The past of Father Marcus and Mouse is revealed. Father Tomas continues struggling with demonic influence.
Bleeder. 1999. Directed & Written by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring Kim Bodnia, Mads Mikkelsen, Rikke Louise Andersson, Liv Corfixen, Levino Jensen, & Zlatko Buric. Kamikaze.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
People who frequent this site will now be sick of my love for Nicolas Winding Refn. He divides people. Nowadays, some of his supposed fans are really just fans of Drive. Others like his earlier work but find his latest stuff in the past 10 years a bit too much. Furthermore, there are others like myself who enjoy every last inch of film on which he’s left his mark. Not only that, I enjoy his writing alongside his choices and style as director. Not everything works every bit of the time. However, Refn always manages to intrigue me. He pulls at the seams of the brain and makes it unravel, no matter if we’re stuck in the gutters of Copenhagen, the cluttered video shops and bookstores, or whether he’s got you traipsing across the landscape of some foreign place on the way to who knows where – his mind is always working to try and fuck yours. In one way, or another.
Bleeder is in the earlier portion of his career, where the main focus of the stories he told were based in the streets of Copenhagen. First with Pusher, he explored a criminal, drug world. This film is set in a similarly lower class environment in semi-rundown flats and other locations, the characters each lower to middle class types. Above all else, Refn sticks with the gritty, in your face realism of his first feature. Here in his second feature there’s a closer, more personal look into the life of a family that’s falling apart, all due to the husband’s inability to express himself or seek out what he truly wants, instead opting to go along with the status quo – get married, have a kid – when it isn’t what he wants.
The results are tragic and violent.
And ultimately, blood begets more blood.
The biggest, most evident part of Bleeder is how Leo (Kim Bodnia) is so obviously jealous of the single life. More importantly, his problems with the movies, the difference between reality and fiction are what bother him most. See, Lenny (Mads Mikkelsen) is a cinephile, much like myself. He spends a good deal of his time immersed in the world of various directors, auteurs and blockbusters and everything in between. At the same time, that also paints Lenny’s view on life a little unrealistically.
Or does it?
Compared to Leo and his fucked up life, the life he fucked up all on his own, the way Lenny approaches life is quite normal. Also, he looks at what Leo has and wants that while Leo is busy shitting all over it. Lenny’s a more reserved type, likely hoping a movie romance is going to fall into his lap, as well as maybe he’s a bit too reserved, a little anti social. But Leo is stuck in a life he’s not so sure he wants to live. His wife Louise (Rikke Louise Andersson) is pregnant, he doesn’t truly want a kid, then of course he winds up beating the hell out of her. So when he rags on Lenny for watching too many films and when he rages against a movie because it’s unrealistic, what’s really going on inside is that Leo is jealous.
He wants a different life, but won’t get one. Can’t now. So instead he decides to take control, unlike Lenny who he sees as aloof in the obsessive world of cinephilia. He buys a gun, he acts like a movie tough guy but in real life. However, in real life there are consequences. In the movies we see gangsters beat up on their girlfriends and nothing ever seems to come of it. They get off with everything, free to do as they please, to whomever they please. When Leo takes it upon himself to make his life into a real live motion picture, he also must face the consequences. Even better, the climactic moments of this story are wild and almost outrageous. Yet still they’re all too real. So real in fact that it’s almost nauseating.
The gritty qualities of the film are paralleled in the ultimate nasty, defining moment that comes in the last twenty minutes. Added to that, Kim Bodnia – perhaps the world’s most underrated actor – gives us a stellar performance. There’s a scene where he comes to and find himself tied up, hanging from chains, and there’s this odd, moaning sound that emanates from him, louder and louder, longer and longer. It’s actually chilling. Even before that he does a fascinating job with a despicable character. You can see him cracking, gradually, then over the course of the film watch him drift into oblivion. There’s a good progression to the character and it’s only made better with Bodnia in the lead, doing a fine job like he did with Refn’s Pusher as Frank.
Similarly, Mads Mikkelsen is awesome as Lenny. He is one of those actors that has wide range. In some projects he plays creepy, scary characters. Here, he’s a timid and shy guy that has trouble reaching out to women, and instead of being creepy or inappropriate merely keeps to himself. So there’s a nice quietude in his character in juxtaposition with all the horrific realities of Leo’s situation. Watching Mikkelsen an Zlatko Buric together in the video shop is a treat, so different from their interactions in Pusher. They have good chemistry. But Mikkelsen really takes us into Lenny, and you can’t help rooting for him to finally push through to meet that girl he’s interested in.
Finally I cannot forget Levino Jensen playing the character of Louis, the violently racist brother to Louise. This guy is actually endearing in the early parts, even if you know he’s a bit of a hard ass. He just has this affectionate quality to him when with his sister particularly. Then there’s a switch, as Leo oversteps his boundaries and abuses Louise. Afterwards, we see Jensen break out in the character, making Louis into an intimidating person despite his stature. That’s the mark of a solid actor, when the physicality is second to the pure, intense emotion they can bring to a part. Jensen is such an actor, which I honestly didn’t expect. But he adds plenty to the film with his performance.
As opposed to other works from Nicolas Winding Refn, Bleeder is a simple piece of cinema. That’s not to say it’s dumbed down. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. It is raw and to the point, it is brutish, bloody nearing the end and always compelling. This is a close view of violent men; not in the movies, but in real life. Whereas Lenny ends the film embracing a corporeal romance, something palpable and not only the world he loves in the movies, Leo winds up falling into a real life event and story which mirrors the best, bloodiest pieces of cinema out there. It’s perhaps this final hideous act of violence involving Louis and Leo that forces Lenny towards finally stepping into the world, outside the camera’s frame, and finding a life that doesn’t only involve the fictional space of film.
