Saturday, 24 May 2014
Come to praise Pfister, not to bury him
Forget everything that you have heard about this film and see it for yourself, Wally Pfister has earned that much in his deservedly stellar career as a Director of Photography, predominantly for Chris Nolan. His directorial debut is a complex and interesting film that asks big questions and does not take sides in examining what the answers might be. It's a beautiful film, which is to be expected, but great credit must also go to Pfister's own DP, Jess Hall, who had a big shadow to work in. Pfister has employed a very interesting cast, clearly concentrating on quality rather than name-dropping. Paul Bettany and Rebecca Hall are enthralling, transporting the viewer directly to the heart of the conflict. Kate Mara is satisfyingly determined as the foil for the scientists, and if Morgan Freeman seems under-served it should be seen as a tribute to Bettany and Hall, and to Johnny Depp. It's a real pleasure to see him acting instead of leaping from rooftops, chewing the scenery or slurring his words and smudging his mascara. Depp is highly effective as the 'man' at the centre of the plot, and his understated performance serves the story well. Clearly, there has been a critical backlash against the film, not as vitriolic as that which torpedoed John Carter, but equally undeserved. Transcendence perhaps presages its reception in reminding us that people distrust what they don't understand, but Pfister's excellent film deserves at least the attempt from its audience, and any effort to examine the narrative will be rewarded. It might be said that the film feels longer than it is, arguably because it is not tempted to repeat the derivative structure of so many blockbusters, and Pfister and writer Jack Paglen should be commended for that. It does mean however that some threads do not get all of the attention they deserve, to the point of risking superficiality in these areas, but there is a clear and highly satisfying story arc, and an equivocal ending, not surprising considering Pfister's affiliation. If there is any such thing as justice in film (doubtful), Chris Nolan is going to need a new DP and Transcendence will be lauded in years to come.