Film Review: Strange Way of Life
Strange Way of Life
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
El Deseo ans Saint Laurent Productions
In Theaters: 10.06
Those of you who were starting to panic because nothing new starring Pedro Pascal had been released in the last week can relax now. Strange Way of Life is here.
In this 31-minute western from Pedro Almodóvar, Silva (Pascal, The Mandalorian, Wonder Woman 1984, The Last of Us, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, The Bubble…) rides across the desert to the town of Bitter Creek to meet an old friend named Jake (Ethan Hawke, Dead Poets Society, Training Day), who is now a Sheriff. Silva finds it difficult to imagine the man he worked with 25 years ago as a hired gunslinger is now on the other side of the law, and Jake has become a respected peacekeeper who is not to be trifled with. The two men have ostensibly met up to reconnect and reminisce over a relationship that was part professional, part personal and part very personal in a way the two men don’t even dare speak about. All it takes is one evening together and a few drinks for their passions to be reignited, however, though things take a complicated turn the next morning when Jake informs Silva that there is a darker purpose behind his journey and it’s one that may forever come between the two men.
Strange Way of Life is a tightly paced, impeccably-acted short that embraces the flavor of the classic western and adds a touch of colorful melodrama, evoking John Ford half the time and Douglas Sirk the other. Almodóvar, the celebrated filmmaker behind Talk to Her and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! knows how to tell a story, creating vivid and complex characters, and it’s difficult not to be pulled in by this gripping tale of forbidden love. I say difficult rather than impossible because, for me, the flat, digital cinematography from long-time Almodóvar collaborator José Luis Alcaine seriously detracted. I’m not a Christopher Nolan–level “celluloid or nothing” snob, and digital cinematography can be made to look terrific these days, but Alcaine’s work here is unfortunately quite inconsistent and lacking in texture. While it looks good during interior sequences under controlled lighting, the picturesque desert imagery is more suitable for a behind-the-scenes documentary than an actual movie. The 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio is also far too wide, both the wrong choice to evoke the westerns of the ’60s and for telling such an intimate, two-person story.
Pascal gives a strong and capable performance, though for my money, this is Hawke’s film all the way. The 52-year-old actor isn’t the pretty boy he once was, and his grizzled features, gravely voice and steely eyes paint an indelible portrait of a sad and weary man who has been running from himself his whole life. The two stars play wonderfully off of each other, and every moment they share on screen is riveting. The choice to include a flashback sequence featuring the two men played by younger actors felt like a misstep to me, though it may be less distracting to viewers who haven’t grown up alongside Hawke seeing him grow from child actor to teen heartthrob. It may be preferable to rubbery, de-aging CGI effects, yet I still couldn’t take seriously that actors José Condessa and Jason Fernández grew up to be Pascal and Hawke, respectively. In a short film, there’s simply not enough time to get past such misgivings.
Strange Way of Life is a good film with high artistic aims and compelling themes—even if it never steps out of the shadow of Ang Lee’s 2005 game changer Brokeback Mountain long enough for me to stop waiting to hear Silva say “I wish I knew how to quit you!” It’s still a serviceable and involving short that had me hooked enough to be disappointed that it was over when the credits abruptly began to roll. I wouldn’t mind seeing Almodóvar revisit the material for a feature-length version of the story, but for now, the 31-minute version is an appetizing if not entirely filling serving of compelling storytelling. –Patrick Gibbs
Read more reviews of films with Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke:
Film Review: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Film Review: The Northman