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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.05%
Just Average: 13.33%
Pretty Crappy: 3.81%
Sucks: 20.95%

8 reviews, 57 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Would This World Be A Lot Better If This Town Didn’t Exist?"
4 stars

Lars Von Trier’s cinematic approach to Dogville is hardly what you would call traditional. Yet it’s not exactly truthful to say its unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s characters all interact with each other on an enlarged stage and over the course of three hours engage in the sort of narrative you would find in the great novels of Dickens or the plays of Shakespeare. Particularly the plays, although more accustomed to the rehearsals than opening night. Everyone wades through chalk outlines and invisible structures providing us with a transparent gaze into the lives of this town. Dogville has been referred to as staunchly anti-America. But it’s that kind of “anti” that’s good from time-to-time; like how it’s supposedly “anti-American” to question your President.

The town of Dogville is a quiet, little mountain camp in “the good old U.S. of A.” as the narrator (John Hurt) informs us. Silence is broken when gunshots are heard in the distance and Tom Edison (Paul Bettany) finds Grace (Nicole Kidman), a city gal on the run from mobsters. Tom offers her solace despite the town’s weariness in accepting this potentially dangerous woman into their midst. Tom convinces the weary folk who continue to have their reservations; that is until Grace begins offering her services to help wherever she is needed. But with acceptance comes further suspicions and soon the inhabitants begin to “bare their teeth” with the most uncomfortable of behavior.

What you’ve just read is an abbreviated Cliffs Notes version of the story, since the power of the film is putting it all together in your own context. Von Trier divides his film like a novel, set apart by a prologue and chapters. The cheeky nature of the title cards indicate either a knowing wink to the audience or an arrogant smarty pants tone that likely fuels those who either disagree with or choose not to look further into his seething mindset. The USA, like all those perceived sitting atop their societal divisions (Christianity, Caucasians) once again must take the brunt of the ribbing without being able to dish back.

I can see how this could be troubling for some, especially since Von Trier has never even set foot inside our borders. But it doesn’t make him wrong. Watching Dogville as an indictment of the treatment this country has given to immigrants trying to make a new life is rather on-the-surface and obvious. Rather more stimulating is to take in the experience as a religious allegory where fire and brimstone are certainly an acceptable form of justice. Dogville doesn’t just cage itself as a lesson in Old Testament chapters, but also an addendum of the Revelations sort to the New Testament (or New World.) Imagine if Jesus Christ came to die for our sins only to discover we weren’t worth the trouble.

This is just the tip of the Von Trier iceberg though and at its near Titanic-length, may be too much for some to be bothered with. At the South by Southwest Festival where I saw it, a packed theater gave way to several walkouts in the first 45 minutes. Those who stayed around for the climax were applauding well before the movie ended.

Dogville’s cast is loaded with talent and each of them deliver an ineradicable performance that help piece together the mood without ever distracting us by seeing just another recognizable face. If you opened up your Playbill to discover a castlist of not only Kidman, Bettany and Hurt, but also Patricia Clarkson, Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, Stellan Skarsgard, Chloe Sevigny, Phillip Baker Hall, Jeremy Davies (looking even more like Henry Thomas here), Blair Brown, Zeljko Ivanek, Udo Kier and Siobhan Fallon, you already know you’re getting your money’s worth. By the time you get to the actor in the final scenes whom I have not mentioned, it wouldn’t be unnatural to believe you paid too little.

Bettany and Kidman are clearly the standouts here though. It took me a few chapters to realize that Von Trier wasn’t trying to anachronistically insert the real Thomas Edison into his morality play. It’s just the associative nature of the name which not only invented the first voting machine (several votes are held in the film by Tom), but also the motion picture and the proverbial lightbulb. Edison’s representation of the intelligencia briefly humbled into love by this outsider and allowing his later behavior to be dictated by his own moral senses is as disturbing as anything that happens to Grace. For all the praise she has received for Cold Mountain, The Human Stain and her Oscar-winning turn in The Hours, THIS is the Kidman I preach to the naysayers who have some unheralded contempt. Her fragility and slow-burning pitiless demeanor presents us with Kidman’s best work since The Others and ranks up there with Eyes Wide Shut and To Die For as one of her finest performances.

Those weary about the anti-USA attachment to the story can look forward to two more chapters in Von Trier’s "USA -- Land of Opportunities" trilogy. I was able to take away something more than just finger-wagging and see Dogville more of a condemnation of US governmental policies than of we, the people. If it is than its only a small subsection of maliciousness, one group, one town. It’s hard to fathom how even a well-known madman like Von Trier sees every one of us as opportunistic rapists who treat women and immigrants like dogs. If that truly is the case, than what exactly were all us Americans applauding at the end when those chalk outlines take on further meaning?

