Junk Mail

6 Nov 2013: The Postman Always Rings Twice (DVD, 1981, Bob Rafelson)

Because of its high production values (with an expert polish to its noir aesthetic) and the star power of Jack Nicholson, this film feels much more enjoyable than it really deserves to be. Though eventful and refreshingly strange, the plot is absurd, half-baked, unconvincing and lazily handled, and the same holds for most of the characters, some of whom are hateful caricatures (the ungrateful, unlovable, drunken and loutish Greek husband) or come out of nowhere (the circus-cat-tamer, the defense attorney for the two leads) if they are not just totally perfunctory (the attorney’s blackmailing assistant, the hitchhiking ride-givers, the nasty prosecutor) or inadequate to their potential (the motorcycle cop, and just about everyone else). Due to having seen Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce so recently, it’s clear that most of the assets here come more from James M. Cain’s storytelling (the domestically trapped yet passionate and industrious woman who runs a restaurant with home-baked pies and chicken) than from anywhere else, and these aren’t filled out properly to make anything feel authentic or empathetic. Some stirring depictions of arousal – including unusually extended attention to female pleasure – are marred by vicious overtones of rape (in a familiar Hollywood convention), a part of Nicholson’s masculine persona which becomes submerged afterward until resurfacing awkwardly as required for scenes of torture and violence. With just a bit more self-consciousness this would be worthy of the oeuvre of David Lynch, but instead it seems to serve as the kind of genre filmmaking that the latter is constantly hyperbolizing and satirizing.

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