This epic about the early days of the film industry that nobody saw and only a few people have heard about is a mixed bag, but it’s still worthy of your time and attention.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle the man behind La La Land, this film is a jazz infused kaleidoscope of the highs and lows early cinema. It follows a fictional silent super star named Jack Conrad played by Brad Pitt, a brash and sexy upstart named Nellie LaRoy, played with ferocity by Margot Robbie, and the young go getter desperate to enter the industry Manuel Torres played by Diego Calva. These three characters navigate the film industry as it shifts from the silent epics of the 20’s into the modern sound era.

The film is a little bit hit or miss, but on the whole it has lingered in my mind, and it’s the first film in a long time I’ve wanted to watch twice.

The first hit is the absolutely passionate filmmaking on display. There are sequences of visceral storytelling that are completely riveting. An early sequence takes place over the course of one chaotic day of filming. It’s a big battle scene in which explosions go off, cameras get smashed, and one extra ends up impaled. The sequence is cut to the rhythms of Chazelle’s favorite musical style, jazz. It gives the sequence life and energy in a way that few scenes have matched. The storytelling is clear and compelling with little dramas introduced in each moment and over come in exciting and entertaining ways.

The first miss of the film is its scatological and nasty sensibility. It really leans into the sex, and debauchery of the time period. Hollywood in the 20’s was a bacchanal, a literal Babylon. And the film relishes in showing all of the hedonism it cram into every frame. This is just my personal taste, but I don’t enjoy watching people get peed on, or grotesque sex acts, or people eating live rats. It’s all there to paint a picture of the debauched times, but the way the film relishes in it was too much for me.

Another hit is the incredibly tense sequence in which they film with sound for the first time. Sound filmmaking presented some intense challenges to production. This sequence highlights all of these and creates one of the most tense scenes in recent years. As little mistakes like hitting a mark or speaking at the correct volume build up the characters are pushed to their breaking point. The sequence is riveting and suspenseful and I recommend the movie for that scene alone.

A big miss is the runtime. This movie is 3 hours and 8 minutes long. Who has time for that? I sincerely believe that an hour and a half could be cut out, and Chazelle would have a stronger movie. There are a lot of long self indulgent shots that look amazing but don’t add enough to justify their substantial addition to the runtime.

The performances here are top notch. Brad Pitt brings boozy swagger and confidence to the role of the super star watching his light dim with the transition to sound. Margot Robbie gives her all to every role and here she is fierce and wild. She is exploding with passion in each moment on screen. Diego Calva anchors the piece without becoming a boring point of view character. He is charming and passionate and carries the movie.

The last miss is the ending. The very ending. The last few minutes of the film are another self-indulgent bit of filmmaking that adds little except showing off Chazelle’s film knowledge. It feels like a pretentious film student was given 80 million dollars to play with and he came up with this dissertation on cinema. It just doesn’t work for me. Settle down Chazelle, you’ve only made four films. It’s a little late to carve your name in the pantheon of film history.

Overall I really enjoyed this movie. It’s weird. It’s powerful. It’s a little pretentious. It’s wildly entertaining. For a three hour movie, you will not be bored. It’s not perfect, but it is my cup of tea, and I think you’ll have fun watching it.

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