Opens Fri., Jan. 16, at Harvard Exit
In Robert Altman's '70s prime, even his herald angel, New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, bitchily refused to sing his praises when he laid a rotten eggabout 50 percent of the time, by her count. But now he's regarded as an old master, a Pantheon frieze still walking among mortal men, and few will admit what a colossal stink bomb The Company is.
Clothespin your nose and open your eyes, and you'll see what appears to be a savage travesty of Altman's style, seemingly photographed with a cell phone and developed in a mud puddle. The script wasn't developed at all, but emitted with a grunt by Barbara Turner (perpetrator of the putrid Pollock) and Neve Campbell, who started out at Canada's National School of Ballet and produced this as a personal prestige vehicle à la Charlize Theron's Monster. She shouldn't have: Though she dances better than you'd expect, she gives herself nothing to do as an actress.
There is zero story, only disconnected vignettes from the life of a ballet corps (which includes real dancers from Chicago's Joffrey Ballet), presided over by smart, slippery Mr. A (Malcolm McDowell). The name refers to real Joffrey honcho Gerald Arpino, with nods to Mr. B (Balanchine) and Mr. A (Altman), sometime orchestrator of gorgeous order out of chaos. Here is only chaos: glimpses of characters never fleshed out; flashes of rehearsals; backstage snit fits; performances good and not. Campbell's character romances a chef (James Franco), but since they're both workaholics, erotic steam dissipates. The dances dissipate, too, because they're presented in snippets. Dance purists berated Chicago for chopping up the dances to obscure the actors' modest terpsichorean gifts. Altman goes farther, chopping up pieces into bits. He tries to depict the evolution of a work of art (mainly choreographer Robert Desrosiers' Blue Snake), but there's no sense of unity to a single character, let alone a company supposedly homing in on a common goal. (To get an idea how this should work, see Mike Leigh's wonderful vignette-based re-creation of the creation of The Mikado in Topsy-Turvy.)
Altman does seize a privileged moment or three, including a solo dancer dervishly rehearsing, and a lovely credit sequence featuring big ribbons and dancers forming human cat's cradles. I'm no dance critic, but I thought the professional hoofers were barely OK. Not so Campbell's big duet to "My Funny Valentine" (which the score repeats ad nauseam). Poor girl: It's a pas de d'oh! (PG-13) TIM APPELO
Opens Fri., Jan. 16, at Metro and others
Written by The Pianist's Ronald Harwood, from a novel by the late, great Brian Moore, The Statement comes with a hoity-toity high-fiction pedigree; and for the most part, its thriller plot maintains a dignified literary air. What's surprising, though, is the anti-Catholicism at the core of its story: Nearly 50 years after WWII, a pardoned Vichy collaborator and murderer (Michael Caine) is being hunted by (a) a rogue Jewish cabal looking to avenge the 1944 Dombey massacre, and (b) a bulldozing judge (Tilda Swinton) attempting to prosecute him with a post-Pinochet crimes-against-humanity charge. The parallel pursuits' primary obstacle is the Catholic Church, depicted as a vast, lawless conspiracy aiding and abetting war criminals, blithely obstructing justice, and assassinating inconvenient witnesses.
The matter-of-fact poison-pen portrait of the world's wealthiest and most secretive organization is easy enough to swallow, but Norman Jewison's slack direction and expository cartoonishness is not. Swinton acts with her swinging pageboy coif, and the revelatory scenes in which she and investigating army dick Jeremy Northam trace the fugitive's path from one safe-house abbey to another are winnowed down to punctuation without text. Caine's passionately devotional running man is a cipherthe equation between his Catholic fervor and his right-wing bloodlust is, finally, zero-sum. The wall-to-wall Brit accents, in the mouths of ostensibly French characters, don't help, but The Statement ends up second-guessing its own high-minded strivings, not trustful enough of its audience to be sophisticated about history and ethics, and not pulpy enough to keep us awake. What would Costa-Gavras have done? (R) MICHAEL ATKINSON