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At first, Friedkin keeps Agnes and Peter in separate boxes in her dingy motel efficiency, but watch how theyre drawn together: first by the appearance of her gaudily abusive ex (Harry Connick Jr.), then by those noisesa banging air conditioner, a beeping smoke alarm, the chop of helicopter blades. No wonder Agnes likes having a man around. When Peter delivers a quiet rant about the omnipresent, mind-altering hum of machines, she calls it crazy shit, then adds that she likes the way he talks. When he points out a bugan aphid, of which he has prodigious knowledgeon his pillow, she cant see a thing and then maybe, wait, yes, maybe she can. Slowly, this nondescript motel room becomes a forest of flypaper strips and a thicket of psychosesand what began as kitchen-sink naturalism becomes, well, crazy shit. Whats at the root of the infestation? Iraq, chemical weapons, Tuskegee, AIDS research: It all goes into Lettss cauldron of blood.
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Youll hear a lot about a momentous and magical overhead shot in Emanuele CrialesesGolden Door.Hundreds of Sicilians assemble on the deck of a ship sailing for America, while hundreds of their countrymen (and family members) stand on the other side of the railing. From above, they are one group, one people, covering the screen from corner to corner in their dark coats and hatsand then, with a deep rumble, the ship begins to pull away, an ocean opening between them. Whats disorienting is that the camera stays with the ship, so its the people on land who appear to be sailing away. And, in a sense, they are: into history.
The movie centers on a folie deuxyet one that, at first, doesnt seem sofolle.Its two lonely misfits building a sanctuary. Ashley Judd plays Agnes White, a forlorn, rather dissolute divorce who lives in a rustic Oklahoma motel (called, evocatively, Rustic Motel). Her phone rings night and day, but no one speaks. Are the calls from her ex, newly out on parole? Do they have something to do with a helicopter that circles the motel? Unnerving stuff, especially the way Friedkin and his sound designer, Steve Boeddeker, move the noises from speaker to speaker. By and by, her lesbian friend (Lynn Collins) brings over a soft-spoken lunk named Peter Evans (Michael Shannon) for booze and blow. Im not an ax murderer, he announces, twice, when he hears the women speculating on his origins. He does, however, leave the door open for other possibilities.
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Incidentally, some of the posters forBugdepict Judd as a kind ofStar TrekBorg Queen and scream Horror movie! The distributor, Lionsgate, is the best in the business at promoting films likeSaw, and the campaign might workin the short term. But I guarantee you that 99 percent of those who go toBugthinking theyre in for good, gooey fun with the babe fromKiss the Girlsare going to riot in the aisles.
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, directed by William Friedkin from Tracy Lettss play, has the feverish compression of live theater and the moody expansiveness of film. The mix is insanely powerful. Letts, also an actor, is a member of Chicagos Steppenwolf Theatre by way of Oklahoma. He has a gift for bumping realism into surrealism with a well-placed nudge, for writing dialogue that drives his actors into each others faces (if not each others souls), and for picking up and distilling eerie signals from the heartlandanxieties that blossom into conspiracy theories, conspiracy theories that explode into delusions. The path toward conflagration is absurd, and inexorable.
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I wish Id been able to giggle atBugfor being so over-the-top. But line by line, beat by beat, its gripping stuff, and Friedkin puts you right in the middle of the mle. How did the coldly detached director ofThe French Connection,The Exorcist, andTo Live and Die in L.A.manage to getinsidethis playpreserving its theatricality yet making it such a live-wire experience? The actors contribute much. Michael Shannon (the intransigently patriotic ex-Marine inWorld Trade Center) played Peter onstage for years, and his sunken demeanorhis lack of spontaneitygives him a Golem-like poignancy. ButBugbelongs to Judd, maybe the most unsung great actress in American movies. She has made herself look convincingly dissipatedpuffy, baggy-eyed, almost used-up, yet still very, very beautiful. No matter how heightened the dialogue, there isnt a line that doesnt sound as if its coming out of her head. Her Agnes is clearly projecting like mad onto her new lovereven welcoming the dementia that envelops her. Watching Judd, I didnt only think of women in abusive relationships, but of Abu Ghraib poster girl Lynndie England, a not-too-bright small-town girl who got sucked into her controlling boyfriends universewho eagerly posed for her man the way so many young women do, becoming a character in someone elses sick fantasy.
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Bugscreenwriter-playwright Tracy Letts, a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company since 2002 andPulitzer finalistfor his 2003 play,Man From Nebraska, has been fascinated by psychodrama since childhood. When asked to share a story about grade school, he told SteppenwolfsBackstagepublication, We had to make a little book, and my book was calledThe Psychopath. The cover of the book showed a man who had hung himself and shot himself in the heada little detective story. A lot of teachers would have seen that andalerted social services. Yet my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Parker, gave me an A++, saying it was very creative!