Other // R // December 29, 2010
Review by Casey Burchby | posted January 27, 2011
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I walked out of Biutiful, so take this review with an appropriate measure of skepticism. I haven't walked out of a movie in years, but Biutiful seemed to be daring me to leave within its first twenty minutes. Despite an arresting pair of opening moments, Biutiful devolves into a sluggish, meandering, dour assemblage of scenes that are utterly - shockingly - without momentum. At two-and-a-half hours, Biutiful is not the longest of movies, but after nearly half of that length, I felt like I'd spent a whole day in the theater without getting anywhere. I could not stand to spend another minute in the presence of co-writer and director Alejandro González Iñárritu's dire worldview and Javier Bardem's tragic, self-hating face (a good performance though it is).

Biutiful is packed with characters, incident, and plot, but part of the film's problem is a lack of emphasis. Every scene, every interaction between characters, and every complication of the plot has the same relative value. The movie never feels like its moving anywhere. We appreciate that Bardem's character, Uxbal, is a dying man with a disordered life that includes an estranged wife, two young children, and a career split between petty black market crime and serving as a medium, relaying messages between the recently dead and their loved ones. As his own death nears, Uxbal is driven to set some of the many wrong things in his life right.

Despite walking out, I cannot say that Biutiful approaches true "badness." It just offers little to the viewer in terms of a connection to the proceedings unfolding on-screen. We are positioned as voyeurs, taking a casually-observed tour of one man's sloppy, unhappy life. But there's no voyeuristic thrill in Biutiful, nor is there sense that the things we are spying on have been judiciously selected for maximized impact. Instead, everything is lumped together, from the most mundane to the most significant. Every scene has the same relative dramatic weight, which is the same as saying that they have none at all.

Bardem gives a performance of unfathomable depth. His engagement with the material displays nothing less than a complete dedication to his character. But his efforts are betrayed by Iñárritu's bizarre insistence that each scene be structured and paced with an exacting sameness; even the screen time of each scene seems to be the same. There is no pacing. Although the photography is technically and aesthetically accomplished, the look of the film also suffers from stagnancy. After a few scenes, the film ceases being visually dynamic, neither from photographic nor editorial standpoints.

Although the filmmaker's outlook is dour, that's not what made me realize there were better ways to spend a Sunday. It was the film's glacial pace and a complete lack of storytelling mojo. It wasn't the kind of story that Biutiful tells, it was the extraordinarily tiresome way it chose to tell it.

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