Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hard to swallow

I watched Hard Candy yesterday, and I was considering making a post about it almost immediately, except I had already posted yesterday, and fudge it.

As a result, I've had time to stew on the movie a bit, and what started as a mildly dislikable movie has become an object of abject hatred to me. The more I think about it, the angrier it makes me.

The film is about a fourteen-year-old girl who meets a thirty-year-old man on the Internet and gets together with him at a cafe. The man is smooth, and he manages to talk the girl into coming back to his house for a "photography session," and perhaps some illicit, dirty, illegal sex. Everything seems to be coming up pervert for Mr. Thirty, until OH SNAP he is drugged by the fourteen-year-old and tormented with the thought of his dirtiest laundry being aired.

The concept is a good one, but the execution...oh.

Hard Candy is another one of those movies--much like Fast Food Nation--that is blessed with amazing talent and a terrible screenplay. The acting is fantastic. There are really only two actors in the movie, and both Ellen Page (as the young girl, Hayley) and Patrick Wilson (as the possibly-murderous perv, Jeff) turn in excellent performances. It's a testament to Wilson's skills that you find his despicable character likable, and you even pity him as he is assailed by the young girl. The directing is stylized in a way that very infrequently irritates (although there are a number of moments where we're left looking at nothing but the color of the photography studio for five seconds at a time).

As far as good stuff--there's an intense, unsettling sequence of torture as Hayley castrates a very-conscious Jeff and then insidiously disposes of his balls. The entire concept is, really, a good one, and it's only the denouement that makes me seethe.

And now to my biggest problem with the movie (I saved it for the end because SPOILER ALERT): the movie takes great strides to make "Hayley," the avenger, into a heroine. It is obvious the filmmakers wanted us to root for the girl. But when it's the girl's overarching aim to lure the "villain" to his own suicide, is she all that heroic? She becomes almost as reprehensible as the pedophile.

The pervert does not get any sort of satisfying ending either. The only character revelation we see from him is a form of acceptance that he is a pervert and that he has nobody to blame but himself. This realization has no effect on the character, and only seconds later he grabs a knife and intends to kill Hayley. In the end, he doesn't kill himself out of any remorse or regret, but out of greed. Hayley hands him the noose and tells him that she'll destroy the evidence of his crimes.

Hayley ultimately reneges on this offer, walking off into the sunset to the tune of some upbeat "conquering-hero-escapes" techno music as her victim hangs from the roof. It may just be my personal politics, but I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that you can ethically trade murder-for-murder, or that there are some people less deserving of life.

The acid is bubbling in my esophagus as I write this, so I'll stop now before I explode.

1 comment:

Review the World said...

I too have recently watched both Fast Food Nation and Hard Candy. When I heard that the film version of Fast Food Nation wasn’t going to be a documentary, I was a bit perturbed. Then, when I found out it was in the hands of Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Waking Life, etc.) I was able to sleep easy. Ultimately, though, when I look back at the film, I can where see your complaints of heavy-handedness hold some weight. There were some strong performances, like Ethan Hawke’s, but also some muddled stuff in there, too; like Greg Kinnear’s character’s disappearance in the third act, and I also didn’t like the translucent teenagers at the fast food joint.

Hard Candy I didn’t initially dissect in as much personal detail as you, but in retrospect, I can totally see where you’re coming from. Two wrongs certainly don’t make a right, and Haylay was definitely championed in the end as some sort of antihero. I thought a lot of the dialogue was sharp, and both central performances strong, but the third act really feel apart for me, as I lost all earned sympathy and just wanted it to be done with.