...but I'm not telling you anything you haven't already heard. I can't swim against the general consensus when it comes to Lars Von Trier's latest provocation. Manderlay, as you may have heard or witnessed for yourself, is an extension of Dogville (review), LvT's potent skewering of groupthink, capitalism, and societal hierarchies.... only this time the thematic attack is not so much an overview of several parallel depravities as an intensely specific view of one kind: slavery.
In addition to its narrower subject, Manderlay suffers a noticeable blow when robbed of its intended movie star. Nicole Kidman's mysterious abilities with stubborn and self-deceptive characters were put to extravagantly good use in Dogville as they also were in The Others (review) & Birth (FB Best Actress nomination). So right from the start this film's "Grace", Bryce Dallas Howard, is operating at a distinct disadvantage. She doesn't come equipped with Nicole's mystery as a screen persona and even if she did, the character has already had her own secrets divulged by the events of Dogville. We're already well aware of Grace's chief character defects and the liberal acts of kindness that mask them.
I didn't dislike Manderlay so much as felt as if I'd seen it before in a more fascinating version with deeper characterizations and complex ideas. Dogville was a true original and I still urge everyone to see it. Manderlay unfortunately feels superfluous. It's a retread in virtually every way. As a result it's less shocking and potent, robbed of Dogville's considerable power to surprise. This time, having firsthand knowledge of the story's blueprint, we see the narrative gut punches coming a mile away. It's hard to have the wind knocked out of you when you've already tightened your stomach muscles anticipating the blow.
tags: Nicole Kidman, Lars Von Trier, Bryce Dallas Howard, Dogville,movies, cinema, Manderlay