In the Kind of … series, Nick Rogers reviews monthly the movies celebrating their 20th or 30th anniversary since their initial release this year: seven from 1992 (the extra in June’s Double Feature Column) and six from 2002. The self-imposed rules of the column: no film with an Oscar nomination and no film in the top 10 grossing of its year.
Beauty is inherent in any character played by Andy Garcia. But haggard, harassed and tormented he has much cuter in the countenance of Detective Sergeant John Berlin, the cop in downtown Jennifer 8.
Berlin tried to build a career in Los Angeles, but left after, in his own perfectly noir words, he felt like he had said sorry on every street in the city. Maybe all but the one he called home, where his abandoned wife turned away from him and turned to other men as Berlin delved deeper into corpses and empty bottles. So Berlin moves to Eureka, a community on the northern California coast where the colloquialized weather report reads “pissing rain from October to June.”
This shot at redemption comes courtesy of Detective Sergeant Freddy Ross (the inimitable Lance Henriksen), Berlin’s commanding officer as a freshman from Los Angeles who also moved to Eureka for a less rigorous routine; all Ross really has to worry about is an annoying reporter (Lenny Von Dohlen) and the onlookers at the crime scene. But a few months before Berlin’s arrival, Ross and the Eureka Police Department endured “the worst six months this station has ever had”: the death of a young woman, codenamed Jennifer, who was found headless. nor hands, whose murder remained unsolved. . As Berlin’s first day coincides with the gruesome discovery of a severed hand in the Eureka junkyard, where the sky cries, steam rises from mountains of rot and uniformed officers look like ditch diggers in a Dante play. , Berlin reopens Jennifer’s case.
This is the kind of obsession and compulsion at work that sinks its hooks into the nooks, crannies and detective hunches of the bowels of Berlin. “The worry, the snap, the pecking. You can’t stop it, right? Ross asks Berlin. “Might as well be back in LA.” Berlin’s golden boy anointing in Eureka already irritates his new colleagues, and his insistence on thawing the ice in Jennifer’s case only adds to his anger. But Berlin’s fascination with forensic pathology helps him discover that the new severed hand came from a blind woman. His few remaining friends in Los Angeles tell him that six blind women have been found dead with the same condition within a 300-mile radius in the last four years. “Jennifer” was the seventh, and the previous owner of that amputated hand? Well he knows Jennifer 8.
So goes the setting of writer-director Bruce Robinson’s 1992 serial killer thriller, ruthlessly oppressive yet relentlessly impressive. After earning an Oscar nomination for his work as a screenwriter on the 1984 film the fields of death and delivering the British cult classic Withnail and I in 1987, Robinson wrote Jennifer 8 in an effort to establish himself as a Hollywood voice. To read Robinson’s script is to examine a tried and tested template for hard-hitting, concise mystery storytelling. Ross jokes that someone’s handshake resembles “a partially aroused penis,” another character intones “I loved that guy and the hardest thing to take in here is that he thought he killed him,” says Berlin “I have a bad I have a feeling about this and I’ve been doing it too long to be wrong”, and John Malkovich himself appears in the second hour to investigate a different but comes across murder and insists, “I’m running out of questions and you’re running out of lies!” While there are effective excisions to the final product (such as omitting an Alcoholics Anonymous prologue for Berlin), Robinson’s flair for character-driven complications from the film’s central investigation is convincingly realized.
Jennifer 8 it certainly falls into that subset of visually stunning and narratively pulpy thrillers driven by gorgeous stars that powered their studio, Paramount Pictures, for years before and after. (An added attraction? The public’s penchant for a more cutthroat murder mystery was piqued by the critical and commercial success of 1991’s The silence of the lambs.) Here, Uma Thurman stars as Helena, a cellist and music teacher who survived a car accident at age 14 that took her sight and her family. Berlin learns that Helena was friends with the woman now known as Jennifer 8 and believes that Helena was once in the same room as the killer. He’s also sure that Helena will become Jennifer 9 if she doesn’t act fast enough…and that he loves Helena.
