Monday Movie: The Midnight Meat Train
Every Monday, we’ll recommend a movie. It could be a classic, an overlooked recent treasure, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like.
Bradley Cooper has a remarkably fluid identity as an actor, a testament to his talent that is nonetheless obscured by his becoming a bona fide A-lister in recent years. He’s about to appear on screens this Christmas in perhaps his A-listiest role yet as the lead in Clint Eastwood’s prestigious biopic of Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle, American Sniper. Whether that film turns out to be a winner or not, the mere fact of it will solidify Cooper’s standing as a go-to guy for “serious” middlebrow movies. But hopefully, it won’t deter more idiosyncratic filmmakers from making use of his weirder bag of tricks. Just last year, for example, in David O. Russell’s otherwise mostly flat American Hustle, Cooper stole the show with a ferociously unhinged and hilarious performance. But that’s not the one I want to highlight today. Back in 2008, after years of playing tenth fiddle on Alias and only ten months before The Hangover would make him a household name, Cooper starred as an everyman who literally descends into a brutally phantasmagorical urban nightmare in Ryûhei Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train. Clive Barker’s original short story of the same name is expanded commendably into the tale of a photographer named Leon (Cooper) encouraged by an art dealer (Brooke Shields) to explore the murky underbelly of the city (this is one of those movies shot in Los Angeles that goes out of its way to make it unidentifiable). The violence is uncompromising (and sometimes darkly cartoonish); the horrors are disturbingly unexplainable. Cooper’s great contribution is to resist making Leon an innocent bystander. Even as he is horrified by what he uncovers beneath the city’s streets, Cooper suggests that he subconsciously knew these things were going on all along and that a part of him may even be enjoying it. That’s just the kind of mischievous and alluring choice that makes Cooper more than just another interchangeable Hollywood leading man. As to American Sniper, I hope he’s great in it. But I also hope he never forgets The Midnight Meat Train.