TV Review: Golden Globes 2020 (NBC)

The Golden Globes are an awards ceremony which are essentially and primarily a broadcast to promote Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) influence in Hollywood and to make money for HFPA and its designated broadcaster through advertising revenue. In other words, it’s meaningless except as a tool for promotionalism, offering no real value except as advertising for the industry of mass entertainment.

This isn’t saying much, especially now. I watched the awards broadcast this year for one reason: comedian Ricky Gervais. He hosted the show. This far left environmentalist is a passionate spokesman for his pet causes, such as his crusades against hunting, animal cruelty and for various laws aimed at controlling man’s life. But he’s also a biting satirist.

Gervais did not disappoint. The comedian launched into a scathing monologue against Hollywood, pointing out that the raging, pigtailed anti-child touted as a mascot for environmentalism is deprived of knowledge and explicitly naming Hollywood’s — and Silicon Valley’s — hypocrisy.

As Apple boss Tim Cook, a decent man who defied the Obama administration on principle and won, sat stoned-faced, Gervais skewered Apple and other technology companies for breaching while claiming superior business ethics. Above all, he was irreverent without being malicious. His humor was hilarious. I laughed out loud.

Why? Humor, like music, is complicated. One’s responses to humor are, I think, the byproduct of what lies deep inside one’s innermost premises, thoughts and psychology. That said, in this case, I think I laughed — and, apparently, so did many other Americans — because Hollywood deserves the criticism. That it was done with conscious, self-aware, self-mocking vulgarity unmasks the hubris of California’s preachy, leftist technology and entertainment celebrities.

There were finer moments, including for the celebrities, most of whom laughed at the host’s jokes. They did laugh at themselves, though some of them didn’t appear to know whether this was appropriate, an unfortunate sign of suppressive or repressive times.

The best performing artists elegantly or smartly exercised the right to free speech. Stellan Skarsgård, who won an award for his outstanding performance in HBO’s Chernobyl, joked at his own expense in appreciation of a crew member’s ability. Comedienne Kate McKinnon came out as gay in a humorous display of appreciation for comedienne and TV hostess Ellen DeGeneres, a lesbian who, in turn, expressed admiration for comedienne Carol Burnett, namesake for the award DeGeneres won.

DeGeneres appeared in a montage in which she was shown telling a post-9/11 audience: “What would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews”. The comedy succeeds in that clip because, as delivered, hers is a statement, not a question. This goes to what’s good about DeGeneres; her sense of irony.

DeGeneres was shown in various clips dancing through her life, which with her irony taps the essence of her appeal. It was fitting that she won the Carol Burnett Award — Carol Burnett sat with DeGeneres, demonstrating her grace and elegance as always — and she’s a testament to the power of mass media, especially television.

“Live your life with integrity,” DeGeneres told an audience of graduates in a clip, before sending up Hollywood pretentiousness herself in a humorous acceptance speech.

Integrity defines the night’s winner for lifetime achievement. Tom Hanks (SullyPhiladelphiaThe PostA Beautiful Day in the NeighborhoodBridge of Spies) displayed honesty during an emotional acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille award. This was the best moment of the Golden Globes, which aired on NBC. I say this because Mr. Hanks, an impeccable actor of ability, took the opportunity to share his thoughts and insights on his own ability. This alone is a remarkable departure from the usual pandering, bootlicking, sniveling, smearing and ranting that emanates from Hollywood awards podiums.

An old white male — at a time when the old white male is under siege in Hollywood — had the audacity to reject the status quo and imply that today’s industry needs to do better, to be better, to strive to be the best. Hanks made a strong rejection of the Me, Too movement’s proposed codification of egalitarianism, the basis for feminism, multiculturalism and other offshoots of tribalism. He emphasized instead the singular pleasure of doing one’s work, of doing it right, of doing it on deadline (and, by implication, on budget) and of doing it for one’s own sake.

Tom Hanks made this radical breach of altruism and collectivism after a woman of ability, Charlize Theron, thanked the old white male. Theron thanked Mr. Hanks for choosing to be supportive, subtle, decent, kind and deft in hiring her for his movie (That Thing You Do!, innocuous and enjoyable fluff chiefly of value for its Americanism) early in her career.

Showing genuine emotion for his wife, children and family, following an exemplary reel of moments from his greatest performances, Tom Hanks accepted his winning the award for, as he put it, “showing up on time”, which he rightly called liberating — he told Hollywood that “you [should] do it for yourself” — and for his lifetime of achievement.

