Sunday, August 17, 2008

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is not a western or a film about equestrians, it is Sydney Pollack's bleak, sickening, and jarring take on a dance marathon that drives many insane and is downright cruel. It does show horses, and it compares human beings to horses, but is mostly about desperation and wether or not $1500 is really worth everything that all the dancers go through on their quest to take home the cash. Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin star as a couple competing in the physically and mentally demanding dance-off, where they compete against a pregnant woman named Ruby (Bonnie Bedelia) and her husband (Bruce Dern), an veteran named Harry "Sailor" Kline (Red Buttons) and Shirley Clayton (Allyn Ann McLerie) (who is gradually driven insane), a glamorous actress named Alice (Susannah York), and many more competitors in this sadistic and inhumane contest/show run by Rocky (Gig Young), who will do anything to entertain his audience: anything. Anyways, "Horses" is Pollack's most depressing and cinematic film, not better than "Tootsie," but still a cinema classic. The main problem that I found with the movie was how time lapsed unrealistically, and although this was done to create a massive surrealistic effect, it defied the laws of reality in that a body dies after not sleeping for a very long period of time. And the contest committee, although giving food and medical support, only gave small breaks, not enough to stay alive. The movie partially solves this when Buttons' character tragically is worked as far as he can go and he dies, but doesn't include enough realism in this aspect to really lock into us who are looking for flawless material. Not to say that the film does not work, as it most certainly works and works and works as hard as it's characters, and it works well. It was a wise decision to milk the film out to 120 minutes, instead of making it shorter, as it creates the same desperation as a viewer that the onscreen participants are feeling. Plus, to add to that, everyone is really splendid in their roles: Fonda as the always sassy, but ultimately depressed Gloria, Sarrazin as the late entrant who dissolves into the same as Gloria, Buttons as the old-timer, who finally can't go any further, York as the actress who also eventually is driven mad, and Young as the creator and runner of the competition. Superb work by Pollack in his directoral debut, trumping the competition. A-

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