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From the moment he pranced on screen as a disruptive teen on Saturday Night Live, there was something unique about Bill Murray. He quickly made the transition from stand-up into films, most notably as smug yet strangely charming Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters. Usually an elusive character, Murray has been in the public eye for that last couple of years, thanks to brilliant performances in The Life Aquatic and Lost In Translation, for which he was cruelly denied his first Oscar. He continues that run of good form with Broken Flowers, a new film from director Jim Jarmusch.

Broken Flowers

Feature


Murray stars as Don Johnston, a wealthy womanising lothario—a notable ‘Don Juan’ who is quite happy to move from woman to woman without the need for intimacy or love, which of course allows him to be and do whatever he wants. And, after recently being dumped by latest beau Sherry (Julie Delpy), Don is once again left with the life he knows all too well. That is until one morning he awakes to find an anonymous pink letter from a former lover saying that unbeknown to him, he has a son, who is out searching for his father. Don of course thinks the whole things a prank, until he tells his wannabe detective neighbour Winston (Jeffrey Wright) who convinces him to track down some of his former lovers on a cross-country road trip to find out the truth.

Director Jarmusch, who won the Grand Prix award in Cannes last year, has built up quite a CV over the years, with ‘indie’ hits Down by Law and Dead Man. With Flowers, Jarmusch takes a step forward field and faintly dunks his toes in the mainstream. Choosing stillness and composure in his comedy rather than cheap jokes and sleazy innuendos, he takes his time with the story, crafting calm, sometimes almost silent scenes of comedy as Don embarks on his retrospective journey. Indeed, silence can sometimes be the best form of laughter, and here the director uses this to its fullest, combining it with awkwardness and unease that throughout can be both unbearable and hilarious. In addition to the comedy, Jarmusch’s eye for colour and landscapes is beautifully realised here and, with the help of cinematographer Frederick Elmes, crafts images that are startling and energetic.

Broken Flowers
There are minor quibbles with the pacing of the story, possibly going at too much of a tortoise pace for some, and the repeated encounters with the former flames become a little tiresome around Jessica Lange’s appearance. But the most disappointing aspect of the film is the ending, which whilst encouraging us to make our own conclusions, undoes this good work by acting as a lazy closure to an otherwise bright comedy.

That said, with Murray as his lead, Jarmusch has the perfect actor to encompass all of those elements put on screen. No one does deadpan like Murray, his expressionless face and posture perfectly embodying the ‘whatever’ attitude of the protagonist, barely flinching when his various former lovers try to tell him just what he has done wrong with his life. He also has impeccable comedic timing and skill, able to pinpoint his jokes and sarcasm to pitch perfect precision, and fully convinces as the philandering ladies man.

Top of the supporting cast is Jeffrey Wright, who continues his rise as the go-to character actor with another hugely impressive performance, providing some of the movies funniest moments, and proving a great counterpoint for Murray. And Sharon Stone offers her best performance since Basic Instinct, displaying once more that there’s more to her than meets the eye, adding class and elegance to proceedings, as well as great comedic timing. It’s a shame then that the other talented ladies in the cast, Tilda Swinton, Frances Conroy and Jessica Lange, do not match up. Their characters lack the strength and exuberance of Stone’s character, instead coming off boring and hollow, making you wonder what Murray’s Don saw in them in the first place.

Broken Flowers

Video


Presented with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Broken Flowers is given a good, if not outstanding video package. The picture is clear enough throughout, but for the most part, particularly in the darker scenes, the picture suffers from a hazy quality that for a film this recent shouldn‘t really be a problem. Not that this is all the time mind you, but it’s noticeable in some scenes, and for you budding DVD experts out there, it may slightly hamper your viewing. That said, the picture is not all bad, as during the day scenes, colours are bold and bright, particularly greens and blues, with only blacks suffering slightly, looking slightly saturated at times, but again this is mostly contained in some of the night scenes. There are also some signs of edge enhancement, but this is kept very minimal, and again doesn’t do too much damage to the viewing of the movie.

Audio


The audio fairs much better, here presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Throughout the proceedings, the Dolby is given a great run-out through the five channels, and perfect captures all the sights and sounds you would expect from this road trip type of film. Everything is perfectly realised, from the sounds of planes flying overhead, to the hustle and bustle of city streets to the more tranquil sounds of birds chirping and tress flowing in the heart of the countryside. Dialogue too is clear and crisp, and even though dialogue at times isn’t used that much in the film, it still excellently captures Murray’s husky tones, Wright’s foreign tongue and Stone sensual vocals. Finally, the songs from Mulatu Astatke are excellent, pulsing through the film with great energy and flamboyance

Broken Flowers

Extras


A disappointing package accompanies the film here, as the extras are very minimal. The lack of a commentary from Jarmusch is hugely discouraging, as you would have thought that this is a movie he would have a lot to tell us about. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. What we are presented with is an extended scene which features two girls on a bus talking about different ladies issues, which adds about a minute and a half to the time they are on screen in the film, but adds absolutely nothing to the story whatsoever, and seems to have no purpose to the course of the film. Secondly, a couple of minutes worth of outtakes, which strictly speaking aren’t outtakes at all, just a few edited in with the numerous appearances of the clapperboard used in the film. Hope these choices of extras are as bemusing to you as they are to me.

There is a short featurette which has Jarmusch talking for a minute or two over black and white b-roll footage, but apart from talking about what the film’s plot, adds nothing. If anything, you typical bog-standard press featurette with short interviews would have been better than what we are left with. There are also two trailers, US and international, and a still photo of the soundtrack’s case and what is on it.

Broken Flowers

Overall


Despite a somewhat lacklustre DVD presentation, Broken Flowers is  superb comedy-drama from Jim Jarmusch, who lifts his head into the mainstream with this effort. His film is given its beating heart by another brilliant performance by Bill Murray, who if he keeps this run up, will soon be taking home a little golden man. Add to that great supporting turns from Jeffrey Wright and Sharon Stone, and you have one of last year’s most enjoyable films.


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