Saturday, April 21, 2012

4:44: Last Day On Earth ★

A Sadly Missed Opportunity

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando and Jason Umpleby

If you knew that the world would end at 4:44 A.M. the following morning, what would you do? That question is at the heart of Abel Ferrara's film and it is one that accurately depicts what would most likely happen if this scenario were occurring in real life.

The film focuses on two characters: Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and Skye (Shanyn Leigh); a couple living in New York trying to accept a fate from which neither of them can escape. We're shown their various stages of grief throughout the day that each of them experiences, and how those emotions impact their next action.

I have to say that while I admire the courage of this film, I cannot necessarily recommend it. There are films that have been depressing beyond the point that we should still like them, yet we do. This, unfortunately, is not one of them. While I understand Ferrara's point - that even if the world is ending we cannot lose who we are - I'm not so sure it's handled in an interesting enough way for film.

Looking at the main characters, Cisco and Skye are two people that no matter how hard I tried, I was never rooting for them in any way. They're not very compelling on-screen, though Dafoe does his best with the material he's given, and there's never a moment where I felt genuine sympathy for either of them. There's visually no chemistry between them - much less attraction to one another - which makes me wonder why they were ever a couple in the first place. I think that for a story/film like this to work, and for Ferrara to achieve his desired goal, we need to really fall in love with these characters thereby making us really care about who they are so that when the issue arises, we want them to stay true to themselves. There is none of that in this movie.

There's a scene where Cisco, after having quite an uncomfortable fight with Skye, goes to an old friend's house in an attempt to get high one last time. Yes, randomly we learn that Cisco is a recovering drug addict, sober for a little over two years. One of his friends (also recovering) explains to Cisco that he's proud of the man he has become and he's not willing to sacrifice that just because everyone is about to die. He argues that Cisco should feel the same about his own life. Cisco doesn't agree. A scene like this could work if it had been established earlier that he was an addict, and was still struggling with on a daily basis. Instead, we wonder why he's headed to this apartment until it's casually revealed through conversation that he once had drug problems.

Having said all that, I found this film to be better than the 2011 favorite, Melancholia, because the end of the world is used to examine the very meaning of humanity, whereas Melancholia felt like two separate stories that were forced into one another. It should be noted, however, that if there was a way to put a film in a less-than-zero category, Melancholia would be there.

I wish 4:44 had more to offer. Sadly, it made me wish the world was ending just so I would not have to endure these two characters any longer. 

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