The Films of Tom Tykwer
Run Lola Run
The Princess and the Warrior (April 3/02)
After the incredible success of Run Lola Run, it's no surprise that writer/director Tom Tykwer would want to create a film that's almost a polar opposite of that film. But with The Princess and the Warrior - which does prove that Tykwer is genuinely talented - he's crafted a film that's gorgeous to look at, but completely hollow and devoid of compelling characters. The movie - which details the love/hate relationship between Franka Potente's Sissi and Benno Furmann's Bodo that ensues after the latter saves the former's life - is certainly an exceptionally good-looking film, with Tykwer's skillful direction providing a unique and colorful perspective on the world. Beyond that, however, the film never really progresses to any kind of involving level. The two central characters remain enigmatic and mysterious throughout the film, so it's almost impossible to identify with them or even relate to their actions. Tykwer never allows us to become attached with either of these people, choosing instead to keep us at arms length throughout. And at a running time of over two hours, that sort of structure makes for some serious pacing issues. What it really boils down to is various parts of The Princess and the Warrior are more entertaining than the whole. For instance, there's a blind character at the asylum where Sissi works that's just fascinating - all the more so considering he's actually played by a sightless man. But for every character like that, there's a few more that never add up to much (the psychotic that has a twisted relationship with Sissi, for example. We never find out why Potente's character continues to sexually gratify this man, a person she clearly has no interest in otherwise.) But again, the look and style of The Princess and the Warrior almost makes it worth checking out. Tykwer's got an exceptional eye and should he ever make a film with a coherent storyline, I've no doubt it'll be amazing.
It was only a few short years ago that Tom Tykwer burst onto the scene with Run Lola Run, an audacious and wildly original thriller that won over audiences worldwide. His last film, The Princess and the Warrior, contained a similar amount of style but suffered from an overlong running time and a script that was too weird for it's own good. Now, with Heaven, Tykwer's created a movie that's just as unusual as anything he's done before and is mesmerizing virtually from start to finish. Cate Blanchett stars as Philippa, an English woman living in Italy with a score to settle. Her husband died a few years ago after overdosing on drugs, and after discovering the identity of the dealer, she heads to his office with a bomb (intending, of course, to blow him up). But something goes awry, and he does not die - although four innocents do. Philippa doesn't hide the fact that she's the bomber - she calls the police immediately afterwards and confesses - but is stunned to learn that her intended target was spared. Her regret at her actions evokes the sympathy of a police officer named Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), who devises a plan to help Philippa escape. They do, and head off on a bizarre journey that will take them throughout the Italian countryside. There's nothing conventional about Heaven, from the unpredictable script (co-written by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, director of the critically acclaimed Red, White, and Blue trilogy) to Tykwer's inventive visual style. Though the film kicks off with an exceptionally tense opening sequence, featuring Philippa's bombing attempt, the majority of the movie exists in the same dreamy, off-kilter world that The Princess and the Warrior inhabited. Tykwer fills every shot with gorgeous cinematography, which makes the film (if nothing else) amazing just to look at. But if you don't buy into Tykwer's idealized universe, the majority of the film might be a little hard to swallow. Take, for instance, Filippo's decision to essentially toss his career right out the window to help out a woman he's just met (and hasn't even spoken to). And as the film progresses, we're never really given a concrete explanation for his seemingly instantaneous crush on Philippa (and it's got to be more than just a crush, too, considering the degree to which he's willing to throw his life away). If you can accept that relationship, which is really the core of the film, Heaven will likely be far more effective than it would be for someone who just can't buy Filippo's all-of-a-sudden love for this woman. Because, bottom line, that's what Heaven is all about. There comes a point at which the plot basically fades away, and the movie becomes more about the relationship between these two characters. It's still watchable, certainly, but not quite as compelling as it was near the outset. And then there's the ending, which will no doubt divide viewers. Much like John Sayles' Limbo, the conclusion will either seem like a cop-out or a cathartic moment in the lives of the characters. Still, despite its flaws, Heaven cements Tykwer's status as a great new director and should easily please his fans (though, like The Princess and the Warrior, its laid-back pace will probably upset those who loved the frenetic pace of Run Lola Run).
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
The International (November 30/09)
Though it boasts a plot that's often impossible to comfortably follow, The International nevertheless establishes itself as an exceptional thriller that's consistently elevated by the uniformly superb performances and Tom Tykwer's subdued yet stylish directorial choices. The movie follows Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) as they attempt to bring one of the world's most powerful (and ruthless) banks to justice, with their ongoing efforts hindered by a number of exceedingly sinister figures - including the bank's chairman (Ulrich Thomsen's Jonas Skarssen) and a mysterious, nameless assassin (Brían F. O'Byrne). It's an admittedly dry premise that's employed to unexpectedly enthralling effect by Tykwer, as the filmmaker does a superb job of drawing the viewer into the proceedings right from the get-go - with the inclusion of several genuinely thrilling set-pieces subsequently proving an effective counterbalance to the dialogue-heavy atmosphere. Owen's magnetic turn as the film's perpetually exhausted protagonist certainly plays a key role in The International's undeniable success, with the actor's stirring work effortlessly matched by an eclectic supporting cast that includes James Rebhorn, Ben Whishaw, and Jack McGee. There's little doubt, however, that the movie's highlight comes in the form of a jaw-dropping, downright indelible shootout that transpires within Manhattan's Guggenheim Museum, as Tykwer offers up an electrifying interlude that instantly earns a place for itself within the pantheon of all-time great action sequences and offers more real thrills than anything within all three Bourne movies combined. And although the narrative hits a bit of a lull in the minutes following that blistering confrontation, The International recovers nicely for a perfectly-conceived finale that cements the film's place as a smart and thoroughly entertaining piece of work.
Click here for review.
A Hologram for the King (May 16/16)
Based on the book by Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King follows struggling businessman Alan Clay as he arrives in the Middle East to pitch an expensive new technology to a wealthy monarch. It's a low-key premise that's employed to thoroughly (and consistently) subdued effect by writer/director Tom Tykwer, as the filmmaker, for the most part, remains true to the internal nature of Eggers' lackadaisical novel - with the uneventful narrative augmented by a series of backstory-building flashbacks. There's little doubt, then, that A Hologram for the King's success, however mild it may be, is due almost entirely to Hanks' superb turn as the beleaguered protagonist, as Hanks effectively manages to capture Alan's desperation without sacrificing the natural, inherent charisma for which the actor's known. The almost episodic bent of Tykwer's screenplay ensures, perhaps predictably, that the movie boasts a rather hit-and-miss sort of feel, with the director's strong handle on the material ensuring that A Hologram for the King is nevertheless impressively cohesive for the duration of its appreciatively (and appropriately) brisk running time - although, regrettably, the movie's final stretch doesn't quite contain the emotional resonance one might've anticipated.