John Klein (Richard Gere), a Washington Post reporter, finds himself somehow drawn to a small town in West Virginia. In fact, his car dies, along with his cell phone and watch. He knocks on a nearby house to call for help, and the man who answers the door attacks him, saying Klein’s been around three days in a row. But has he?
Two years earlier, John’s wife died from injuries sustained in a car wreck, and before she died, in an apparent delirium, she had been etching weird drawings. Could her drawings have some connection with this town?
Based on true events, The Mothman Prophecies follows John through his search for the truth. People in the town report seeing a strange being – are they lying, or are they misinterpreting? Are they simply seeing UFOs, or is there more to the story? Intrepid reporter that he is, John wants to know more – although of course his thirst for knowledge is accompanied by a need to know what happened to his wife (why did the car crash?).
Thrillers such as this one are pretty hard to come by. It’s not exactly a horror movie, but there are more than enough creepy moments to send a few chills reverberating through your body. It’s a film that relies less on special effects than on such quaint ideals as character motivation and development and atmosphere. In fact, this movie’s just brimming with atmosphere. We’ve all seen those cheesy movies in which a car runs out of gas along a desolate country road, and then BAM – some serial killers make dinner or belts out of the hapless occupants. But in this case, the monster is hardly ever seen, thereby heightening the scares.
At the centerpiece is Gere as Klein. I’ve never, ever been a Gere fan; it seems to me he has one expression. He’s never been terribly emotive and has been known in recent years more for the age disparity with his female costars than for anything else (they get younger, he stays the same old dude). Call him ruggedly handsome if you will, but vacuity is never really appealing.
But this is not your typical Gere at all. He definitely turns in the best work of his career. Sure, he was appealing in Pretty Woman, but it was Julie Roberts’ movie. Officer and a Gentleman? Ok, but that was Lou Gosset Jr.’s movie. Primal Fear? Red Corner? Runaway Bride? No, no, no. This is acting on a ledge for Gere. It’s a true departure from the romantic comedies and the sly psuedo-mystery/dramas. Ordinarily, I would think such a movie would expose Gere for the terrible actor he is. But I would be wrong. This movie was so well written and directed that Gere rose to its level, rather than sinking it. That’s a huge credit to him as an actor.
Now, I need to differentiate between good acting and appeal. An actor can look good or be charming in a role and still be a bad actor; by contrast, an actor can look uncharming and turn in a great performance. But what’s key is how the actor draws the audience in – do they sympathize with his plight? Are they on his side? How good of an actor he is will answer that question.
Gere’s Klein starts out as an average joe, and then we get to see him slowly descend into madness – we even descend a little with him. That vaunted atmosphere is so vibrant and realistic that we turn when he turns and feel things he feels. This is an absolute hallmark of excellent filmmaking (by Mark Pellington, whose only other big film was 1999′s Arlington Road). The writing is crisp and eminently believable, and the acting in addition to Gere (including Laura Linney, Debra Messing, and Will Patton) is simply superb. And don’t forget the prophecies part of the title, either; this “Mothman” entity issues warnings to whomever it deems worthy. Which sounds good, as long as one can interpret them correctly. Apparently, many have not.
The story is based on actual events that took place in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, but this is no Amityville Horror story. With Amityville, one could distance oneself from the experiences of the family involved; we could say that it would never happen to us, it was only a movie. This is a little trickier with The Mothman Prophecies. It’s a creepy, tingly movie that gets under your skin and crawls all over your heart.
The Mothman Prophecies: 8