Monday, April 23, 2007
48 Hrs. is a mysterious film.
The greatest puzzles in Walter Hill's 1982 action flick are the lights: frequently out of focus in the foreground, they pop up seemingly unexplained. Streetlights become will-o-wisps at the edge of the frame; streets are photographed from above through of clusters China lanterns that form glowing clouds. We can still tell what they are—ordinary, familiar objects—but in the way they’re introduced, they become foreign. Suddenly the ordinary warrants an explanation. San Francisco is some place we've never heard of; when its hilly streets are used to set the film's car chase, we're surprised--the streets that we've seen a million times have become unfamiliar.
The film seems shot through binoculars—or, rather, with a zoom lens. We’re aware of the zooming (every time the camera moves, we notice the tell-tale distortion of space), but it doesn’t suggest physical distance—rather what we become aware of are the numerous objects, many of them obviously far from the actors, in the foreground. The zoom lens becomes a way to sketch telling details while allowing them to remain vague; we take these details for granted, yet we can’t completely make them out--they’re like the false memories a dream leaves behind, readily accepted but not completely understood. These qualities are all reinforced by the film’s numerous unresolved plot points, which don’t seem messy, but rather consistent with its aesthetic—even with its acting, with that odd chemistry between Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy. It leaves you with a sensation that doesn’t easily submit to written or spoken language—one that can only be described by making another film.