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LOVE Review – ***

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I’m not totally sure what this was, but I enjoyed watching it.

Some films resist my attempts to write about them. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees, for example…I would have no idea where to begin with that one (though I’ll try sometime, because that movie is fascinating). Love, while not as inscrutable as Wax, is nonetheless an obscure and dense work, one that not only avoids answers but also doesn’t bother itself too much with questions. One could, not unreasonably, dismiss the film as a pretentious mess–and yet, throughout its 85 minutes, I was thoroughly compelled by it, and if the story is more than a little murky, William Eubank (who wrote, directed, designed the sets, and shot the film) is a fine craftsman, and Gunner Wright, who bears the film almost entirely on his shoulders, gives a fine performance. All told, for a film produced by a band–a supergroup called Angels & Airwaves–it’s pretty decent.

The film begins during the Civil War, as Capt. Lee Briggs is sent to the West by his commander to investigate reports of an extraterrestrial object crashing to Earth. Briggs is instructed to keep a diary of his journey and findings. We then skip ahead to the year 2039, as American astronaut Lee Miller (Wright) is tasked with single-handedly getting the International Space Station up and running. Suddenly, he loses contact with Ground Control, only receiving a last, ambiguous message, suggesting events on Earth are out of control. (At one point we see what looks to be the lights of cities going out.) Six years pass, as Miller goes gradually stir-crazy, talking to old pictures and fantasizing about a mysterious woman–possibly an ex-lover? He finds Briggs’ diary, but it ends without revealing what he discovered. In desperation, he decides to leave the ISS and fall back to Earth, knowing he’ll die in the process, but changes his mind. He spends several more years on the ISS, growing ever more haggard, and ultimately boards a mysterious device which seems to hold the answer not only to the Fate of the Earth, but to his own fate.

If you want a slightly clearer synopsis, the Wikipedia article will suit your needs, but clarity of narrative is hardly a priority for Love. Perhaps we are meant to be as disoriented as Miller himself, abandoned without explanation, adrift in space, desperate for some kind of human company. To add to the confusion, the film includes a few speeches from unidentified men who speak about their views on life and humanity–not in convoluted terms, mind you, but not in a way that clearly illuminates the goings-on. And the film ends on a slightly weak note, with a computer seemingly discussing the viewing of the film itself (A&A released the film as part of a one-night live-streamed concert event, and this feels more like a wrap-up speech than an ending to the film) in lofty but vague tones. By all rights, the film should be a pretentious piece of nonsense, merely bonus material for an Angels & Airwaves album.

The ISS set. Not bad for a film that cost half a million dollars.

That it manages to be more than that is mostly due to Eubanks’ and Wright’s excellent work. The budget for Love was reputedly around $500,000, but it looks great. The cinematography frequently goes for 90-degree angles (suitable for the peculiar physics of a space station) and shadowy close-ups of Miller’s pensive face. It’s quite effective in establishing the eerie, off-kilter mood of the film. Eubanks also designed the film, and certainly the ISS set looks as it should; a technological marvel gone to seed. The Civil War prologue (which I believe made use of re-enactors) also looks good, with the underground bunker of Brigg’s C.O. being especially impressive.

As a director, Eubanks keeps the film moving just fast enough to keep one from getting bored, but not so fast as to ruin the tension of Miller’s situation. As muddled as the film can be, it kept my attention throughout.

It’s as a writer that Eubanks lets down the side–or does he? Deliberately obscure cinema treads a fine line between being fascinating (2001, Upstream Color, etc.) and being repellent (Only God Forgives, It’s All About Love, etc.), and there are points when Love feels willfully obscure, to its detriment. As for the dialogue, well…here’s Briggs’ opening monologue:

They say, when you hear sounds of devils, all else is quiet. My general question to that is: how do you know that what you are hearing is the work of such devious beings? I would venture to say that most devilish noises occur when large numbers of men decide to force the hand of mortality upon one another. And I’d say further that on such occasions, there is not just one sound, but many. It is a quiet orchestra of death. It is also possible that the man who wrote that saying might’ve just had some broke ears.

The visual effects aren’t too shabby either.

If you find that too much, you might not care much for the film, though once Miller takes the scene, the writing becomes much more spare and terse. Personally, I don’t mind it too much–I’ve heard far, far worse–but it does start the film off on an odd note. The final speech, though, is pretty awful (I’d call this a spoiler, but if you can actually discern the ending from this, you’re cleverer than I):

Good evening. Tonight has been a wonderful experiment of human contact. A symbiotic relationship between man and machine and you. The human brain is capable of many years of connection. Each one is a memory, an event. Tonight shall be remembered not by one, but by thousands of these relationships. As you leave here tonight, close you eyes and travel back to here, to now. And always remember that this was one moment. You were not alone, and you felt something that thousands of others have felt. And it was – love.

Not too good, is it? I’m not sure what it really has to do with the rest of the film–and, honestly, it almost feels like something from a completely different work. That most of the script is quite acceptable is enough to keep me from holding its flowery moments against it too much, but I find myself admiring the spectacle more than reflecting on its themes.

The film rests on his performance. Luckily, he’s up to the task.

Gunner Wright’s performance as Miller is what really makes the film work. He feels completely natural throughout, and never adds superfluous tics or showy emotions to the character. He keeps the material grounded, and sympathetically portrays Miller’s degenerating state of mind without falling into grotesquerie. He looks almost like a cross between Patrick Wilson (or Jonny Lee Miller) and Shane Carruth, and has some of Wilson’s gift for playing Everymen who are something more than ciphers. It’s a really fine performance, and the fact that Wright has never really broken out, as far as I can tell, is unfortunate. The only other performance of note is Bradley Horne as Briggs. He’s fine, but he’s a little too self-consciously soulful.

Since this is a film produced by a band, you’d expect a noteworthy score, right? Well, I didn’t notice the score, especially. It wasn’t distracting, certainly, but I never really felt it enhancing the material. So I’ll say it was fine for what it was–I didn’t notice its absence, either–but it wasn’t the main attraction or anything.

If it sounds like I haven’t given Love an overwhelming recommendation, it’s not because I didn’t like the film, but because it’s a film better seen than read about. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find; I saw it on Netflix just before they removed it, and as far as I know, the DVD is only available from the Angels & Airwaves website. It’s available from Amazon Instant, however, if you’re eager to see it. It’s certainly not perfect or for all tastes, but if, like me, you like this type of cerebral science fiction, you just might find it rewarding.

Score: 73/100


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