Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Movie vs. Book: THE BRAVE


Director: Johnny Depp
Cast: Johnny Depp, Cody Lightning, Nicole Mancera, Marlon Brando and Elpidia Carrillo

I miss Ken Russell.

For two months straight we did Ken Russell directed movies. They may not have had the best characterization, the best scripts, but wow, they had style. I didn’t even get that with THE BRAVE (1997). Even after it’s been over for a few hours, I’m still trying to figure out if I got anything from it.

THE BRAVE was a pure vanity project from Johnny Depp. He co-wrote, directed and starred in it as Raphael, a Native American who, out of desperation, agrees to star in a snuff film for fifty thousand dollars to be paid to his family after completion. They’re living at shantytown built around a garbage dump, and are about to be evicted from even those lowly living conditions. They need the money so he’s bound and determined to go through with the bargain. Well, that and they’ve threatened his family if he doesn’t. So he spends a week making a playground for the local kids, spending quality time with his wife, and killing the local pimp. Then he goes to make the movie. The end.

It was about thirty minutes worth of story stretched into a more than two hour film. How did they stretch it out? There were a few shots of the miserable conditions he and his family lived in. Mostly, there were long, brooding shots of his thoughtful, pondering face. I guess Depp figured that would be enough to keep the audience enthralled for a good chunk of the movie. Now, don’t get me wrong—I don’t mind Depp as an actor. He’s done some decent movies here and there. But just looking at him doesn’t make up for nothing happening in the movie. The characters don’t grow or change. Depp’s Raphael is determined to make this movie and provide for his family in the only way he knows how. The other characters aren’t even given a chance to have personalities, let alone evolve. I guess Depp figured his character was the only one worth focusing on.

When the movie premiered at Cannes it was panned by some American critics. Because of that, Depp has refused to allow it to be available in the US. I think he might have done that as a favor to us.


BOOK: THE BRAVE by Gregory McDonald (1991)

It is hard to say what the bigger surprise is about this book: its effectiveness or its brevity. Technically, the book is 216 pages long, but the book is padded with large margins and large type. It is a long novella or a short novel, but to McDonald's full credit he recognized it could not be effectively published as part of a collection.

There is very little in the way of story in this book, and the majority of the narrative's power comes from what the reader knows might happen after the book ends. The protagonist's likely fate is described in grotesque detail in the third chapter, and from there it becomes a matter of whether or not Rafael will avoid his death. Unlike most such stories, Rafael is not trying to evade his end but is walking toward it with fearful resignation and a misguided sense of purpose. The reader knows Rafael expects to bring his family out of misery; the reader is also fairly certain that Rafael's family will never see any of the promised thousands. His only real hope is the interest, however accidental, that others take in him due to his sudden acquisition of a small amount of money.

This book is more of a situational study than a traditional story or character study. The true star is Rafael's extended family and their lives of extreme poverty. Because McDonald chooses to focus on this, he wisely keeps Rafael's narrative bleak, stark and powerful. He also uses tricks gleaned from his years as a top mystery writer to keep the reader interested and surprised.

Four stars out of five.