Lost in Translation



Jurassic Mark

SCORE:  4Stars

Lost in Translation is a subdued masterpiece.  The movie features Bill Murray in a restrained role as a Hollywood star (Bob Harris) shooting a whisky commercial in Japan.  He can't sleep, drinks too much and is completely out of his element.  We never know if Bob is homesick, because we get the idea he doesn't mind being away from his wife.  But, he's not comfortable in Japan either.   
Enter co-star Scarlett Johansson (Charlotte).  Charlotte tags along with her husband (Giovanni Rabisi in a throw-away role) who lands a photo-shoot in Tokyo.  They stay in the same hotel as Bob.  She can't sleep.  Her husband doesn’t pay enough attention to her.  Charlotte is a wonderfully complex character.  While Bob is content to hang out in the hotel bar and drink away the long week, Charlotte at least gets out on the town.  She seems transfixed and curious at the cultural differences surrounding her, but can't articulate them in terms of beauty or bring any kind of meaning to them because she has drifted into a sort of melancholy that overrides everything.
Bob and Charlotte bump into each other in the hotel.  Eventually, they have a few conversations that lead to an intimate friendship, which could lead to more.  The mystery of how far their relationship will go is one of the greatest strengths of Lost in Translation.  Our movie makes a mockery of those syrupy, chick-flick romantic comedies like My Best Friend's Wedding, or My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or The Wedding Planner.  I can play this game with movies that do not contain the word "wedding."
But, Lost in Translation is, in fact, written and directed by a talented chick:  Sofia Coppola.  She is a smart, focused filmmaker.  Coppola knows what is important to adults who go to the movies for entertainment and something more (an insight into what we love and hate about being human).  She easily gets the best performance of Murray's career.  Murray has shown acting promise recently with films like Rushmore, but this is a whole new level for someone who will probably always be thought of first as a comedy guy.  Coppola also gets great work out of Johansson.  Like in her previous critical success, The Virgin Suicides, our director knows how to photograph the female form.  Johansson is lovely, and Coppola uses it.  
Technically, I have no problems.  Gifted with the lens, Coppola also uses an undeniably hip soundtrack.  The music was probably one of the reasons I left Lost in Translation in a kind of daze.  The movie can leave you entranced. 
The daughter of Francis Ford Coppola was once universally panned for her performance in The Godfather III.  If you go back and watch that movie, she's not in very many scenes.  Sofia has done little to "damage" the world of cinema.  But, with Lost in Translation, she's paid that world back many times over.