This, not momentary hilarity of satire by Ricky Gervais, who distinctly, notably, wisely and, to his credit, did not mock or joke after Tom Hanks spoke, displayed man at his best.

Other artists also shined. Quentin Tarantino, winning an award for his overrated Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, plainly declared “I did it” rather than parrot the status quo of an artist acting as if he exists at the mercy of the lives of others. Tarantino also acknowledged writer Robert Bolt, who wrote A Man for All Seasons, providing the evening’s most intellectual moment of justice. Laura Dern (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), unfortunately beating Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell) for an acting acknowledgment which Bates deserves, acknowledged the importance of the story — as against merely pictures and effects — to the movie for which she won, The Marriage Story.

Best Picture clips were ads, not scenes, and the Best Song award presentation— an actor singing to promote his upcoming appearance in a musical was granted more musical performance time than the nominated songs, which mostly went unheard — was awful. Even director Sam Mendes was shocked that he won an award for his movie, 1917, which does not qualify for serious consideration of a great, let alone best, movie. Michelle Williams, a talented actress, accepted an award with what amounts to an attack on the virtue of selfishness pushing more of the same collectivism. Unfortunately, she did this under the guise that she was defending rights, i.e., woman’s right to an abortion, which needs (and does not receive) a proper defense.

For his satire, Ricky Gervais is the host of the moment. But the best part of the Golden Globes, heralding egoism, implied if not made explicit by Tom Hanks, came from Elton John, accepting an award for the first time with Bernie Taupin for a song they co-wrote. Elton’s exuberance, enthusiasm and title and meaning of his memoir, Me, and his movie (2019’s best), Rocketman show that art exalts life. Elton spoke, appeared and expressed himself with a style of his own. True to themes of his movie, book and life, he did so for his own sake, neither excoriating nor appeasing, placating or seeking for the approval of others.

That Elton John was acknowledged and recognized for his ability, and that he welcomed the recognition without pleading for altruism or collectivism, happy to bask in his own glory — this, not satire as such — is the mark of progress. This, man’s pride in his own ability, is what is worth celebrating. This is what we ought to strive to regard as golden and make universal.

 

Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Cotton Club’ Showcases the Jazz Age

Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) revised his 1984 motion picture, The Cotton Club, for its 35th anniversary. The result, which I am unable to compare to the original, because I never saw it in either theatrical or home video release, is spectacular.

This doesn’t mean that The Cotton Club (encore edition) is perfect. It isn’t. But The Cotton Club (encore edition) is gorgeous. Song and dance scenes offer rare and exquisite entertainment. Besides Taylor Hackford’s anti-Communist thriller, White Nights, I can’t think of another movie in the past 50 years with tap dancing as integral to a coherent story.

To borrow the film’s slightly sordid Harlem style, every major character in this gangster-themed musical either wants a piece of ass or a piece of the action. This is Mr. Coppola’s first movie, which was made and financed by very contentious principals, such as the late Robert Evans, and micro-studios, such as the defunct Orion Pictures, after his self-financed 1982 musical debacle, One from the Heart.

The Cotton Club centers on Harlem’s famed nightclub of the same name, which, in reality, if not here, featured exclusively Negro artists singing and dancing for exclusively white audiences. The plot encompasses the period from the Twenties Prohibition era, when black market alcohol sales flourished for better and for worse, arguably for worse, through the Depression. With three main actors, Gregory Hines (White Nights), Diane Lane (A Little Romance) and Richard Gere (An Officer and a Gentleman), the story unfolds at upper Manhattan’s swank jazz club.

The Cotton Club’s reputation for being a disjointed hybrid of jazz extravaganza and mob movie is undeserved, judging by Francis Ford Coppola’s restoration. The truth is that it’s a relatively seamless stitching of twin tales of two sets of brothers — one white brethren, one black brethren — with emphasis on two of the men’s love for two different women. The central men (Hines and Gere), whose loves and endeavors climax at the club, are artists; one tap dances, one plays an instrument.

That’s the gist of The Cotton Club. Much of it is earnest. Most of it is well done. Parts are not. The remainder is split between upper mediocre and lower mediocre. The latter includes Lane’s flat performance.

Mr. Coppola, whose movies valiantly attempt to portray epic stories, really puts on a show. Whatever this movie’s history, which I deliberately averted knowing about in advance for the purpose of writing this review, The Cotton Club is a labor of love for American jazz, tap dancing and Harlem subculture and show business. Like his peers, fellow blockbusting directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese, he tends to lay on too much movie for its own good.

