1 Hr., 51 Mins.
Trouble in Mind
February 17, 2020
rouble in Mind (1985) is in a state of “used to be.” Its protagonist, hirsute and dismayed Hawk (Kris Kristofferson), used to be a cop. As the film opens, he’s being released from prison, his murder sentence complete. When he comes “home” — to the grimy, fictional metropolis Rain City — he first stops by the café owned by the woman he used to love, Wanda (Geneviève Bujold). She used to be in love with him, too.
They will not fall back in it. In the movie, Hawk will come to pine for a naïve young woman named Georgia (Lori Singer) who comes to town, from the countryside, with her controlling husband Coop (Keith Carradine) and their baby, in the name of a better life. But soon into the film has Coop turned to a life of crime. Then like clockwork Georgia is someone who used to be in love with Coop. “Trouble in Mind” is always looking backward, unwisely romanticizing days past that were hardly romantic. Here, things platitudinously seem to go nowhere but down; looking forward is almost always thankless.
“Trouble in Mind” is not a private-detective movie, but it feels like one anyway. If not for our acute awareness that it’s set in an unspecified future (army men prowl the streets for an undetermined cause; when we get looks into the upper echelons of society, its inhabitants are wearing alien-looking clothing), we might guess it was set sometime in the 1950s and that it was written by someone like Raymond Chandler. Its cynicism has a witty, pulpy kick to it. The misfortunes, like in the most iconic of films noir, are rendered almost poetic.
But despite the rather dreamy gloom moving around in the air like smoke, “Trouble in Mind” is neo-noir at its most skeletal and unamused. There’s a little absurdism at play: Coop, for instance, is not only an idiotic criminal — he’s also a lousy dresser, as evidenced by an evolving German punk-like look. We worry he’ll eventually turn into Klaus Nomi. These characters, and these tableaux, are bald homages to film noir, just put through a juicer. But besides that the disillusionment overwhelms. In idiosyncratically translating the look and feel of film noir, writer-director Alan Rudolph has retooled the formula so that the gotten-used-to pessimism would triple.
The film doesn’t really work. The style is riotous — and is especially admirable since much of what Rudolph shows us here are just visions of the dumpier parts of Seattle — and Rudolph and his actors bring to the fore a convincing sense of the hopelessness these characters are feeling. Kristofferson is expressly good as the down-and-out antihero who knows his worth but also knows well that he long ago irreversibly blew what he had going for him. He tells us so much with just his sad, downturned eyes and reticence.
But there’s a self-consciousness that dissuades us from really giving ourselves over to “Trouble in Mind.” Rudolph working hard to make a neo-noir that’s arty in an almost-European way. (The movie shows, in spurts, has the darker, more measured qualities of Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder). He’s also trying to make a feature that I suppose is more “naturalistic” than the movies he’s harkening back to, with the irony being that the film is also more artificial and ultra-constructed (visually and thematically, at least) than most films noir. But all this posturing ultimately makes the movie cold to the touch — too cautious about thrilling or evoking much emotion. It’s like a play in which the superiority of the actors and the cleverness of the playwright are all high and mighty but also one where, once the curtains close, all we’re left with are the memories of how good the actors were and how smart the writing was but not so much how it made us feel. In a movie that has instilled in it so much poignancy à la the whole “used to be” thing, that shouldn’t be the case. B