Paper Moon ★★★★½

Peter Bogdanovich not only evokes the look of the 1930s with the costumes, sets, and props of Paper Moon, but the feel as well; sweeping, graceful pans, stark close-ups, and plenty of low-angle shots all feel as if little Addie Pray went right on to star in a Little Rascals short once filming wrapped here. It is amazing that the decision to film in black and white is one of the least noticeable aspects of its imitation of a bygone era of film-making.

Besides being a technical marvel, what else does Paper Moon have going for it? It turns out, plenty:

One of the defining characteristics of good acting is appearing as if you're not acting at all. Tatum O'Neal is such a good actor that, when she's galumphing down the stairs of the hotel and looking around for Moze, I had to remind myself that she had to have known the camera was rolling - because she sure as hell doesn't seem like it. In so many conversations with papa Ryan, you know that the words coming out of her mouth were scripted, but if you had the volume turned down, you might wonder if Peter snuck in a outtake of the two just chatting between takes. A truly amazing performance from a girl only nine years old.

Finally, Paper Moon's story, while not necessarily the most original, takes its real shape from the chemistry and charisma of both Ryan and Tatum who take turns out-witting their marks and often each other. The one-upmanship between them is like a tennis match, and the cons they pull are like a magic act. These types of tales are always a bit reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde, and especially in the jaded and cynical '70s, you would think that the end result would be predictable fairly soon into the picture. Bless Bogdanovich's heart, though; pulls a fast one on his audience, and takes the conventional way out, even though by the time the film was released, the conventional had become unconventional.

Besides a frustrating interlude with a fine Madeline Kahn (frustrating only because we're robbed of more Tatum and Ryan interplay), Paper Moon is an across-the-board winner; a classic in every sense of the word.

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