Ryan Gilbey on film

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The Independent Culture
Most people I speak to have been disappointed by the new American thriller Things to Do In Denver When You're Dead. I wonder what they were anticipating. Because whatever complaint you level at the writer Scott Rosenberg, you couldn't accuse him of giving you what you expect. There's the title for a start: brash, cocky, throwaway, none of which sums up the movie. Then there's the cast. The director, Gary Fleder, picks a bunch of hard-nuts and eccentrics - Andy Garcia, Treat Williams, Bill Nunn, Christopher Lloyd - and then gets them to play putty-hearted terminal cases counting out their last hours on earth. What did those who came braced for the profane blast of another Taranteenie think when they were presented with what is essentially a disease-of-the-week movie?

Personally, I felt refreshed. I don't think that Fleder's film is necessarily more honourable or responsible than, say, Pulp Fiction, simply because it's more compassionate. And it's certainly not accomplished. After all, the resolve and dignity of its marked men are a little fraudulent - Lloyd's elegiac speech reminded me of the way characters in TV movies always assume a glowing articulacy and steely pride during their death-bed monologues. But it's the audacity of the brew that satisfies. The fact that Rosenberg and Fleder have married two disparate genres and created something that's funny when you expect it to be cruel, romantic instead of nihilistic and philosophical rather than visceral.

And even if you're not charmed or haunted, you'll surely appreciate that the picture marks a certain progression. It takes the poignancy of Peckinpah, rather than the bloodshed; there's even a hint of Altman's McCabe and Mrs Miller about the clash of eras. Which is not to suggest that it approaches those directors' profundity. Just that it's nice to encounter young film- makers whose Year Zero isn't 1994.

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