It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Here is a movie so absorbing, so atmospheric, so suspenseful and so dumb, that it proves my point: The subject matter doesn't matter in a movie nearly as much as mood, tone and style. "Smilla's Sense of Snow'' is a superbly made film with one of the goofiest plots in many moons. Nothing in the final 30 minutes can possibly be taken seriously, and yet the movie works. Even the ending works, sort of, because the film has built up so much momentum.
"Smilla'' stars Julia Ormond, who often plays sensuous women, but here plays a cold and distant one, born in Greenland and now living in Copenhagen, where she keeps her distance and seems to be nursing an obscure wound or anger. Smilla's confidant is the little boy who lives in the building. He is an Inuit, a native Greenlander, and Smilla is half Inuit, and sometimes tells him stories based on the lore of their people.
One day she returns to her apartment building to find the boy's body crumpled on the ground. The official verdict is that he fell off the roof, but she has been to the roof, and seen his footprints in a straight line running right over the edge. What was he running from? What frightened him so? Smilla makes it her business to answer this question. The movie, which has so far been a character study, now becomes a crime procedural. She questions a helpful man at the coroner's, who notes mysteries about the autopsy. She discovers that the boy's father died in a mining accident, and learns from a retired mining company secretary (Vanessa Redgrave) of a secret company archive. She breaks into the archive by night and finds information about the accident, and how it might be linked to events from 30 and 130 years ago.
She's aided in some of these investigations by her neighbor in the building, a man named the Mechanic (Gabriel Byrne). They are even drawn toward each other, although his motives are murky. What does it mean that she sees him at dinner with the head of the mining company (Richard Harris)? Less or more than it seems? I cannot describe the impact of these scenes because they are so visceral. Ormond embodies Smilla--her iciness, her determination, her anger. She creates an interesting character: one who intrigues us to such a degree that when she is doing nothing, we're reading motives into her inaction. Ormond has a beautiful face, less full here than in "Sabrina,'' and the fact that she will not "let'' it be beautiful--that she separates from the world around her with an almost painful defensiveness--makes her, paradoxically, more attractive. Byrne, who specializes in men who women love but shouldn't, plays a hesitant but smooth operator.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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