The Bourne Ultimatum – Christopher Rouse
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Juliette Welfling
Into the Wild – Jay Cassidy
No Country for Old Men – Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (as Roderick Jaynes)
There Will Be Blood – Dylan Tichenor
Will win: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has an outside chance, but this is really about the big dogs facing off again. It should really be no contest; No Country for Old Men is paced so efficiently and edited with such precision that no other movie stands a chance. Throw in the fact that the far more purposeful There Will Be Blood runs two-and-a-half hours, and the Coens take home another one.
It’s an important award to watch, though. In the last five years, the winner of Best Editing went on to win Best Picture four times, so this could definitely set the tone. Also, I’m just wondering, why the fuck do the Coens use the alias Roderick Jaynes for their editing work? Is there a story here? Is it some sort of deep symbolic statement about the nature of editing that’s just flying over my head, some bullshit like, “You have to step outside your own film in order to properly edit it”? Did they lose a bet with a kid named Roderick when they were 15? Are they just being obnoxious? What gives, brothers?
Should win: Overall I didn’t mind the pace of There Will Be Blood – if it had pushed things any faster, it would have felt rushed – but I do feel the segment with Kevin J. O’Connor as Plainview’s brother is unnecessarily protracted. Maybe that’s the fault of the screenplay more than the editor, but such is life. (For what it’s worth, Dylan Tichenor did an infinitely better job trimming There Will Be Blood than he did The Assassination of Jesse James, which was generally slow and sometimes excruciating.)
As I’ve mentioned, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s handling of flashbacks irritated me. Into the Wild provides a much better example of how to handle that sort of structure, with the film lithely sliding back and forth between Emile Hirsch’s solitary tribulations in Alaska and his various adventures in the continental United States. But it’s also too gradually paced for someone of my juvenile impatience. It’s one thing to witness a man learning to appreciate the beauty of nature – it’s another to watch him floating leisurely downriver posing as Jesus for five straight minutes.
There is nothing leisurely whatsoever about The Bourne Ultimatum, a gripping, relentless action thriller fraught with energy and suspense. Editor Christopher Rouse exhibits strong improvement relative to his editing of the previous installment, The Bourne Supremacy. In that film, the various fight scenes were characterized by jump cuts of such rapidity that the action became disorienting. In The Bourne Ultimatum, we’re able to view the action from a much clearer perspective, gaining context as well as jolts of adrenalin. (However, no fight scene in either of the two sequels matches the initial apartment clash in the franchise’s inaugural installment, The Bourne Identity.)
(For the record, I should acknowledge that I enjoyed The Bourne Ultimatum more so than adored it. Jason Bourne is definitely a badass, and Matt Damon imbues him with the proper combination of sensitivity and lethality – but his unceasing quest for identity just doesn’t really interest me. The first Bourne movie was compelling because Bourne needed to find out who he was in order to survive – think Minority Report with amnesia. It also developed a relationship of surprising poignancy between Bourne and Marie, played by the marvelous Franka Potente. That relationship provided the power for The Bourne Supremacy, which featured a stirring revenge theme motivated by Marie’s shocking murder early in the film. (Honestly, no movie has ever made me cry that quickly; 10 minutes in and I was cooked. No wonder Bourne wanted to kill everyone – Marie’s death nearly made me homicidal.)
But The Bourne Ultimatum, while superbly crafted and highly engrossing, feels almost perfunctory. I enjoy watching Jason Bourne fuck people up, and I respect the decision to keep his character rigid after Marie’s death (the movie thankfully and adroitly sidesteps a potentially awful romance between Bourne and Nicky Parsons, played nicely but wanly by Julia Styles). But the totality of his detachment results in a disconnect, a removal of sorts. I may enjoy watching Bourne do what he does, but he always keeps me on the outside looking in.)
Back to Best Editing – picking the winner here is an easy choice. The Coens’ No Country for Old Men is simply a superlative example of a crisply edited thriller. It has no excess fat to trim, and the cuts in every sequence are sure and fastidious. That Roderick Jaynes sure knows what he’s doing.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Now here is how you deal with flashbacks. Sidney Lumet’s crime melodrama progress at breakneck speed, doubling back on itself again and again to reinforce different characters’ perspective and give the audience another opportunity to grasp the grisly consequences of their individual decisions. It ensures that the pace remains sharp and that our attention never wavers.
Zodiac. You might think that a movie as long as Zodiac (roughly 150 minutes) can’t be tightly edited, but I appreciate the way it scrolls chronologically and methodically through the savagery. It’s a finely detailed film, but every detail feels somehow essential, and I get the sense that rather than including as much material as possible, Fincher and his crew engaged in a laborious process and expunged all material that was deemed superfluous. To no one’s surprise, Fincher has already released a director’s cut of the film on DVD – I can’t imagine it being any more tightly compact than the theatrical version.