|Willem Dafoe, Shanyn Leigh, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, IFC Films, 2012.|
Reaching out and touching those in tune with a fierce magnificence reminiscent of a wayward yesteryear demi-god, American master Abel Ferrara quietly but circumspectly destroys our notions of narrative, cinema, sexuality, and life itself. 4:44 Last Day on Earth unravels as a feverish rush, a doomsday diorama so exquisitely, roughly poetic, that it slaps us awake from the mid-season multiplex doldrums. This is pure cinema to its very core.
Willem Dafoe lives his turn as an artist living in NYC on Armageddon eve. The force with which Ferrara and Dafoe unleash this gorgeous film poem is quite honestly astonishing. Ferrara wields his digital camera with a brutal honesty that bleeds into each and every sequence. The last night on Earth premise plays out as fresh as its inception, and the soothing claustrophobia of Defoe and his painter lover's ( a remarkable Shanyn Leigh) loft juxtaposed with the shadowy cursed streets, will haunt you long afterwards.
Ferrara has etched a bristlingly brilliant filmography of dark, masculine masterworks including Ms. .45 (1981), Fear City (1984), King of New York (1990), Bad Lieutenant (1992), and Body Snatchers (1993). His precise dissemination of classic American genre films has brought him to skew action, thriller, horror, gangster, and now, science fiction. Yet it is a glorious new sort of science fiction. The visceral emotions and passions that cascade down in cinematic streams, feel blistering and alive. His use of Skype in two key scenes is astonishing, and must be seen.
Dafoe likewise does some of his most wrenching work here. To see him fighting and fucking his girlfriend, walking the steamy, endless night streets, or the fear moving across his face, is to know that herein contains Dafoe's greatest performance. Its a career high.
Ken Kelsch's control and realization of Ferrar's vision is revelatory; this is some of the most sultry, stimulating, and textured video narrative film making I've ever seen. At a brisk, yet submersible 85 minutes, this is the leanest, most important picture of Abel Ferrara's splendid, unforgettable career.