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Lost in Translation (September 27/03)

Lost in Translation marks Sofia Coppola's second directorial effort, following The Virgin Suicides, and it's just about on par with that film. The two movies share a dreamy quality and relaxed pace that you're either going to love or hate; with the right mindset, there's no doubt that Lost in Translation has the potential to come off as a tremendously moving human drama. But if you're not willing to go with Coppola's laid-back manner of storytelling, it's unlikely the film's going to mean much beyond the admittedly stellar performances.

The film centers around two Americans in Japan: Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a popular American actor in town to shoot a high-paying whiskey commercial, while Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is the bored wife of a famous photographer who's killing time by decorating her hotel room. Both characters spend a lot of time in the hotel's bar, where the two finally strike up a conversation. They begin to get to know each other through various excursions outside of the hotel, and quickly become good friends.

Storywise, there's not much more to Lost in Translation. But as Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise has already proved, it's certainly possible to center an entire movie around two characters and their conversations. But Coppola's more interested in establishing the mood of this foreign land, instead of allowing us to really get to know the two central characters. There's a sequence near the end of Lost in Translation in which Bob and Charlotte lie on a bed and talk about marriage, that is without question the highlight of the film - primarily because it's such a rarity to find a sequence that relies purely on dialogue to keep things moving. Coppola does offer us snippets here and there regarding the two characters - Charlotte's already miserable in her marriage, Bob's not feeling fulfilled as an actor - but such moments are too far and few between sequences featuring the pair running through arcades and singing at karaoke bars.

Fortunately, Coppola's done a fabulous job of casting these two characters. Murray, in particular, likely gives the performance of his career as Bob; though there are comedic elements sprinkled throughout the story (such as when Bob struggles with an exercise machine), Murray's required to play it straight for the majority of the film. Both he and Coppola realize that he's got this wonderfully expressive face, as there are several sequences in which he doesn't say a thing - but the look on his face speaks volumes. Johansson is just as good, and with her leading role in the upcoming Girl with a Pearl Earring, she's certainly poised to move into the A-list. She deftly matches Murray's Oscar-worthy performance with remarkable ease, especially when you consider she's not even out of her teens.

While Lost in Translation isn't quite the masterpiece a lot of critics have been saying it is, the film does stand as real proof that Coppola's got genuine talent (not to mention that she's not just a one-hit wonder). And, of course, there's Murray's performance - which is completely different than anything he's done before. It's not surprising he doesn't want to appear in silly comedies anymore; he's become an actor of surprising ability.

out of

© David Nusair