Crawl, Cate, Crawl

Tom Tykwer's latest heroine on the run is far from fleet of foot

Give Tom Tykwer considerable credit for knowing he couldn't possibly outdo Run Lola Run, his frenetic breakthrough that made critics cheer and took MTV pacing to a whole new level, blending animation with live action, still photos and alternate realities in a way that made sense and raised the viewer's adrenaline levels. Tykwer would probably have to smoke crack for several months to make anything more frenetic, so he hasn't tried. Instead, he now seems focused on somber meditations, which is fine, if a little...European. There's always a market for such things, and it's a lot easier to budget a film that doesn't require split-second choreography and extensive special effects. But is it too philistine to suggest that Tykwer's post-Lola output, while artsy, is just a bit boring?

Like his similarly stylish-but-overlong The Princess and the Warrior, Tykwer's latest film, Heaven, is a slow-moving look at the bond between an unusually resourceful naïf and a hard-edged sociopath, though for variety's sake the genders have been switched. In a particularly cutesy move, their names are almost the same: Philippa (Cate Blanchett) is an accused terrorist, while Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi) is a young recruit in the Italian police force, or caribinieri. There's no doubt as to Philippa's guilt--though the actual carnage occurs tastefully off-screen, we see her plant a bomb meant for one person that actually ends up killing four innocent people, including two children. But as she's being interrogated, Filippo, who's the only officer who can speak English, falls instantly in love with the waifish captive and plots to help her escape.

No doubt some will argue the merits of having a sympathetic terrorist as the female lead--Miramax pushed the film's release back several months for that very reason. Not that the film dwells on it, much; a more timely element is the fact that Philippa is in fact acting alone to take out a drug pusher, but the Italian government insists on trying to frame her as part of a larger terrorist movement. Still, the problem with Philippa isn't that she made a bomb and used it, but that she isn't particularly sympathetic in any case. Upon hearing she's killed innocent people, she decides she deserves to be punished and seems unmotivated from then on. Why should we care about her escape and possible recapture if she doesn't?

As in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, the suspense elements of the story are almost entirely red herrings and irrelevant to the task at hand--a larger conspiracy, which involves a possible frame-up and the true extent of the pusher's reach, is tied up rather quickly so it can be gotten out of the way to give Blanchett and Ribisi ample time to brood and stare at each other, declaring a love that comes out of nowhere. Yet Heaven really isn't a bad movie by conventional standards, just a boring one. Many of the shots are beautiful, the actors are all well placed in scenes and none of them can be said to be doing a poor job. It's just that the movie's all subtext at the expense of the story.

Anyone might have a problem directing the script--it's the last unfilmed screenplay by the late, great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, who, in his long-standing tradition of grand sagas (the 10-part Decalogue, the three-part Trois Couleurs), intended it to be the first part of a thematic trilogy, with the follow-ups of course being Hell and Purgatory. Directing a Kieslowski script is like directing a Kubrick script--you have to be Spielberg to even try, and you're still likely to fail. Tykwer gets Kieslowski's thematic elements of irony, coincidence, fate and redemption down, but forgets, or neglects, that Kieslowski generally maintained enough of a narrative thrust to keep the viewer interested in the themes.

There's a scene involving a milk truck--you'll know it when you see it--that adds some much-needed humor, but it makes you realize just how dour the rest of the film is. When Blanchett, at the one-hour-15-minute mark, says, "It's just that I want the end to come soon," it's easy to agree, though you know it won't end yet because there has to be a reason they set up Ribisi's character as a helicopter pilot trainee in the opening scene. Hmmm, wonder if that'll come in handy at a crucial moment?

 
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