Monday, 14 April 2014


Her (2013)

Starring Joaquin Pheonix and (the voice of) Scarlett Johansson

Directed  by Spike Jonze

This is such an unusual film, but I suppose you couldn't expect anything else from Spike Jonze, perpetrator of the insanely bonkers "Being John Malkovich" ("Loved you in that jewel thief movie" !)

Joaquin Pheonix stars as Theodore Twombly, an impending divorcee who specialises in working for a website for which he writes letters for people who can't channel their feelings adequately.  In a sense, he's a filter for other peoples' emotions and as such at the start of the film, he's rather blank, despite going through an intense emotional experience with his divorce. Purchasing a new Operating System for his computer and phone, a talking Artificial Intelligence named Samantha, Theodore's perception of feeling and love is gradually turned upside down. Rarely has an actor or actress so thoroughly carried a film on their own.  Pheonix appears in virtually every scene (maybe every one), and gives a frankly brilliant performance.  There are multiple versions of the poster internationally.  Most consist of an extreme close up of Joaquin's face, sporting a manly moustache, however the one included above, possibly does more to convey Theodore's sense isolation as depicted in the movie.  Crucially, Theodore develops as a character, going from rather an emotional cypher, to a person who has learned something about himself, love, relationships and the world.  To use the clichĂ©, he's been on "a journey", something essential to all drama. 

 Essentially this is a two-hander, although there are others in the supporting cast notably Amy Adams in another good showing after "American Hustle", so it's vital that the actress giving voice to Samantha is up to the task, and Scarlett Johansson certainly is that.  It's a performance which blends equal measures of curious, sensual, and robotic flatness.  It must be difficult to present an articulate performance without being able to employ physicality; think, for instance, about how much actors such as Al Pacino rely on their body language to portray their characters.  Spare a thought, though, for Samantha Morton - herself a fantastic actress - who voiced the character during filming, but was subsequently replaced.

This is by far one of Jonze's two best films (Malkovich being the other and not including music videos for the likes of R.E.M, The Chemical Brothers, and  The Beastie Boys); it's certainly streets ahead of uneven fare such as "Where the Wild Things Are" - which was interesting but inconsistent.  In addition to the strong performances from the actors, the Production Design is wondrous and the Cinematography, by Swiss D-P Hoyte van Hoytema (how's that for a name?!), who also shot "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", "The Fighter" and "Let the Right One In", is stylish and graceful, as one would expect given the look of the aforementioned films.  There's an almost permanent air of twilight (not "Twilight"!) and deep haunting.  The script, written by Jonze, is smart and subtle.  Many themes abound; primarily love, lonliness and the need for companionship, emotional intelligence, artificial intelligence, and more.  Without wishing to drop a spoiler (Sweetie!), there's a revelation towards the climax which evokes matter-of-fact coldness from one of the protagonists and crushing devastation for the other.

Furthermore, Jonze's Direction is measured; the movie is much more level-headed than some of his previous work, perfectly paced and utterly absorbing throughout.  And I had no idea exactly where it was going, so it was a pleasant surprise to find out.  The premise could arguably deemed "Science Fitction"; certainly the concept of AI raises that spectre.  Ultimately though, it's just an off-beat, intriguing, brilliantly made, highly original movie.  I love cinema, and am generally well-disposed towards a picture and keen to enjoy it.  That doesn't always happen, of course, but in this instance, I think "Her" is a truly great film, and I'm sure that when I come back to it in future I'll find deeper and deeper levels.  It's been a great year for Cinema, with the likes of "Rush", "Gravity", "The Wolf of Wall Street", "American Hustle", "Walter Mitty", so on and so forth, I can heartily endorse "Her" as being right up there with the best of them.


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