Jaws ★★★★★

I'm just now realizing that my two favorite Roy Scheider movies, Jaws and Sorcerer, are both structured in such a way that the mission doesn't get underway until the midpoint. Neat.

Jaws is the perfect storm. It honed in on something real and terrifying that was cinematically untapped. That's not enough to create a cultural shockwave on its own, but Spielberg's directing is overwhelmingly perfect. Much of what he does is just Hitchcock, but he applies it so goddamn well. For my money, Jaws is the most flawless exercise of tension and release ever put to film. Much credit is due to John Williams' score, which can turn a scene from innocuous merriment to fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck-no-no-no-no in an instant. Another major factor is the shark POV, which was famously unplanned and devised as a secondary measure, because who knew big machines and water don't mix? It's a great anecdote, that POV. I've always believed that a person is most creative when their back is against the wall. If the shark had worked, Jaws would not have worked.

There are moments in this that still make me shit my heart right into my pants. The big one is that geyser of blood that is immediately followed by the Vertigo shot. And poor Mrs. Kintner. She advances towards the water as the crowd recedes until she is alone in the frame. That is an astonishingly well-crafted soul punch.

Murray Hamilton, the incredulous mayor with his goofy anchor-patterned blazer, is pound-for-pound the most slappable character in movie history. Fuck. This guy. People being eaten alive is squirmy enough, but cheesedick over here with his precious 4th of July paycheck amps up the tension even more. He foils the hero's call to action not once, not twice, but three times. It turns out the rule of threes works as well for comedy as it does for cumulative obscenities flung at a screen.

The build is nothing but excellence and the back half delivers on everything the first half promises. In addition to all the wonderful thrills, you get this amazing little family. Chief Brody, Quint, and Hooper are a winning trio. You love them. The best sequence is when a drunken pissing contest turns into a sobering horror tale, which then turns into a company sea shanty, which then turns into a late night attack to remind us all that no one is safe. Especially not us watching. Tension, release, tension, release. What you were thinking letting your guard down like that?

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