There’s tension in trying to decide whether objects are MacGuffins driving the plot or cathected symptoms embodying Sam’s mental decline – until ineffably, tension turns to tedium; a boiling pot, suddenly cold. The stark drop-away of viewing investment comes from the film’s blatant disinvestment in its female characters, who seem a neat encapsulation of both good and bad in the world they flit through. Certainly, each is more plot device than person in our 2 hour 20 minute romp through Hollywood, led by (un)lovable weirdo Sam: the sun around whom girl-planets circle.
So. Sam doesn’t work. Sam can’t pay his rent, but Sam doesn’t care. Sam, until a sequence of interchangeable girls (one in particular) prompt his gallant, breathless unravelling of Silver Lake’s most-unravellable mystery, doesn’t do much besides perv on his neighbours. This is not, necessarily, what is objectionable about him; I’m all for difficulty and unlikable characters and, for the first hour or so, it’s a pleasure to follow him as a complex and flawed protagonist. For now, at least, there’s a sense that he’s heading somewhere worth arriving at: buffeted from beautiful girl to groovy party and back on a sea of phone calls from his panicky mother, Sam The Magnetic is acted upon rather than active. His moral failings are drawn starkly, neither underlined nor underplayed, as Silver Lake’s opening unspools. That’s not an easy feat, and Andrew Garfield plays him as beautifully as anyone could; meanwhile, the cinematography is marvellous, soundtrack exceptionally well composed. It was all going so well!