Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
I’m blurting this review out just minutes after watching. Something I don’t normally do, but I just can’t contain myself, and know I’m going to have to re-watch more than once to write a proper one. Please excuse the ramblings.
Dogville has been hanging over my head for a while now. As per my usual practice, I tried to avoid any pre knowledge. All I knew is that a: it was Lars Von Trier, b: it was 3 hours long, c: it starred Nicole Kidman, and d: worst of all, it had ShakyCam. Not a good start. I have a mixed history with Von Trier, and I’ve only seen two of his films, Melancholia, which I quite liked, but was rather challenging at times, and Dancer in the Dark, which my wife and I turned off due to ShakyCam and insufferable improvisation. Fortunately, when we headed down for this afternoon’s screening, I had forgotten about Dancer in the Dark.
From the first frames I was hooked. What an incredibly inventive style! I was just discussing Altman’s Come Back to the Five and Dime the other day, and reminiscing on how it was amazing how the film kept the qualities of a stage play without looking ‘stagy’. Here, Von Trier throws that right out the window and makes his original, non-play, source look as much as possible like a play with cinematography ( his own) and performances ( from a mind boggling cast ) that relate the intimate connection you get when in the theatre. I didn’t think this was possible, as I have seen so many failures, but Von Trier succeeds completely. Even his handheld camera work didn’t annoy me, and was never indulgent. At first I felt like I was walking amongst the characters on stage, but then that quickly melted away and I just became part of the story.
Speaking of story, I’m speechless at this point. There is so much depth, so much allegory crammed into this seemingly simple tale that it will take multiple watches to begin to unravel it. Capitalism, Imperialism, Christianity; just to name the obvious ones. Scathing indictment delivered with velvet gloves. Wow, just wow.
Performances, well the star studded cast all brings their a-game here. I’m usually not a fan of Ms. Kidman, but she’s absolutely incredible as Grace. Likewise, Paul Bettany as Tom Edison. Lauren Bacall, Stellan Skarsgard, James Caan, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Gazzara, Philip Baker Hall, and Chloe Sevigny .. all completely amazing. They all shine as bright as they ever have before.
It’s John Hurt’s narrator that’s the icing on the cake though. Von Trier’s brilliant narration is what makes the film work. Like Barry Lyndon, this is a kindly uncle telling us a bedtime story. And oh my, what a bedtime story!
The other thing that completely took me by surprise was how watchable this film is. A film this rich I normally expect to have to put some effort into … I’m looking at you Mr. Tarr ..but he the three hours just flew by. I could easily recommend this to anyone. It has the ease of an Altman the characterizations of a Lumet.
Brilliant, just brilliant.
Thanks Len! I definitely owe you one!