Thursday, November 4, 2010

Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

This is far better than just a 'really good courtroom drama.' This is Preminger handling obscurity of the truth and how our evaluations of what is true and our judgments of other people are wavering, nebulous things subject to impossible-to-define subjective dispositions and emotional circumstance. As in Laura, in which the different characters constructed their own images of the eponymous woman, the different characters in Anatomy of a Murder perform their own visualizations of the night of the murder, an arguably typical murder-mystery trope that ushers forth a multitude of emotional currents. The typical idealistic protagonist vs. smarmy antagonist courtroom game is subverted by the respectability of everyone's motives, the traces of opportunism on the part of the hero, and the lingering final clue that whisperingly suggests that almost all of our opinions, which have been formed through the conventions of the genre, are wrong. During all of the formality of courtroom ceremony, the stake of so many characters, already fully established as complex, ambiguous and mysterious figures, hovers peripherally over the proceedings, so that it is impossible to conceive of this film in the morally crystalized sense of, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, which, in confirming all pre-conditioned expectations from the beginning, is basically the complete antithesis to everything that makes this film a masterpiece.