Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Siegel, McGehee, Gordon-Levitt, Collins (and yellow & green) offer UNCERTAINTY

cers David Siegel and Scott McGehee have now collabora-
ted on four films, be-
ginning with Suture in 1994 and continu-
ing with The Deep End in 2001, Bee Season in 2005, with UNCERTAINTY their latest. What unites their work in my mind is the near-consistent sense of an exercise, rather than a fully imagined and lived-in story at the heart of each film. The exer-
cise quotient is high-
est in the duo’s first and last endeavors, with The Deep End and Bee Season adhering on the surface to more conventional narrative styles. Yet the exercise is always present, and though I’m sure this sounds like I am knocking their films, I don't mean to. An exercise, after all, can be challenging and productive.

TrustMovies is of two minds about the work of McGehee (above, left) and Siegel (above, right), all of which is quite fascinating in its way, and while I am somewhat disappointed in their results, I always look forward to their next film. These are highly intelligent filmmakers who like to explore different avenues -- even if their explorations are still reduced to a sort of “game,” in which the filmmakers, their characters and we viewers are enmeshed.

These writer/
directors also surround them-
selves with talent aplenty, particu-
larly where their cinematography is concerned. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of the term black-and-white without Suture (shot by Greg Gardiner) coming quickly to mind. (The Deep End was shot by Giles Nuttgens.) With their latest endeavor, they’ve outdone them-
selves, clarity-
wise, using the Chinese cinematographer Rain Li, whose capture of New York City’s bridges, rivers, subways, parks, rooftops and especially Chinatown is alternately ravishing or ratty and always right. The twosome casts its films with care, as well. Who can forget Tilda Swinton in The Deep End? In Uncertainty, they’ve cornered two of our finest young actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (above, left) and Lynn Collins (below, right) for their leads and brought in Olivia Thirlby and Assumpta Serna for choice backup roles. No surprise: Everyone delivers.

The story concocted by McGehee and Siegel starts off quietly and then jolts us with, first, a symbolic then soon after a quite literal bang. We’re in alter-
nate scenarios: what if this happened? Or what if that? One version is seemingly benign, the other murderous. (I could not help thinking, particularly at the beginning of the film, that the thriller scenario would have made a nifty little movie of its own, were it only better plotted. This team does have some trouble providing believable plot twists.) What seems to me unique about the movie is that its scenarios are color-coded: yellow (for caution?) and green (for go?). Part of the fun of the film comes in noticing where and how these colors crop up – in the costumes, especially, but elsewhere, too. The green is quite social, full of family and rescue; the yellow is lonely and circumscribed. As the film progresses, each scenario grows more like its other. While I wouldn’t trade the mother in the green version for the assassin in the yellow, still, she can be pretty scary in her way. Eventually the two versions seem almost to unite, first during a fireworks display (the film takes place on July 4th) and later in sex and then sleep.

Free will and chance enter heavily into the equation, and I suspect the filmmakers believe in them both. At least Uncertainty seems to say as much. If the movie begins better than it ends, this is all too often the case, and not only in the work of this duo. Great ideas seem more available than is the ability to play them out properly. Moment to moment, however, the movie is quite watchable, with Collins and Gordon-Levitt on point throughout. Uncertainty begins its On-Demand run tomorrow November 11, via most major cable providers. Consult yours and then go to IFC On-Demand to select. Theatrically, the movie opens Friday, November 13, exclusively at NYC's IFC Center.

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