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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Friday, January 08, 2010

Movie Review: "The White Ribbon"

I participated in the on-air review of "The White Ribbon" for the Rotten Tomatoes Show on Current. The long-form / written version of my review appears below.

Directed By: Michael Haneke
Starring: Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesce, Burghart Klau├čner
2.5 Stars

Polarizing German writer / director Michael Haneke is both loved and hated and "The White Ribbon" presents a strong case for both positions. I'm able to summon reasons to see this movie, but they are overwhelmed by my overall unhappiness with it. Haneke hates humanity more than most black metal bands hate humanity. His movies are filled with contempt for the corrupt nature of the human spirit and a cynical, simplistic view of how and why things happen. Set just before the start of World War I in a small German village, "The White Ribbon" is no exception.

"Das weisse Band" has racked up awards around the globe and it must be for the gorgeous black and white cinematography of Christian Berger because there's little else here to recommend. Haneke dredges up issues of neglect, indifference, class, religious fundamentalism, adultery, abuse both psychological and physical and even incest under the pretense of building several mysteries throughout the movie that are in fact never solved. I'm not saying every movie should wrap its plot threads into a nice tidy bow at the end, or that every offensive act be punished. But I left "The White Ribbon" feeling like I had just been punched in the stomach for two and a half hours by a cloaked figure in a mask and gloves without any explanation beyond, "Well, people are awful, what do you expect?" And maybe that was the point, but I firmly disagree with this pessimistic (and simplistic) view.

Who are we watching here? There's a Baron, a teacher, a doctor, a pastor, some fathers, some wives, a bunch of creepy "Children of the Corn" type kids. I'm describing them this way because that's all the movie really offers. These are archetypes, not people, and I found them hard to care about beyond basic human decency - which, if you'll remember, Haneke doesn't seem to believe exists. A lot of bad things are happening to a lot of people, most or some of which may or may not be the work of the kids who always seem to be congregating together suspiciously.

The lack of background music makes for an even more stark environment than the setting or the crisp black and white. Sure, not every movie is "The Godfather," but I found myself actively contemplating how important a score can be when building suspense or drama after I realized the only music in this movie was being made by the characters in whatever scene (a choir singing, a kid playing a flute, a woman playing piano, etc.). It's numbing.

The movie asks a lot of the audience: stare at this closed door for a while. Listen to this guy tell his mistress how worthless she is in the worst detail you can possibly imagine. Haneke has constructed a movie more violent than the last "Saw" picture while spilling barely an ounce of blood. Most of the physical mayhem takes place off screen. It's the emotional, verbal and situational trauma that turns your stomach, forcing you to wriggle in your seat.

As a moviegoer, you try to solve the mystery. As a human being, you try to care about these people. But "The White Ribbon" never solves any of its mysteries and Haneke clearly doesn't care about the characters. Or people.

"The White Ribbon" may be worth seeing to contemplate what Haneke is trying to get across, but I'd personally rather watch something with less blunt force, like the original "Halloween" or "A Nightmare on Elm Street."

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