Boarding Gate (Olivier Assayas, 2007)
I’ve been hearing about the wonders of Olivier Assayas for a while now, but never got round to watching one of his films until yesterday. I didn’t know Boarding Gate was an Assayas movie, I just cued it up because hey, Asia Argento. Boarding Gate is not the kind of brainless-but-fun action thriller I’ve been associating with Argento for about fifteen years now (viz. the wonderful Red Siren, for example). That might put some people off; it certainly has based on the movie’s current rating at Netflix. I, on the other hand, found it quite a pleasant surprise, a slow-burn talk piece that contains some of the best acting I’ve seen from some of these principals in many a year.
Plot: Argento plays Sandra, a French expatriate living in China. She is the mistress of Miles (Kill Bill‘s Michael Madsen) but as we open, Miles is about to give up his old life; he’s selling his shares in his high-powered financial firm in order to pay off his debts, retiring, and going back to America with the wife and kids. This includes breaking up with the piece on the side, which leads to two quite extended scenes of nothing but Madsen and Argento talking (and arguing). Miles, however, is not Sandra’s only fling, and one of her others is Lester (The Viral Factor‘s Carl Ng), an import-export professional who moonlights in some shadier business. Sandra goes to him for help in getting rid of Miles permanently; he provides her with the proper tools and tells her that, once it’s done, he’ll set her up with a new identity and get her out of the country and into Hong Kong before anyone realizes anything is amiss. All seems to be going well, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans.
If the movie has a flaw, it’s that it seems to be two different movies grafted onto one another, though I rush to add both are very good and very well-executed. The excruciating extended breakup scenes with Madsen and Argento are sterling; Argento turns in her best work since 1998’s b.Monkey, Madsen probably since Reservoir Dogs; in fact, this may be the best performance I’ve ever seen from him. Once that storyline is…resolved, you’ve got Sandra-on-the-run, about which I can say very little because the entire plotline is laden with spoilers for the earlier part of the film. It, too, is very good, and the two tie together as pieces of an overarching plot, but thematically they don’t quite gel most of the time. They’re paced differently, they’re different genres (the first half of the film is a drama, the second a thriller), they’re about entirely different parts of Sandra’s character. That last is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but they are put together in such a way that Sandra ends up essentially having to rebuild herself as a character. I do have to say that Assayas did come up with an inventive way of making that work, though.
And with all that I have just said, I certainly gave the impression I’m panning this movie, didn’t I? I don’t mean to, I liked it a great deal. Perhaps it’s the fact that I liked it as much as I did that causes me to dwell on its flaws. There is a great deal here to like. The drama part is just spectacular. The thriller part is not as good, but it’s still better than probably 75% of the thrillers you’ve seen out of Hollywood in the past five years. And the conclusion is so very satisfying. Put all that negative stuff I said in the last paragraph aside, as much as you can; it all exists, and you will think about it all once the film is finished, but man, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, and I think if you like intelligent, slow thrillers, you will too. *** ½