On the Waterfront
When you review something it’s important to put it in its proper place and time. Being old isn’t an excuse to be bad, but it’s still worth noting that Star Wars wouldn’t have been such a dumb movie if George Lucas had been able to put giant shitty lizards everywhere like he wanted. Of course this means that there are certain older movies where you kind of have to say “Yes, this was the best movie they could have made but yes, it’s also still terrible.” Then there are movies where the lack of technology and film technique just makes you appreciate even more how good something was. On the Waterfront is definitely that kind.
And when something like Waterfront not only looks good for its time but holds up against what we’re making now, it’s a pretty impressive feat. That means it tells a story that’s at least 50 years worth of timeless. For perspective on how awesome that is, go and ask a grandparent to tell you a story about their life growing up, and then ask yourself if that story was more entertaining than this movie. Probably not – so suck it, old people.
On the Waterfront reminds me of an argument I frequently have with friends about Chris Nolan and Darren Aronofsky. People are going apeshit over Nolan right now and honestly, that’s fine. I think he makes good movies. But I don’t think he makes great movies and I think Aronofsky does. In a hundred years, Inception and The Dark Knight won’t look amazing anymore. We’ll have better visual effects and there will be new and shinier things. They will turn into movies that have some great performances and some really, really shitty plots – but Aronofsky movies will be timeless. They don’t rely on technology or visual effects. They are just great stories about flawed people dealing with the same shit people have been dealing with for thousands of years.
So whereas a movie like Ben-Hur doesn’t hit as hard today because we could make a chariot race scene that’s a million times better looking, On the Waterfront still impresses because it’s telling a story about corruption through a character that wishes he’d done some things differently. The most ‘fancy’ shot in the movie is of two characters being chased down an alley by a (spoiler) truck. It also happens to be the worst scene in the movie because back then the only way to make that look good back then would’ve been to actually chase someone down an alley with a truck. But when Terry tells Charley he coulda been a contender, I fucking buy it because goddammit, I coulda been a contender.
It also helps to have someone like Marlon Brando deliver your timeless lines, because that dude was one charming motherfucker. And I know what you’re thinking – but take a minute and erase the image you have of him as a buttered up anal rapist or post-stroke victim mob boss. Also erase the image of him as a black man in white girl face, because you’re thinking of a different Marlon. Think about young Marlon Brando. This guy:
Yeah. That guy’s fucking charming. This is the first young Brando movie I’ve seen and I’m probably going to watch the rest because if he’s even half this good in any of them he’s still better than most of the people around today. When he says “Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you.” I believe the shit out of it, but if he’d said “I was born on the moon and eat only screams.” I would’ve been just as convinced. He’s that good of an actor in this. Just like my other favorite old person, Rod Stewart, Brando turned into a giant joke because they were both way too awesome for way too long and just kind of ran out, so throw them a bone.
So when I say this movie is good, I mean it’s Rod Stewart good, a phrase that means a lot if you know how weirdly obsessed I am with that guy. If you’re like me and have trouble sitting down and watching an older film, start with this one. It will give you hope. I avoid giving anything four stars, especially movies that get enough praise from other people already, but I really don’t have a choice. Sometimes the things other people say are great are and I’m glad for that because I had to watch one of them. Please keep being great, things that people say are great. – DT