Friday, December 16, 2011

Reindeer Games

I'll say it: I'm a pretty big fan of Frankenheimer's Reindeer Games, and I'd even go so far as to call it one of my favorite Christmas movies. It's not a great movie, not at all, but it's not trying to be, and in fact it's one of those odd cases where the glaring weaknesses and the stuff that really works seem inextricably bound, in the sense that the creative and logical potholes of Ehren Kruger's ludicrous script seem to at times quite literally be feeding the intense charisma and attention to expressive tone and form that Frankenheimer brings to the table throughout. He directs the hell out of the thing, giving the quieter moments a certain warm modesty that throws the explosions of over-the-top violence into stark contrast, creating a certain animated rhythm of oscillation that one wants to call bold if only for the sustained energy of its fitfulness (the longer, vastly superior director's cut is the one to see in this and every respect).

There's also the spirit of Tourneur lurking about at times, not just in the odd angles, and the similar spatial and compositional ideas at work (in particular a certain way of stacking faces and bodies in the frame that brings out the emotional dynamics of a given moment through a layering of postures and expressions) but also in the keen sensitivity to weather. Nightfall seems to be an obvious touchstone, and the plot of Frankenheimer's film even suggests an inverse of Tourneur's excellent snow blasted noir: Nightfall deals with a man who unwillingly falls into a web of treachery revolving around a large amount of stolen money, in which he is forced on the lam and into a new identity in order to extricate himself, while Reindeer Games follows a man who voluntarily claims a new identity, and because of it finds himself entangled in a scheme revolving around a large amount of stolen money in which he is compelled to act out a perpetuating cycle of destructive behavior as he sinks deeper and deeper into the muck.

Happy Holidays!

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