Newest Review: ... area of Colorado. Paul Bettany plays Tom Edison a local writer who has strong opinions about how people should conduct themselves eve... more
Member Name: sunmeilan
Advantages: Paul Bettany and Nicole Kidman are good
Disadvantages: Visually dull dull dull, a bit worthy
Tom Edison Jr lives in a town called Dogville. He is a writer and has strong ideas of how the townspeople should behave, although they often rebel against his ideas. Then Grace appears, on the run from gangsters, and in need of a place to hide. Although the townspeople are initially not in agreement, Tom invites her to stay in Dogville and persudades the others that she should be allowed to stay for two weeks, and possibly longer if she fits in. She tries to help the townspeople with chores and eventually they let her, and start to accept her. Nevertheless, she has a secret and, when a search party comes to town looking for her, things begin to change Dogville. The townspeople believe she is innocent, but her safe stay must come with a price. What is Grace's secret? Will she be allowed to stay in Dogville? Will she and Tom end up together?
I watched this film with some trepidation. It is the first film of a trilogy, of which I have seen the second film, Manderlay, and hated it. However, I have liked some of director Lars Von Trier's other work, and, having heard that the first film was much better, I was willing to give it a try. Initally, my opinion was not good. One thing I disliked about Manderlay was the odd setting - Dogville is filmed inside a huge building that is set up like a stage in a theatre. There are no walls or doors, just lines delineating where everyone's house is, and it takes some getting used to. One of the things I love most about film is the whole visual experience, but here, the setting is dull, the clothes are dark and drab and there is very little to encourage the viewer to continue watching.
The story is narrated by John Hurt, who is never seen on screen, with appearances by the actors filling in the detail that is missing from the narration. In fact, it is in the dialogue between the actors that the story is told - this is a film that can be largely understood by listening, rather than watching. It is even divided up into chapters, just like a play or book would be. It would actually have made an ideal radio play - in many ways the visual side of the film is an unnecessary distraction. I have never seen a film about which I could say this, with the possible exception of Manderlay, and it left me feeling rather confused. This is not to say that the actors gave poor performances, because they didn't, but their skills are shown in their voices rather than their actions.
Both Paul Bettany and Nicole Kidman are good in their roles, although, as I say, the visual side is relatively unimportant - it is in the way that they deliver their lines that they succeed. Paul Bettany's character, Tom, is slightly annoying in that he thinks he knows what is best for the town, although there is no evidence as to why he should think this way. It is probably deliberate that Lars Von Trier has a similar character in Manderlay - I suppose this is what links the films together. Bettany plays the role well though and Tom's burgeoning relationship with Grace is the one thing that does need to be seen visually to take it in properly. Their on-screen chemistry was good, and the fact that they looked good together didn't do them any harm.
Nicole Kidman's Grace is rather a strange mixture, primarily because she is supposed to be deliberately mysterious. On the one hand, she seems very kind and very grateful for the treatment she receives from the townspeople. On the other hand, she seems to be holding back on something and there is a strong feeling that she is slightly resentful of her situation. Again, much of this is in her voice, rather than her actions, so although she is good, she may just as well be listened to on the radio. Then again, she does look so innocent and pretty that she will please a lot of people, especially male viewers. There are a few other familiar faces - Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Chloe Sevigny and Stellan Skargard in particular, although their roles are small and relatively unimportant.
There has been much discussion about the meaning of Dogville. It is obvious from the start that Lars Von Trier is trying to tell us something, although different people will have different ideas. He has been criticised for the anti-American stance that he takes, and many presume that is what he is trying to say here - presumably criticising American society for its hypocrisy and inability to see what is potentially evil unless it is spelled out to them. I didn't particularly feel that there was anything anti-American about it - if directed at a particular group of people, it could just as easily be any Western country's people. However, there does seem to be a suggestion (and I say this mainly because I've seen Manderlay as well) that those with money and power (Tom's family is better off than the other families in Dogsville) tend to think they know how to lead other people, but this isn't necessarily the case. Read into it what you will.
The story itself is an intriguing one and is definitely an improvement over Manderlay. Grace's presence in the town definitely stirs up a lot of feeling and it is interesting to see how everyone reacts to her. The first part of the film (the first four chapters) is quite slow and may well put some people off, but things do really begin to hot up after that. When Grace's true self is finally revealed, it would be a surprise to anyone who hasn't already seen Manderlay - and even though I already knew part of it, it was still good to know how everything fitted together. In a way, though, the knowledge that there was a hidden meaning behind it all ruined it a little for me - it felt as though Von Trier was trying just a little bit too hard and it ended up seeming a little pretentious.
The extras include a featurette of interviews from the main cast members and some of the production crew. There's a particularly obnoxious child actor that's worth looking out for if you want to be annoyed. Many of the rest of the interviews are a bit silly - they seem to have been asked to try and be funny, but they just end up being pointless. Certainly, it didn't teach me anything. Later on, the interviews seem to be a deliberate attempt to brown-nose Lars Von Trier! There is also a feature on the Cannes Film Festival, when the film was first shown there. This is largely in Danish, so most people will need the subtitles. It's interesting if you're into film festivals and all the hype. Finally, there's a trailer.
I watched this in the hope that it would be better than Manderlay, and I think that overall it was. Certainly, the story is better and I preferred Nicole Kidman to Bryce Dallas Howard. However, ultimately, I watch a film because I want to be visually as well as aurally entertained and there was very little visual entertainment here. It is also too preachy at times, plus it is way too long at well over 2 hours. I'm glad I gave it a go, but I have no intention of bothering with the third film in the trilogy - Wasington. If you like Von Trier's work, or like films that are a little bit different to the norm, by all means, give it a go - it certainly has a high rating on imdb.com. Otherwise, I'd recommend leaving it. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £5.93.
Classification: 15 (for some scenes of a sexual nature)
Running time: 178 minutes
Summary: Not really my cup of tea...