8 April 2000 | nunculus
Toback's best movie since FINGERS
It's the one Tobackonists have been waiting for since the thrill of his debut movie FINGERS--a movie with the soar and rush of obsession that also has the sanity and craft of a grown man. This movie about the uneasy millennium-era relationship of black and white people in America is not, as many people have said, a work of moony White Negroism. It resembles one of Godard's mid-sixties essay-movies like MASCULINE FEMININE or TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER, but with race substituted for sexual politics, and with a heavy dose of pornography and melodramatic pulp. Toback keeps cranking up the heat as the cast--a conceptual-art demonstration of stunt casting--leaves the audience openmouthed.
Bijou Phillips is a wonder as the wigga-talkin' Upper East Side chiclet who proclaims, "I wanna be black--I'm a kid in America." Ben Stiller, as a tormented dirty cop, gives the performance of his life in a high-speed monologue of self-analysis that's like a speed freak's channeling the essence of Robert Downey, Jr. The great man himself appears here as well, as a gay artist who comes on to Mike Tyson (playing himself) at a party. The scene of violence that ensues should have James Toback clinking a glass in celebration in the mirror: he managed to top the Jim Brown/Tisa Farrow head-smashing sequence in FINGERS. Brooke Shields is an amazement as a fervent, sincere documentarian with dredlocks--she's like a deadpan version of the Geraldine Chaplin character in NASHVILLE, and Shields astonishes.
Toback wants to cram everything into this bird's eye view of race--sexual fantasies, money machinations, the class strata of New York City. That none of the scenes is a dud, that the movie is beautifully shot and edited, that nothing feels merely "excessive," is a testament to the passion behind the camera. BLACK AND WHITE is a miracle to this viewer: it renewed my excitement and faith in movies at a moment when I felt it falling down.