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8122&reviewer=198
originally posted: 04/09/04 00:37:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Minneapolis/St.Paul Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Minneapolis/St.Paul Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/20/13 Jason Lan The needless narration was the worse part: the dialogue was simple enough. 1 stars
10/28/11 hurdygurdy man As a dear old friend use to say: Get the gun!! 1 stars
11/28/10 dick trombley A highly creative allegory, misunderstood by most. 5 stars
8/11/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome storyline! 5 stars
5/16/08 Remi Great style, great plot, great finale. 4 stars
5/12/08 Geoffrey Ms Bacall needs to lay off the Woodbines-she looks and sounds so rough. Excellent film! 5 stars
5/13/07 David Pollastrini Boooooring! 2 stars
4/15/07 Bitchflaps Fascinating. I wrote off Von Trier's films in the past and I'm tempted to reassess them now 5 stars
6/14/06 William Goss Lengthy yet rich, with a solid performance by Kidman and a refreshingly bold climax. 4 stars
11/27/05 Jane it is great 5 stars
8/25/05 Paperazzo no special effects, cool movie, something different 1 stars
8/21/05 mmm naka doesn´t know about movies 5 stars
6/19/05 chris. that was really fun 5 stars
3/11/05 maria magnificent expierence 5 stars
3/08/05 Uncle Phucker First ten mintues you'll have to excuse. It's well worth the strange ride. Best film 2003! 5 stars
3/06/05 ad awesome 5 stars
1/10/05 allen stott great movie!!!! 4 stars
12/01/04 Lach MacDonald The slow narrative pace doesn't suit the TV-reflex attention span; so what? 5 stars
11/28/04 Movie Lover This film was unbearable. 1 stars
11/21/04 Dragana ATR, this is ART! I did not notice that lasted 3 hours 5 stars
11/21/04 ad nice twist 4 stars
11/12/04 Naka Nope! 1 stars
10/31/04 Anne-Marike revealing. the plain scenerie puts an emphasis on the character's inner development 5 stars
10/17/04 Natasha Theobald amazing storytelling; cynical and disturbing with a bedrock of truth 4 stars
10/16/04 Charlene Javier Possibly one of the best films of all time... 5 stars
10/13/04 fiona interesting 4 stars
9/12/04 leeleeD. Brilliant. I'm stunned. 5 stars
8/31/04 psycho dwarf Lars' sardonicism is overbearing in this trojan horse for polemical debate. 3 stars
8/30/04 A F Pretty good. Kidman makes me sick. Someone put her down. 4 stars
8/27/04 tatum It's not anti-American, it's anti-viewer, anti-entertaining, and Von Trier sucks! 1 stars
7/17/04 legend An interesting film about the nature of people and their dark side. 4 stars
6/15/04 Roxana It makes a few memorable points about human nature, about our fear of anything foreign. 4 stars
5/10/04 Palme d' Or The movie was a bit too stilted, but it did have some worth, and Nicole Kidman was great. 4 stars
5/01/04 nniedzielski It took me a few days after seeing this to realize what an effect it had on me. 4 stars
4/30/04 Cameron Slick aargh 2 stars
4/18/04 Monster W. Kung Von Trier's never been to the US yet thinks they suck huh? Well I've never seen this movie! 1 stars
4/14/04 von More about humanity than America, and the best movie to come out of this decade yet. 5 stars
4/12/04 zig it make you think about humanity itself 5 stars
4/03/04 freya Kay Interesting view of how others may view America. It is about saving amd than enslaving 4 stars
4/01/04 mark boring 1 stars
3/28/04 Xander long, weird, confusing (chalk?) but somewhat engaging 3 stars
3/21/04 Anarchy Azmi orang putih semua bodoh amerika bangang 5 stars
2/13/04 Jack Daniels Film for aspiring intellectuals that want to believe they've understood something profound 1 stars
1/27/04 irena overelongated, moralistic, over-explanatory, pathetic and morbid exaggeration 2 stars
1/27/04 NIcole Awesome, brilliant and Kidman is sublime 5 stars
1/23/04 Carina Romer All I can say is, he has done it again! I love his symbolism! 5 stars
1/20/04 Betty White Breathtaking cinematography and rich performances, especially from Kidman & Bacall. 5 stars
1/18/04 Akilis Awesome, brilliant and Kidman is sublime 5 stars
1/18/04 Lilo Great Script. Brilliant actors. Katharsis. Insight. I watched it 3 times (until now). 5 stars
1/16/04 Elendil Shaky camera. Good script. 4 stars
1/13/04 miky finally someone proves that comercially movies must be kicked out. 5 stars
1/13/04 Helen Bradley Kidman excellent weird but great script 5 stars
1/01/04 christopher pathetic 1 stars
12/29/03 John Bale Bleak fable set as theatre, good acting, poor camerawork. Nicole sounds like Marilyn M. 4 stars
12/17/03 Kyle *Yawn* WAY too damn long. 2 stars
11/20/03 Reini Urban This is how theater should be. masterpiece 5 stars
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  26-Mar-2004 (R)
  DVD: 24-Aug-2004



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