London Fields, and the Importance of Bad Movies

Have you ever wondered why Film Twitter is more fickle than critics? Look around there and you’ll find deep pockets of hate among non-critics for critical darlings as varied as Birdman, La La Land, even Black Panther. Critics, the “snob mob,” the so-called “elite” seem to enjoy more films per year than other journos, pundits, and regular Joes on social media. They are the only animals in our film bubble ecosystem who are forced to watch everything, even the bad ones. Others might skip the latest Adam Sandler romp or Netflix original dump, but critics (many of them anyway) see it all and it gives them perspective. Bad movies have a place, and can serve a purpose, and that is encouraging a greater appreciation for what the Inarritus and Andersons of the world are putting out there.

Art is subjective, yes, but most of the time we know a BAD one when we see it…such as I did with London Fields. On the heels of SXSW, I was drowning in good cinema. Between Captain Marvel the week before, Jordan Peele’s near-masterpiece, and a few little gems I could find nowhere else, the festival had given so much yet deprived me of a proper palate cleanser. London Fields was it, a gonzo film noir so inept and ill-advised that I was left more than a little awestruck. There’s Amber Heard as a manipulative sexpot and clairvoyant, Billy Bob Thornton as an aging writer aching to include her in his next book, and Theo James and Jim Sturgess as two dopes vying for her affection amid pro dart feuds, gang feuds, and societal collapse. It’s a murder mystery, crime picture, and vague photo of the apocalypse all rolled into one mess.

In hindsight, it’s also the evil love child of a twisted, now defunct Hollywood romance, what with Heard’s starring role and Johnny Depp showing up in an extended cameo, his quirky makeup and costumes in tow. Every actor is in a different movie, with Thornton going subtle and Sturgess going big, a comically strung-out/masculine groan accompanying his every move as an addict and ne’er do well. Heard, for her part, is at least fun to watch as she oscillates between sexpot and virgin, depending on which mark she’s toying with. She’s given carte blanche to flaunt her model-like frame in dresses and assorted outfits that are increasingly dazzling, and that’s never a bad thing for actresses.

As bad as it was, I needed it. Movies like London Fields can be fun, they can be unforgettable in their badness, their riotous efforts, but they’re important too. They’re important because they’re a check against complacency, boredom, and above all the fickle, fleeting nature of opinions. If inundated with artful, well-made ambition, it’s easy to grow weary, to grow cynical and (eventually) certainly picky. Try trashing Birdman, La La Land, or Us on the heels of a London Fields. You’ll find it difficult to cry wolf. At least I do, and I have bad movies to thank for that.

Grade: D-

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