A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Sometimes all you need is two actors…

In Actors, drama on July 15, 2009 at 3:39 am

There was a movie from the mid-1980’s that I always loved as a little kid. It was a futuristic sci-fi movie, and it featured a human pilot who crash lands on a planet along with an enemy combatant – who happens to be an alien. These two seem to be alone on the planet and eventually have to depend on each other for their survival. This movie, is ENEMY MINE and stars Dennis Quaid as the human and Louis Gossett, Jr. as the alien.  The Wolfgang Petersen directed movie, is excellent, but is actually just a sort of remake of the actual movie I wanted to talk about.

The original that I just watched is called HELL IN THE PACIFIC, and is directed by John Boorman. His second movie after having directed the classic POINT BLANK. This is notable, because the star of that movie had so much faith in the director that he backed the decision for Boorman to direct this brave movie. The star was Lee Marvin – one of the most well-known and idolized movie tough guys in cinema history. Going from these two to movies like THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and THE BIG RED ONE.

In the movie his sole companion and sworn enemy on the island that the movie opens on is another tough guy type, also well idolized. Toshiro Mifune plays the Japanese soldier, who at the beginning of the movie has seemingly already worked out his survival on the island. He’s got a trough created with drinking water, bamboo cut out as spears and traps in the water to catch fish.

The two characters, whose names I don’t seem to have caught, first encounter each other on the beach. There’s a fantastic moment where we see each one imagine killing the other, only to then cut back to them stuck in a stand-off. From there, is a cat and mouse game, of Marvin trying to get the water – to eventually have the trough destroyed when they both fall on it. The one character gets the upper-hand, tying the other to a giant branch and blind-folding him; only for him to escape and in a quick cut we see the other tied up.

Obviously neither character is able to thoroughly communicate with the other -even when Marvin is trying to teach Mifune’s character how to fetch a stick. And it’s only when they are able to mutually figure out how to build a raft together than their combativeness disappears. Leading to a great line, later in the movie when Marvin’s character is startled by Mifune and says, “Oh, for a second there, I thought you were a Jap.”

The movie ends with both characters pretty much where they started from after the lack of communication rears it’s ugly head again, only to then be surprised by something neither we, or they, see coming.

The movie seems dialogue-less for the most part, but really most of the dialogue in the movie is in Japanese – which is not subtitled – so the only words we understand are what Marvin says. Which isn’t much, and I would assume for a native Japanese speaker, who might not speak English, it would seemingly play out the same way. (Although, I guess they wouldn’t see it as so sparse in dialogue.) But, this is not to say we don’t know what each of the character means, by the way that both Marvin and Mifune’s posture and body language represent their meanings. Both characters also show a good bit of humor (not to each other). Whether it’s Marvin’s previously mentioned attempt to get Mifune to fetch, or the look on Mifune’s face as he see Marvin sneaking toward his water reserve. There is also a good deal of pathos from each man.

The movie itself is beautifully shot, with the dense forests, steep beach and beautiful, crisp water. Each of the men’s faces show sunburn and weariness. Marvin’s ruggedness and Mifune’s intensity. The men build a raft and the time they spend on the ocean is filled with water overtaking them, and shear hopelessness as they lay collapsed beside one another.

It all adds up to a fantastic movie, with only two actors and the way that they adapt to life together despite being on opposite sides of a war that’s bigger than both of them. I highly recommend it.

Here is a short scene from the movie (couldn’t find the trailer), featuring Mifune’s character with the upper-hand in a rain storm. While it’s not violent, these two are merciless to each other and this short scene goes a little way in showing that.

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