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Tim Robbins is a good thing. The insertion of Robbins into most films, Bull Durham, Jacob’s Ladder, Bob Roberts, The Shawshank Redemption, will almost always guarantee you one satisfying performance in any given film. In Noise, Tim stars as David Owen, a transplanted Minnesotan, living with his wife and child in the Big Apple. The trouble with David is that he hasn’t quite acclimated to the ongoing sounds that go along with living in the biggest city in the world. Noise starts off with a lulling piece of classical music over a daylight city landscape before launching into the blaring cacophony of car horns, sirens, burglar alarms and other sonic distractions. In his beautiful Upper West Side townhouse, David has had it with leaning out of his bay windows, screaming at driverless cars when their security systems go off. No, this isn’t enough for David, he’s got to come down with a blunt object and wire cutters cracking open the hood of the offending car and clipping the alarm cable.

The satisfaction this brings David is addictive; the power to control his own surroundings drives him to be heedless of the laws against vandalising private property. David finds a moment of clarity whilst sitting in jail for the damage he’s done. He is reborn as The Rectifier, hooded and working under cover of darkness to disable car alarms everywhere. David allows his marriage to break down and his wife to kick him out of their flat rather than give up his crusade. It is only after moving into an even more noisy area of Manhattan, that he meets Ekaterina Filippovna, a spunky little college student who sets him on the path to try and change the system from within, petitioning to have the noise laws changed. When the mayor blocks their petition, The Rectifier is rectified!

Yeah, even Tim Robbins’ considerable charms couldn’t save this mess.

Noise is meant to be a fable of personal empowerment for Everyman. Unfortunately for the film, due to some wildly uneven direction and one-dimensional characters for whom you never feel any sympathy, it simply comes off as a shallow Yuppie fairy tale.

Maybe it’s the location. Maybe if the film had taken place other than “The City That Never Sleeps,” David’s irritation would have made more sense. When someone moves to Manhattan, the sound levels should come as no surprise. It’s as much a part of the island as Times Square, Duane Reade pharmacies on every corner, the F train running late or overpriced soft pretzels in Midtown. And while everyone can relate to being annoyed by an errant car alarm, I don’t know that anyone who has a car in the city would like to not have a working alarm. The premise that they do not work to dissuade theft does not wash. Also, David’s constant distraction by the noises he hears can’t help but beg the question: If it’s so difficult for you to deal with, why not do as your wife suggests and move back to quiet Winnetka? Or at least a more sedate suburb? Not everyone is meant to live everyplace and if destroying someone else’s property is the only way you can cope, then there’s more wrong with you than the folks trying not to have their cars stolen.

If the humour had had a lighter touch, Noise would have been more successful in its aim of taking a funny look at something that is indeed a problem, but it takes on a mantle of earnestness abetted by an utter lack of self-awareness that makes it insufferable. Throw in an incredibly awkward and very fast bit of adultery first by David wife as he’s locked up for 30 days (- that’s all it took, folks), then by David when he gets involved with Ekaterina, herself a victim of The Rectifier. It had to take Tim Robbins for me to suspend my disbelief that an NYC working woman would let any man get away with not paying for a maliciously broken $600 storefront window. Then again, Ekaterina’s whole presence in the film is just odd. She might be a journalist, or might not, she knows a lot about politics and law, and quotes philosophy and ancient Greek text to David as pillow talk, yet isn’t afraid to have a very chatty threesome with a random girl who becomes involved in their cause.

Director Henry Bean seems besotted with Margarita Levieva, the actress playing Ekaterina, photographing her from every loving, flattering angle. He gives her the reins for almost the second half of the film, which goes nowhere because whatever Bean sees, Levieva is not a particularly good actress and mostly because we just don’t care. It seems like Bean had no idea what kind of tone he wanted his actors to strike, for example the campy turn by William Hurt, who is sopping up scenery with a biscuit as the buffoonish mayor. We don’t know why exactly he’s opposed to the anti-noise referendum, but his acting is so compellingly strange and the story so bad that you don’t think too much about it. Hurt, sporting a red hedgehog glued to his head, a pronounced lisp and colour combinations only the Joker would love is playing the clown in his strange short scenes. William (still the best-looking) Baldwin gets to talk Strong Island tough, but is still wasted as the mayor’s lackey.

Waste is a good all-around word for the missed opportunity to make a truly clever comedy out of a film that merely becomes its own title.

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

April 15th, 2008

 

 

 

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