Okay, so I’m not actually sure I think Constantine is a good movie, though it’s a movie I love quite a lot in a way entirely separate from the original character of John Constantine, who is supposed to look a lot more like Sting than like Keanu Reeves. But it is at absolutely worst a fascinating failure. And it is full of successes, like the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Archangel Gabriel. I’m not sure it’s possible to get anything worse than a fascinating failure out of casting Tilda Swinton in anything, because she will definitely give it her all.
I’d seen Orlando at least once before Constantine even came out, so it wasn’t my introduction to Swinton. She’s been doing arthouse fare since Caravaggio in 1986, and I suspect everyone who saw those early movies was drawn to Swinton. She was, is, astonishingly beautiful and extremely talented, and it’s no wonder that she has been cast when someone otherworldly is called for so very, very often. There is something about her even in her more prosaic films that doesn’t quite seem to belong to the world.
I think it was with Vanilla Sky that she made the shift into more mainstream movies, and even then, it’s a strange movie. (Not that I’ve seen it, because of my Tom Cruise boycott. But still.) A lot of her more mainstream movies have involved something weird, such as playing an archangel or a witch. Arguably, Michael Clayton is the strangest movie of her career, because it’s actually fairly straightforward and doesn’t have anything weird or supernatural or anything like that. It’s just a movie.
Her casting as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange was of course controversial, because an Asian character was being played by a white lady from London. And that’s not unreasonable. My only observation was that Tilda Swinton doesn’t actually seem to be from anywhere Earthly at all, and so at least she’s not as White Lady as she could be. It’s still not great, though the character itself has all kinds of unpleasant aspects from its Orientalist origins. I’m not sure they could’ve done anything with the character that didn’t make someone mad, and at least they cast a talented actress?
And, in keeping with this month’s theme here at Celebrating the Living, there’s her work with the Coens. Burn After Reading isn’t my favourite of their movies, and I’m planning to watch it again at some point to give it another chance, but after all isn’t all of Hail, Caesar! set in a world that isn’t at all real? It isn’t just that she’s playing twin gossip columnists; it’s that the world of that movie is unreal even before it’s been fictionalized, and the fictionalized version of ’50s Hollywood through a Coens lens is even weirder.