Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Canyons

Producer Braxton Pope (The Source Family) and director Paul Schrader (American Gigolo, Raging Bull) wisely selected Lindsay Lohan and porn-star James Deen to play the leads in The Canyons, written by Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than ZeroAmerican Psycho).

Months before the film simultaneously debuted in theaters and on video on demand (VOD), the media was tripping over itself to report the supposed on-set conflict between its stars, to lament with Schadenfreude-like passion Lohan's long, often court-ordered road to sobriety, and to discourse with titillated unease Deen's prolific work in the adult entertainment industry.

Of course, all of this was excellent publicity for the film, which has nothing to do with the actors' private lives or the commercial porn industry.

The Canyons is about what happens to people when they hand over control of their lives to others. The opening montage of abandoned movie houses underscores this theme: the more frequently studios make bad movies, the less revenue movie houses make, with artistic and financial bankruptcy the inevitable outcome.

My favorite moment in the film occurs in the first scene, when all but the single character who has yet to hand over the reigns of her life to another person act like caged animals arranged around a restaurant table. I was astonished when even the camera swooped away to race over the restaurant's bar, desperate for the waitress to return with the check and set the captives free, if only momentarily.

The Canyons is written by Ellis, so you know things do not end well. Most of the characters are entangled in Deen's character's machinations. It is foreboding that, in a city with a population of 3.8 million, he lives in isolation in a modern marvel of a house shipwrecked against a Malibu canyon wall.

I watched The Canyons twice on VOD its opening weekend. The helplessness, frustration and rage of its characters have stayed with me. Lohan's performance once more leaves no doubt she is the greatest actress of her generation. Deen displays real acting chops as a spoiled control freak writhing under the thumb of his father. Cinematographer John DeFazi brings to life this dystopic world.

Schrader and Ellis' collaboration left me wondering what happens next to the characters populating The Canyons: one apparently gets away with a senseless act of violence; while another, who had hitherto allowed others to control him, now adroitly manipulates another, but to what purpose?

Fans of Ellis' work know his stories link together in unexpected ways. I look forward to the next installment.

You can purchase The Canyons at iTunes.

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