Whenever a film based upon real events comes out, there is always a lot of discussion over how historically accurate it is. There are always loud swaths of people who claim the film is nonsense or rubbish because it got one detail or another completely wrong. But then when the film is praised for its accuracy, the other swaths wind up calling it boring, or unnervingly slow. Between these two extremes lies the difficulties of making a "based upon a true story" movie.
No matter how an exciting a life one might live, there are still going to be large stretches where nothing much happens. A film must remove parts that do not pertain to the story it's trying to tell. It must compress timelines, move bits arounds, combine various characters into one, or remove some all together. It must invent dialogues, create motivations, and do whatever it must in order to tell an interesting story. How much it can invent or remove and still be a successful retelling of real events is tricky.
For me, and I suspect this is true of a lot of people, I don’t really mind embellishments if the film is a good one. Unless I have some sort of personal stock in the story, or I happen to know a great deal of the facts I’m happy to let the filmmakers take me on whatever journey they like even if it gets a little loose with the facts. Sure, when watching something like Braveheart, I might shake my head at its liberties (or scream things like “where’s the flippin’ bridge’ during the Battle of Stirling) but ultimately, I’m won over by the story the filmmakers want to tell, even if it's only a slight shadow of what actually occurred. If the film is good, then I can brush past the inaccuracies, and if the film stinks, then who really cares anyway?
My understanding is that The Imitation Game lands closer to the “Inspired by” than “This is how it actually happened” category, but other than the usual grumpy suspects, no one seems to mind. It was highly praised by critics, was nominated and won tons of awards, and is generally considered to be an excellent biopic. The thing for me is that I didn’t really know who Alan Turing was before the film came out. I think I had heard the name and maybe seen it knocked about in discussions of computer science and algorithms, but I never paid him much mind. Since the film has come out, I’ve learned a great deal more of his importance to our culture and history, and no doubt after I see the film, I’ll spend a great deal of time on Wikipedia and other places learning even more. I’m sure I’m not alone.
Which is the great thing about films based upon real events. They might get some things wrong, but it turns us onto people and events otherwise lost to history. If we can be entertained in the process, so much the better.
Also out this week that looks interesting:
Interstellar: Christopher Nolan’s big, bold, beautiful space drama aimed for the stars and took a giant swing at something great and important, but ultimately missed for me. It certainly looks amazing and the performances by Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine are uniformly good, but somewhere in the midst of all its big ideas, the story got lost. Or at least the one that was supposed to make me care. It's definitely worth watching at least once, but it's just not as good as I wanted it to be.
Wild: Reese Witherspoon was nominated for an Oscar in this Nick Hornby-penned, semi-true story of a woman who hiked over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail trying to rediscover herself after the death of her mother. I know nothing more than that other than it's gotten a lot of critical praise. I’ve always like Witherspoon and I’m interested to see how she pulls off a character who is much darker than her normal perky self.
Rewrite: An award-winning screenwriter falls on hard times takes a teaching gig at some back-woods university and rediscovers himself. A pretty bland summation gets me excited by having great actors in it. The screenwriter is, of course, Hugh Grant, but it's also got Marisa Tomei, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, and friggin’ Chris Elliot.
Veep: The Complete Third Season: I’ve only watched about half the first season of this acerbic Julia Louis-Dreyfus political comedy, but what I’ve seen is brilliant. It's one of those shows that's absolutely hysterical but so uncomfortable to watch that I can only take it in small doses. So it's gonna be awhile before I get to season three, but I’m excited about the ride.
Silicon Valley: Season 1: A comedy from Mike Judge about dudes who write software. I’ve heard good things.
Lovejoy: Series 5: Before Deadwood, Ian McShane starred in this mystery about an eccentric antiques dealer. I’ve not seen any of them, but our own Elizabeth Periale’s reviews of the first four seasons have put it towards the top of my must-see list.
Cries and Whispers (Criterion Collection): I fell asleep watching this. That really isn’t a statement towards the quality of the film other than it's the usual intellectual, depressing, and meditatively paced type drama from Ingmar Bergman. It was, I think, only my second Bergman film, and I was already extraordinarily tired when I laid upon the couch to watch it. I liked what I saw and woke up angry that I’d slept through part of it (but not enough to go back and watch it again.) With more Bergman under my belt and a new HD transfer from Criterion, I think I’m ready to give it another go.
Hoop Dreams (Criterion Collection:) Roger Ebert loved this documentary about two inner-city Chicago kids who try to make the NBA.
The Dario Argento Collection (The Cat O’ Nine Tails, Deep Red, Inferno) & The Lucio Fulci Collection (City of the Living Dead, The House by the Cemetery, The New York Ripper:) Two nicely priced collection of two of the best Italian horror directors around.