One You Might've Missed #16: Dogville


by: Brad Sturdivant

Finding diamonds in the rough is a wonderful feeling, but in order to do so, you usually have to watch a lot of bad movies. takes the pain away by recommending a movie that you may have never heard of, or missed when it first came out.

This is a tough movie to recommend for many reasons, most notably for how it’s filmed and the difficulty some audiences will have in getting used to it.  When you couple that with the fact it deals with some very adult issues, you’re left with a film that appeals to a small part of the population.  As it turns, I happened to have really enjoyed the film and found it to be a welcomed surprise.

Nicole Kidman in Lars Von Trier's Dogville

So I guess I should explain exactly what you’re in for.  Although DOGVILLE stars Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany, it’s not what I would call a mainstream Hollywood film.  It’s actually more of a play and is filmed as such.  There are a lot of overhead shots and theater angles, with very few props and zero special effects.  The houses and the town they live in are identified simply by thin walls or even tape on the ground.  Like I said, this is not your typical Hollywood film.

Nicole Kidman in Lars Von Trier's Dogville

Assuming you haven’t already stopped reading, the plot of the film might turn you off.  Nicole Kidman plays Grace Margaret Mulligan; a traveler on the run from the mob, seeking a new beginning in a small Colorado town.  The town is mostly isolated and Grace finds it to be a nice change from what she is used to.  But when the mob comes looking for her, the town begins to take advantage of her and the price they charge to keep her secret is nothing short of disturbing.  It should be noted that there are strong, graphic scenes (no nudity) and those faint of heart shouldn’t even consider this.

Nicole Kidman in Lars Von Trier's Dogville

However, if you’re up to it, and can handle the long run time, you’re going to be in for a fantastic character study.  Director Lars Von Trier crafts a great story that shocks the audience without showing you too much.  We know what’s happening to Grace and we sympathize with her plight, but Von Trier doesn’t beat you over the head with it.  He was able to get away with some subtlety because of the astonishing performances from his actors.  To be honest, I’ve never really thought much of the ability of a lot of the actors in the film, but seeing them here was proof that they really do have talent.

Nicole Kidman in Lars Von Trier's Dogville

We as an audience get spoiled by some of the tricks involved with major Hollywood productions.  In many cases, it’s tough to even gauge an actor’s performance because of the overuse of makeup, fast edits and special effects.  But when you put an actor on a stage with no props, makeup, effects or anything else to aid their performance, you put the pressure on them to really deliver their lines and give a great performance.  We don’t see that very often in movies and typically, the only way to see that is to go to a theater performance.  But one of the best aspects of this film is the play-like setting and the chance to witness fine actors like Kidman, Bettany, Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Patricia Clarkson, Jeremy Davies and Philip Baker Hall immerse themselves into the performance and really deliver.

If you can get past the three challenges in the movie (play-like setting, subject matter, long run time), I think you’ll be impressed with the film.  Anyone who loves a good acting performance should appreciate what Von Trier has crafted here.  And trust me when I say that it has one of the most satisfying endings you’re likely to come across.

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