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BROKEN FLOWERS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Julie Delpy
Director:  Jim Jarmusch
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Focus Features
Features:  See Review
Length:  106 Minutes
Release Date:  January 3, 2006

"It's an odd story."

"I'm getting into odd stories."

Film ****

One of the great pleasures of my life in film criticism has come over the last decade, watching Bill Murray evolve from bankable comedy star into one of our premiere and truly great character actors.  In films like Rushmore and Lost in Translation, I found I had to remind myself that this was the same guy who once busted ghosts, turned the army upside down, and sang bad renditions of lounge songs to our delight on television.

Now comes Broken Flowers, and his finest performance to date.  It's a career apex not only for him, but for writer/director Jim Jarmusch.  I've been a fan of both artists for quite some time, and seeing them come together and bring out the best in one another is nothing short of a sheer delight.

Jarmusch has created a film that equates to forced perspective in painting.  It's a story driven solely by one man's perceptions, which in turn become our perceptions.  We only get to know the characters the way he sees them.  It doesn't say a lot about them, but it says plenty about him, and in a sense, our perspective of him is really only defined by his perspective of others.

That man is Don Johnston, a middle aged bachelor living a rather solitary existence.  When we meet him, his current girlfriend (Delpy) is leaving him, but that's not the catalyst of the tale.  Instead, it's a mysterious letter from a long lost flame.  The letter tells Don he has a son he never knew about.  It isn't signed, there is no return address, and the postmark is too faint to read.

His neighbor Winston (Wright), a crime novel buff, takes matters into his own hands.  Based on information reluctantly issued by Don, he crafts a detailed journey.  The flights, hotels, rental cars and maps are all prepared.  All Don has to do is make the trip to visit four old flames from 20 years past and try and come up with an answer as to who the son and the mother might be.

Each visit is a vignette tinged with a little comedy and a little pathos.  We get to see the women from Don's love life and where they are now.  Each one reacts a little differently to the sudden arrival of Don.  Don's reactions remain pretty much the same:  quiet, reserved, pensive and observant.  Despite his making the journey, he's not so much a man who makes things happen.  He watches and reacts.

The brilliance of Murray's performance is in his eyes, as observed by a good buddy of mine and fellow Jarmusch enthusiast.  He doesn't talk a lot, but he listens, and the way his eyes are constantly regarding and taking in information is what anchors the film's concept of perspective.  In a dramatic sense, he watches to give us information.  What he sees is what we see, but what he thinks remains private, just like our own thoughts.  It's one of the most introspective and internalized pieces of acting I've come across.  With the wrong actor, such an approach can leave the audience detached, but Bill Murray shows the wheels are always turning underneath.

It's a shame as awards season blossom that so little attention has been paid to his performance.  Maybe the movie was just off the radar, but considering the talented cast, that hardly seems possible.  Every missed nomination for Best Actor is a travesty, in my opinion.  The voters who end up seeing this movie on DVD after the fact will probably end up kicking themselves with shame.

Jim Jarmusch is a filmmaker who knows how to craft natural comedy and dramatic rhythm from his characters, which are sometimes quirky, sometimes inscrutable, but always possessing a certain fascinating charm that keeps his viewers drawn in and ready to follow on sometimes unfathomable journeys.  If Broken Flowers is a milestone for Murray, it's equally one for Jarmusch, and I feel every missed nomination for Best Screenplay he suffers is equally bitter.

Simply put, this is one of the year's best films.  Original and endearing, funny and moving, this is the kind of movie we fans get far too little of year in and year out.  If only we could unmake The Dukes of Hazzard and get a dozen smaller films as smart and insightful as this, the seemingly endless Hollywood rut might meet a welcome demise.

Video ***1/2

This is a beautiful looking anamorphic transfer from Focus...nearly perfect, as a matter of fact.  Colors are rich and natural looking, and detail level is prominent throughout.  Only a mild touch of noticeable grain here and there cost it a half star, but really, that's not much to complain about.

Audio ***

The picture is mostly dialogue-oriented, but the nice music and terrific song score help give it life.  It's the music that mostly harnesses the subwoofer and rear stage, but that's plenty good enough for a movie of this nature.

Features **

The extras are a strange and disappointing lot.  There's a trailer and soundtrack spot, for starters.  After that, there are three...I guess you'd call them featurettes...looks at the movie, but each is short, disjointed, and stingy with any real information.  One is pretty much an outtake reel, one is kind of an extended scene, and the last is something I couldn't really categorize.

Summary:

Broken Flowers is one of the year's overlooked gems.  With Bill Murray offering his finest work in a string of brilliant performances and Jim Jarmusch sharper than ever as writer and director, this enchanting and highly original film deserves to find new and wider audiences with this DVD release.

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