Friday, January 6, 2012
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is an unemployed puppeteer living in New York City with his pet-obsessed wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz). Desperate to make money, he takes a job as a filing clerk on the strange 7 1/2 floor of the Mertin Flemmer Building where he soon develops an attraction to his co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener), who doesn't return the same affections though. However one day while organizing files, Craig discovers a secret portal that transports him into the mind of famous actor John Malkovich (John Malkovich). Craig's able to hear and see everything that Malkovich does, and after 15 minutes pass by, he's ejected out of the portal and dropped into a ditch near the New Jersey Turnpike. Craig reveals the portal to both Lotte and Maxine, who both want to exploit it for their own personal reasons.
For this being his directorial debut, Spike Jonze knocks this film out of the park. Already working with a terrific script by Charlie Kaufman, Jonze's background as a music video director translates to smart attention-to-detail and a style that is both surreal and artistic. When filming the portal scenes from Malkovich's mind, Jonze uses clever tricks with the camera that exclude it's presence from reflective objects, which in turn make you question how in the world he made the scene work. Jonze's artistic style works the best when filming the scenes on the 7 1/2 floor setting, in which each shot looks like its taken straight out of a painting.
If it wasn't for "American Beauty" dominating the awards buzz back in 1999, "Being John Malkovich" constantly creeps within that film's level of greatness. If I ran the Oscars for that year in film, I would have at least awarded Charlie Kaufman the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay because he went more above and beyond in terms of plot and characterization than Alan Ball did. Despite the high praise that I award this film, be warned that this film's idiosyncratic nature may be divisive for some viewers. Overall though, "Being John Malkovich" is an immensely entertaining film with great performances from its lead actors, visually artistic direction by Spike Jonze and a highly original, clever script by Charlie Kaufman make this one of the most inventively smart dark comedies I have seen in many years.
Final Grade: A