that infiltrates every character that Klimov introduces. Even nature seems to be in revolt.
The film's first act closes with a group photograph of the ragtag troop that provides a formal tableau of thick narrative subtext — witness a wounded soldier bandaged like a mummy and a black female cow with "Eat me before the Germans do," written in white on its side. Desperation is the coin of the day.
Upon their departure, the ragtag troop abandons the young boy that the military chief has quietly deemed unsuitable for the demands of battle. Florya's inconsolable anguish at being deserted by his surrogate family boils to a breaking point when he accidentally steps on a nest of eggs, killing the tiny birds in a glimpse of nature made horribly grotesque by his unavoidable human brutality. It's this violent and immediate style of detailed poetic storytelling that grips you and drags at your senses with an inescapable urgency of survival. Klimov's precise use of graphic symbolism will steadily increase to a fever pitch in the film's stunning postmodern climax where a backward moving collage collapses Hitler's Pandora's box of death and the war that determines Florya's survival.
The soldiers also abandon Glasha, whose sole purpose was sex. The two adolescent refugees cry into each other's eyes in a heartbreaking expression of raw emotion that Klimov captures with extended fourth-wall-breaking close-ups that intuitively editorialize on their fragile mental states. Florya recognizes Glasha's strange psychosis, but is unable to evade her spell. The pity that the soldiers take on the pair, by leaving them behind, backfires when a rash of falling German artillery shells permanently robs Florya of his hearing. The bombings are especially shocking for their violent realism that arrives suddenly with large swaths of forest ripped apart by earthquaking explosions accompanied by a high-pitched ringing that destroys Florya's hearing with tinnitus and wrecks his conscious mind.
Klimov utilizes Florya's sensory deprivation with a twisted soundscape that indoctrinates us into Florya's pain and panic via a claustrophobic sonic space that increases our sense of being badly wounded. The next morning, Florya and Glasha frolic in the rain in a brief reverie where they momentarily forget the impending danger that awaits them. Under the muted sounds of sped up radio music, Glasha does an impromptu Charleston-styled flapper dance atop Florya's rain-soaked suitcase.
There's a dreamlike quality to the couple's short-lived musical respite before an outlandish pelican-type bird conveys an unnerving omen of unexplained incidents to follow. Wild animal life will play an important part of the image system filigree that Klimov uses to regularly connect the story to its ecological foundation in the rugged landscape of war-torn Belarus.
Klimov is commanding in his willingness to create abstract visual motifs, as when Florya returns to his mother's house with Glasha as his partner. He peers at his reflection down in a well while looking for his family. We view Florya through the back end of an organic cinematic telescope through which he sees himself. His sense of personal recognition is all but lost. Florya doesn't see the mangled bloody bodies of his family and neighbors piled high against the backside of what was once his family's home. Glasha looks back and views the carnage as they walk away from the area but refrains from alerting Florya to the horror behind them for fear of his potential reaction.
Florya runs into a thick muddy swamp that he is compelled to cross, believing that his family is hiding on a small island that he must trudge through quicksand-like mud to get to. Glasha follows Florya into the mud. She holds onto the back of his coat as the young couple painfully make their way through the thick brown sludge. Klimov layers on subdued layers of musical textures and ambient sound to weave a theme of self-flagellation as assisted by Belarusia's uncontrolled topography that threatens to swallow up our protagonist and his mentally devastated female companion.
Glasha betrays Florya the first chance she gets when a Belarusian peasant helps her escape the mud. The traumatized Glasha loudly explains that Florya's family was killed, and that now he is deaf and out of his mind. Through his muted hearing, Florya hears Glasha's cruel words. He reacts with a pained cry that fully expresses a depth of agony that imprints the film with an indelible image of victimization. Moments later, Florya will be led by peasants to the badly burned body of his friend's father, who speaks his last words about how he begged the Germans that set him on fire to kill him. A crowd of desperate peasants chant under Klimov's soundscape of blowing wind. Florya sees a trench coat-dressed effigy of Hitler with a human skull head that the peasants put clay on to make more lifelike. A group cut off Florya's hair before burying it as part of a cleansing ritual that reinvents the traumatized Florya as a walking ghost.
