Sunday, August 26, 2012
Jan Kounen’s Blueberry, reviewed by Travis Hedge Coke
“Moebius did comics under so many aliases because if it was blatantly obvious one guy could draw that many different kinds of awesome,” a clerk in a comics shop in California once told me, “most of the industry would give up their pencils in frustration.” Perhaps not actuality, that has a mythic rightness to it. Like our busted-nosed southerner for whom this movie is named, Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, aka Gir, is easier to take in, the less we know about him.
Now, Giraud is dead, as is Ernest Borgnine, who makes one of his last appearances in Blueberry. In the opening moments of the movie – for most of the movie – Blueberry, ol’ Mike himself, believes he is dead or dying. But entertainment with such a sense of flourish, of vibrancy should be tangled up with the dead.
The Blueberry of the early comics was a Lt. Columbo in the Old West, schlubby, smart, humble, endearing to the audience and annoying to guilty bastards and by-the-book hardcases everywhere. Movie-style Blueberry (Vincent Cassel) is a bit more serious, his troubles show on his face more readily, but he’s still a guy whose appearance, whose demeanor belies his depths. But, the movie hits all the major beats for a Blueberry story: nobody suspects what our man can do, it’s a time and place of white bullies running the show, no one can outrun a bullet, the sun always sets, and Indians make good scapegoats.
And, while the movie goes for a different style of visual than the comics, it channels the same robust stillness and courage to embrace experiential (and not emic/narrative) imagery. The characters are delineated in disparities, so many of the actors, including Colm Meaney, Michael Madsen, Juliette Lewis, and Temuera Morrison can fill in the blanks with gesture and mannerism. The DP and CGI crew worked diligently to balance every scene, each frame, making many moments crisp and memorable solely by the gorgeous organization that has gone into their arrangement.
I think that, after Unforgiven, Dead Man, and The Crow, filmmakers acknowledged that different directions had to be taken with the Western to justify its existence as anything but nostalgia fuel. Blueberry is one of the few in the past two decades that has risen to that, thankfully not mistaking confidence for being reassuring or coddling.