evilbjork’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is one of the most challenging film viewing experiences I've had in some time. It is one of the toughest cases of separating the art from the artist from any film I can recall. This is easily what I would consider to be one of the most beautiful movies of all time, maybe in my personal top five. Although the distaste I have for the director and his overall horrible actions during the filming of the movie makes it very hard for me to say that I like this.
Vincent Gallo has been a controversial artist basically since he's been famous. He's known for insulting nearly every actor he's ever worked with, pressuring his then girlfriend to have unsimulated sex with him for his film Brown Bunney, and trying to his sperm for a million dollars. He is quite the character and mostly in a negative way. This film in particular feels like almost a personal diary for him. It feels very personal in every way imaginable, both good and bad. It's very hard to watch this and not see it his character as a self-insert. There are moments where viewing it through that lens can be kind of touching like when he is expressing his personal emotions but overall it just makes me dislike his character even more. When he's shouting homophobic slurs and beating and kidnapping women it feels pretty uncomfortable. I know main characters don't have to be good people but the problem I have with this film is that the movie seems to have no interest in presenting his actions in a negative light. Everything bad he does seems to come and go without any consequence and any lesson he learns is only the most shallow and self-centered ones. Overall any sort of message this film says through his character is dumb at best and dangerous at worse.
The movie is about a man who is released from prison after 5 years and is on a mission to kill the man who caused him to go to jail. Although that's the main crux of the story, much of the film is taken up of Gallo kidnapping Christina Ricci's character and bringing him home to his mother to try to make him look good. This movie screams mommy issues, from the scenes of his mother ignoring him to the scene where he literally gets into a fetal position while Christina Ricci cradles him. Again, this all feels like watching Vincent Gallo's personal diary on screen.
It's a film about revenge and how the past haunts us. The literal object of the main character's torment is his wrongful prison sentence and the man who he believes put him there, but as the film goes on it becomes more clear that his real torment is his childhood and his emotional detachment to his mother and father. Although I think it could have been handled better I do appreciate movies that focus on family emotions in that way and there aren't many movies that explore male emotions in such a vulnerable manner.
I have such a strong distaste for Gallo as the main character, but the film looks so incredible that I can't not love it. It's shot in a completely unique way and everything about the visuals looks stunning. The film was shot on reverse film stock which gives it a kind of vintage nostalgic look that makes all the colors pop wonderfully and gives the whole movie a kind of hazy look. It looks completely unlike anything else and I could easily see myself rewatching this with the sound off and still being enamored with every shot. I also particularly loved the cinematography. There are shots where characters are positioned in the corner of the frame or half in and half out of the shot. It's odd but works perfectly. The aspect ratio changes from scene to scene even mimicking the framing of photo booth pictures during one scene. Every scene looks astonishing and shines with originality and innovation. Also, I couldn't talk about this movie without mentioning how this has one of the most unexpected endings of any movie which alone makes the entire experience worth it.
It's a shame that Vince Gallo is the main character because there are a very surprising amount of amazing veteran actors throughout this movie that all give incredible performances. Ben Gazzara and Angelica Huston give perfect performances and Mickey Rourke is awesome even though he's only in about 2 and a half minutes of the movie. I was shocked to see such big actors and what feels like such a small arthouse film. Christina Ricci's performance feels a bit stunted, I'm guessing because of onset issues with Gallo, although despite that she still gives an absolutely wonderful performance and is the center of one of the coolest scenes of the movie, the bowling alley dance scene.
It's the kind of movie that I wouldn't be surprised or annoyed with in any way if someone told me they hated it or couldn't stand it, but at least for me I'm able to look past that for how unique and beautiful much of the movie is. Even if you aren't able to get past how much of an asshole Gallo is, this movie is hard not to like.