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I have a feeling many people will hate Slipstream, Anthony Hopkins’s new experiment that plays like an energetic David Lynch movie. For starters, it makes no effort to make any kind of sense.
It’s clearly meant to be a kind of dream/puzzle movie like Mulholland Drive: the movie, as it’s presented to us, is actually a dream that the main character is having, and we’re supposed to piece together what’s “real” based on the deranged, out-of-order information the dream gives us. At least, that’s what I think. Audiences typically approach these choose-your-own-interpretation movies in two ways: they either get really obsessed with figuring them out, or they think the whole thing is a colossal waste of time.
I must admit I was tempted to take the second route and zone out, but then I reconsidered. If I’m stuck in a dark theater for an hour and a half, I might as well pay attention and get into it…especially if that’s, you know, my job. I usually never take notes during movies, but if there was ever a movie I was going to do it with, it might as well be Slipstream. I fished a pen out of my pocket and started furiously writing down what was going on in hopes that I could piece it all together later.
So, what did I conclude?
The short answer: Hopkins (who wrote and directed) stars as Felix Bonhoeffer, an aging screenwriter/actor. A movie is currently being shot in the desert starring Christian Slater, Jeffrey Tambor, and S. Epatha Merkerson, but the production is a mess, and they bring in Bonhoeffer to re-write the thing.
The only thing is, all of that might be the dream part: in reality, Bonhoeffer is writing a script about an aging screenwriter/actor, based on himself, getting sent to re-write the script of a troubled movie being shot in the desert.
And then of course, there’s the real-life reality: Anthony Hopkins wrote a script about an aging screenwriter/actor based on himself, who’s writing a script about an aging screenwriter/actor based on himself, who gets sent to the desert, etc., just as Hopkins actually did in real life when he shot the film.
Head spinning yet?
Hopkins himself described the film as being “about a man, who’s caught in a slipstream of time falling back on itself and he remembers his own future.” The movie itself defines a slipstream as a sort of dream within a dream within a dream, which I guess is exactly what the movie is. There are about six distinct levels of reality.
So hopefully at this point I’ve given you a good inkling of what to expect (if you’re hopelessly confused, that’s the idea). Now the much more important question: is it good?
I’d say yes, although like I warned
before, it really only depends on how much thought you feel like putting into it. As a film, it feels like the work of a first-time filmmaker who can’t believe he’s lucky enough to be making a movie. For an old veteran like Hopkins who could’ve started phoning it in years ago, that’s a big compliment.
Sometimes the movie stylistically overdoes it, most glaringly in its use of semi-subliminal flashes of random images. That can be a fun device – it worked in Fight Club – but here it happens with maddening frequency; in some scenes, the random images pop up at a rate of two or three times every minute. Aside from being just plain annoying, there’s no rhyme or reason to it: occasionally the images are of characters who haven’t yet appeared in the film, and occasionally they’re of historical figures like Hitler, which seems wildly out of place for a movie like this.
On the other hand, the ensemble cast is spectacular and varied; aside from those previously mentioned, we’re given Michael Clarke Duncan as either a corpse, a bouncer, or an actor; Camryn Manheim as the film-within-the-film-within-the-dream’s continuity supervisor (she’s given the funniest line in the movie); John Turturro as an insane studio exec named Harvey; and best of all, actor Kevin McCarthy, playing himself.
The 93-year-old McCarthy starred in the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is referenced multiple times here; Bonhoeffer comes across him in a diner and then gives him a ride, only to have him disappear. It’s barely more than a cameo, but the remarkably sharp McCarthy is haunting in the role, giving the film its strongest dream-like aura.
Not all of Slipstream works – even in a movie like this, some bits feel extraneous, notably Turturro’s movie exec and a blonde woman (Lisa Pepper) who’s in a lot of the film but doesn’t seem to do anything. But sometimes, like with McCarthy and some recurring appearances by a man who might be Death himself, the film hits its mark beautifully. If you’re at all into these types of films, Slipstream is worth checking out. But many of you will hate it.
Movie Grade: B+
Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins writes, directs, and stars in this surreal tale of one man’s journey into a vortex where reality and dreams collide. Aging screenwriter Felix Bonhoeffer (Hopkins) has lived his life in two states of existence"”the world of reality and the world inside his head. Hired to rewrite a murder mystery set in a desert diner and unaware that his brain is on the verge of implosion, Felix is politely baffled when the characters from his movie start showing up in his life and vice versa. Felix tries to maintain his equanimity as reality and fantasy collide in an increasingly whirling slipstream, while his memory
banks fire off seemingly random references to songs and sci-fi movies from the 1950s.