The Cotton Club (encore edition) is another example. Besides corrupt police, gang wars, Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne as gangsters who are also best friends, Lane as a vacuous mob groupie and Gere as the smooth and hard cornet player drafted as a mob lackey who pursues her, there’s more. Plot points include a bombing, grisly murder — as blood drips from a chandelier — man slapping woman during a dance, confessions of a gigolo and racism at the Cotton Club.

All of this happens to music by Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, among others. By the time someone tags “Jazz” as an explanation of wild ways, it adds up, despite wooden lines and acting.

This is thanks to Francis Coppola’s commitment to depicting jazz as an appealing, if subversive, cultural achievement. With painted eyelids, shadowed faces during lovemaking in the rain and magnetic tap dancing — including scenes with a Nicholas brothers-like duo and an old preacher breaking into routine — The Cotton Club’s production values elevate the spectacle. If the plot lacks, and it does, the show dazzles.

The tap dancing Negro, portrayed with zest and eminence by the late Gregory Hines, falls in love with an interracial torch singer (Lonette McKee) who’s “passing” as white. If you can imagine the indelible “Stormy Weather” as deft punctuation, you get a sense of the dual plot lines and love at stake. Mr. Coppola’s apparently restored the film to a movie in which black characters get their due.

The Cotton Club packs action without piling on: imaginative numbers, an erotic dance and early turns by Lawrence Fishburne (Boyz N the Hood) as a rising and realistic black thug named Bumpy Rhodes, Jackee Harry (227) as a sassy songstress, Jennifer Grey and Nicolas Cage as impetuous newlyweds, a portrayal of Cab Calloway singing “Minnie the Moocher”, a kiss between curtains and the sudden firing of a handgun.

With Woody Strode (Sergeant Rutledge) as a doorman, an antebellum-era decorative motif, Hines tap dancing in crisp white tails in a lone spotlight, Gere strolling under a mob movie poster and a sensational  Grand Central Station fantasy, featuring Gwen Verdon tap dancing with a Negro child, The Cotton Club (encore edition) converges at the 20th Century Limited in an absorbing final assimilation of all previous rhythm, mayhem, shenanigans, toe-tapping and revelry.

Capped by classic Hollywood transitional titles and an Andy Warhol darling as the semi-glorified thug Lucky Luciano, with John Barry (Born Free) as composer, Henry LeTang, who also dances, as tap choreographer and James Remar as the monstrous villain, The Cotton Club’s excesses ultimately align with Francis Ford Coppola’s bloodstained romanticism to pull off a uniquely American show of jazz.

Movie Review: 1917

At the beginning of 1917, the World War One movie by writer and director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), one British soldier is covered. One is not. This type of visual sets up 1917′s many stylized pictures that signal plot points to come. Most of 1917 is similarly structured, relatively predictable and visually, not conceptually, driven.

Indeed, there’s no historical context. The audience barely learns that the Germans are at war with the British, let alone that what was called the Great War irrevocably altered history, including the arts, as Ayn Rand observed in The Romantic Manifesto (1969). It is somehow fitting that this sensory-oriented, perpetually-driven film, co-written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, only strives to immerse the audience in a selective depiction of war.

It’s a whole, not halfway, immersion. The British soldier characters played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman accept an assignment to save 1,600 Brits from enemy entrapment starting with a charge down the Western front’s winding trenches. The best line in the thrilling 1917, “we should think about this”, is the movie’s only effort to make the audience think about war; the rest of 1917 is more of a horror movie than an epic war movie.

Perhaps this is as it should be, though even the most horrifying great war films, such as Sergeant York (1941) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), both of which 1917 draws heavily from, go to tremendous efforts to dramatize and contextualize in detail war and the men who fought it. With Thomas Newman’s (Thank You for Your Service, Little Children, Bridge of Spies) electronic musical score, cinematography by Roger Deakins (The Goldfinch, 1984, Blade Runner 2049) and silhouettes, light and scenes of men running, Mendes fills 1917 with multitudes of arresting sounds and pictures to hold interest.

The cast, too, including Richard Madden (Rocketman), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Mark Strong (Robin Hood) and Benedict Cumberbatch (War Horse), deliver fine performances, particularly MacKay in the lead as the knowing soldier in search of an elusive and faraway band of British soldiers.

Yet the upshot is that 1917 lacks emotional, if not visceral, power. Surely, there are symbolic moments, such as a running soldier against the charge of his comrades, desperately trying to halt the push in an impossible task. This is the perfect metaphor for the Great War, which one of America’s worst presidents, Woodrow Wilson, championed, sending countless Americans to be sacrificed.

