January 19, 2006

Jagged Edge (1985)

directed by Richard Marquand
written by Joe Eszterhas

Onward through my backlog. Why did I watch Jagged Edge of all things? We were at the beach and we wanted to take advantage of the On-Demand movie service, but they cleverly deny you the option of watching anything good. That Jagged Edge seemed like our best bet indicates the quality of the selection.

The movie was serious junk, and, given that we were at the beach and had thus lost our capacity for feeling our time was being wasted, slightly amusing as such. Joe Eszterhas is one of these simple folk who thinks that when people say “fuck” a lot, things become more gritty, exciting, and fun. That sort of thinking governed not only the amount of swearing but much of the plot, which revolves excitedly around rape-murder-mutilations. They get described in delighted detail; just as with saying “fuck,” there’s the sense that Joe, like 10-year-olds, still can’t believe how cool it is that if you call it “forensics” you get to talk about naked women and cutting people with knives and other stuff that, oh man, is totally wrong! But, as every 10-year-old knows, when you get to stay home sick from school, you’re not supposed to act like it’s fun; you’re supposed to act like you’re indifferent – and when grownups talk about rape, or say “fuck,” they don’t enjoy it, so to be really mature you should just say fuck whenever the fuck you want and not make a big fucking deal about it. And so this movie goes its ridiculous way.

It’s hard for me to build up any annoyance with director Richard Marquand, because, knowing that he was also the nominal director of Return of the Jedi (a poster for which appears on a kid’s door in this movie), I’m inclined to think of him only as a simple pawn caught up in someone else’s crazy scheme; in this case, Joe Eszterhas’s.

The movie attempts only to be “one of those movies” and is nonetheless a little too stupid to pull it off. The “answer” to the mystery isn’t decisively revealed until the very very very end, which adds absolutely nothing to the movie and in fact only heightens the viewer’s overall impression that any given detail of the plot has been completely arbitrary. Watching the movie isn’t like being drawn into any kind of story or world or experience; it’s like watching some idiot moving chess pieces around, concentrating hard with his tongue sticking out. He manages to win the game, after starting with the wrong number of pieces and making a few illegal moves. And playing both sides.

Is it possible that in 1985 this genre (Bleached Noir, it should be called) was so new, and its proper form so incompletely established, that Jagged Edge could pass as clever and intriguing? What was Roger Ebert thinking? Something about the movies of the 80s is genuinely different; every era has its own set of superficial things that are passed off as sufficient and vital – but 80s Hollywood picked such a weird set of those things. It’s not just their superficiality; it’s that they don’t even seem to relate to basic human desires – not like the much-mocked superficial nonsense of the 50s, which at least was meant to evoke security, luxury, and confidence. These Jagged Edge folk were neither perfect nor troubled; they were just characters. The focus seemed to be somewhere slightly to the left or right of them, on something I couldn’t quite place, like maybe the movie was actually, secretly, about their curtains. A lot of movies from the period seem to share that quality.

I was there but I wasn’t watching Jagged Edge at the time so I can’t call on any memories to help make sense of it all. By the time I was old enough to really notice what was going on in movies, things had changed, so this remains a historical puzzle for me to figure out.

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