by Mark Walker
Director: Francis Ford Coppola.
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola.
Starring: Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley, David Paymer, Alden Ehrenreich, Anthony Fusco, Don Novello, Ryan Simpkins.
Narrator: Tom Waits.
Having crafted such classics as The Godfather parts I & II, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola was, rightly, considered one the heavyweights of cinema. However, he fell on hard times financially and most of his recent film’s have shown a shadow of his former self and have had people scratching their heads as to how someone so prominent could deliver such nonsense.
Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) was once a successful writer. His career has nosedived and he struggles to produce the material anymore. He comes to a small town during a book tour, and becomes involved in the murder investigation of a young girl. In a dream, he is approached by writer Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin) and a youthful ghost named V (Elle Fanning) who is in some way connected to a local murder. Both inform him of the details but the connection to the murder is unclear.
As this film opens we are given a growling narration from Tom Waits about a small American town and an introduction to it’s inhabitants and our protagonist. The first thing that strikes you is Coppola’s perfectly refined atmosphere and obvious ability in framing a picture. Quite simply, the film is marvellously shot. The angles with the camera are impressively positioned and use of light and colour are sumptuous.
At one point he introduces a monochromatic approach that further adds to the creepy ambience. From very early on, Coppola’s talent is still apparent but where he struggles, is in a particularly poor script. It comes across as an amateur horror and on this front, you wouldn’t think for a second that it was Coppola behind it. However, despite the the bad writing, it’s clear that this is a very personal project for the director. The idea originated from a dream he once had, which reflects in the story itself and the actual death of his son (Gian-Carlo Coppola) also has a heavy influence.
The very premise, consisting of a writer in rapid decline also mirrors the director’s similar creative downfall. At one point, our lead character is asked the question: “how does it feel to the bargain basement Stephen King?” and that’s exactly the feeling that this film gives off – a bargain basement horror. Whether this was Coppola’s intention is debatable but it still doesn’t forgive the muddled unravelling of the story. All this being said, I still found myself persevering with it.
The film has left me with very mixed thoughts. One the one hand, it struck me as an absolute low-budget turkey but on the other, it intrigued me enough to keep watching. If anything, just see what path the once great director is now treading.