Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Fountain

This often delayed film has had a rough ride to theaters. It was originally conceived as a $75m epic starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, and was to feature a massive conquistador battle at the opening. When the project stalled in pre-production, Pitt and Blanchett moved on (and eventually starred on-screen together in Babel), leaving writer/director Darren Aronofsky in the dust. Aronofsky pretty much gave up on the film, instead turning his screenplay over to the folks at Dark Horse Comics, who in turn made it into a very successful graphic novel.

2 years go by and Aronofsky has trimmed the fat from his screenplay, refining it into what eventually became the theatrical version, and got the budget down to $35m. Now he only needed a cast. While attending a showing of the Broadway musical The Boy From Oz starring Hugh Jackman he found his new leading man. Impressed with his enthusiastic performance, Aronofsky asked Jackman backstage if he'd read his script and within a day he signed on to star. Rachel Weisz (who is now married to Aronofsky) fell into place right after that and filming got underway.
The end result is one of the most amazing movies I've ever seen

The advance screening reviews made this out to be nothing more than Aronofsky jacking off over some overly pretentious concepts. That can't be further from the truth. While the film is complicated, it's not so convoluted that it's impossible to figure out what's going on. Not every little detail about what it transpiring on screen is laid out to you via dialogue, but through images. If you have half a brain you'll be fine.

The story of married couple Tom and Izzy Creo (Jackman and Weisz) who are coping with the fact that Izzy has brain cancer and Tom is wasting the time he has left with her in a vain attempt to find a cure. We also get to see conquistador Tomas (Jackman again) trying to find the "Tree of Life", or the fountain of youth, for his Queen Isabel (Weisz again) 500 years in the past. On top of that we see Tommy (Jackman once again) 500 years into the future as a space traveller who is taking the "Tree of Life" toward a cluster of stars known to the Mayans as Xibalba. All these stories tie together in the end to create one incredible viewing experience.
Firstly, the visuals are breathtaking. Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique made damned sure that what wasn't said by the characters shows up on screen in one form or another, and it's a masterful job by both. There are shots that are recreated in each time frame that look so damned cool it's hard not to keep your jaw from dropping. The backgrounds during the future segments aren't some overdone CGI creations. In order to keep costs down they were made using microphotography video of chemical reactions. It's hard to tell that's what you're looking at, but its friggin' sweet. In general the cinematography is stunningly beautiful, whether it's a sweeping tundra in the present or an extreme close-up of the lovely Rachel Weisz's face in the past. Masterful work.

The story plays out in non-linear fashion, and as I've said before, if you have half a brain you'll figure out what's going on halfway through the movie. It's not like Aronofsky is trying to stump you or anything, it's all there for you to take in, its up to the viewer to realize what he's trying to tell you about life and death. I had no trouble figuring out what was being laid out in front of me and if the movie was trying to have some sort of Shyamalan twist in it I doubt I'd have enjoyed it as much as I did.

The acting across the board is phenomenal. You've never seen Jackman play a character like this (he's the polar opposite of Wolverine) and he excels not only as Tom, but as Tomas and Tommy as well. Each one is basically the same person, only different sides of him. The same goes for Weisz (if you ever get divorced CALL ME!), who plays three different versions of herself, but not in the extremes that Tom is portrayed. The supporting cast of Ellen Burstyn, Ethan Suplee, Sean Patrick Thomas and Donna Murphy all turn in great work, regardless of screen time.
The score... where to begin. I've never been much into somber film scores (I mainly like bombastic action scores), but this is a definite exception. Clint Mansell (frontman of Pop Will Eat Itself, as well as the composer for Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Doom and Sahara) has composed his best work EVER. I'm buying the soundtrack the next chance I get.

All in all, this is my favorite movie of the year (just ahead of The Departed and Apocalypto); it's thought provoking, emotionally moving and a brilliant piece of filmmaking. You owe it to yourself to check it out before it disappears from theaters.

5 out of 5

*written 11/24/06

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