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Simon Boccanegra

At Eternity's Gate (2018)

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Thoughts, anyone?  I'll admit, I mostly watched this to close out a category (Best Actor). Had it not been nominated for something major, I might have given it a pass. I felt the life of Van Gogh specifically, and misunderstood dead artists generally, had already been adequately covered in film. The reviews I read were approving rather than ecstatic.   

It's certainly a beautiful movie visually, and Julian Schnabel gives the last years of Van Gogh a lyrical treatment. I wasn't wild about the gimmicky dialogue looping, unsynchronized audio and partly smeared lens to convey a loosening grip on reality, nor about the screenplay's tendency to spell out points for us. One of the best scenes has Van Gogh trying to explain to a less sophisticated person why he would be reading "the story of a bastard," by a writer (Shakespeare) who is mysterious and not always clear. The woman shrugs that she wants to understand what she reads, and she likes the popular fiction of the time. (We're supposed to make a connection to multiplex-goers, I guess.) But the film containing this scene isn't that challenging. It is engrossing for whole scenes at a time, such as the "Christ and Pilate" scene with Van Gogh and the chaplain at the institution (with Scorsese's Jesus in the "Christ" role, no less), but there are torpid stretches between them.  

I didn't mind that Willem Dafoe was decades older than Van Gogh lived to be, because I could believe Van Gogh's late thirties looking not that far from Dafoe's well-preserved late middle age. I did find Dafoe very good here, though not the best he's ever been. I've seen this sort of plaintive performance from him before when he's played a sympathetic character. Oscar Isaac is one of my favorite actors, but his Gauguin is the first time I've felt he was miscast. He can do "period" (as in his breakthrough performance in Inside Llewyn Davis), but in this particular period, he reads as too contemporary: magnetic as ever, but not wholly convincing. Rupert Friend is fine as Theo, but doesn't have all that much to do.   

I doubt I will remember this one very well down the line. Dafoe is a long shot in his category, in the least-seen film of the five, far behind Malek and Bale, unless there's some very quiet "He's due" sentiment for him. This is his fourth Oscar nomination, the first in the lead category, over a period of 32 years. The others were for PlatoonShadow of the Vampire, and The Florida Project.  

Edited by Simon Boccanegra
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Hadn't even heard of this.

Looks like Robert Altman's Vincent & Theo, with Tim Roth and Paul Rhys, has higher reviews.

But Van Gogh is obviously a popular figure so there are a lot of movies, shows and books.

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