There is a famous quote by Alfred Hitchcock that posits, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” In a way, Paterson acts as both a reinforcement and a challenge to this idea. It is a film that demands to be considered in its totality, a strange but endearing feeling that combines an ever-so-slightly abstract approach with the mood of a hangout movie. But it is neither of these, nor is it a simple valorization of the artist. Rather, Paterson is a film about both the constant and the ever-changing natures of life, that emphasizes the similarities and differences in equal nature.
Taking place over the course of a week in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and burgeoning poet working in Paterson, New Jersey, Paterson very quickly establishes a sense of routine to its central character’s life. He wakes up, walks to work and drives while thinking of new poems, then goes home and walks his dog Marvin to the bar. Rinse and repeat. But Jarmusch uses this loose but reliable structure in fascinating ways, not to evoke monotony but to allow for significant jumping off points, not just in the mood (which mixes the hypnotic with the comic) but in fairly interesting subplots, some of which take place over the course of the whole film and some of which are only present in one scene.
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It is often tempting to look at the possible influences that a particularly derivative-feeling movie has drawn on, to see the superior versions of a standard or rote narrative. Live by Night is no exception; to this reviewer the film almost reads as a clumsy marriage between Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, in overall style and milieu, and Miami Vice, if Colin Farrell’s character was on the other side of the law. Yes, the film is adapted from the novel of the same name written by Dennis Lehane, but there is an undeniable urge to compare this limp, lifeless work to its better examples.
There are, of course, many other and better examples. Live by Night is an extraordinarily by-the-book gangster film set in during Prohibition, detailing the rise to power of Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck, who also directed and wrote the adapted screenplay) in first Boston and then Tampa. Herein lies the first fatal mistake of the film: Affleck structures the first third of the film that takes place in Boston as a kind of prologue, briefly introducing Joe lying in a hospital bed before moving back seemingly only a few months back in time. The Boston section as a whole is thus rendered moot, and the film feels too rushed to fully luxuriate in the urban grime that it attempts to evoke, especially in a mildly thrilling Model T chase.
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