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November 3, 2003

Lost in Translation (2003)

Posted by Mike on November 3, 2003 3:12 PM

Haven't gotten around to writing a lot about it, and probably won't, but I'll take a second to say "Lost in Translation" might be my favorite movie of 2003. It has the same combination of craft and heartfelt honesty that hooked me on "Magnolia" four years ago, without the disadvantage "Magnolia" suffered, which was sharing a year with a lot of other great Hollywood releases ("Three Kings," "American Beauty," and "Being John Malkovich" all spring to mind).

Bill Murray is getting better and better at being understated without being overstated about it. Something about his ability to play "sly" is drawing less and less attention to itself, which is really refreshing when we compare it (and I'm stuck on this for whatever reason) to the sort of goop Al Pacino dishes out with his "emotionally disturbed = passionate" notions about screen presence that turn acting into a thing you're supposed to notice rather than take for granted.*

Compared to my last favorite Bill Murray performance in "Rushmore", this one's even better. Less Bugs Bunny, more heart. I'd love to see him keep moving in this direction.

The other pleasant surprise of "Lost in Translation" was the soundtrack, which I dug enough to buy. I didn't know anything about My Bloody Valentine when it was still a going concern, but much of the soundtrack is driven by Kevin Shields, that group's front man, along with some nicely complementary stuff from Jesus and Mary Chain and the seminal Japanese pop band Happy End. There's a warm, dense, passion to many of the tracks that captures the mood of the film.

* When I think about Pacino and where he went wrong, I'm at a loss. Somewhere between "The Godfather, Part II" and "Scent of a Woman" he ran off the tracks and never got back on them. pk and I chatted about him in Godfather II last week, and I noted his restrained, barely controlled fury, especially in the classic "If you ever go against the family again" confrontation with Fredo, in which he's barely in control of a dark rage we know will eventually consume him. pk tells me some production notes have credited the performance as much to a result of Coppola putting the brakes on Pacino's need to level the set with his AC-ting as it was any particular insight on the actor's part. I can buy it. Somewhere after "young and hungry" and before "tottering up to get a special Oscar while the audience mists up in memory of your wonderful work past" lies The Master Thespian.