In the film's unpredictable third act Florya becomes a roaming independent soldier with a knack for barely escaping Nazi attacks. Florya's participation in expediting the extermination of a cornered group of Nazis by handing a gasoline filled can to a Nazi collaborator, is as suggestive an act as it is a literal one, for the Belarusian peasants will open fire on the Nazis before the fuel is ignited. Florya gains an historic perspective of Hitler that knows only annihilation. His hatred and fury seeks to eradicate the world of Adolph Hitler and his armies with severe prejudice. With his brain and body irreversibly changed, Florya has become the only thing that he will ever be capable of being for the rest of his life, a horribly disfigured soldier.
"Come and See" won the Moscow Film Festival's Grand Prize in 1985. Afterward, Elem Klimov was elected as first secretary of the Soviet Filmmakers' Union. During his two years on the post, Klimov oversaw the release of more than a hundred previously banned Soviet films. Elem Klimov went on to struggle with the idea of creating a film version of Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita," and with making a film adaptation of Dostoevsky's "The Devils." However, in 2000, he gave up filmmaking because he felt that he had done "everything that was possible." The visionary Soviet filmmaker died on October 26, 2003 of cerebral hypoxia.
Elem Klimov left behind a war film that accomplishes everything possible in cinema, and in so doing reinvents it. It eclipses every other war film by such a wide margin that there is no reason or impetus to watch any other. Come and see.
I first saw "Come and See" at the 1998 San Francisco Film Festival on advice from a pal who informed me that it was Sean Penn's favorite film. I can certainly see why Sean Penn feels the way he does about this brilliant movie.
Criterion's stunning 2K digital restoration on Blu-ray gives "Come and See" the beauty that this remarkable 142 minute film deserves. The disc includes interviews and documentary films that shed further light on "Come and See." It is truly a must-own Blu-ray for cinephiles and movie lovers alike.
Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and get cool rewards! Thanks a lot pal!
Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.
This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.
I was once a huge fan of Roger Ebert, and harbored a world of respect for a man who was writing great film criticism before many of today's critics were in diapers. So I was not thrilled when Ebert called my capsule review of "Goodbye Solo" a "pathetic review" after an anonymous commenter on Ebert's site "Roger Ebert's Journal" took my review to task for "spoiling" the film's otherwise 100% rating on Rottentomatoes. Naturally, I took it on the chin at the time, but what the fuck?
I believe the word "anal" best describes this unknown commentator's obsession with the Rottentomatoes thermometer. Don't get me started on the whole "Toy Story 3" thing. Once again, Rottentomatoes serves as an expediter of groupthink.
A.O. Scott posing as a film critic.
My dissatisfaction with "Goodbye Solo" was piqued by the notoriously navel-gazing corporate film critic A.O. Scott (New York Times) whose praising review of the film mistakenly designated it as a "neo-neo-realist" film. What an amateur. I was disgusted. This is what passes for corporate film criticism. Vomiting all of the time now.
Regarding what constitutes a great neo-neo-realist film, I would invite interested viewers to watch Mike Leigh's triumph of the genre with his 1996 film "Secrets & Lies." I think you'll agree that it is a much better film than "Goodbye Solo" — which, by the way does not meet the criteria of the genre; it is a drama. You could also check out Kazakh filmmaker Sergei Dvortsevoy's "Tulpan," which I reference in my letter to Roger. "Tulpan" also blows "Goodbye Solo" out of the water. "Tulpan" has a 96% approval rating on RT, and "Goodbye Solo" is at 94%, for what it's worth.
