Particularly with a filmmaker like Claire Denis shifted to the Un Certain Regard category or Ari Folman's "The Congress" scuttled to the Directors' Fortnight sidebar, many will be wondering what on Earth the Cannes selection committee saw in Takashi Miike's "Shield Of Straw" to have it play in competition (especially considering it already opened a month ago in Japan). A b-movie potboiler at best, and indebted to countless other and much better films, this tedious, dumb, so-bad-it's-almost-funny procedural is an overstuffed thriller that offers one single idea, and proceeds to beat it to death, without much of anything to say.
While critics will certainly have fun patting themselves on the back by listing off the movies Miike was clearly inspired by -- "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre"! "Assault On Precinct 13"! "Wages Of Fear"! -- "Straw Of Shield" is simply not in the same league, ballpark or even city of those movies. But, like those aforementioned films, the plot is pretty straightforward: two emotionally damaged cops are tasked with transporting a child rapist and murderer to Tokyo, so he can stand trial. The twist? The grandfather of one of the victims has put a $1 billion dollar bounty on his head and cops and citizens alike come gunning for him.
What Miike's film asks is whether or not the life of depraved criminals is worth protecting, particularly if it comes at the expense of innocent lives. And then he asks this question, repeatedly, for the rest of the movie. With a vague ticking clock of 48 hours, and even vaguer sense of the distance that needs to be traveled to deliver said baddie to the authorities, Miike's protagonists certainly do find a lot of time to spend tensely standing around, debating the ethics of their job. But the movie is never as smart as it thinks it is, and the eventual double-crosses by those sworn to protect the accused baddie are as obvious as they are poorly handled.
In fact, the entire movie feels misshapen, almost as if Miike shot the script, cut it together and didn't bother actually watching it. The pacing in particular is patience-testing, with Miike establishing, re-establishing and re-re-establishing thin character motivations almost to the point of parody. Meanwhile, other threads are left unresolved, including one involving a shadowy villain figure inside the police department, who is left dangling in the wind.
But Miike seems to realize his film is entirely lacking in a pulse, and perhaps to make up for it, the sound effects in particular are cranked up to ten. One fistfight in particular finds the snare drum punches pitched to ear-splitting levels, while helicopters and planes loom ominously in the mix for no real reason.Perhaps the only moment that finds Miike having any fun, an early over-the-top setpiece involving a nitroglycerin filled truck, ends in wild fiery explosion, and in many ways is the only spark of true tension or excitement in the film. But for the most part, "Straw Of Shield" features various people pointing guns and ordering one another to stand down.
Another film that "Shield Of Straw" resembles is "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" as the cops use all three modes of transport (in that order as well) to bring the criminal to Tokyo, and along the way have various (but much more grim than in the John Hughes classic, obviously), adventures. It's only at the end of the movie where the playful, boundary pushing Miike most are more familiar with bothers to show up. The killer's final lines suggest a gleeful, pitch black perversity that the rest of "Straw Of Shield" could have used, but instead it's a thoroughly below average genre flick that's empty on ideas and entertainment value. Judging from the hearty, scattered boos following the Cannes press screening, we're not the only ones who felt this way. [D]