I saw Dallas 362 a few years ago on the positive review of Internet critic, Mike D'Angelo. It was just showing this morning on IFC and I caught the last 20 minutes or so.
If memory serves, the story is about a mother and son, originally from Texas, that move to California. The woman, played by a perhaps impossibly beautiful Kelly Lynch, has become a widower when her husband has died as a bucking horse rider, one of those guys that tries to stay on a horse as long as possible, usually merely seconds, before getting tossed aside. She's moved to be as far away from where this happened as possible.
The son, having been transplanted, doesn't fare particularly well. He gets tangled up with a guy named Dallas who is mixed up with the wrong folks. Perhaps in Dallas, the son (Rusty), sees a kind of father figure, or at least, some masculine role in his life. But perhaps, much like the Charlie Sheen figure in Wall Street, he knows that what he's doing isn't right, and the film depicts how he ends up choosing the right path for himself.
Jeff Goldblum plays, well, himself. Perhaps one reason to cast Kelly Lynch is because she's blond and a bombshell, though with the paucity of characters in the film, no one much pursues her. Goldblum's character is the awkward, geeky, nerdy character he generally plays in most films, but it serves as a contrast to Rusty and the film takes time to have Rusty warm up to this guy who is nothing like the self-destructive Dallas.
Mike D'Angelo, himself trained as a screenwriter, picks a scene, where son and mom sit on a bench outside the house having a heart-to-heart. She tells him that she's in love with Jeff Goldblum's character, and wants to marry him, and he tells her that he's genuinely happy for her, and she finally gives him permission to pursue his dream to go back to Texas and do the only thing he's ever been good at, riding horses.
And he realizes that, even if he thought he would leave California and pursue it with or without his mother's permission, he would have to cut off his life in California, one that was bad for him, but the only one he knew. And it's an interesting decision, the contrast of living the honest life that he knows he should. He tries to convince his buddy, Dallas, to leave his wicked ways and join him, and yet, we know, Rusty knows, and finally Dallas knows, that Dallas is just as suited to life in Texas as Rusty is suited to life in California.
During this scene, D'Angelo points out that Goldblum is just about to join in. He's in the background, hangs out a minute, then leaves. Rusty peers over for a second, and the Goldblum is gone. He credits director Caan (who also plays Dallas) with keeping that subtle, not drawing attention to it.
I happen to like a later scene, flashy as it may be. While Rusty and his mom and his mom's boyfriend are having a nice dinner, Dallas has paired up with a guy to rob a local kingpin. That scene is played for tension and intercuts with the life Rusty could be living (namely, being with Dallas) and the life he has now decided is right for him. The scene ends in an absurdist situation where a third character pounces in at a moment that causes Dallas and a guy he has paired with to rob the house, end up accidentally shooting each other and killing one another.
Of course, that scene is played for the tragic ending you know the film feels inexorably drawn to, and while flashy and reminiscent of the tense moments in "Boogie Nights", it's not the one I point to.
Instead, although you are never told this, it's a scene afterwards where Rusty is dazed, devasted and begins to cry. Few films about the tough male bonding ever dig deep at the emotional, homoerotic crux of such relationships. Dallas, for all his faults, was the one guy that, in his way, cared for Rusty, and bad as he was for Rusty, it meant something emotionally to him. It was, in its way, a doomed love affair, improbable because one guy was, at his core, someone bad, and one, at his core, was someone good, as trite as the idea seems.
It reminds me a bit of "Wild Reeds", a French film, which has the daughter of a Communist teacher (communists supported the Algerians during their fight for independence from France) who has fallen for a loner (whose dad died in Algeria, and believes Algerians owe the French for all they've done for them). The two have a very brief tempestuous relationship, one similarly doomed to fail because both are such different people. Lust and love can't overcome their diametrically opposed view of the way the world works.
Perhaps the reason this scene resonates is because few male relations are depicted like this, and perhaps few relationships exist like this. In the process of creating a drama like this, it seems Caan has also given thought to what it's like for someone to have that intense a friend, and the associated emotions that it brings. This hyper-masculinity means the two can never really express what they mean to each other in any but the most superficial macho preening ways.
And yet, in that moment of loss, with Rusty on the verge of leaving California, leaving his friend, he breaks down. The one man he truly cares for is gone, and it has taken his death to reveal just how much he cared. And yet, he's also now a truly free man. He has made the right decision, and he only wishes his friend, whose life was being sucked to self-destruction, had listened to him, had taken that improbable step, a step he was never going to take.
It takes keen observer to create characters that you can tell have a path they must lead, but try to escape it.
By the way, after this movie, IFC is now showing Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, the inspiration to Star Wars. The movie opens with two bickering low-lifes who are wandering across the desert. There is a war and they were mistaken for the enemy, and like Merry and Pippin, have managed to get themselves out of a bind. The two insult each other, even come to strangle each other, when another guy, a warrior of some sort, stumbles across, trying to escape the enemies pursuing him.
Six horses with men come by, finish him off, and then leave, the two men bewildered, happy to be seen as beggars.
It reminds me of the scene of C3PO and R2D2 crossing the desert planet of Tatooine. Of course, C3PO is the fussy English butler, and R2D2 mostly squeals and beeps. They don't have the kind of insulting, bawdy, relationship that the two characters in Hidden Fortress do. And it is funny to imagine Lucas deciding to make the droids behave like these men, bawdy, bickering, rather than polite, effete.
Too bad that Lucas's pilfering of Kurosawa doesn't extend to Kurosawa's clever filmwork. Kurosawa is a formalist, often as interested in the relationship of how characters fill the screen, how they sit and situate against one another. Lucas, far less mannered, doesn't seem concerned with these trifles.
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