In theory, "Rules Don't Apply" is about a couple of young people--Alden Ehrenreich, a driver for Hughes, and a would-be starlet played by Lily Collins, who moves out to Los Angeles with her mother, who's played by multiple Oscar nominee Annette Bening, Beatty's wife. Collins' character is one of 28 young women being groomed as starlets by Warren Beatty's Howard Hughes, theoretically for a movie that he hopes to direct. There are talent classes; lavish parties and shots of vintage architecture; cars and clothing; a budding romance between the two young leads; and a sharp right turn into an age-inappropriate relationship between the heroine and Hughes, who is defined throughout the film's first third mainly as a disembodied voice on the telephone, like the way "Seinfeld' treated George Steinbrenner on "Seinfeld" and the comic strip "Doonesbury" depicted presidents.
But as Scout Tafoya's latest edition of "The Unloved," and one of my favorites, points out, "Rules Don't Apply" is mainly about the mystery and audacity of its writer, director and co-star, Warren Beatty, a man who's nearly as curious a figure as Howard Hughes. It makes sense that Beatty would have made his long-delayed return to filmmaking and acting with "Rules Don't Apply," playing the reclusive aviation magnate turned film producer.
I'm in the tank for Terrence Malick. I don't believe that the Austin-based director has ever made a bad movie, just ones that were too fragmented, mysterious and intuitive to connect with a wide audience. I thought "Knight of Cups" was one of last year’s most daring features, but I realize this is a minority opinion. Mention the director to a movie buff these days and you’re likely to get jokes about voice-overs and perfume ads and twirling in fields, plus complaints that Malick is too much of this and not enough of that, and not what he used to be.
I don't care. I love that after 44 years of feature filmmaking, his style is still an issue. Even at its most obtuse, Malick’s work never plays by commercial cinema's rules, coming at characterization and story from odd angles when it isn’t chasing the ineffable, as his camera chased a butterfly in “The Tree of Life.” The actor and filmmaker Tim Blake Nelson, who had a small role in Malick's epic 1998 war poem "The Thin Red Line," said the difference between Malick and most other filmmakers is "the difference between [Georges] Seurat painting with dots and [Paul] Cezanne, who's a more painterly painter."
** S P O I L E R S ****
"Can you even see me?"
The French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) asks that question of Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) in the opening section of the World War II thriller "Allied." The two are in German-dominated, Vichy-controlled Casablanca, pretending to be husband and wife in the presence of Nazis that they'll eventually kill in cold blood for the greater good of the Allied cause. She's responding to Max telling her that she looks beautiful—not once, but twice. She appreciates the compliment, but she needs to know, is he really seeing her? Good question. What does "her" or "him" even mean in a film like this one? "Allied" is built around two impossibly good-looking people who live their professional lives as blank slates, secret agents who might or might not be sincere or faking it at any given moment, and whose every tiny gesture might hide an agenda hidden inside yet another agenda. At that point in the story, it seems as if Max really is seeing Marianne. After an initial dance of detachment, which sees the two chastely pretending to reignite a physical relationship interrupted by the husband's international travel, they've started sleeping together, disregarding the tradecraft rule that agents pretending to be lovers should never actually become lovers.
"Can you even see me?" she asks.
"Not really," he says.
Matt Zoller Seitz
Film critic and filmmaker.