The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
It is not often given to a director to make a perfect film. Some spend their lives trying, but always fall short. Robert Altman has made a dozen films that can be called great in one way or another, but one of them is perfect, and that one is "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971). This is one of the saddest films I have ever seen, filled with a yearning for love and home that will not ever come -- not for McCabe, not with Mrs. Miller, not in the town of Presbyterian Church, which cowers under a gray sky always heavy with rain or snow. The film is a poem--an elegy for the dead.
Few films have such an overwhelming sense of location. Presbyterian Church is a town thrown together out of raw lumber, hewn from the forests that threaten to reclaim it. The earth is either mud or frozen ice. The days are short and there is little light inside, just enough from a gas lamp to make a gold tooth sparkle, or a teardrop glisten. This is not the kind of movie where the characters are introduced. They are all already here. They have been here for a long time. They know all about one another.
A man rides into town through the rain. He walks into a saloon, makes sure he knows where the back door is, goes out to his horse again, comes in with a cloth, and covers a table. The men are pulling up chairs before he has settled down. He is a gambler named McCabe (Warren Beatty). Somebody thinks they heard that McCabe once shot a man. In the background, somebody is vaguely heard asking, "Laura, what's for dinner?"
This is the classic Altman style, which emerged full-blown in "MASH" and can be seen in "3 Women," "Thieves Like Us," "Nashville," "California Split," "The Long Goodbye," "The Player," "Cookie's Fortune" and all the others. It begins with one fundamental assumption: All of the characters know each other, and the camera will not stare at first one and then another, like an earnest dog, but is at home in their company. Nor do the people line up and talk one after another, like characters in a play. They talk when and as they will, and we understand it's not important to hear every word; sometimes all that matters is the tone of a room.