That "Goodbye Solo" is a rip-off of Abbas Kiarostami's far superior film "Taste of Cherry" (1997) is a different matter all together. Where is Gene Siskel when you need him?
I posted a defense of my review on Ebert's site, and he was kind enough to reply, although kindness was not really on Ebert's list of priorities. My original capsule review of "Goodbye Solo" follows the transcript.
I share the exchange here.
By Anonymous on March 30, 2009 12:31 PM I can't believe it. Cole Smithy [sic], who brags he is "the most intelligent movie critic in the world," has just spoiled the perfect 100% rating of "Goodbye Solo" the TomatoMeter. All he writes is a short, shallow, idiotic dismissal. What an a$$hole.
Ebert: I went to look at it. What a pathetic review. A few generalities and some snarking at Tony Scott. One expects better from the most intelligent critic in the world.
You really want to pick a fight with me Roger?
By Cole Smithey on April 12, 2009 11:30 PM In all fairness Roger, regarding "generalities," I was very specific about what I see as a glaring flaw in the screenwriting of "Goodbye Solo," where the author is far too in love with his leading character's name. I'm sure you know that this was a pet peeve of Cassavetes, and I dare say that "Goodbye Solo" is not on a par with films like "Opening Night" or "A Woman Under the Influence" — both very tangible examples of "neo-neo-realist" films.
I credited Tony for mis-branding the film as "neo-neo-realist" movie because I overheard someone quoting his review and was surprised to discover that he really had written it. He should know better. I stand by my opinion that "the film ["Goodbye Solo"] represents a barely competent script made gripping by an inspired director and two equally talented actors. Ramin Bahrani is a promising filmmaker who needs to work much harder at crafting dialogue and complete stories."
It's a capsule review for crying-out-loud.
A film like "Tulpan" puts "Goodbye Solo" to shame. Let's give credit where credit is due.
Love the dialogue. Kindest regards, Cole Smithey
Ebert: Well, we disagree, but I thank you for elaborating. I know what it's like to swim upstream in a river of rotten tomatoes. Just consider my review of "Knowing."
-end of dialogue-
Consider that I don't do unpaid assignments.
Before this exchange occurred I'd met Roger in Cannes on several occasions over a period of years between 2003 and 2008. We once spent a half hour chatting in the lobby of the Olympia Cinema while waiting for a delayed screening to begin. I brought up having read his book "Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook" that includes his sketches.
Still, I never fawned over him the way I witnessed some critics doing (I won't name names).
Ebert and his wife sat behind me for a Cannes screening of "Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang." I sent Ebert a hang-in-there email when he had surgery.
So I was dismayed that this man whom I greatly respected, and had always treated respectfully, felt it necessary to punch down on a critic who was by no means a threat to him or his status. Punching down is so déclassé. I was insulted. Was he really that insecure? I could point to specific Ebert reviews that are primarily plot summaries with a few "generalities," but what would that prove?
Roger Ebert bought into his own hype, and expected to big dog every one around him, especially any film critic he perceived as a threat. How banal can you get?
Ebert was a millionaire, thanks to his stock investments in companies such as "Steak 'n Shake," Apple, and Google, and yet he wanted to start a public fight with me. It makes no sense. For a guy who gave speeches on empathy, Roger Ebert did not walk the walk that he publicly espoused.
I suppose the thing that strikes me the most about Ebert's awkward stance toward me is how easily distracted he was by my brand. It's as if he felt threatened, but by what? A brand? I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that Gene Siskel would not have had time for such nonsense.
During my brief time under the tutelage of the now defunct United Media, (the syndicate that handled Charles Schultz's "Peanuts") the company created the brand of "The Smartest Film Critic in the World" for me as a was a way of setting me apart from other critics at a time when having a brand was all the rage. It still is. It's funny how now it's a given that everyone must have a brand. At the time, it was a simple case of me following corporate orders. Imagine that.
