21 September 2014 | aforandromeda
Dull, creaky drama that's devoid of relevance.
The Canyons lays it's cards on the table right from the beginning. The opening scene introduces the main protagonists right off the bat, a curious tactic that immediately signposts the motivations of all the characters.
Tara (Lindsay Lohan) and her rich boyfriend Christian (James Deen) are a couple seemingly living the Hollywood dream. Christian is in the process of cobbling together a low budget slasher movie, using his considerable trust fund in order to break into the film industry. However, the movie's lead, the naive and inexperienced Ryan (Nolan Funk), has a secret that threatens to derail the movie and shatter Tara's relationship with Christian. What follows is a story of suspicion, betrayal and secrets, set in the seedy underbelly of a Los Angeles populated by dream chasers and wanton, predatory selfishness.
The first ten minutes tell the audience immediately that we are dealing with shallow and vacuous individuals, grasping at every opportunity in order to satisfy their self serving natures. This presents the main problems that ultimately ruin any chance that The Canyons might have had of being a compelling drama. In order for a drama to succeed where the majority of the characters are simply dreadful, there has to something to engage the viewer. That could be an interesting script, stylish direction or passionate and sincere performances. The Canyons regrettably has none of these to offer the viewer.
Bret Easton Ellis' script is quite amazingly dull. It really does give the actors very little to work with. The story line contains an unbelievable series of coincidences, the dialogue would embarrass an amateur dramatics class and the characters have no depth to them at all. Lohan tries gamely to prove her acting chops in some scenes, but the dialogue gives her nothing but tired, predictable lines to try and give some life to. It doesn't help matters any further for her that she spends most of the movie opposite James Deen, a porn star who has little or no real acting experience. He starts the movie off reasonably enough, but by the end his acting becomes forced and clichéd. Unfortunately, although Deen isn't primarily a dramatic actor, you can't help but feel that a better director could have coached more out of him. However, even he is streets ahead of the ludicrously named Nolan Funk, who gives a vacant, amateurish and dreadfully stilted performance. That leads me to one of the most significant problems that The Canyons suffers from, that being director Paul Schrader.
Despite his impressive list of past credits, including directing edgy and challenging projects such as Blue Collar and American Gigolo, as well as writing screenplays for most notably Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, it's made abundantly clear from The Canyons why he doesn't make many movies these days. His style is quite simply outdated and his efforts here show that he has done little to keep up with the changes in modern film making that audiences do not unreasonably expect.
The camera-work is creaky and linear, the editing is poor and he overwhelmingly fails to get the best out of an admittedly ragbag collection of actors. You always feel like the crew are in the scene, such are the hackneyed nature of the set ups. For example, many scenes feature an entrance from a character walking into a room with the camera at first at a distance, then either panning across or following them in an unimaginative and linear fashion once it leaves it's previously rigidly static position. Many set ups feel disconcertingly framed, yet they feature hardly anything of interest, lending a stagey, unnatural feel to the proceedings. Strangely, the much talked about sex scenes are so tepid and perfunctory you wonder why they were even bothered with, yet it seems Schrader wanted to elicit some kind of outrageous shock value from them. As they stand, even the actors look rather embarrassed to be in them, even though of course one of them is a porn star.
The talky nature of the dialogue also grates even more than it should as the scenes appear disjointed, either being too long or too short, then simply going on to leave the plot devoid of pace and flow. Locations are curiously bland and the cinematography is completely by the numbers. It all feels very much like the work of someone who didn't have any fresh ideas or flair to assist this very oddly assembled cast who were stuck working with such a tepid script. Everything feels very clichéd and predictable, almost to the point of ridicule.
While Lohan's allegedly erratic behaviour on the set of The Canyons has been well documented, she is actually the only member of this motley crew of a cast to show any real acting ability. There are a handful of scenes that serve as reminders that before her life descended into chaos, she was indeed an real talent with great potential. It would therefore be unfair to blame Lohan and point the finger at her, as many have done, for the critical mauling that The Canyons received. The real blame must go to Ellis and Schrader. I find it remarkable that such an empty screenplay would be made into a movie in the first place and Schrader is a director who is squarely stuck in the past, with his best days as an auteur sadly long behind him.
It's hard to fathom out to what kind of audience The Canyons was aimed at, as it has contains so little in the way of redeeming features. It all amounts to what is frankly an irrelevant and entirely unessential piece of film making that's unquestionably one to avoid. Unfortunately for Lindsay Lohan, this project should have been one for her to avoid as well.