This is a great movie that does not get enough credit. It’s honest and open, while also having an almost surreal aspect in its more intense moments. Refn will always divide people, but I wil always find him interesting, even if I come across something eventually that I don’t like. For now, it’s all good, baby!
Arlington Road. 1999. Directed by Mark Pellington. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger.
Starring Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Robert Gossett, Mason Gamble, Spencer Treat Clark, Stanley Anderson, Viviane Vives, Lee Stringer, Darryl Cox, & Loyd Catlett. Screen Gems/Lakeshore Entertainment/Arlington Road Productions Corporation/Gorai & Samuelson Productions.
Rated R. 117 minutes.
There are certain movies re: terrorism which, after the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, really begin to take on heavier meaning than before. Even more so now as people seem needlessly frightened here in North America over so many refugees coming here. The paranoia of these terrorism-fueled thrillers makes for great stomping ground to play out a drama concerning who is or who isn’t a terrorist.
Arlington Road is interesting because nowadays you’d probably see the Tim Robbins character played by someone Middle Eastern, casting immigrants and those outside the North American culture as terrorists, or sympathizers. However, here’s Robbins playing a guy who may or may not be a terrorist (at least we’re unsure for a little while) – the white guy next door. And so this movie came along just a couple years before everybody starting assuming all terrorists have brown skin. It’s refreshing, honestly. Mark Pellington directs a script by Ehren Kruger that’s filled with mindbending sequences, as we rush along on the coat tails of Bridges, whose characters is beyond determined to figure out the truth about his new, subtly suspicious neighbour. Filmed well from a solid screenplay, Arlington Road is a mystery-laden thriller, not without flaws. Overall, it does the job of sucking you in and never letting go, not until the last beat.
When Professor Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) finds a young boy named Brady (Mason Gamble) stumbling through the road, bloody, arm nearly blown off, he rushes the kid to a hospital frantically. There, he meets the parents – Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins & Joan Cusack). They are grateful to Michael, and as it turns out, live right across the road. So Michael and his girlfriend Brooke Wolfe (Hope Davis) befriend the new neighbours. The families become friends, especially Michael’s boy Grant (Spencer Treat Clark) and Brady.
Things aren’t everything they seem, though. With his studies in American History/Terrorism, as well as the fact his former wife died in the line of duty with the FBI, Michael knows almost too much about the lives and habits of terrorists. So when Oliver and Cheryl begin to seem suspicious, it takes him into an obsessive loophole of paranoia, guilt, and a strong wave of fear. As things get more tense, Brooke and Grant may both be in plenty of trouble. Only Michael can figure out how to prevent that. Problem is, nobody else sees what Michael sees, and the more he fights to prove his theories, the more he appears crazy.
Can Michael determine what Oliver is and what he’s up to in time? Or is there anything to figure out at all?
The term paranoid thriller is one that fits easily with Pellington’s Arlington Road. And while the paranoia proves to be more dangerous than in certain other films, perilous for the main character spiraling into it, this screenplay really plays on the emotions. Bridges’ character devolves into this paranoid man whose every move is marred by an unshakeable feeling of conspiracy, of terrorists lurking behind every corner of his own neighbourhood. Part of what’s so excellent is the fact we feel very much in the perspective of Bridges the whole time, yet we also see the other events and actions surrounding his situation; we know there’s something not quite right with his neighbours, particularly just before the last 40 minutes starts to roll, and still there’s an overwhelming feeling of seeing things solely through Bridges’ point-of-view. Getting both sides, somehow Pellington traps us with him and the fear, the suspense is all so tangible.
Pacing in a thriller like this, which keeps us guessing to a certain point then replaces any of that suspense with action and plenty of tension, is an important key. And from the moment Faraday (Bridges) starts to really catch onto a possible terrorist plot, there’s a frenzied, chaotic feel to many scenes. These get more and more frequent until Faraday is going full speed, chasing the team of people about to unleash a bombing on the city. The finale is an intensely executed sequence that makes us feel crazy like Faraday, it makes us feel frustration, even anger; everything a good film is supposed to do emotionally. Plus, Bridges help sell it incredibly well. But it’s how things are paced, moving quick and smooth from one scene to the next, which keeps us in league with the thrills. We follow along fast with Faraday, and never are we left in the seat of feeling safe or centered. The pacing keeps us glued, while simultaneously throwing us off our guard during certain moments. Regardless, we go chugging along to the end and the near two hour runtime never feels that long at all.
The acting is spectacular, particularly on the part of Bridges. I’m most impressed by the screenplay. When you consider the end – SPOILER ALERT – not many films have the fortitude to take it that far. Instead of us finding a happier, more pleasant ending, Arlington Road takes us into the depths of terrorism, striking at the happy heart with its shocking final moments. Furthermore, we’re also able to see how the media spins things, and how conspiracy theories are formed, how they breathe and live in the world. There are other films which tackle these types of issues. But Pellington’s film is able to get where many of those other cinematic experiences can’t, as they’re often not willing to go to the lengths this one does. If Faraday managed to save the day, this would be another cheesy crime-thriller, wrapped in mystery and paranoia. But instead of doing that, Pellington, through the writing of Kruger, crafts something lastingly haunting, devastating, and it carries a strong message. I’m just glad this story plays out without having a racist angle, which of course is due to it being released in 1999. If it came after 9-11 this would be weighted down by racial issues and overtones. Arlington Road gives us all the examination of terrorism necessary, without relying on a religious or political dichotomy, or casting a certain race as the only perpetrators of terrorist violence.