Thursday, April 30, 2009


"Elephant" is a somewhat weary jab at the maladjusted teens and college students who turn a gun against their entire school. Gus Van Sant, though, is more interested than just constructing a tale of this sort. He takes his time, showing a full, staggered day at a high school where people go about their day and not much really seems to be happening. Van Sant follows a few students around, employing his low-resolution techniques to a great extent. He also works up a quasi-quirky script where he seems to find the right pitch, at least for the first hour (as the events spiral out of control, so does the film). He also goes into disturbing territory. What's especially odd is the choice to use the actors' names as those of the killers and victims. Alex Frost plays Alex, a disturbed student ripped apart so much by his school experience as well as Eric (Eric Deulen). They decide to end it all on a day like every other, just the case with every other shooting. To get an idea, they prepare by playing senselessly violent computer games and watching old Nazi tapes. What's strange about this film is that all of this is encompassed in the last twenty minutes. Before is a classic Van Sant work of cinematographic genius. Although he can't really balance out the film for even 80 minutes, he can create marvelous compositions. Visually, "Elephant" is a stunner. Harris Savides (who shot "Milk," "Gerry," and "The Game") is a stellar cameraman. He and Van Sant use the shooting location they have to the fullest extent. As a structure, it's also quite an interesting film. The time frame is staggered, so you're not exactly sure when everything happens. There are visual and audio signifiers to tie everything up, of course. Speaking of really tying the film up, Van Sant, as I said before, can't hold it all together. I thought it was very strong, but the ending was too tangled up in gunsmoke to really finish off. B+

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