Friday, August 14, 2009

Movie Review: Nicole Kidman in 'Dogville'

Danish director Lars Von Trier's Dogville was released to much acclaim in Europe in 2003, earned a passel of awards across the pond and predictably sank like a stone in the U.S. where dramatic philosophical cinema that requires viewers to use their brains and imaginations has no place.

That is a pity, because Dogville, which caught the DF&C's attention in a DVD bargain bin the other day, is first-rate cinema with faultless writing and acting, a Bertolt Brecht-like set and a climax that is astonishing but at the same time predictable.
Presented in nine chapters with a prologue and epilogue, Dogville is the story of a small town in the Colorado Rockies during the Great Depression where the residents are struggling to make ends meet when Grace (Nicole Kidman) stumbles onto its only street, a fugitive who is hiding from mobsters.

After a vote by the townspeople, Grace is allowed to stay in return for physical labor.

Gracee does chores for the blind Jack MacKay (Ben Gazzara), looks after the children of Chuck
(Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd) and Vera (Patricia Clarkson), cleans the shop of Ma Ginger (Lauren Bacall), ministers to Tom Edison Sr. (Philip Baker Hall) and reciprocates the affections of Tom Edison Jr. (Paul Bettany), an aspiring writer who procrastinates by calling Dogville's residents together for meetings on the subject of "moral rearmament" in an effort to succeed his aging physician father as the town's spiritual leader.  There also is a cameo appearance by James Caan, with narration by John Hurt.

Grace's stay, of course, changes the lives of the community.  She is reduced too slavery and has to endure mental cruelty and physical
humiliations from her so-called protectors, but in the end . . . oh, I won't lay a plot spoiler on you.

At 187 minutes, Dogville requires endurance as well as intelligence.  The spare set -- only a few pieces of furniture, lettering indicating the main street and who lives where, as well as a chalk silhouette of the town dog, the movie's only disembodied protagonist -- is a delight.

The film succeeds wonderfully because like all great cinema it is much more than the sum of its parts, but it is Kidman who sends Dogville to stratospheric heights in what is hands down her best performance -- at least
of all of her films that I have seen.  Kidman's Grace reveals in turn the dark side of each resident as she endures her torture with . . . well, grace and humility.

In the end, Dogville is about good and evil, light and darkness, but most of all it is about power. How Grace wields hers gives new meaning to the concept of morality.

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