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February 06, 2008

Wages of Fear

Earlier today, I was think that I should give a "rating" as I watch these films, just as recommendations for other people who might want to watch them too, and want an opinion.

And I was thinking that since my queue is made up of films that experts say are important, that my rating really shouldn't be "it stunk" to "it was awesome," since none of the films should stink. I was thinking that it should be more along the lines of:

1) Watch it because you should watch it.
2) Watch it because you'll like it.
3) Watch it because you'll love it.
4) Oh my goodness, you're not going to believe you spent so many years of your life without watching this film.

And I might still adopt that, with one addition which I'll call the "Wages of Fear" caveat. I'm going to add a "?," which will be dedicated to "I just don't get what the experts are talking about."

Now mind you, I think I get why this film is significant, and why it's worth knowing. It's tense and full of suspense and danger in spots.

The basic storyline is solid: 4 drifters (from different countries) are stuck in a part of south america where they can't afford the money it would cost to get out (only accessible via air) and they don't have the papers to work. A nearby oil field (owned by Americans, of course), needs some poor fools to transport highly dangerous explosives across a remote desert. The job is far too dangerous for most normal people, but the pay is high and so the drifters take it.

Not a bad setup, and the power of the film is in these painful sequences where at any moment the explosives could go off. And of course different conflicts arise between the 4 as they deal with the stress of the journey. And, the ending is nice and ironic and satisfying.

But it took the film 40 minutes to get to the fact that the oil company needed anyone to drive these explosives across the desert. Yes, 40 minutes of watching aimless drifters hanging out at the local cantina, doing nothing of substance. And they didn't start their journey across the desert until the one hour mark. And really, that's where the story, and any action, begins. This is like the Peter Jackson King Kong disease. Guys, we came for the monkey. Show us the monkey sooner.

The film runs 2 hours and 28 minutes. So yes, they still spent almost 90 minutes on their trek across the desert. About 30 minutes of this is really worth watching. The rest? Two trucks freaking driving across the desert. Engine rumbling, landscape flying by. Yep. About 60 minutes too much of that.

I'm trying not to be too negative, and again, hopefully I took out of this film what I needed to be literate, but to be honest by the time I was watching the film in fastforward. Once anyone is doing that, you know there is a problem.

I doubt anyone is going to watch this film on the basis of this discussion. But if you do, or have, please help me understand where I'm wrong. I'd love to know why this is an important film. Really, it seemed like Speed in the desert and in a foreign language. (And with about 57 minutes too much setup in the beginning.)

By the way, yes I do think this movie should have been 33 minutes long. If they wanted to make this story into a feature film, they just needed to add more real character conflict. It could have greatly benefited from a "Simple Plan" style descent into greed and immorality.

Now that I think about it, I'd like to see what the Coen Brothers could do with this premise. I think it'd be fantastic. (Yes, I know the Coen Brothers didn't make Simple Plan. They were two separate thoughts.)

? out of 4 – I just don't get what the experts are talking about.

Posted by jason on February 6, 2008 01:29 AM

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