Movies to Make You Think

So, we saw two movies this past weekend (Doubt, and Seven Pounds) and enjoyed them both.  Yet they were so very different that I find it impossible to compare.  I cannot say, “this one was better because…”  They were just too very different.
I do not want the job of a movie critic, who must find a way to assess each movie to some standard.  In my world, the standard is, “did I enjoy it?”  AND I tend to enjoy movies that cause me to think.  Both of these did, in different ways.
First, the movie Doubt.  (click on the image to learn more, and read the reviews). This movie has garnered 76% positive reviews, and there appears little debate that it’s a “good” movie.
In my opinion, all three of the main players turned in very powerful performances.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman is always sensational, and there’s no exception here as he plays across a wide range of emotional space as a parish priest accused of impropriety; he moves from anger to arrogance, and from caring concern to resignation.
Meryl Streep, whom I just saw last weekend on video in the cotton-candy of a musical, Momma Mia, plays a nun — the school principal — who must balance very carefully the evidence she does not really have against her compelling need to protect the children in her care.  She, too, must navigate a broad range of emotions, and IMHO she carries off her role with a fierceness and caring that I found extraordinary.
The real surprise for me was the intense performance by Amy Adams.  Till now, I’ve only seen her in light and airy roles: singing with birds in Disney’s Enchantment, or playing the madcap and superficial employer in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.  Here, sans makeup, color, music, or dancing, she’s left with nothing but her acting talent.  I was truly impressed.  There’s one scene where she is torn nearly apart with conflict, and she carries all of that scene with just her face, framed by a black habit.
Frankly, there’s one other scene stealer: Viola Davis, in a role as the mother of the parish school’s only black student.  She’s on screen for maybe five minutes, and WOW, what a powerful performance as a mother terribly conflicted about what is best for her son.  If you see the movie, watch for the scene where she and Sister Aloysius are standing outside the apartment building.
There was little happiness in this movie.  But it certainly helped me to appreciate how important a little happiness is to people….
Then there was Seven Pounds, the newest Will Smith vehicle.  The movie’s been roundly panned by critics (only 28% positive reviews)… but still, it’s WILL SMITH!
One reviewer captured best what I felt after viewing the movie: “You will either be frustrated with its asymmetrical and manipulative storytelling or be captivated by scattered clues that ultimately lead to some kind of resolution.”
For the first 15 minutes I just kept thinking, “what is H— is going on?!?!”  Then my curiosity started getting the better of me and I thought, “I remember having the same reaction to the movie, Crash… and the out-of-sequence narrative eventually came together.”  So, I surrendered to the movie, and instead of trying to FIGURE IT OUT, I let it unfold.
Which it did.
Does it make sense, in the end?  From a narrative standpoint, I was very satisfied.  I was surprised.  I cried.  Once the plot twist occurred, the rest was predictable.  But still, I was satisfied.
The interesting thing is that this was about a man who, in an effort to make up for a horrific event that he blames himself for, ends up making seven people very happy.
I can’t tell you how, because that would ruin the movie.  I CAN tell you that some of those scenes are blatantly manipulative, in the way that storytelling manipulates us into an emotional space and then takes advantage of our trust.
A word of warning: if you go to see this movie, plan to suspend logic and reality before you enter the theater.  If you want a reality tale, this is not your thing.  If you want a fantastic, sometimes perplexing, sometimes sweet story that is marginally plausible (which is what movies allow us to enjoy), then you’re all set.
I guarantee both these movies will make you think.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.