Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
From Darren Gunn:
I've always loved movies, but it wasn't until I was fifteen years old and I saw "Goodfellas" that I really understood that a movie could last more than its running time. As soon as I finished watching it with my parents, I ran upstairs and watched it again. It still just wasn't enough. On the box of the video was the quote, something about this being the greatest mob movie ever. I remember noting that this was written by Roger Ebert, and I followed up on it. In that review, you compared the movie to a poem, and that was the first time that I realized that a movie was a form of literature, a form of art. It was probably the first movie review that I read.
I followed you from that point on (almost fifteen years ago now), and we've disagreed numerous times. I've loved some movies that you've only liked ("Fearless," "King of Comedy," "The Graduate," and "Dazed and Confused" spring to mind), and those titles have always stuck with me more than the movies that I didn't like that you loved (those aren't springing to mind). It's only now --now that I've had to see a few movies without any of your feedback-- that I've started to wonder why I can't figure that out. I think that when it comes to the movies you only like, I believe in my love for them and I try to figure out why I love them. But when it comes to the movies that I only like --or even dislike-- that you love, I always have doubted my reaction. I wonder if I'm missing something. This isn't the case for other critics. With other critics, I wonder if they're just being shortsighted or if they're letting their politics get in the way of their experience or if they're just missing the point. With you, though, if you've expressed your love of a movie that I dislike, I always wonder if I've missed something.
I'm taking too long to say what I really want to say, and that is that I thank you for helping me to love movies. Movies have become an essential part of my life since that viewing of "Goodfellas" half a lifetime ago, and I always wonder if I would have gone further into the cinematic world if it hadn't been for your enthusiasm (I'm not a filmmaker --I'm an English teacher-- but I worked in a video store through the rest of high school and I minored in cinema --allowing me access to Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren when I wouldn't have heard of them otherwise-- because of the enthusiasm you fostered through your reviews.
A friend noticed something about me recently, and he tested me on it: I am able to tell you my experience surrounding my first viewing of almost any movie. Name it, and I'll tell you which theater I was in and whose company I shared. A friend suggested that this is because my senses are somewhat heightened when I am watching a movie. I thank you for this, Mr. Ebert. I truly do. You have a passion for movies, but more importantly, you have found a way to communicate that passion through your writing. I love movies, and I have you to thank for the fact that most of the movies I see are terrific. This is because I typically don't bother with a movie in the theaters unless it receives your stamp of approval.
I could have easily written a similar email to Martin Scorsese thanking him for making the movie that helped me to love film (in fact, between "Goodfellas" and "Taxi Driver" and "After Hours," I probably should!), but I thank you more than anyone. Your guidance over the years has kept me away from dreck and steered me towards some terrific films.
I hope your health improves soon, and I hope you are guide your readers towards some of the experiences that wil change their lives.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...