Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"The Tenants" (2005) - Movie Review

Danny Green casting Snoop Dogg for the African American writer Willie Spearmint would on the first go seem dangerously weird but seeing “The Tenants” gives out the reasons. First of all, the image of Snoop Dogg of this hip hop persona does not make us to see him as a writer which is how the writer Harry Lesser played by Dylan McDermott feels initially. Then as he buds into this role of aspirant but intimidating ideological man, there is a fear and unpredictability on this character’s reaction on Lesser. This tension makes “The Tenants” a film of constant subtle interest from its viewers.

Wiki states that after the abysmal first screening to the critics, this film hit straight to the DVD release. This is the line which is intriguing about the film written on Wiki “the film received harsh criticism due to what some critics discerned as anachronistic depictions of the racial tension between the principal characters and a lack of multidimensionality”. I would like to focus on the word anachronistic. The film happens in Brooklyn 1972 which is fresh off the civil rights movement. Having an angry black man and a subdued white man in Brooklyn would still apply. In terms of multidimensionality, well, the characters do not need different dimensions to tell this story effectively. That period of time also puts Lesser with many horrid racial slurs from Willie and that is how in fact learn that he is a Jewish American. The film based on the novel of the same name by Bernard Malamud tells a drawing story between two men obsessed with their passion to tell their story has rhythm of odd chemistry. With different back ground each come close but still are distanced by the vigour in which Willie conducts himself.

Willie is the scary and fanatic black freedom seeker. His rage and hate towards his race has made him the self declared righteous man. He is the personality who brings jitters in a slight statement of anger. There is no say on their stability of a conversation being controlled. One second they are messing and joking around and as soon as there comes a casual comfort level from other party to do the same, the air melts into sweats of fragile melting pot of irreparable break outs. This was not the case when Lesser was the only one in the run down apartment listening to his tapping of the type writer to finish his third novel. He set up a high bar in his first novel followed by the second bombing miserably. This is his chance for redemption as he says to set things straight in the literary world for himself. His land lord Levenspiel (Seymour Cassel) begs him to clear out and offers a buy out of 400$ which at the end of the film would have gone up to 10000$. Think about how he would be making selling that place then.

Willie as the angry young man snubs and sprays the hatred when Lesser approaches him. Willie chooses this run down place to write as the reason why Lesser is there. No one to bother and the only thing to do is sit and write till the walls vibrate with the tapping of the keys. Soon due to the nature of Willie being Willie, he requests Lesser to read his story. This is his first novel and seem to be getting out of the line. Since Lesser mentioned his experience in writing, Lesser requests suggestion. Lesser is the man of diplomacy and knows what Willie would not want to hear criticism especially from some one of a different race. After Willie bullies to spit out the truth, Lesser does. And the world between them erupts into this race card. For that Lesser replies rightly and precisely. Willie with time and after cooling off does see the truth. Thus they become moderately amicable.

Willie strangely dates a white girl Irene (Rose Byrne) whom Lesser no wonder gets attracted to. Soon as any one might predict, Lesser gets involved with her. But “The Tenants” is not about the predictability but about this connection between Lesser and Willie. With a great passion to their work, they threaten their surrounding. Willie with his crazy mouth does not hesitate to pour out racial slurs and terrifyingly ambitious about writing a story on a souther black mother and son going on a killing rampage towards the white people. And he conveniently makes Lesser a fellow black man or a hating white man as he wishes.

Danny Green finds the perfect location with right reasons for that place being abandoned. As their shambled life of destroyed relations these two men have, they are caught in this place of emptiness and frightening hollowness. “The Tenants” for the racial material it has got is very light on the subject. It does not bite deep into the issues because that is not the story but a part of its characters being afraid, envious, friendly and connected due to that. It has an unrealistic ending but an odd sensibility in terms of the literary value it seeks. The film succeeds for two reasons. One is that it has a consistent somber but an effectively restless screenplay. Second is the surprising sense of chemistry between Dylan McDermott and Snoop Dogg as these writers swallowed in their quest to finish their respective books.

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