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"Dogville"

Directed by Lars von Trier ("Breaking the Waves").
Written by Lars von Trier. 
Starring Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Chloë Sevigny and Patricia Clarkson. 
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  4/12/03 

Folks--

177 minutes long.

I knew, coming into the new Lars von Trier film "Dogville" that I was in for a lengthy epic, but beyond that, I hadn't really seen any previews or heard much about the film, besides the fact that it had been well-reviewed.  So, after getting a seat and sitting through the token trailers, the film just kind of starts...and, on the fade-in, the words

"Dogville"--A Story in Nine Chapters and a Prologue

appeared on screen.  Then, the Prologue starts, and we are taken from bird's-eye view of the tiny town of Dogville down to a stage where the city is laid out for us.  Now, here's what I didn't know about "Dogville", that you should know:  the film is essentially a play, so that stage you see in the first scene--imagine going to the Kennedy Center to see a show that has a stage four times the size of a normal stage--is the stage used for the ENTIRE movie.  What first seems like "gimmick" is actually "low production costs."

From there, we get to meet a 16-person main cast that includes a ton of familiar faces, representing the town of Dogville--somewhere in the mountains, set sometime in the early 1900s--and one fugitive:  Grace (Nicole Kidman), who is on the run from gangsters and finds refuge in the tiny town, where the gangsters are not very likely to look.  The town's delegation, led by Tom Edison (Paul Bettany), decides that in exchange for harboring a potentially dangerous fugitive, Grace should have to do a number of work tasks for the township, from helping the local apple picker (Stellen Skarsgård) to spending time with a blind man (Ben Gazzara) to helping out at a town store of an older woman (Lauren Bacall).  This is all well and good...until the cops start coming through Dogville, looking for Grace, and the town ups their demands of Grace until Grace just about can't take it any more.

Since there is essentially a blank stage used for the set of "Dogville" and no score, the performances of von Trier's actors are vital to your enjoyment of a film like this, and for at least the first six chapters of the movie I thought they were excellent.  Apparently, some--if not all--of these actors weren't even paid for working on "Dogville" (Bettany appeared on "Leno" recently and confirmed as much) but it doesn't show; Patricia Clarkson, Gazzara, Kidman and Jeremy Davies give particularly great energy to their parts.  Despite the incredibly small nature of the town of Dogville, von Trier constantly finds ways to reinvent the space to give us room to believe that there really can be quiet moments amongst an already-silent background.  To his credit, von Trier also found a way for Kidman to not annoy me throughout the movie; I am beginning to suffer from Kidman Overexposure, but in this ensemble, I was able to suffer happily with the plight of her fugitive character.

The film is just too long, though...chapters five, six and seven really start to drag into the ground, and whether it is intentional or not, "Dogville" begins to veer into surrealism before its ending; two characters, in particular, are drawn fairly realistically for the first two hours of the film and then they just swerve into the comic realm for our finale, and I just wasn't buying it.  You have to see the film to see what I mean, but behaviors of these two characters are logical for a while and then they're almost completely reimagined for the last hour or so...the two other peeps I saw this with were laughing during some of the dialogue delivery.

All of this was about to lead me to say "Matinee" on this flick, for sure.  Then, we get the ending.

Here's what I'll say about the ending:  either you are going to love it or you won't, and I loved it.  The ending alone raises this film a full two grades, because I just fucking loved it.  I loved the credits for "Dogville" as well; von Trier and his production team found about 200 pictures of the varying state of American trailer and street people from the course of the 20th century from the Library of Congress, and the way he mixes this harrowing footage with a comically-happy piece of music was inspired, to be sure.

Rating of "Dogville" before Chapter 9:  Matinee
Rating of "Dogville" as a whole:  Opening Weekend

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09