I just saw a screening of this tonight, and it ROCKED.
This flick was Hard-Core. Kind of a matter-of-fact, naturally progressing story of a nice brilliant kid who comes from China to a U.S. college to stake his claim to scientific fortune and glory, but instead finds only a politicized academic world he can not penetrate.
A pretty extreme character to start with, but also extremely likable, he turns into a poster- boy for a certain type of desperation with no outlet. You can kind of see it all coming from a mile away, but the outcome still packs a crazy kick in the gut. Maybe even all the more so for its nauseous inevitability.
The movie really puts you in the head-space of a person who most of us insular Americans don't consider too often: the Grad student from a foreign country (like China) who's here against all odds to pursue a prestigious P.H.D., and who's under enormous academic, financial, and familial pressures we can hardly match.
And the way that it's all conveyed to us is beautifully done.
There's a Whole Lotta Feeling in the colors and shapes and sounds and music that are poured over us, like a bath. The subtle but far-reaching color-palette and the composition of the shots are great. Bright colors for the campus (and the "wild west"). Washed-Out Browns and Grays for his parents back in China. Drab Greens and Grays and Blues and Yellows for the students' dormitory apartment. There's a lot of interesting use of space. Both claustrophobic and wide-open, imposing and freeing. The fragmented frame. The sometimes crazy angles. The use of extreme close-ups. The placement of the main guy within much larger spaces in wide shots that emphasize his relative insignificance. He knows he's onto a big break-through about the nature of the universe, but to us he's just another hamster on the wheel.
And it was really sweet the way the whole thing was segmented and labeled with the elements over iconic shots like "fire", "water", "wood", "metal", and what-not. It was in keeping with the themes they had going of natural forces, and the strange physics of human relationships and kiss-ass politics, and what was really there or not, what was the dark matter in play against this guy? forces that he couldn't see operating, on the D.L. wavelengths that he didn't have the science for himself? There's a lot going' on for this guy.
The acting is great all around. Really Cake-Taking in places.
Meryl Streep is under-stated as a supporting player who has some great moments with the main guy, especially in a quiet scene at her place toward the end that's an All-Timer.
Aidan Quinn is great as a professor and potential mentor, and potential player-hater. He embodies qualities both admirable and unforgivable with equal directness and verve. By the end there are indeed shadings of light and darkness to that ever-present twinkle in his eye. A tragic figure himself, he seems like somebody who there's probably a lot of like out there.
And the main guy, the Chinese student, forgive me for not knowing the name please, but this guy is Incredible in this role. I mean he's Awesome. Really Amazing.
I mean, he's so endearing at the beginning. I just wanted things so much to go well for him when he was starting out. He can barely speak English, but the guy communicates so much. And then, as he has more and more trouble navigating the mutual back-scratch society of the U.S. P.H.D. chase, the uncomfortable moments just start snow-balling. And whoever this kid is, he really REALLY takes it there. He's so reaching and vulnerable it's menacing. A real cringer.
It's a tall statement, I know, but his portrayal has amazing echoes, in quality and nature, of De Niro's Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver". In the way that they're both so searching and sincere and even sweet, and yet thwarted at every turn in their quest for belonging and identity and success. Mind you, this kid's got a whole helluva lot more going' on than Travis did, but that adds to the magnitude of his personal tragedy. He's a Genius, with so much amazing potential, but just as much a social cripple and outcast, and even more doomed. It's Heart-Breaking.
Maybe it ain't for everybody.
This is one of those movies that some people might dismiss as "independant" or "artsy- fartsy" or what-have-you, but which is a Damn-Well-Made story, and an uncomfortably familiar one. A sad scary detour off the road to the "American Dream" that we're seeing all too often in the news lately. Whatever the reaction to it is when it hits theaters, It's a movie that'll be looked back on as a searching and serious (and vital) work of art. As something informed by the times and asking some overdue questions. Among them:
What happens? Why's it happen? And how can we keep it from happening again?