This is a movie about a detective brought back from exile in the fire department to solve a perplexing series of murders. He is very smart and means well, and those around him mostly are not smart and do not mean well unless there is something to be gained for themselves by doing good. The detective, played by Kevin Kline, makes it clear that it is better to be good and smart. That's a reasonable accomplishment for a movie.
The plot of this thing is not complex or terribly interesting, but the writing is crisp and all of the actors (including Alan Rickman, Susan Sarandon, Danny Aiello, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Harvey Keitel) are way overqualified for their roles, so that the movie just floats on talent. Also, it has unexpectedly beautiful scenes, especially of beautiful bodies shown to perfection. It inspires real loyalty, out of all proportion to its weight.
One last good thing about it: it is full of bad words and explicit sexual references, and they work very well and seem utterly appropriate. One can learn something from The January Man about how this range of language works, what it adds.
This is a small treasure
I just read of legislative proposals to redo tv signals to make commercials obligatory - inserting special commands to disable fast forward. For a fee, one could have fast forward back. I took that in, together with information about the many small changes that have been made in The Sopranos as it goes to basic cable from premium channels, and information about legislation at the federal level that would make regional community access cable - community access cable with a really substantial audience -- impossible. So we don't get to watch anything decent without periodic jarring interruptions, the edge is in any case take off of really thoughtful creative products, and alternative perspectives lose their best venues.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry. It's transparent greed, with no concern for the commons, just like always. But the worse the media gets, the more space is opened up for something fresh to happen.
Cosmologists now say that 70% of the universe consists of dark energy, about which we know nothing. The other 30% consists of matter; two thirds of that is dark matter, about which we know next to nothing. Everything we know about and puzzle about and think is everything is about 10% of the real everything.
I think that morally we are just in the same position. With respect to human affairs, all our questions and theories and dilemmas occupy maybe 10% of the real geography. We get hints now and again, like the gravity disturbances that tipped off the cosmologists to dark stuff, about what all else is out there. I won't try to defend this odd thought here. I just want to work out a corollary to it.
Video is important because it preserves an astonishing amount of moral information that we at present don't understand. Clearly, some people are convincing and inspiring, and others, saying much the same thing, just make our skins crawl. We have all kinds of intutions that we can't fully process about the lives behind talk. Some research has been done to demonstrate that the information, signalling content of even a very simple breakfast table encounter is unbelievably rich and complex. (See Gladwelll's discussion of this research in The Tipping Point).
One thing we know about this level of moral information. You can't collect it after people are dead. For this reason, anybody interested in moral philosophy should be very concerned about the preservation of video records of morally important statements and interactions.