The film is beautifully filmed. Its a homage to classic American film, it has a strange sense of time and place like it could almost be the 1950’s. The sounds that accompany the film add to that classic feel of the movie, its always there adding atmosphere to the film like movies used to do.
The film deals with many things though its main themes are class, hate, and violence.
Class and power are brought up. The wealthy in the film seem to wield power casually over those they view as not of their caste. The lawyer omitted evidence that would have resulted in a dismissal just because he ‘knew’ this rough white guy had to have done the crime. The way he gets favors from his wealthy pals its obvious that if he defending someone of his caste he would have presented the evidence.
In fact the ease with which someones life is ruined and the world doesn’t even pay it an ounce of attention, this is one of the most terrifying things in the film. The film really shows the impact of power unlike any film i’ve seen.
How does someone hate? To many people its some vague notion. To others its a sin. The ‘christian’ judge in the film represents this viewpoint, chastising a man who has been abused and hounded by a psychopath because he is ‘displaying’ negative emotions. While he himself has probably never experienced any major wrong inflicted on him by another, he has never had to resist hate.
De Niros character never tried to resist it, he dove straight into it. 14 years in prison breeding and brewing hatred. Thats the films point, this guy is no saint and we have no doubt about that. But the viewer struggles with his feelings because he knows Noltes character was wrong, and we see how 14 years of prison has twisted De Niro and we hear about what happened to him there. One is forced to think, if someone set me up and got me put in prison would I hate to the point that De Niro would?
The flip side of this course is how easy Noltes character loses it when faced with a similar situation to the abuse De Niro experienced in prison. How easily he breaks rules, how he seems ready to do anything to get rid of this character. Isn’t this also hate?
This culminates with the final scene, Noltes character bellowing like a wounded animal lifts a giant rock over his head ready to crush De Niros skull. We are used to the hero coming to his senses and renouncing violence. Not Nolte, he follows through smashing the rock down where De Niros head should have been.
This is a powerful statement and the finale.
The film pulls back the pretense most of us have about ourselves, how we are more like those ‘on the other side of the tracks’ than we can imagine. It just maybe that they have had to deal with these issues of hate, class, and violence and we have not.
A great film that allows you to relax into it, its both ugly and beautiful at the same time. Truly a masterpiece, my highest recommendation