Minutia Madness: The Fifth Element
By Bret Dorman
(As always, SPOILERS! may apply to the movie in discussion.)Everyone knows what makes a movie good. Blurbs like “compelling”, “powerful”, and “explosive non stop thrill ride that will leave you on the edge of your seat!” are common place on movie posters. In reviews (including my own) people point out how the direction is “great”, how the writing is “awesome”, and how the acting is “wonderful”. Every once in a while you can find a really great essay from a smart film critic (a real one) or film maker that actually explains why a movie is good and helps you as a viewer become a better film watcher.
But what about those small moments that fall in between the cracks? I understand the need to talk about a movie in the broad sense, its the easiest most SPOILER! free way of saying if you liked or didn’t like a movie. I prefer people to talk in specifics, to actually know why something is good or bad. But this goes beyond all that. This is blowing the tiniest detail way out of proportion. This is what makes me a film nerd. This is Minutia Madness!!!
The Fifth Element
Written and Directed by Luc Besson
While I don’t believe that there is one film that is ‘the best’ I do believe there is one film I could watch every single day and never get tired of seeing. The Fifth Element. If you go to Blockbuster (if they still exist in your town) or onto any online renting service, you will probably find The Fifth Element under the “Action/Adventure” section. At first glance this makes sense. Sci-Fi, some explosions, some gunfights, the plot to destroy the universe, and of course, Bruce Willis. But this movie is not your generic action beat ’em up. In fact, it’s just around the 20 minute mark we even see Willis’ character Korben Dallas and even more time after that before Gary Oldman as Zorg has a real scene to showcase he is the badguy of the movie. The two actually never meet, which is odd for an actioner to never have its main heroic protagonist fight its main evil antagonist. Zorg and Leeloo have one brief encounter which is neither of the characters’ undoing. This movie is much more a comedy than action.As we all know by now, The Fifth Element is Love (awwww). Leeloo is genetically recreated and known as ‘The Supreme Being’ and ultimate warrior even though she seemingly has the mental capacity of a 5 year old. She doesn’t know what Love is, she’s just been paraded around from place to place as an object, not a ‘person.’ Dallas on the other hand, had Love and lost it. His wife ran away with their lawyer and now he holds a crappy job as a (crappy) taxi driver. He wakes up to the same routine of future techno percussion music (?), automated technology turning on his TV and prepping his (weird future reverse?) cigarettes, and his mom calling to complain. Both characters are lost in the future, one on the run and the other drifting aimlessly.
The two first meet when Leeloo comes crashing into Dallas’ cab causing him to lose control and pull over. Seemingly unphased, she details her journey so far in a completely foreign language and the only word Dallas clings to is “Boom.” They go back and forth and share a laugh over her “Big Bada Boom.” And then, their time is cut short by the cops. As they flash their lights into Dallas’ cab, he turns back with a look that could stop a bullet. Here’s the full scene:
The Fifth Element is filled with minute details and great performances. It was hard to just pick one. I could gush on about everything in this movie.
First off, Milla Jovovich is phenomenal as Leeloo. It is hard to tell if she is acting, or if that is just how she goes about every day life. Since I’ve seen her in other movies and on talk shows giving interviews and she appears to be a normal person, it always amazes me how I can never see the strings at work here. I fully believe she just crashed into a future space cab. Its also impressive she seems this comfortable in character in front of the Legendary Die Hard action hero, Mr. Willis. Some of Willis’ laughs in this scene appear to be genuine laughs of “You’re killin’ it right now Milla, go for it!” Bruce Willis also plays up the instant charm and showcases his comedic timing and sarcastic delivery that syncs right up with Milla’s energetic pace.What most action movies skimp out on is romance, focusing more on the guns and muscles. But in a movie where your ‘saving the World’ climax centers on two characters being so in love their kiss can stop the most evil of evils, its nice to have scenes of the two actually spending some quality time together. Later on we have the two exchanging names, holding her in his arms after the “auto-wash”, and of course “Multi-pass” (YES! She knows its a Multi-pass!). The Dallas-Leeloo relationship is filled with genuine love at first site tenderness as well as antagonistic old couple bickering.
We know from later on, that Dallas has loved and lost in the past, but before that we also see him in his miserable living just to barely survive daily life. Channeling a John Mclane in the future sort of vibe, we get that he doesn’t have a lot to look forward to. So when this ultra sweet and charming encounter with a ‘perfect’ cab fare comes to an end via the police, it makes sense Dallas would give them the most badass ‘fuck you’ look of the film. Instead of saving this for the end (again, he never meets Zorg or any other baddie truly worthy of this look), he gives it to the people who deserve it the most, the assholes who just ruined this perfect moment. We also come to learn Dallas is one of the best soldiers who ever lived, so much so that even though he is retired and the future army could have pulled ANYONE for this most important of missions, they said no to all of their current soldiers and went for Dallas anyway. So Dallas knows, somehow in his deepest of hearts, that these sirens and bright lights mean that in his not-so-distant future he will be sneaking onto a cruise ship, digging stones out of a weird blue opera singer, blowing up a lobby, and ‘negotiating’ with a Mongaloid leader all leading up to using his last match to save humankind (and every other kind). That’s what his look shows, and he’s not happy about it. He doesn’t want to go on this mission, because he’s been there and done that. He’d rather just take the easy route and chat it up with Leeloo some more, forgetting all his troubles (or not having to go through them… again).Of course as a viewer we have mixed feelings about this. The Fifth Element is an uncompromising vision of the future sort of like what we’ve seen before but with its own unique twists and energy. Its easy to get caught up in the moment of not knowing what is going on and looking at all the great special effects. That and relative newcomer Milla Jovivich (at least to the ‘action/adventure’ genre) sells everything about Leeloo. She’s beautiful, mysterious, and lost. We want to see more of this. At the same time, no one is going to argue with putting Bruce Willis in his own element. “You wanna play it soft. We’ll play it soft. You wanna play it hard. Let’s play it hard.” as he buckles up is a line he delivers with absolute efficiency. The trick Besson does is make us earn those action moments and make them mean something, not just explosions for the sake of explosions, but explosions for the sake of making a fun movie more fun.
For every Die Hard or Sin City, there’s a Surrogates or The Jackal. You could argue Willis isn’t all that great, its just the great movies he’s in… which is sort of true. Its a real symbiotic relationship. Those great movies are great because of Willis and vice versa, simultaneously. Very few other actors could genuinely give that thousand yard stare Willis delivers in the taxi, but very few movies can deliver just the right amount of romance, comedy, and set up to make it mean something.
So what do you think? Is Willis’ ‘fuck you’ stare the product of a ‘perfect’ relationship? Or am I just crazy for focusing on this minute detail?