I think Ebert's line, "One expects better from the most intelligent critic in the world," is fall-down-on-the-floor-funny because not only does he switch out the brand with what he imagines I'm going after (ostensibly a high IQ), but he takes the bait so earnestly. Ebert's ridiculous use of the (outdated) royal "one" to start off the sentence shows Ebert attempting to rise above the fray, before he takes the bait hook, line, and sinker. Chomp. Sucker.
Who's the clown sitting in front of the film critic?
I expected more from Roger Ebert, a lot more, considering we had met on several occasions and our conversations were always cordial. Talk about "pathetic," Roger Ebert acted like a child. I suppose going after one of his corporate colleagues was too much for Ebert to stand.
Or perhaps it was because "Goodbye Solo" was included in his film festival. C'est la vie.
Certainly, I could have replied to Ebert after his tepid olive branch, but I was done. Ebert had already shown his hand. I'd seen too much of his character, and been too insulted. I've never been in the ass-kissing business to begin with; I wasn't going to start now. Besides, Ebert's invitation to read one of his reviews was a heavy-handed ask. I thought it better to give the man the last word on the subject for a good long while.
Since his passing, his wife Chaz has co-opted his brand — as I'm sure he knew that she would. It doesn't make any sense to me that she would attempt to usurp his career but what do I know?
I understand that The Smartest Film Critic in the World brand gets under the skin of some insecure critics who imagine they could be the next Roger Ebert, as if such a thing were even in the realm of possibility.
Personally, I have no interest in such an endeavor. Roger got lucky with fame, but there are few things less satisfying than being recognized on the street by complete strangers.
There's still no such thing as a free lunch. Being a film critic is a grind; screen, write, edit, post, repeat. For me personally, it had been even more involved because I write, direct, and produce video essays and a podcast series. However, lately I'm spending a lot more time playing solo Bossa Nova guitar — the pay is better, and you get treated with significantly more respect as a professional musician than you do as a film critic — a word to the wise.
If Roger Ebert was on the up and up, he would have respected my voice. What a hypocrite. Talk about a guy who didn't practice what he preached, I present Roger Ebert.
I won't be buying any more books by Roger Ebert.
"Smart" means different things to different people. The word is integrated into the name of my trademarked company Smart New Media Inc. That was a happy accident for which I have my wonderful wife to thank.
As Iggy Pop once wrote (from the song "Take Care of Me" on his amazing album "New Values"), "It's an old, old story I suppose, a heavy price for a heavy pose."
I'm just a guy doing the best work I can do in my chosen field of study. Sure, I've got a brand. The whole purpose of brands is to ignite your imagination with something that sticks. Thanks United Media, and thanks Iggy.
My original film review for "Goodbye Solo" follows.
Co-Writer/director Ramin Bahrani ("Chop Shop") could learn some lessons from the late John Cassavetes who eschewed having his characters speak each other's names because it's not how people talk in real life.
In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Senegalese cab driver Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is an effusively optimistic family man training to become an airline attendant when he picks up a cantankerous and depressed 70-year-old passenger named William (Red West).
William contracts Solo for a thousand dollars to drive him one-way up to the mountainous Blowing Rock National Park in two weeks. William's suicidal plan is obvious, and the two-week timeline gives Solo plenty of time to befriend the old codger with an idea of changing the old man's mind before the fateful day arrives.
William and Solo's step-daughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo) speak his name with such a repetitive frequency that the all suspension of disbelief is smothered. Film critic A.O. Scott famously misnamed "Goodbye Solo" as a "Neo-neo-realist" film. Rather, the film represents a barely competent script made gripping by an inspired director and two equally talented actors.
Ramin Bahrani is a promising filmmaker who needs to work much harder at crafting dialogue and complete stories, and not believe the false praise being bestowed on him by the A.O. Scotts of the world.
(Roadside Attractions) Not Rated. 91 mins. (C)
Gene Siskel, the better half of the Siskel/Ebert duo.
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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.
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