Film review: The Canyons, Venice Film Festival

2.00

 

Paul Schrader’s The Canyons arrived at the Venice Film Festival trailing controversy in its wake.

The casting of troubled star Lindsay Lohan opposite porn actor James Deen in a low-budget pulp thriller provoked both fascination and derision from the US media, who delighted in the idea that this was a train crash of a movie with Lohan in the middle of the wreckage. The Canyons certainly isn’t the most polished film that Schrader has ever made but in its own sleazy way, it makes compelling viewing.

Lohan herself is almost unrecognizable from the bright-eyed child star we remember from The Parent Trap. Her character Tara is ostensibly in her mid 20s but looks far older. The lighting and production design do nothing to make her seem remotely glamorous. She behaves here like an ageing diva on leave from a Tennessee Williams play. Even so, her star quality isn’t completely dimmed. Lohan is far more experienced than her co-stars, who seem lightweight by comparison. She conveys effectively enough her character’s doubts and insecurities as well as her haughtiness and sense of entitlement. What her role lacks is any opportunity for humour or levity. In its own anxious, grimly intense way, this is an effective performance.

Brett Easton Ellis’ screenplay offers us three main characters all as mendacious and narcissistic as one another. There is Christian (Deen), a wealthy, sociopathic LA-based movie producer living off a trust fund and preparing a new film in which young hunk Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) will star. What Christian doesn’t realise, at least at first, is that his girlfriend Tara is still in love with Ryan.

When he was in his pomp making the similarly themed American Gigolo (1980) with Richard Gere, Schrader had the best technicians in Hollywood at his disposal. Here, he is working on a shoestring – and it shows. The film has all the production values of an episode of Neighbours or some other low-budget soap opera. Deen is convincingly nasty and manipulative as Christian but has little of the screen presence of the actors Schrader has worked with in the past.

Some early scenes –  Deen and Lohan meeting Ryan and his girlfriend in a restaurant, Lohan and Deen in their swanky LA house – are banal in the extreme. The sex scenes, in particular the four-way encounter that comes at a pivotal moment in the story, are prurient and clumsily shot. The film’s shortcomings are very evident. Nonetheless, The Canyons has a relentless narrative drive that rekindles memories of old, low-budget Hollywood B noir. Everybody is double crossing everybody else. Even Ryan, who initially seems vaguely sympathetic, is prepared to cheat and compromise to get ahead.

There is a sourness evident throughout. Schrader opens with a montage of movie theatres that are boarded up and have gone to seed. In one sequence, Lohan asks her lunch companion when was the last time she went to see a film. The companion answers evasively. Schrader is constantly dropping hints that cinema is a dying art form and this is why he has been reduced to making a movie on the quick like this. It is easy to accuse him of cynicism both in casting and in his choice of subject matter. Nonetheless, this isn’t the disaster that its critics have claimed. For all its formal shoddiness, it is an effective thriller with a very dark heart. If the budget had been bigger and more care had been taken, he and Lohan would surely have avoided the catcalls.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'