Anything Else

Lost in Translation


The Shawshank Redemption


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This picture of Bill Murray reminds of
why I so desperately want my doctor
to order me sleeping pills.

Lost in Translation
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Lost in Translation is an actor's movie.  The weight of Sofia Coppola's circuitous script is carried on the shoulders of the career-defining performances given by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.  The film starts out satisfactorily enough.  Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a has-been actor who's feeling down on himself for doing whiskey ads in Japan.  At one point he reveals his displeasure in the career path he has chosen when he complains that he's in Japan making ads for booze when he should be back in America starring in a play.

Bob is having trouble sleeping while away from his home in the United States.  When he does manage to catch a few winks, his wife interrupts him at 4 in the morning with a series of faxes -- pictures of cupboards included -- asking him to pick which one he thinks would make their house back in the States look the nicest.  His wife also sends him a FedEx box that turns out to be nothing but little squares of carpeting.  Her brief letter lets him know that she prefers the burgundy.  He has no idea which one the burgundy is, so just goes along with her. 

It's obvious Bob's marriage isn't working.  His wife cares more about the upgrades to their home than she does about her husband.  His family, children included, don't seem to care when, or if, he arrives back at the house.  His only companions are a barren motel room and a dimly lit bar.  Enter Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a newlywed in Japan with her detached photographer husband, whose only concern seems to be the bands that he's photographing. 

Both Bob and Charlotte are obviously having marital issues.  When they first meet there is a spark, and the pair know instantaneously that they found the perfect soul mate.  They have caught the eye of another aimless wanderer as distanced from the reality surrounding him or her as they are distanced from the reality that is surrounding each of them.  This is where the film should really take off, but instead it stumbles into repetition. 

Bob sits in a motel room.  Charlotte relaxes in a bathtub with a pair of earphones and self-help tapes.  The two meet every so often and funny jokes are made about Japanese culture.  Lost in Translation borders on racial insensitivity throughout much of the picture.  How many times can a person laugh over the fact that the average Japanese man is not as tall as the American standing next to him?

It is sweet to see two married couples, one just married and the other in his 25th year, find a way, through the power of friendship and mutual misery, to survive the doldrums of being left lonely in a foreign land.  Due to the prodigious acting by Murray and the soft-spoken but equally powerful performance put in by Johansson, the film is far more seductive than it deserves to be.

Sofia Coppola isn't the writer that her father was in the glory days of the first two Godfather films.  Her screenwriting ability is nearly as uninspired as her acting was in The Godfather III.  Luckily, Coppola has inherited her father's eye for directing.  With a large amount of help from Cinematographer Lance Acord, Sofia has created a beautiful looking movie.  When the leading characters come to life and leave their troubles behind, the film becomes vibrant and alive.  In unhappier moments, the movie has a washed-out quality.  It's as if the picture itself becomes as lonesome as the characters stumbling through its bleak existence.

The film is worth attending for the acting alone.  I strongly suspect that Bill Murray will be taking home the trophy at next year's Academy Awards.  The movie also has moments of beauty that shine through the hot and cold screenplay.  As her first highly visible film, The Virgin Suicides proved, Sofia Coppola is able to come up with interesting characters and concepts but is then apparently unable to figure out what she should do with them. 

Lost in Translation is a modest little picture that occasionally gets lost in a roundabout and repetitive story.  But at the core there is a flicker of hope indicating that Sofia could one day equal her father's former glory.  And at the heart, there is a nice study of relationships and the human condition.

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Coming soon -- Reviews of The Rundown, Under the Tuscan Sun and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre!

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Text (Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].