Then Playing — Side Street; Smithereens; The Batman

Side Street (Anthony Mann, 1950). This sweaty film noir casts the ever-wooden Farley Granger as Joe Norson, a down-on-his-luck postal worker who decides to steal some cash from a law office on his route. What he believes to be a small sum is in fact tens of thousands of dollars. More problematically, the funds in question belong to highly corrupt individuals who have zero reservations about resorting to murderous violence to retrieve what’s theirs. Working from a script by Sydney Boehm, director Anthony Mann gives Side Street the cold weight of a fully loaded revolver. He takes particular pleasure in steadily ratcheting up the pressure on his protagonist until it seems every choice his makes is a laughably pathetic stalling tactic in avoiding a bruising comeuppance. Jean Hagen is terrific as a tippling songstress who Joe foolishly believes will help extricate him from his dilemma.

Smithereens (Susan Seidelman, 1982). This feisty flick from the early nineteen-eighties details the struggles of Wren (Susan Berman), a transplant to New York City whose vague aspirations toward celebrity and nonexistent backup plan mean she’s constantly hustling. She catches the eye of a quintessential country mouse (Brad Rijn) and exploits his interest to have a van-mattress fallback whenever her latest scheme falls apart, as it almost inevitably does. Director Susan Seidelman shoots the city with a keen appreciation for its downtrodden misery; if nothing else, Smithereens served as a cinematic time capsule for the era just before Times Square started its long rebound to a Disney-ish tourist trap and helped scrub other dingy corners of the surrounding metropolis cleaner in the process. The film moves with raw energy and has a wry wisdom about it. The closing shot has a touch of pat Afterschool Special cautionary tale to it that clangs unpleasantly against the film’s overall scrappy vibe. Until that freeze-framed incongruity, Smithereens is a relentlessly splendid example of a distinct era in American independent filmmaking.

The Batman (Matt Reeves, 2022). And so we go back to Gotham City again. Director Matt Reeves presides over the latest screen iteration of the traumatized oligarch who dons a cape in order to crusade against crime. Robert Pattinson brings maximum emo sulk to the role of Bruce Wayne, aligning with the tone of the film. The Batman follows the trajectory of going ever darker with each emergence from the reboot cocoon. As cinematic entertainment, it’s downright oppressive. Only Zoë Kravitz occasionally cuts through the gloom, mostly because she plays Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, with a few moments of lively irritation and impatience. Everyone else overcommits, especially Paul Dano, whose take on the Riddler is such a scenery-gnawing embarrassment that it could almost be a surreptitious scheme to make Jim Carrey’s turn in the same role, in the 1995 film Batman Forever, seem like a feat of restraint and nuance by comparison. There are interesting ideas here and there, such as some skeptical interpretations, but they get knocked asunder by the thudding spectacle of it all, especially as the film’s running time stretches to a punishing three hours. There are only so many intense conversations in raspy whispers that any moviegoer should be subjected to.

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