That the audience never learns the cause of war, this war’s or any war’s, and sees only some of the carefully selected effects for the sake of horror, goes to 1917′s anti-war message. Such a message may emerge in any honest war movie. In 1917, a historic year for at least a few major reasons, gripping human peril, spectacular images and ominous music mask what at root is a cliched and oddly hollow message that war is bad.

 

Movie Review: Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker

Disney, Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, writers and director J.J. Abrams dig Star Wars a sad and humble grave.

Starting with a bad title, ending with a causeless conclusion and leaving filler that climaxes too soon and accomplishes nothing of substance, the ninth episode of the saga drags, mugs, hams, flashes and limps to the end. What began as a fresh shot of idealism in the middle of a mythical movie series envisioned by George Lucas putters to an incoherently uninteresting ending with The Rise of Skywalker.

Abrams directs and Kennedy guides as Disney funds this mashup of mysticism and mainstreamed “social justice” pap. The problem’s not that Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a female protagonist with superpowers. The problem’s not even that the character is badly conceived, written and played, though, unfortunately, she is awful in every sense. The film’s flaw is fundamental; it exists to repeat an experience, not to dramatize a story, let alone a good story, let alone make the audience feel good and entertained, let alone provoke thought.

Diehards invested in 42 years of merchandising, including toys, discs and related memories, may be inclined to reject this view. I suspect, however, that they’ll be as fatigued as the boy who sat behind me. He started before the opening credits as a happy child and ended up drifting away in his father’s lap, bored, confused and, as far as I could tell, desperate to go home.

Rise of Skywalker blabs, flaps and flops.

Billy Dee Williams, an outstanding actor, reprising his role as a cad, best sums up the spirit of the final Star Wars movie of the central Lucas series; he can hardly work up an interest and looks like he’d rather be anywhere else than this galaxy far, far away. Surprises, plot points and effects aside, the acting is almost universally flat, bad and sleep-inducing with the lines to match. Only Adam Driver, again as the villainous son of Leia Organa and Han Solo, stands out in every appearance. The less said about the late Carrie Fisher, as in The Last Jedi, reanimated, inserted and manipulated here in the same role she originated in 1977, the better. Her character, too, is backdated to become a Jedi knight she never was.

Ridley as Rey is pained, again, shifting looks between angry and hard or between light and caught by some magical, inexplicable feeling. The series’ religious Force, made more explicit and repetitious this time, dominates her character, engulfing Finn (John Boyega), who instructs someone that causeless “feelings” are paramount.

It is important that the audience understand that nothing is at stake in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Rey may be in the middle of a battle, or a duel, or a mission with Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn, and, suddenly, she may wander, usually looking angry, intent or puzzled. Rey may stand in the middle of an open space, furrowing her brow and staring into a void. Or she may go off on her own into a storm, you never know and you never know why. This happens over and over.

This is the theme of what’s become of the George Lucas Star Wars; that one must go by “feelings”, not facts. That one must act on whim, never go by reason, and that good may or may not result but, in any case, the individual must subordinate the ego and rationality to faith, religion and whatever capricious “destiny” results. Time and again, each major character, even ghosts (Rise of Skywalker is loaded with ghosts), submits to the void.

For example, Poe, the closest to a voice of reason in the final trilogy, who was emasculated last time after a decent start in The Force Awakens, rises briefly in stature to regain his efficacious ability only to be reduced, really wiped, in the climactic battle. It’s not enough that he’s dead wrong (is this character right about anything?); Poe has to be deflated in being dead wrong and literally give up and renounce his earlier self-confidence. Only then is he “redeemed” by the universe or whatever’s believed to be outside of one’s self, like an Obama or McCain speech badly dramatized.

The Disney/Lucasfilm/Kathleen Kennedy left’s religion of irrationalism, i.e., feminism, multiculturalism, etc., trumps all with appallingly condescending plot points. Female minimizes male. Blacks pair with (and are saved by) blacks. Gays are gay only for an instant and only if they’re … female, of course. Females are omnipotent. Males are not; men are dolts. Humor almost always comes at the male’s expense.

I kept waiting for Yoda to have a cameo and announce that he’s transitioning. One major series character, who was once a candidate for the series’ hero, dismisses his entire life in two seconds with a line that he was wrong about nearly everything. Another male character, Finn, admits his incompetence at an important plot point; when asked what to do next during a military operation, he admits: “I have no idea [so] follow me.” This is intended as humor, though the boy behind me wasn’t laughing, and soon the child put several questions to his father, who told him to hush.

