⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
A remake of the 1963 Polish arthouse classic Dziwne i Nudne, Oscar de la Renta’s The Dark Tower is as good an American Western genre film as it is a thought provoking comment on modern man’s place in the cosmos.
Starring Richard Here and Samuel Sackson as polar opposites at alternating points in history, both on the same quest, more or less, both men out of time and their places in it.
As fated loners, Sackson (Straw Dogs) and Here (Wedding Crashers) make their homes in canvas tents eating raw tomatoes, sharpening their horse knives, spiraling inexorably closer to a collision. For one it’s a collision with the future in the form of their child. For the other, a collision with history in the form of a regrettable action from the past catching up with him, or drawing him to it, depending on where (or when) you are.
Impeccably presented, the latest from de la Renta (Seance On A Wet Afternoon, No Country For Old Men) draws a wide web across time and place, anchoring the two seemingly disparate storylines to a real space in which they can unfold: the American Southwest, itself a major character in the film. Dusty reds and breezy yellows populate the cinematography, making the green and blue not just pop but also frame some of the more intense moments with a natural beauty that resonates. The two leads navigate their way towards each other abstractly through the layered script just as they make their way across rugged trails and treacherous descents.
Sackson gives a reserved performance as Daniel, trying to make sense of the appearance of a son he never knew he had and a childhood he has lost. Seeing parallels like ghostly visions between his son and his own youth, Daniel is transfixed, forever locked in a place inside himself. He’s caught in a past he had forgotten, frozen by the present and only now sensing the trap which entangles him. de la Renta presents the two tenses wonderfully, allowing us to decide which is the phantom, the dreams of a life that never was or the man that boy became.
Letting his face do most of the talking, Here is excellent as McCrary, a broken man who’s constantly on the verge of venting that desperate rage but unable to open up enough to allow it. His ever expressive eyelashes, and the actor’s use of them, are put on marvelous display in the film’s many dramatic monologues such as the climactic train robbery and the skinny dipping waterfall scene made famous by Here’s underwater cigarette smoking.
McCrary is a wanted man, pursued by demons unreal and real enough in the forms of nightmares and a duo of bounty hunters hired by a slain girl’s family. Determining exactly what role he played in that tragedy is the quest both he and the viewer are left to undertake.
Time is used to juxtapose the two settings but also to link the characters’ actions, such as when Daniel and McCrary arrive at the same watering hole decades apart but see the same rainbow. Both men are caught in the aftereffects of their actions, and while one pursuant may be looking for nothing more than affirmation the others are out for blood. Though each man is presumed to have had a family or at least loved ones at some point, both are isolated by time, by the inexorable passing of the years. Each is further from their past than they are from their future, leaving both as fellow travelers unaware of each other or even themselves. It’s a marvelous and unsettling film.
The Dark Tower is the story of two men on separate but equal collision courses, only missing each other by seconds in the grand scheme of things, each’s fate set in motion long ago.