Friday, January 02, 2009

“Thirty days of night," is a serviceable take on the vampire genre, a hybrid of Katherine Bigelow’s “ Near Dark,” John Carpenter's “Ghost of Mars” and “Tremors”, in which a gang of existential Vampires besiege a remote Alaskan town.

What’s really significant about it however, is that the leader of the vampire gang is played by Danny Huston. He’s not on screen for any huge amount of time, nor does he really have to do anything other than provide a nemesis to hero Josh Hartnett’s self sacrificing cop, nonetheless he once again steals the show. This is as much a testimony to Huston's greatness as anything. It would be wrong to dismiss Hartnett as a generic himbo, for all his square-jawed matinee idol prettiness he has managed to bring depths of conflict and yearning to most of his recent roles in a series of largely mediocre films, most obviously in De Palma’s “The Black Dahlia”, but also in the so-so remake of “L’appartement" “Wicker Park" (in which he was unfortunate enough to have to compete with memories of Vincent Cassel) and the grindingly po-mo-by-numbers "Lucky Number Slevin.” Clearly though, he’s no match for Huston. Then again, who is?

Few people do voluble, highborn raffishness as well as Huston, witness his towering performances in "IVANSXTC" or "Birth," but in “30 days” he has no intelligible dialogue whatsoever, speaking a subtitled Vampire language augmented by a range of growls, barks and hisses. The gang-leader is a typically, self-consciously modern Vampire, a Romantic nihilist driven by hunger and pain who spouts the usual cod-Nietszchean aphorisms on the godlessness of the universe and the lemming-like stupidity of the mass. It’s a deeply unpromising B-movie bit-part, an unlikey choice for Huston, especially after the overweeningly "literary", Nick Cave scripted "The Proposition", yet he somehow manages to transform into another great performance.
It’s precisely the kind of role that a lesser actor would have camped up and exaggerated, Huston’s tactic seems to be to play it as a kind of saturnine Eastern European thuglord, there’s no cartoon villainy in it all, in fact its marked by a certain slack jawed, heavy browed weariness. What’s additionally interesting about both the role and the performance is that Huston has to speak a non-existent language and communicate in guttural yelps. Again he performs semi-miracles with this unappetizing task, managing not just to bring meaning but even nuance to shrieks, wails and potentially absurd clusters of spooky alien sibilance.

I’m not really suggesting you go out of your way to watch it, but if you do, watch it for him.


parody said...

Hartnett is a piece of wood but a much better lay than Danny, who gets typecast in villainous roles because he has a sexually repellent demeanor. But you're praising Danny because you don't want to admit to yourself, do you now, how deeply attracted you really were to Josh, so much you'd almost FAINTED like Kidman in ''Birth''.

carl said...

except i'd have been praising Danny since IVANSXTC... i'm not sure Hartnett is that wooden... or at least, he uses his woodenness well. Actually, when it comes to swooning, i much prefer Aaron Eckhart. the black dahlia was a bit of a queer fest, wannit?

parodija said...

Yes it was pleasantly queeny, I even imagined myself as Hilary Swank playing with Josh's muscled chest and speaking in a velvety noirish voice.
But most DePalmas are brilliant Hitchcock parodies with a serious undercurrent (in this case, the ontological threat men experience from women).

Dejan Nikolic said...

I mean ok maybe I could go along with you on Danny if he ever WASHED HIS HAIR, but there's something about that look that makes him look like a pig.