Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Perfect Stranger(s)

by Michael Dymmoch

I recently watched two movies with nearly identical titles. Both were billed as thrillers. Both had the requisite set pieces and reversals, talented direction and great casts. Filmed in NYC, Perfect Stranger (James Foley, 2007) featured Halle Berry and Bruce Willis. The film was a slick, well crafted Hollywood product that delivered on the promise of its trailer, but I’m glad I didn’t pay ten bucks to see it in a theater. I got the impression that the final outcome was determined by test audience reactions rather than character development. I doubt that I’ll remember the film six months from now, or bother watching it again.

Perfect Strangers (Gaylene Preston, 2003) starred Rachael Blake and Sam Neil and was made in New Zealand. Beyond budget and setting, it couldn’t have been more different. Though it starts predictably—girlfriends heading to a bar after work, it takes a turn for the bizarre when Neil asks Blake, “My place or yours?” After watching it, I felt that getting the DVD on Amazon was like finding an Ivan Albright at a garage sale.

The test of a great story is how it resonates after the fade-out. Do the images linger? Are the characters people you’ll continue to wonder about? Was the ending inevitable and satisfying? Do you feel you got a little something more?

If you’ve seen these films, how do you think they compare?

If you haven’t seen them, check ‘em out.

20 comments:

ab said...

This is very interesting!

After having read dozens of statements on "how to make a professional movie" and how much effort and skill and whatnot it takes to write a screenplay that just may pass through the needle´s eye, I am always bewildered by how bland and predictable the outcome is, more often than not. And that is not what we really want deep down, is it?

guyot said...

Good call, Michael. You are exactly right about the Berry-Willis movie.

James Foley (whom I think is quite good) was very upset when the studio "took over" and basically Hollywood'ed the final reel of the film.

The original story was from a guy named... Bokencan or something (I don't recall), and was very dark and suspenseful. But three screenwriters and God knows how many test screenings later, it was far from the original concept that caused everyone to say "Let's make this movie!"

Ever since bankers took over Hollywood, good deals trump good stories every time.

But Foley will be back - he's directing the outstanding Andrew Klavan novel MAN & WIFE, and hopefully there will be much less studio input on that one. Hopefully.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I know I've seen the Berry/Willis movie, but for the life of me I can't come close to remembering the plot. Some endorsement, right?

I think the movie that had me wondering about all kinds of things after the end was No Country For Old Men. They definitely didn't buckle for a Hollywood ending.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Perfect Strangers was written, directed and co-produced by Gaylene Preston. Most of the memorable movies I’ve seen lately were independently produced—No Country for Old Men, Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth. Clint Eastwood (A Perfect World, Million Dollar Baby, Letters From Iwo Jima...) can be counted on to make something that stays with you, as can Spike Lee, Woody Allen (whether you love or hate him), and the Cohen brothers. Major studios have readers to do “coverage”—basically to make sure that any script that’s green lighted follows the formula and appeals to a profitable demographic. Or can be rewritten to do so.

Sean Chercover said...

Haven't seen either movie, but I enjoyed the Ivan Albright reference - I'm a big fan of his stuff.

Looking forward to Foley's take on Klavan - thanks for the heads-up, Guyot.

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