Saturday, December 29, 2007

William Friedkin. "Bug" (2006).

It shouldn't come as any surprise that many film critics wrote off the directorial career of William Friedkin in the late 80's. Let's face it- the last movie he made that even attained a measure of cult status was To Live and Die in L.A (1985). This was a long time after he broke out as one among many significant American auteurs, with the undisputed future classics The Exorcist (1973) and The French Connection (1971). Cruising (1980, starring Al Pacino) and Sorcerer (1977, starring Roy Scheider) garnered some interest, but it was pretty clear that Friedkin's star was on the descent. I'm certain that there were a handful of later films that he would now prefer to forget altogether (like Rampage, The Guardian, and Blue Chips). But even if that's not the case, the American public was done with Friedkin long ago.

I imagine that when advanced notice of Bug came out, no one outside of a few friends and relatives of the cast really cared. That's why it is so shocking that Friedkin's latest feature was so distinctive, challenging and polarizing. Who knew that the late-career product of such a has-been would be so effective at generating controversy? Frankly I think a lot of the media and word-of-mouth traction Bug has received was the result of poor marketing. Most people who saw trailers for this film, and noted the cast (including Harry Connick, Jr and Ashley Judd) alongside the title, probably thought they were going to see a modern variation on the classic monster movie genre. That might have been a reasonable expectation, but it was far from the reality.

Bug is based on a successful stage play, and examines the lonely and sordid life of a mother (Judd) who is living in a cheap motel in the middle of nowhere (Oklahoma), after losing her only child. Her only friend RC (a lipstick lesbian, played by the very attractive Lynn Collins) introduces a very strange man into her life when she drops by for a few puffs of some unidentified white-powder-drug. The man (Michael Shannon, who performed the stage role for years) is a soft-spoken enigma, who seems to have gentlemanly manners and a disposition which is simultaneously off-putting and trustworthy. He hasn't had the company of a woman in a long time, but is drawn to something in Ashley Judd's sad little life. Judd has a bit of trouble brewing in the form of her recently released jailbird of an ex-husband (Connick), who she most authoritatively would like to see excised from her life.

So a budding romance begins between two seemingly desperate and pathetic people, and we are happy to see them get one single thing they want out of life. Still, given the disturbing title, we know this isn't a charming love story. It turns out that Shannon has brought something with him, and the questionable discovery of an aphid-like bedbug foreshadows the coming obsessions that will obstruct any potential domestic bliss. What do we actually know about this strange man, who we learn was a gulf war veteran? He's got plenty of exposition for his increasingly odd behavior, and Judd is in no position to get particularly choosy. Like the dream of a train derailment, we feel the force of ill tidings bearing down on the unlikely pair. Naturally things turn out badly, but I'm not going into the details, because that would ruin the fun.

What you should know is that Bug is not a campy popcorn flick (but I wouldn't discount its potential to rightfully assume its place in the "horror" pantheon). It is a serious portrayal of the obsessive paranoia and madness of our times. Friedkin has made such an odd little allegory of the zeitgeist that much of its meaning is going to be completely lost on the audience that ends up viewing it. Alternatively, a group of unconventional film connoisseurs is going to stumble upon it and extol its virtues, giving it an extended life on DVD. Years from now it may even be considered as a representative artifact of the era- much like the Exorcist is now. Regardless, I don't think Friedkin will ever have cause to regret making Bug. Its performances and compelling premise will captivate a select few for a long time.

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Anonymous Lob said...

You still have a copy of Bug sitting around? I might like to check it out.

“The Wire is dissent. It is perhaps the only storytelling on television that overtly suggests that our political and economic and social constructs are no longer viable, that our leadership has failed us relentlessly, and that no, we are not going to be all right. [It is about the] decline of the American empire. We’ve basically taken the idea of Greek tragedy and applied it to the modern city-state. What we were trying to do was take the notion of Greek tragedy, of fated and doomed people, and instead of these Olympian gods, indifferent, venal, selfish, hurling lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no reason—instead of those guys whipping it on Oedipus or Achilles, it’s the postmodern institutions . . . those are the indifferent gods.”

~ David Simon (creator of “The Wire”)

12:13 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

So... I'm guessing that you like "The Wire", eh?

5:14 PM  

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