11 September 2008 | bob the moo
Out of date before it was even green-lit but is still interesting and Mendes is good (but too sexual for her own good)
Live! has had a VERY limited release in the UK which is not a judgement of quality but more a financial decision it didn't do well in other countries so why throw more money after it in cinemas when it will still perform on DVD and ultimately on television. Knowing that being a box-office underperformer didn't mean it was no good I decided to check it out for myself as the concept did appear interesting if not exactly original. There have been other films satirising cruel reality television and some of them have been pretty good so Live! could not just trade on the "good idea". And sadly, nor does it because in practice it is not as smart as it would like to think it is, however neither is it without value. The "good idea" is perhaps too excessive to be able to function within a "real world" setting and as a result the film struggles to really convince that it would happen as easily as it shows it happening. What the process of getting it to happen does allow for is lots of cynicism about the motivations of those involved in making television shows and I never felt any of that was exaggerated despite the subject.
So far so good (but not great) and so the film continues, very much focusing on Katy's drive to make it happen and the cynical methods she uses (which are of course convincingly portrayed as normal within her role). The story gets tense when it comes to the show itself but then sadly gives way to so-so ending that does feel a little too tidy and obvious but still just about works. The problem with the whole film is that, while appearing to be very clever and interesting, the actual point is nothing that hasn't been done many, many years ago when the trend started in fact even Running Man all those years ago did the same sort of thing (which I assume is the reason for the smart referential casting of Glaser as he directed that film about twenty years ago). So what we are left with is that ratings is God and that the corporate bodies that make television have morals second and shareholders first, that people will watch stuff they have never seen before and that there will always be people willing to do anything for money or fame if they are desperate or attention-seeking enough. OK. So the film has told me something that more than a decade of cruel game-shows, bug-eating and so on had already shown me for real the only difference being that the death-aspect makes it somehow more impacting, but yet not more intelligent. It is a shame because no matter how well everyone does making it, they are still doing something that is almost past the point of satirising and they struggle to convey why the film has been made now and not 5-10 years ago.
Anyway, one of the bigger motivation factors for me watching was to see Mendes in a lead role. Like many men, I like her because she is sexy in looks and how she carries herself but this is not necessarily the same as being able to act so I have been encouraged to see her doing projects that ask her to do more than giggle and flirt (and indeed the upcoming Bad Lieutenant film is unlikely to be the rom-com that many in her position would choose). In this film she does do a good job and convinces throughout as a sharp TV executive being driven without being desperate but the one problem I had was that she pushed (or was directed to push) too hard on the sex side. Now I know that women in this sort of environment have to be deliberately strong and can use flirting as part of their armoury. However Mendes could have convinced as a strong executive in this way without being so heavily sexualised. I am split on the subject because she has awesome legs (for the first ten minutes they are the dominant thing on screen) and I love seeing her in light and sexy clothing) but it is already part of her performance without her having to force it down the audience's throat. Again, I could watch it muted just for her but having her being so playful in sponsor meetings etc just didn't wash with me and took away from the "professional" part of her character that she also had to play. She is not "bad" in it but I don't think that the film represented a showcase for her as an actor so much as showing that if you are looking for someone effortlessly playful and sexual without being yet another blonde starlet fresh in town then she can do that but we knew that already. I'll never know of course but it would be interesting to know how she sees her performance.
The rest of the cast are solid enough but are very much behind the Mendes and nobody has much time to work with. Braugher is watchable as always, even with his limited time, while Krumholtz is not that good a character or a performance. The contestants are all convincing when it comes to the crunch and that does mean the end of the film is quite gripping which is a fair acknowledgment from the film, that people WOULD watch and WOULD find it gripping, which is different from saying it is right to do so. Live! is an interesting film that benefits from a perhaps overly-sexual Mendes but it cannot get over the fact that it is at least five years too late and doesn't bring anything to the table that hasn't been done before