Just a bit of personal disclosure before I go on to review this picture. I pathologically despise cell phones, texting and anything post-email. This tidbit might explain my affection for the imperfect The Canyons, as I was moved to ecstatic, emotional violence and catharsis; resulting from the consequences wreaked by implementing these devices. Sure they were not necessary for the plot to come to fruition, but it does place the action in a completely modern context.
The movie starts out with the despicable sociopath Christian (erstwhile porn star James Deen) bragging about his swinger life with sad-sack girlfriend Tara (Lindsey Lohan). His literally captive audience is the couple Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) and Amanda, (Gina Brooks) an actor and Christian's assistant in a "B" movie that Christian has been "kind" enough to fund. Christian, a trust fund baby, has been "persuaded" by his father to do something useful with his life, ironically leading to this less than virtuous enterprise.
In this bedroom tragedy, we promptly learn that most everyone has a sex, love or career ridden agenda that intertwines like an operatic scenario or an updated La Ronde.
Most critics are being terribly unkind to The Canyons. The beautifully melancholy opening credits, chronicling the decaying movie theaters around America, are what cinema is made of. Some people decry Schrader's commentary as a bitter disappointment regarding his own faded career. Oh gee, a personal voice in art? Tsk, Tsk. I wonder what screen-writer Brent Easton Ellis thought about it.
When Tara asks Amanda if people even go to see movies anymore, I found it doubly damning as I myself was viewing it on TV's IFC in Theaters.
The acting appears to be a mixed bag; the film is about the superficial world of L.A., so perhaps it's symbolic of what Schrader is trying to say; or maybe he just did not find the best actor to portray the much desired Ryan, who did not display the personal charisma of a much desired piece of human meat.
On the other hand James Deen and Lindsey Lohan nailed it. She has been criticized by some for an unfocused performance until the finale, but any woman who consistently allows herself to be degraded by a partner is not the most chipper of characters. And when she finally falls apart, it packs the punch of a dehumanized person springing to life in the protection of the shards of it she has left . She needs to be taken care of, but in the process is uncared for, treated worse than junkyard a dog.
Deen, who says he is not giving up porn for a "legitimate" career (whatever that is) is the model psychopath, dark and handsome, childishly brutal, the sort of guy who you expect to tear off butterfly wings. He rocks in the role -- so convincingly that I would like to see him in something else to prove that this was just "acting."
Some of the supporting players shine, such as Tenille Huston's Cynthia, a supposedly zip-less f&*k of Christian, who turns out to have a pivotal role in the action. Coolly professional and ultimately sympathetic, Jim Boeven as Jon (Christian's producer) is moving as a homosexual forced to make some sketchy choices to keep his job with the "financier."
If I was a conspiracy theorist (maybe I am) I would be keen in pointing out that for less than 250,000 thousand dollars in contributions from the "people," this movie was made, not via the Hollywood system. Interestingly enough, major reviewers depend on blockbuster-type products to secure their jobs. And how odd is it that Sundance, the allegedly original supporter of the indie cause, rejected this bare bones project? Try watching the Sundance Channel and make a case for them in this rejection, considering the dross that they are happy to consistently support. And ultimately, doesn't the fabulously rich but morally bankrupt Christian stand in for a metaphor of the money that controls the cartel? Is the politically incorrect stance of portraying gays hustling too distasteful to the mainstream, often liberal conventions of our entertainment industry?
Ok, so some of the dialog sticks in the mouth's of the actors, especially the scenes between Tara and Ryan, but once the exposition is disposed of we are off to the races.
The sex is what it needs to be, no more or no less. Although there is much nudity this is not hard porn. The final sex scene (a four way swing) shows movement forward as Tara takes it to a new direction that I will not spoil for you.
Perfect -- no. Evocative and prescient -- yes. I will watch this one again.