Friday, July 23, 2010

The Unseen #33: Pocket Money

(Seldom have I so wished the poster was actually an accurate representation of the movie.)

Why’d I Buy It?: Came in The Paul Newman Boxset I bought.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: A movie staring Paul Newman and Lee Marvin. With a script by the legendary by Sasquatch measure, Terrence Malick? I don’t know. Why haven’t I watched it?

How Was It?: Oh. That’s why I haven’t watched it.

There’s really no pussy footing around this one, Pocket Money is a fairly dreadful film. Now I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking it to. No movie starring Paul Newman and Lee Marvin can be completely devoid of entertainment value. And no movie involving Terrence Malick can be completely devoid of artistic value. And this is true, but they’re both able to get a lot closer to that vanishing point then I would have cared to guess.

Newman plays a dimwitted cowboy, conned into taking charge of a cattle drive down in Mexico, by Strother Martin, the man who Newman once had a failure to communicate with during much happier Rosenberg directed days. He enlists his partner Lee Marvin, to help him with said drive, and the rest of the movie is spent waiting patiently for something, anything to happen.

It might be philistine of me to say it, but Pocket Money is just an aggressively dull movie. The kind of dullness that arrives not merely from a lack of narrative events, or rooting interest, but kind that arises from lack of any sort of investment either onscreen or off.

Part of the problem is Newman had fantastic range, but one thing he never was dumb. His character is such a dim bulb, that he isn’t likable. And as he’s played by Newman he inspires no pity, the way a more convincingly idiotic leading man might have done (Say Victor McLaughlin in The Informer. Who did seem dumb enough to genuinely try to get away with something like that.). Try as he may Newman can’t extinguish the thought behind those blue eyes. Marvin on the other hand simply never commits to the role. I’ve never seen old Lee phone it in, in quite the same way before. Powerful waves of apathy radiate from the screen whenever he appears.

The film meanders around from one non event to the next. Failing to strike sparks with each new non incident. Everytime something fails to happen, the movie cuts to long shots of Newman and Marvin shot at magic hour with great billowing clouds in the background.

With Malick at the helm such imagery might have been poetic, with Rosenberg it is merely perfunctory. Now yes to a certain extent it is unfair to say a journeyman like Rosenberg was not Terrence Malick. A genuine transcendentalist like Malick breathes a very rarified air indeed. Indeed I, and most likely you, are not Terrence Malick either (should this in a series of very unlikely events prove false, it’s an honor sir). But while Malick makes films on the level of Bresson and Ozu, and arguably even surpasses them, Rosenberg, Cool Hand Luke notwithstanding rarely rose to above the level of competent.

This does lead to the interesting question of just how much of Malick’s ineffableness does Malick make effable in his scripts. For all the films tremendous flaws, there’s no doubt that it feels something like a Malick film. A botched malformed Malick film to be sure, but one none the less. For the true zealots of Malick, it must feel a little something like beholding an inverted cross.

Like I said, it’s an interesting question. And you had best enjoy it as it’s the only one the film deigns to raise.


Anonymous said...

Well, us stupid cow traders thought Newman and Marvin caught our life pretty d***ed good. Not all movies are made for couch riding city folks. Newman said it was one of his favorites. The cowboy Jim Kane went on to become the older Sully in Newman's 'Nobody's Fool'.....another movie about real 'boring' people trying to survive out there.

Anonymous said...

Completely disregard this hapless and wrongheaded review, which was like having a WWF fan critique an opera.

The writing is great, the acting is great and the situation is unlike anything you have ever seen or will see in any other film. It's an underappreciated classic. If you need rockem-sockem stuff, move right along. If you like cerebral and clever investigatis of facets of life you have never imagined, then strap yourself in.