Monday, August 4, 2008

The Wall

Author(s): James Somerton
Location: NS, Canada

“The Wall”

Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Tony Kushner
Edited By: Michael Kahn
Music By: John Williams
Art Direction: John Myhre

Principal Cast:

Ryan Phillippe as Jan Borgou
Scarlett Johansson as Elise von Rictor
Catherine Keener as Helen von Rictor
Heath Ledger as Scott Brown
Jon Michael McPhalen as John F. Kennedy
William Hurt as Walter Ulbricht

Tagline: "Not Even A Wall Could Tear Them Down"

Synopsis: Jan Borgou and Elise von Rictor are two Berliners in love in 1961. They have been dating for a year now and most of the people they know believe that they will soon be getting married. But, on August 13th, everything they ever knew comes falling down. A wall is being constructed down the middle of the city of Berlin; Jan is on the eastern side and Elise is on the western side. Elise’s mother, Helen, wastes no time getting her daughter’s mind off of her lost love, showing her the great things that democracy brings. Meanwhile, Jan is wasting away in the East.

As time passes by, Elise gets married to an American military sergeant named Scott Brown. She becomes a military wife, attending galas parties for dignities who find their way into West Berlin. She even gets to meet JFK himself during his visit to Berlin in 1963. Jan doesn’t know that any of this is happening because the communist government, led by Walter Ulbricht, runs the television and radio stations. He doesn’t see anything that “they” don’t want him to see.

Their lives go on. Elise is growing tired of her mundane life and yearning for the days when her and Jan would run in the woods outside Berlin. Jan, on the other hand, is a member of the resistance in East Berlin. He watches as his friends try to get over the wall but are all shot down. He has dreams of doing it himself, and making it over. The thoughts always pass though. Until, in October of 1989, representatives from the West come to speak with representatives from the East. They all bring their wives. When Jan sees Elise he runs for her. His love for her has never abated. But he is stopped by the guards and taken away. This is more than enough to jog Elise’s memory though.

One month later, Jan attempts what many believe to be impossible. He is going to jump the wall. Men half his age haven’t been able to manage it but he believes he can and, on the fifth of November, tries to get into the West. He is shot dead.

Four days later, the wall comes down and people flood into West Berlin. Elise, however, goes into the East where she finds that the man, whom she has always loved, is dead. Another life claimed by The Wall.

What the press would say:

“The Wall” is part romance, part political thriller, and part historical melodrama. Steven Spielberg hits it out of the park with this impassioned piece of filmmaking. Star Crossed Lovers torn apart by a force so powerful that it stood for twenty-eight year and became the symbol of communism around the world; The Berlin Wall. Nearly every performance in this film is awards worthy but one sticks out more than others. Scarlett Johansson is absolutely perfect as Elise von Rictor, a woman torn away from her true love and is now stuck in a loveless marriage with an American military commander. She looks amazing in the designer clothes and jewelry while in public but at home she is a complete mess. Her character is so fully realized that one might think that this is based on actual events. Ryan Philleppe is also amazing as Elise’s real true love, Jan; stuck in East Berlin and slowly going mad because of the Communist government ruling over him. This is another complex character. At moments in the film he becomes so sympathetic that he could do almost anything and not lose your favor. At other moments he turns into raving madman when he’s ranting about the communist conspiracy theories. Catherine Keener is well cast as Elise’s mother, Helen; a woman who will do anything to make sure that her daughter doesn’t end up with some poor Easterner. She’s probably the only character in the movie that is totally unsympathetic, and she deserves the highest praise for this. The screenplay is written like two different movies in one. We get a thriller and a tragic romance rolled into a period piece and it all works perfectly. You can feel the ending approaching like a freight train, your heart beating faster and faster as every minute passes in the final act. Spielberg balances the love story with reenacted scenes of actual events from the time. John F Kennedy’s trip to Berlin is shot exactly like a newsreel. Jon Michael McPhalen gives a fantastic performance as the first president who tried to bring the wall down. “The Wall” is lacking the special effects that many have come to expect from a Spielberg film. There are no explosions but there are plenty of gunshots. Every scene in which a shot is fired has no score behind it. They are completely silent other than for the screams and shots themselves. John Williams scores the film brilliantly with the perfect match of orchestral music and period music. This is Steven Spielberg at his greatest. It is here that he is a storyteller, using film to tell a fictional story that is impacted by actual events. “The Wall” is his best film in years.

Best Picture
Best Director – Steven Spielberg
Best Original Screenplay – Tony Kushner
Best Actress – Scarlett Johansson
Best Actor – Ryan Philleppe
Best Supporting Actress – Catherine Keener
Best Original Score – John Williams
Best Film Editing – Michael Kahn

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