Robinson has complained that Garcia’s good looks, relative to an older construction of Berlin in his writer’s mind, hamper the inappropriate nature of their romance: that viewers want them to end up together. But the 14-year age difference between Garcia and Thurman matters a lot here, both overtly and understatedly. Interestingly, when Helena first hears Berlin’s voice, she guesses that she is 53 years old. In fact, Berlin is well on his way to becoming a mentor to him, Ross, who jokes about a belly in his 50s, balls in his 60s, and feet in his 80s. Berlin is a man whose only push toward commitment comes with a new murder case. he he he doesn’t need Look Old, it just needs to feel as moldy as the plastic-wrapped mattress you wake up on.
Also, are Berlin’s romantic intentions as noble or is Helena just, as Ross’s wife puts it, a version of his wife who can’t run away? Garcia gives you the feeling that Berlin is trying to knock down one vice at a time (like trading alcohol for Diet Coke) and not doing a terribly good job. As Helena throws Wordsworth at her to describe his troubled past (“thoughts that are too deep for tears”), Berlin questions if that’s Village. Sedan would do he fancies himself a similar savior whose sanity is suspect. Indeed, it’s disturbing how willing Berlin is to burn this pasture he’s been sent to: a slow knife that Robinson deftly twists after a shocking twist that ends the film’s second act.
And while Jennifer 8 could stand more moments developing Berlin and Helena’s initial bond beyond a few interviews that double as quotes, it’s also the closest anyone came to creating a proper noir for Thurman, an actress whose face was built for the genre. There is tremendous tension and affection in the way Helena tries to piece together the reason for Berlin’s interest in her, as well as the fear that she is incapable of a force she believes John wants her to express.
On paper, Jennifer 8 should have been a success. But he was only able to raise $11 million against a budget of $20 million, which was enough to execute Robinson’s push for Hollywood stardom. (In fact, Robinson didn’t direct anything else until Hunter S. Thompson’s 2011 adaptation. the rum diaryanother expensive bombshell which, if you’re feeling existentially uncharitable, also unleashed the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard derailment upon us all). Robinson has also said that studio interference hurts. Jennifer 8with changing regimes, everyone wanting different things and the result struggling to serve so many masters.
But it’s still a solid, sumptuous thriller that deserves a second (or first) look. There are all kinds of murder mystery diversions here, from stretcher bearers with Coke bottle glasses to that nosy journalist. Someone is also stalking and photographing Helena, so there’s a run-of-the-mill pervert to deal with. Legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall (in cold blood) creates sinister compositions. Production designer Richard Macdonald (the fair of darkness) brings to life a soggy autumn and freezing winter amid the timeline of history and vast geography. Christopher Young (1987) hellraiser) contributes a chilling score with goosebumps-inducing strings. And it features a cast of heavy hitters like Kathy Baker as Ross’s wife, Kevin Conway as the Eureka police chief and Bob Gunton as Helena’s school administrator.
Then there’s Malkovich as St. Anne, an FBI agent whose sinuses catch a cold under the humid Eureka air. St. Anne arrives in town after Berlin and Ross leave half-assembled and, from the perspective of booze and bullets, fully loaded on Christmas Eve to investigate an intruder at the school. It is a choice that ends in graphic and decisive tragedy. Despite in the line of fire Still a few months to go, Malkovich’s icy demeanor takes over the film’s final act and also feeds a bit of the giddy Berlin paranoia to the viewer. Maybe St. John himself is Jennifer’s killer. After all, why would the feds send such a voracious shark into this little pond? Malkovich’s moments trying to get information and trip people up are masterful: the first great example of that malevolent glee that would monetize for decades to come, and all while noisily sharpening his pencil and blowing his nose to get rid of the subjects he is interrogating with sonic havoc.
The St. Anne scrutiny also revisits a note Ross wrote earlier in Berlin about lying. Ross said it as a harmless poke in the rib of his former protégé. But after so much violence, St. Anne sees it as a knife between them. While the note doesn’t criminally implicate Berlin, it certainly is irrefutable evidence for Berlin’s emotional crimes, exposing a possessive aspect of his personality that Berlin has thus far shown he’s unwilling to face. Jennifer 8 is a suspect show for all that carries its conclusion to its literal last minute and does so with a complexity of character that’s the perfect counterpoint to all the carnage, the kind of thing you easttown mare it wins many awards now, but was lost in the shuffle 30 years ago.