‘The Canyons’: Unrated Director's Cut
MPI Home Video
As laid out in an unforgettable New York Times Magazine piece, legendary director Paul Schrader had an idea: a DIY erotic thriller funded on Kickstarter, written by badboy novelist Bret Easton Ellis and starring washed-up former Greatest Actor of Her Generation Lindsay Lohan. The entire production would be followable over social media. It would start a new kind of filmmaking.
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That didn’t quite happen. The end product was deemed too sluggish and rejected by many key film festivals. And the more outlandish claims of the NYT Mag piece — including the sixtysomething Schrader stripping down to “help” Lohan relax for a threesome scene — haunted it.
But what it wound up being was something far more interesting. Ellis’s depiction of bored, rich and ultimately psychotic Los Angelinos — even with newfangled smartphones that make them even more dehumanized — is pure autopilot. But it meshes fascinatingly with Schrader’s clinical approach, which stares dead-eyed at its characters during lengthy chats that purposefully go nowhere. They’re trapped in a world they can’t even murder their way out of.
And what of Lohan? She’s working with her first acclaimed director since Robert Altman’s “Prairie Home Companion” back in 2006. But this is neither a comeback nor yet another Schadenfreude-laden disaster. She lets her natural demeanor — grizzled at only 27 — do the heavy lifting. When her lover (porn star James Deen, eternally smirking) forces her to have sex with clients, she complies with the weary complacency of someone who’s bottomed out so many times they’re no longer trying to climb up. For what it’s worth, Jennifer Lawrence couldn’t nail this role. The performance is the year's most heartbreaking.
Though the widescreen vistas cry out for a big screen, in other ways the home is its own best home. The opening and closing credits offer montages of dead suburban movie theaters, with letters missing on the marquees and seats in disarray. It’s a haunting way to start (and close) a movie, and it seems that what director Paul Schrader is saying — as Jean-Luc Godard did half a century ago with “Weekend — is that cinema, once again, in some form at least, is dead. And he’s not wrong.
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