I should start with a warning. Not about the possibility of seeing adult content – though there is plenty including full frontal male nudity with James Deen and others as well as beautiful nude women including Lindsay Lohan. My warning is of your shock of not seeing a “traditional modern” film. The idea of putting those two words together seems odd but you need to think of “traditional” as mainstream.
Canyons Director Paul Schrader is known for his style of what most would say is rudimentary film but I like to call realistic. If you’ve ever been on set you know they spend ages lighting a scene just right and Schrader does the same through staging and use of natural light. I also like to call it noir but without the over abundance of chiaroscuro.
The point is, don’t expect to see a polished movie. I’m not saying unpolished is bad, it’s just not overly produced or directed. Just don’t expect bells and whistles. Instead, expect Easter eggs – those little prizes throughout.
Before we meet our characters, Schrader runs us through images of rundown and closed theaters. His comment on how film has caused much of its own future. After all, this story is about some of what goes on in film.
The opening is a bit of a shock itself as the camera becomes the characters who Tara (Lindsay Lohan), Christian (James Deen), Ryan (Nolan Funk) and Gina (Amanda Brooks) address. Schrader breaks that fourth wall and does it later more than once… Not to worry, the whole film isn’t that way and you have to keep your eyes open to see why and where he violates that fourth wall.
The draw? Lindsay Lohan… The draw, of course, is her boobs for most but with The Canyons you get to see her shine in her acting. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of her public image but when she finds something special to work in it shows why she is who she is. It’s those little things… a look here, a look there, a placement of a word. I spoke of that fourth wall, and in a particularly powerful scene where Christian’s love for Tara is viewed by himself as weakness – a sexual foursome where she gets him to allow another man to fellate him and says “This is what I want to see” just seconds after Christian says it when Tara has some girl on girl action. The average viewer might be horrified. But don’t blink, it’s about to happen. Among all the flesh and sex Tara looks directly into camera as if to say, “You think I’m depraved? You’re the one watching.”
There’s an old joke about a man who goes to see a psychiatrist and is shown inkblots. With each inkblot he sees a more daring sexcapade… men and women having sex, women and women having sex, threesomes, orgies etc. The Doctor is shocked and tells him he is preoccupied with sex. The man looks back perplexed and says, “I’m preoccupied with sex? You’re the one with all the dirty pictures.” Everyone has a different view.
The second draw is James Deen. A superstar in porn circles but not known for mainstream film. I won’t call him a seasoned actor because he’s not. But nevertheless he did very well. The important thing is I believed he was Christian and that he was disturbed enough to not know he was disturbed. You see his character evolve to where he has no choice but to kill. In your mind there are other choices but in his there is no other. He must regain his power over his emotions because that is the only real power he has. Everything else that make him feel powerful is just smoke and mirrors, like the Wizard of Oz. Everything around him can be taken away and if he is willing to love, he has to give up himself. But he refuses.
All the characters are forbidden from achieving their goals. Their evolutions stop shy of getting that big payoff which makes the viewer want more. As with many of Schrader’s characters and films, the main obstruction characters need to surmount for the payoff become even more insurmountable. It’s not to say there is none. Did Travis Bickle give you a payoff?
Don’t go to the theater expecting a blockbuster Hollywood movie because you’ll go away disappointed. Forget what you’re seeing (except for that stunningly shot foursome scene) and drink in the characters. The film forces you to think of the story. Maybe the force comes from the unceremonias production or just from wanting to see Lindsay Lohan nude. Whatever it is, allow it to happen. Most would say using modern lighting techniques and traditionally modern filmmaking would have made the film better but I might argue the opposite.
Rotten Tomatoes currently has it at 3.7 out of ten but I wouldn’t be so cruel. I’ll give it a 7 or a must see six.