Finn’s line is telling. It shows that Star Wars inversion from 1977’s can-do Americanism to blank Nineties reboot and post-9/11 tribalism is complete. It falls to Finn, the flattest, blankest character, a former stormtrooper who the audience was once led to believe fell in love with the heroine, to pronounce the 42-year-old series’ edict, which looms over and dominates our culture: “[go by] instinct, feeling, the Force … I don’t know how [to think].”

Finn’s profession of ignorance stems from his fixation on cipher Rey, the ultimate whim-worshipper and magical mystic whose causeless actions invariably lead to mass death and destruction. I wish I could say as I have in previous series reviews that all of this is mitigated by enjoyable moments and effects. But almost everything is bad. Star destroyers appear in such volume as to be distracting and preposterous, even for a preachy, mystical soap opera disguised as a gussied up fantasy in outer space. Wildly undulating storm waves the size of a county go calm in an instant for no reason.

Frankly, the most entertaining moments involve the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), whose scenes and lines are pure cheese and crackers. They drip with melodrama to the point, with logic and reason the province here of the villains, that I was almost rooting for him and his Easter Island-like carvings, faceless band of Sith Lords and legions of assembled, cloaked believers.

It’s as if this section of Rise of Skywalker is a tribute to those B movies in which you find out that the whole town’s populated by worshippers of the devil, who then encircle and seek to sacrifice a screaming virgin until the handsome, dashing hero comes in to save her.

Today’s anti-sex “social justice” activists and makers of movies by commandment need not fear being “triggered”, however. This movie like its recent predecessors is celibate and sexless. Handsome, dashing heroes are, like Song of the South, smoking, sex, guns and egoism and other imagined Disney movie outrages and injustices, purged from Star Wars.

Rise of Skywalker (like Marvel’s movies) does not entertain. Apparently, it fails to entertain the boy behind me who, in two hours, went from happy anticipation to sad disappointment.

 

Movie Review: Never Let Me Go (1953)

Having enjoyed movies, but, really, most stories in any format, about escaping Communism, I recently discovered Never Let Me Go (1953) co-starring Gene Tierney (Leave Her to Heaven) and Clark Gable (Gone With the Wind). It’s good. I recommend it as crisp, taut entertainment.

Do not expect philosophical depth on the level of We the Living or The Lives of Others. It’s not that caliber of anti-Communist filmmaking. But, especially for the Fifties, when Hollywood’s disgusting affinity for Communism, in particular Soviet Communism during its bloodiest era, reached its zenith and was all the rage, Never Let Me Go takes a strong position against Soviet Russia with two major movie stars. This alone merits awareness and remembrance. With renewed relevance due to Communist China’s unceasing influence on, and what amounts to extortion of, the American press and technology and gaming industries, it is both pointed and fierce.

Buy the DVD

Gable stars as an American reporter who’s savvy about Soviet Russia, having covered the U.S. ally during World War Two. But, being an American, he’s uniquely naive, as Ayn Rand explained during her historic 1947 congressional testimony, about the fact, scale and depth of pure evil of the Soviet dictatorship’s impact on daily life; he can’t fully conceive it and this shows in his narrative and initial actions in post-war Moscow.

He learns. This is not made explicit but it’s undeniably implied and embedded in what he chooses to do after falling in love with a ballerina (Tierney with a Russian accent). He’s been in love with her from the audience of the ballet for two years. Early on in Never Let Me Go, they meet once backstage after her encounter with his British press colleague, who is more compliant with Soviet censorship. Her name is Maria. He is shocked that she confesses that she’s spotted him in the crowd and has fantasized about him, too.

This is late career Clark Gable but he’s still Clark Gable and his gallantry, strength and fire still light up the room. Tierney, too, a beautiful actress of ability, shines here as the Russian ballerina, conveying the loss, pain and superior firsthand knowledge of Stalin’s barbarism and dancing in the climactic Swan Lake which precedes an elaborate, tense and daring attempt at defection when the Communist regime moves to strike the couple down.

Thirty-two years before director Taylor Hackford put Mikhail Baryshnikov as a ballet dancer who conceives of a brilliant defection to escape Soviet Russia in White Nights, director Delmer Daves (Destination Tokyo, Dark Passage, Spencer’s Mountain) featured one of the screen’s greatest movie stars as an American journalist who creates for the woman he adores a way to escape the 20th century’s worst dictatorship. Never Let Me Go, involving forged, earned alliances of shared values, mastery of the sea, swimming in the cold, dark water, a horrifying car chase, luck and a stunning surprise at the ballet, holds true to the end.

