Somewhere is that rare kind of movie that knows exactly what it is doing. Every camera angle, every editing transition; every chosen frame is presented with purpose. Everything is deliberate. I mention this for one reason: Somewhere is slow. Really slow. Its scenes drag on for what feels like an eternity, there isn’t a single shred of a plot, and several times throughout the film, you’ll ask yourself why the hell you’re watching what you’re watching. In short, if you don’t like Somewhere after 20 minutes, go try to get your money back, or turn the DVD off. The film’s pace doesn’t change, which, of course, contributes to its lasting brilliance.
Yes, brilliance. It’s taken me a week to write this review, far longer than I like to wait. But there’s a very simple reason for this: I literally had no idea how I felt about Somewhere, even days after I had seen it. When the credits rolled, I sat still in the theatre, curiously listening to other attendees moan about why they stayed the whole time, and others declare it a masterpiece. I didn’t know where I stood. Until now.
Somewhere tells the story of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a popular action movie star in his mid-30s, living out his life at the hipster Chateau Marmont hotel in LA. Johnny isn’t an asshole, which is normally how actors playing popular actors are perceived in movies. He doesn’t do things out of malice, but instead out of lazy overindulgence. He’ll order gourmet room service as easily as he will a pair of blonde, twin sister strippers. A random naked girl in his bed is as common to him as smoking cigarettes and drinking beer alone in the dark.
This is how the movie carries on for the most part. Johnny sitting around, drinking, smoking, getting laid, eating food, and, occasionally, spending time with his irresistible 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning, as talented as her older sister, Dakota).
Unlike director Sofia Coppola’s most famous movie, Lost in Translation, Somewhere isn’t about its main character drastically reassessing his life after a female comes in it. In fact, Johnny is pretty much the same around his daughter. He takes her on weekend trips to Italy, drives her around in his Ferrari, dines with her at nice restaurants, and so on. The two have an amiable rapport of mutual gratification; he lives the life, and she humbly enjoys it.
But again, this is not what the film is about. In fact, it isn’t really about anything, unless you want to play up the whole metaphysical “wow, what does it all mean” effect, which I tend to stay away from. Although it may not concern itself with an obvious plot, Somewhere is indeed anchored by a woman who has a sharp and purposeful eye for cinema. Better than anything, is Coppola’s ability to gently ease out breathtaking performances from her actors (her pops was pretty good at this, too).
Stephen Dorff is best known for playing the bad guy in Blade 12 years ago. He’s popped up in memorable, albeit minor, roles in a variety of other movies like World Trade Center and Public Enemies, but, for the most part, he’s stayed hidden behind the Hollywood A-list curtain, a place I doubt he’ll be for long. To say his performance as Johnny is the best of his career is a lame understatement.
There’s nothing flashy about this role, no screaming moment of catharsis or long monologue of clarity. Instead, Dorff simply becomes a character you can’t take your eyes off of. There’s a scene late in the film when he sits on the floor of his hotel room, talking blankly into the phone. At the risk of giving anything away, I can say that I was simply in awe of how Dorff played that moment. It is, I firmly believe, the single best-acted scene by a male actor this year.
When Roger Ebert first saw Pulp Fiction at the Cannes Film Festival, he walked slowly out of the theatre in a daze, wandering aimlessly around the lobby. He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around. “So… what’d you think?” Tarantino asked him. Ebert paused for a few moments, then said, “That was either the best film of the year or the worst film of the year.”
I had a similar feeling walking out of Somewhere. And after a week of letting it stew, I can tell you that Somewhere isn’t the best film of 2010, but it is damn far from the worst. A