[THE CANYONS screens Saturday November 9th at 7:25 pm and Sunday November 10th at 8:25 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Milan Paurich
oeuvre. In films like TAXI DRIVER, HARDCORE,
AMERICAN GIGOLO, and
THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS, Schrader’s authorial voice has
mixed voyeurism with disgust, even dread. Not surprisingly, he’s
even conflated sex with death on more than one occasion (e.g., his
harrowing 2002 Bob Crane biopic AUTO FOCUS).
Schrader’s last two movies (THE WALKER and ADAM
RESURRECTED) were critical and box-office duds, devoid of even
scholarly interest. But his latest, THE CANYONS, ranks among
the finest work of his career. Ironically, it’s one of the rare
Schrader-directed films not written by him. Scripted by Bret Easton
Ellis of “American Psycho” fame (or is that infamy?), it’s an
uber-stylish, wildly provocative look at contemporary SoCal manners,
mores and murder.
Starring tabloid magnet Lindsay Lohan (heartbreakingly
brilliant) and boy-next-door porn star James Deen (startlingly good),
the film zigs just when you think it’s going to sag, and keeps you
happily buzzed from beginning to end. At a time when most big-ticket
Hollywood movies seem content to function as expensive wallpaper,
this micro-budgeted indie proves you don’t need a $200-million
budget to make art that matters.
Lohan plays Tara, the live-in lover of poor little rich kid/
aspiring producer Christian (Deen). It’s a Sybaritic, bordering on
decadent existence, mostly consisting of dinners at the notorious
Chateau Marmont (not coincidentally the scene of John Belushi’s
fatal overdose) and partner-swapping with pretty young couples
Christian meets online.
Things take an unexpected--and potentially lethal turn--when
Tara’s hunky ex, Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk), is cast in Christian’s
Grade-D horror opus. Jealousies (Christian’s) surface and flames
(Tara and Ryan’s) are rekindled. Nothing is what it seems and
everyone’s motives are suspect. You’ll never see the ending
The film’s visual scheme is cooly, moodily monochromatic.
When primary colors suddenly appear, it’s almost a shock. The
experience--more than a little unnerving--is akin to staring into an
aquarium filled with a particularly exotic species of fish. Tara and
Christian seem to be floating in a chemical-induced sea of ennui:
they’re like modern-day (American) variants of the beautiful people
Fellini immortalized in LA DOLCE VITA. Yet only TMZ addicts
would (could?) describe their disaffected lifestyles as “glamorous”
or remotely desirable. “Welcome to L.A.” indeed.
I described Lohan’s performance as “heartbreaking”
because it’s a touching reminder of what the former child star is
capable of. And of all the great performances we missed because of
Lohan’s ongoing personal travails. Not surprisingly, it’s also
the first time she’s worked with a first-rate director since
costarring in Robert Altman’s PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION seven
Deen has the “look” and charisma of someone who could
easily cross over to mainstream projects if he so desires. (He gives
great smolder.) Funk and Amanda Brooks (as Ryan’s girlfriend and
Christian’s personal assistant) bring such effortless naturalism to
their roles they seem less like movie characters than real Los
Angelenos you might find networking in a trendy West Hollywood
bistro. After a couple of misfires, Schrader has once again returned
to the land of the living. Rarely has a filmmaker’s kinks and
peccadillos so indelibly fueled their art. 4 out of 4 stars.