 

Movie Review: A Hidden Life

At two hours and 45 minutes, A Hidden Life ought to have been an unforgettable epic given its topic, one man’s refusal to sanction Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, instead, writer and director Terrence Malick’s movie suffers from too many problems. Like Malick’s overly romanticized 1978 farm drama, Days of Heaven, the distinctly cinematic director takes an approach that compartmentalizes the leading couple to the point of detachment. They’re neither sufficiently detailed and realistic to be plausible on the film’s terms nor romantic enough to be as noble as Malick apparently intends.

It takes a while to realize that A Hidden Life isn’t as profound as Malick evidently must’ve thought it could, should or would be. My first clue was the audio introduction, which precedes the opening pictures. The sounds of wind, insects and nature envelop the audience. This takes the audience into the setting, which is Austria’s mountain valley farms in 1939. A narrator comes next, speaking in the past tense beginning with an admission of error as black and white footage of the National Socialist acceptance and spread over Germany sweeps over the screen very effectively, demonstrating more or less that the whole of Germany knowingly and enthusiastically accepted the Nazi philosophy.

To anyone who’s seen the trailer or knows history, the quaint Austrian farming village and its young romantic couple (August Diehl and Valerie Pachner) clearly haven’t much of a chance. As in Days of Heaven, Malick lets the couple frolic in the fields, which is mostly what they do and for a long, long time. They’re soon married, with a few kids appearing at an early point, always with the Nazi threat looming but never in clear and explicit terms. By the time husband Franz (Diehl) is called upon to enlist in the Army and swear an oath to the Nazi dictator, which he declines to do, neither he nor anyone in town has really mentioned, let alone discussed, the Nazis; men are off to train, fight and defend Nazis. Women, children and old men are left alone to toil in the fields.

Those left behind still laugh, play, raise pigs and, amid neatly interspersed pictures of Nazis, life goes on. Only Franz objects to the takeover of Austria by dictatorship. That he does so without much of a reason is treated as unexceptional. His opposition is never really named and identified. It’s just something he does that’s regarded by villagers as unusual, then as unpatriotic and by loved ones as unusual, then inconvenient. The Nazi invasion comes without much impact other than the men being drafted and conscripted into military service. Jews never merit mention in A Hidden Life, remarkably. Every aspect of Nazi Austria just sort of happens without much rancor, notice or fuss.

Perhaps this is Malick’s point. But the lack of any exposition of the origin or progression of Franz’s convictions certainly makes more glaring that the leading man never articulates his opposition, which forms the basis for the entire film. The vacuum gets filled, slowly but surely, with faith and religion.

A Hidden Life depicts Austria as lovely and enchanting, with its fields, hills and simple people as God’s country and people, contaminated by the Nazi invaders through very little fault of their own. When Franz asks his “dear wife … what’s happened to our country?” I couldn’t help wondering why it took him so long to ask himself the same question. I also wondered why he and his wife never ask in the present, not the past, tense. That one so resolute in refusal does not ask “what’s happening?” before asking “what’s happened?” strikes me as impossible or unlikely.

As Franz pays the price for a refusal to submit, asking his God-fearing wife to “pray for me” when he’s jailed as she takes comfort in the land’s “wind, wheat and sky”, Nazis try to reason with him to cease his stubborn refusal to renounce his opposition. One of his jailers promises him that he can go free.

“But I am free,” he replies in what could’ve been A Hidden Life’s best line. Malick expects the audience to intrinsically grasp why. Franz’s refusal is less a principled stand than the refusal to put faith in the state above his faith in God, though even this is portrayed as too abstract. Heaven’s light shines upon him, while his long-suffering wife, working the farm and raising her kids with her sister and mother-in-law and being shunned by pro-Nazi villagers, surrounds herself with crucifixes, church attendance, a priest, prayer and pictures of Jesus Christ. For their part, the children are seen and not heard, playing and smiling as if largely and blissfully ignorant of their poverty, deprivation and absent father.

Compounding these problems are the languages of A Hidden Life, which switch from foreign to English in key scenes and transitions. Like its enticing advertisement, and most of the movies Malick makes, A Hidden Life looks like it contains great filmmaking, holding the promise of deliverance and adding up to a momentous epic. Yet, while it thankfully doesn’t sugarcoat the true life based consequences of opposing Nazis, it is too satisfied to take itself on faith.