This is the new film from David O. Russel, the director of Flirting with Disaster and the excellent Three Kings, and it is the most unusual film that I have seen since Being John Malkovich. The plot, if you can call it that, revolves around Albert Markovski, a poet and environmental activist who is undergoing some kind of identity crisis and who decides to hire a couple of existential detectives to find some meaning in his life. Believing that three chance encounters with a strange tall African guy could better explain his existence, he tasks them initially with finding this stranger. What evolves is a protracted tale teaching some lessons in life to the central protagonist and the various people he bumps into on his journey.It's difficult to explain exactly what makes this film tick - the core story of the Huckabees Corporation and its involvement in Albert's 'save the marsh' project, Open Spaces, is a framework designed purely to allow the acting talent involved in the production to show off their versatility and for the director to get across as much of his thoughts and ideas about philosophy, life and Zen appreciation. Jason Schwartman is very good as Albert - probably the closest thing to a 'hero' in this tale - but the real scene-stealers are the actors around him. The West Wing's Lily Tomlin and the ever-excellent Dustin Hoffman (Wag the Dog, The Graduate) play the two existential detectives with aplomb, whilst French seductress Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher) plays their nemesis, Catherine Vauban, who employs very different methods to theirs. Then there's the current flavour of the month, Jude Law (from the excellent revisionist Western Cold Mountain and the, currently showing, Closer), as Brad, Albert's rival. He has the perfect girlfriend (Naomi Watts from The Ring and 21 Grams, here playing a gorgeous but insecure model) and is vying for promotion in his job but, similarly to Albert, also requires some kind of 'life-healing'. Three Kings' star Mark Wahlberg has a key role as one of the existential detectives' other clients, Tom Corn, a vulnerable and short-tempered fireman who has been sucked into a life of asking so many questions about his life and existence that he has estranged his wife, daughter and work colleagues. With a cast like this all working to weave the same complicated web, it is understandable that the whole thing holds up remarkably well, offering an - at times - overwhelming look at the meaning of life.You would be forgiven for thinking, on the face of it, that the whole thing is a big farce. Most of the characters play their roles almost as a parody of the extremes of real life, but at the same time there is an undercurrent of truth and belief that carries through to the final act where the characters seem to resolve little but actually come to terms with the fact that many faith systems carry good principles that would work better in unity rather than as individual concepts. It is a visionary production that will greatly appeal to some, creating a body of vehement fans, and just not make any sense to others - who will probably hate it. I think however, that the whole point is to make you think and question things, so perhaps a lack of understanding on the first viewing is a good thing. This is certainly a very unusual film that should not be dismissed without a certain degree of consideration, and I would strongly recommend at least a rental to see what you think of it.
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