Cannes Review: Takashi Miike's 'Shield Of Straw' A Tedious, Dumb & Overstuffed Thriller

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by Kevin Jagernauth
May 20, 2013 9:00 AM
4 Comments
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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]

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4 Comments

  • Spirit9871 | January 6, 2014 11:19 PMReply

    Honestly, I did see the movie as a bit tasteless and, as the reviewer states; a generic type of action thriller. But I disagree with how he says the movie has: "without much of anything to say.". I really enjoyed the overall message that the reviewer may have missed here, which is that money motivates people, and that ordinary people, including the people around you that you may be even working with day-in and day-out could be in a personal economic depression. At the end of the movie, you realize that each character that either betrayed or went towards the convict had a somewhat legitimate reason to do so. In fact, some of those reasons even touched my heart and made me deep-down sad inside.

    In my opinion, the part that really got me was at the end where the main officer says what really happens with him and his wife. That was just...damn. It really hit me to the core too.

    Overall, I don't really like this review. It's all just full of negativity of the cover of the film without really considering the heart and soul of the movie. Honestly.

  • general's labyrinth | September 19, 2013 11:12 PMReply

    The most biased review ever.

  • keeming | September 13, 2013 12:58 PMReply

    "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"

    Wow, apparently Miike didn't beat that one single idea on your head hard or often enough. One would have thought the movie is asking the question of whether justice should pass from the courts (faith in the system) or taking it with your own hands. (immediate gratification). If everyone seek justice on their terms, society will be in chaos. Then again, it is so morally self-justifying to rid the world of scums by any standard.

    You should stick to Hollywood films. They spell out underlying themes so clearly you would need to be special needs not to understand.

  • Gandhi Sick Fuck | June 7, 2013 4:42 AMReply

    You mixed up "Straw of Shield" and "Shield of Straw", and now you are a cocksucker.

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