REALITY WITHOUT AUTHENTICITY
by Kevin Bowen
published January 22, 2008
now playing nationwide
A towering seaborne creature attacks the cast
and set of a W.B. network youth drama during the filming of its very special
New York episode. The ground shakes. Buildings crumble. The Statue of Liberty loses its head with one good swack. Dazed by the swift fury
and desolate anarchy of the cratering city, a group of marginal actors falls back on what comes naturally to marginal actors
– overperforming an emotionally vapid, damsel-in-distress plotline and hoping to survive until the director finally yells, “That’s a
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to
Cloverfield, the Godzilla movie for the YouTube age. Not only does the monster smash acres of Manhattan skyline and bring us the head
of Lady Liberty. The thing totally ruins a pretty kick-ass farewell party, as well. Not only a destructive mutant, he’s a party pooper, too.
As confused young drunkards pour into the street, as one pal records the whole thing allegedly on a camcorder, a group of friends track
through the surreal maze of gunfire, monsters, and corpses, looking for one guy’s girlfriend trapped in a tipped apartment building. Will they
live? Will they find love? Will the cameraman ever put the damn thing down for a minute? Find out in this very special episode
Are audiences ready for a movie that
demolishes New York? I have good news for those who aren’t. This doesn’t strike me as New York. Not really. There are no old
people. No ugly people. No tired. No poor. No huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Director Matt Reeves and producer JJ Abrams (ABC's
“Lost”) have rub-a-dub scrubbed this Big Apple of all but its most beautiful inhabitants, and you suspect that Martin Scorsese doesn’t make it
out alive. If you leave the theater wondering about the motivation for the wrath of the monster, perhaps he was disappointed with his plastic
I don’t instinctively mind the handheld,
amateur cameraman conceit. But when you make that choice, as Reeves and Abrams have done, you raise certain expectations of a realistic,
verite experience. Instead, Cloverfield is like watching a “reality” show pieced together by control freaks. Its style seems
meticulously combed and picked over. Yet with all the fuss, the movie still badly misses a satisfying level of authenticity.
Cloverfield has no real-to-life dead space. No weird side trips. No dead ends. Quiet moments get lanced by cell phones. Small
silences exist only to compress the gases of eventual activity. For allegedly being recovered by the government from a pile of rubble, the
video has been curiously well edited for pace, its characters expertly burned down to the plotline. No moments are there to bore, to
breathe in, to exist with only the idea of existence in mind.
Is it wrong to complain about a monster
movie’s acting? Not in this case. With its verite promises, this one needs a particular kind of performance. Stars are out of the question. So
you should use fresh up-and- comers who blend in easily, or non-actors entirely. Instead, Cloverfield casts inexperienced actors of
limited bearing, seemingly culled from all of the nation’s best hair salon advertisements, and asks them to convince you that a big, bad
monster really is upturning tankers and busting bridges in New York harbor. You never feel these are anything more than hungry, pretty
wannabes running through an acting school exercise. Compare this cast to the pitch-perfect anonymity of United 93, and it doesn’t
There’s no halfway with Cloverfield.
Either you dig in or you don’t dig it at all. There’s no way to say how any one person will react to it and its corporately endorsed, J. Crew
hipness. (Sheesh, is this country in need of a counterculture, or what?) Its 9-11 metaphors are so menial that I nearly failed to mention
them. If it sounds like I’m pooping this party, it may be the one common thing that the monster and I have in mind.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com