Friday, July 21, 2006

So here's Jamie Harding, 27 year-old British actor, back when he was in the mini-series Band of Brothers. I've got a big crush on him right now - unfortunately this came to light while I was watching him in United 93, in which he plays - there's no good way to say this - one of the 9/11 hijackers. It's like falling for the guy who had the lead in Bundy, or - heaven forbid - Richard Attenborough as Christie in 10 Rillington Place (though you have to admit he had a petulant swagger about him in Brighton Rock). Perhaps I shouldn't have noticed in that context how handsome Jamie Harding is. Ok, so there's nothing morally wrong with it - it's not like he hijacked the plane for real. Don't give me a hard time about this, yeah? Just look at that adorable face - wouldn't you have felt the same?

I wouldn't want my crush on him to obscure the fact that I thought United 93 was a brilliant piece of film-making. One of the strokes of genius in the film is that the director, Paul Greengrass, properly frames the narrative in thriller conventions, when he could so easily have been pious about it (one of the temptations surely open to Oliver Stone in his forthcoming World Trade Center). Which is not to say that Greengrass isn't respectful of the material he is handling - he is - but rather that he never forgets he's making a film, not signing a Book of Condolence. If United 93 hadn't worked as a thriller, it wouldn't have worked at all.

It's a little like the approach that Gordon Burn took in his book Happy Like Murderers, about Fred and Rosemary West - the tone moved gracefully between true crime reportage, pastiches almost of 'penny dreadful' or pulp hack-work, and anthropological study. Burn recognised that the story he was writing spilled over into all those areas, and he wasn't too pompous to deny that a big part of our interest in an unimaginable nightmare like the Wests' squalid reign is blunt fascination.

So Greengrass was absolutely correct in playing the whole film out without any traces of hindsight or foreboding - apart from in the early scenes with the terrorists, obviously, as they try to pluck up the initial courage. And it's typical of Greengrass's democratic manner that he presents it as such - these men on a 'mission' are shown squirming in their business class seats, struggling to find the necessary courage, balls, guts, whatever, to make that first move in the hijacking. Of course, it was to be expected that our empathy would be with the passengers. We want them to defy the outcome that we know is awaiting them, and the fictionalisation of the material makes it seem, momentarily, that this will be possible; at one point, I actually thought to myself: They're going to do it, they're going to land the plane. I got a tinge of hope when one of the passengers said he's a pilot. Greengrass places us so comprehensively in the moment that he effectively evokes the kind of desperation to survive that must have been prevalent in that cabin. We believe, as some of the passengers will have done, that this can be resolved.

More surprising is the level of empathy he creates for the hijackers, who are shown not to be 'monsters' or 'evil' or any of those other terms that locate those we do not comprehend as 'the other', thereby forcing us not to have to think about how they got that way - instead, they are presented, far more constructively, as human beings. Fallible, jittery, scared, everything that you would be if you were psyching yourself up for such a colossal undertaking.

Even as I'm writing this, I want to see the picture again. I don't think there was anything about it that didn't work. The killing of two of the terrorists has been criticised by some as wish-fulfilment, i.e. we don't know what happened on board, so why don't we invent something that makes us feel even better about the passengers, the 'flight that fought back' (to use TV-movie parlance)?

But even that doesn't rankle. I guess by then the movie has you so tightly in its grasp, this seems like an acceptable piece of speculation, the plausibility of which doesn't affect adversely the rest of the film. If you haven't seen United 93, track it down, preferably at the cinema. I was dreading seeing it, but the more I think about it, the more nourished I feel by the experience.

Other films that have impressed me so far this year, alongside United 93, are, in no particular order:

Brokeback Mountain, The New World, Junebug, The Squid and the Whale, The Death of Mr Lazarescu, Forty Shades of Blue, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Offside, The Proposition, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada... and others that have slipped my mind right now. The performances I've enjoyed most have included Karen Young and Charlotte Rampling in Heading South, Hector Jimenez in Nacho Libre, Amy Adams in Junebug.

Who have I left out? Let me know...

All the talk in previous posts of "I met N" and "S said this to me" has reminded me of a great gag in Without Feathers, a book of Woody Allen's collected writings. I've revisited that book every few months since I read it on holiday in Gambia age 14. In one of the mock-diary pieces, Allen writes:

"Should I marry W.? Not if she won't tell me the other letters in her name..."

You either think it's funny or you don't. Ditto this brilliant exchange heard last week in Max & Paddy's Road to Nowhere (a guilty TV pleasure of mine). Max is talking about the love of his life, but doesn't want to let on to Paddy that she's a person of restricted height.

Max: [struggling] "She's... well, she's... a kind of midget."

Paddy: "Isn't that a Queen song?"


Blogger Andrea said...

If you adore Jamie Harding so much, then join his fan page.


9:39 AM  

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