Yet again, one of the great masterpieces of our time will be overlooked by the vast majority of audiences, despite the fact that it stars Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, Stellan Skarsgard and James Caan. Lars von Trier's Dogville is one of the most haunting and moving dramas to be captured on film.
The movie is set during the Great Depression in a town named Dogville, a place with only one main street and a few permanent residents. One day, after Tom Edison (Bettany), the local writer and philosopher, hears gunshots in the distance, a mysterious and beautiful woman (Kidman) arrives, trying to escape from the mob. Tom offers her a place to stay, but the rest of Dogville's citizens are much more apprehensive. Still, Tom convinces them to give her a chance and she proves herself worthy, doing any chores they want done. But mutual benefit soon turns to greed and the townspeople begin to take advantage of her, extending her hours and reducing her pay until she is basically a slave. Rape becomes frequent, and she is eventually chained to an iron wheel. It only gets worse from there, but will she ever be able to escape?
Before you get your hopes up, there is something you should know about Dogville - while it is set in a town, there are no walls or doors surrounding scenery. The outlines of the buildings are painted onto the set floor and only limited props are used. At any one time, you can see all that is going on town, whether people are inside or out. It is dubious, I admit. It is hard to watch a film that at first glance appears as nothing more than a cheap play - but Trier pulls it off brilliantly.
Despite the lack of set, his imagination and the creativity of the cast - not to mention their stupendous performances - make up for anything missing. At first the open set is offsetting, then a clever trick and finally just accepted norm as you become so engrossed in the story and characters.
As recently mentioned, the actors are incredible. Kidman should expect another Oscar nomination for the role, as should Bettany who is just as stunning as a man that sees what is going on but isn't strong enough to stand up when it counts most. Skarsgard is also brilliant, bringing much depth to an otherwise small character.
Performances like the ones in Dogville usually become the most talked about aspect of a film, but here, the story still prevails. Though the prologue is difficult to watch as we adjust to the strange set, the screenplay goes into effect quickly. Split into nine chapters, the first several chapters are spellbinding, as each is better than the last. Dogville continues to spiral into darkness yet Trier handles the nosedive perfectly, molding the film just right.
Unfortunately, the only flaw of the film is that it is long. Ranging it at almost three hours, the last couple of chapters really drag along. Had twenty minutes been removed it would have been just right. Nonetheless, Trier makes up for it with one of the most shocking, memorable and strangely very satisfying - almost uplifting - endings of all time.
Dogville is a masterpiece like no other. Its running time hurts a little bit, but the story and performances make up for it for the most part.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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