The Caveman's Valentine Reviews
"Inside a tortured mind... The clues that lead to a killer."
This weird crime thriller is just as schizophrenic as its character Romulus. I really don't know exactly what to think about it. As of now, all I really know is that I didn't enjoy it. I wasn't particularly thrilled by the story, nor was I enamored by the style. It was also maybe the first time I have seen Samuel L. Jackson in a movie, and didn't love his performance. His acting was more than just schizophrenic, it was off the wall and over the top. I'm guessing that's what the director wanted because the whole movie came off like that as well. It had all the makings to be a truly intelligent thriller. I liked the initial idea for the movie, but by the thirty minute mark, I was less then thrilled by what was going on. By the hour mark, I knew this wasn't going to be good. And by the hour and a half mark, I really just didn't care anymore.
Romulus is a genius musician who attended Juilliard. Now he lives in a cave in a New York City park. He's also crazy as fuck, seeing images and talking to his ex-wife like she is present. He also has a variety of crazy theories. When he finds a frozen corpse in a tree outside of his cave, he starts expressing what he thinks happened, to the police; one of which is his daughter. Obviously they think he is crazy. He decides to try to investigate what is going on by himself.
The Caveman's Valentine isn't an unwatchable movie, it's just one that I couldn't particularly get into and enjoy. I normally can enjoy these psychological, mind fuck movies, but this one was either too much or too little. I haven't really decided yet. I still can't really organize my thoughts on this one. Maybe I'll revisit it in a few years and I'll like it. Or maybe I will realize why I disliked it to the extreme of which I did, because normally like a movie or not; I know exactly why. This one... not so much.
Sheila: Watching you make a fool of yourself. What are YOU doing here?
Romulus Ledbetter: I have to prove Leppenraub is guilty.
Sheila: Prove to who?
Romulus Ledbetter: To the world. To... to Lulu.
Sheila: Lulu needs a father, not some psycho Sherlock Holmes.
A mystery featuring Samuel L. Jackson as a deadlocked, delusional, homeless man. The plot of the film is structured like a film noir, which means I get to use the phrase: Delusional Noir. The story is okay, but Jackson gives a fine performance.
Bob: What do you play?
Romulus Ledbetter: My skull.
Jackson stars as Romulus Ledbetter, a brilliant musician who is currently delusional. Living in a cave in Central Park, believing a man on the top the Chrysler Building is plotting against him. Romulus doesn't have it easy. Things are made worse once Romulus discovers a frozen body in his tree, outside his cave one morning. While the police, which includes his daughter, Lulu, pass the body off as an unfortunate homeless victim of weather, Romulus suspects foul play and some interesting connections get him access to the art/photography scene, where he can do some investigating of his own. And if Romulus can just keep it together long enough, he may stumble upon what actually happened.
The character of Romulus is the most important factor in this film. Jackson has to appropriately balance the antics of a delusional person, making him both sympathetic and believable to an extent. While Jackson is completely solid in the role, I would have liked it a little more if there was the possibility that Romulus could be wrong about the whole thing.
The story of the film is interesting, but it drags a bit and the overall arc isn't entirely original. However, with such a peculiar lead role, it does stay fresh enough.
Romulus Ledbetter: I have flocks of angels in my head and that'll beat you down with their wings!
SLJ acted ok at times and at others perhaps a little over the top.
Nothing special and a bit of an anti climax.
Mr. Jackson plays one Romulus "The Caveman" Ledbetter, occupant of a "rocky enclosure" in Innwood Park, New York, father of Lulu (Anjanue--ouch, phonetic spelling of French?--Ellis) and ex(?)-husband of Sheila (Tamara Tunie). The first thing we see is inside his head, where his Juilliard-trained fingers still have a piano to occupy themselves with, playing to the accompaniment of the "moth-seraphs" that also occupy his mind. Rom occupies this cave and is referred to as "Caveman" because he is a paranoid schizophrenic. He finds outside his cave on Valentine's Day, the body of model Scotty Gates (Sean MacMahon), high in a tree. He reports this to his daughter Lulu, and we find she is in fact a police officer. Known for his rants about "Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant," Rom believes the man occupies the Chrysler Building and sends out "Y" and "Z" Rays to control the populace and deny them their freedom of mind. As such, Lulu is reluctant to believe him, but eventually does come to find the body is present as he has claimed, and so an investigation begins into his death, with Rom strongly suspecting photographer David Leppenraub (Colm Feore) is behind the crime.
The strongest element by far is the imagery associated with Romulus' mind, the forceful editing and performance of the athletes portraying the "moth-seraphs" is unbelievably striking and primal, as they represent something of the forces of justice and vengeance in the mind of Ledbetter. The rest of the plot is not overly engaging, and George Dawes Green's screenplay (based on his own book) is a bit clumsy, with Romulus seeming too coherent at too many of the right times, or a little too "crazy" to be realistically crazy, and characters either accepting or rejecting him with equal measures of imbalanced and "convenient" reality or fiction. Bob (Anthony Michael Hall) and Betty (Kate McNeil) are Romulus' idea of the upper class, and they take Romulus in, surprised by the training he possesses musically and enthralled by it, sometimes seeming respectful of his paranoia, other times inappropriately disturbed by it. Jackson's performance, and most of them in the film, are quite good, with our ability to sympathize with this crazed man intact, yet a distance maintained with a believably threatening, uncomfortable level of disconnection from reality never being too far from us. His eventual affair with Moira Leppenraub (Ann Magnuson) is really uncomfortable, seeming grossly out of place and strange, as if she is either taking advantage of him or is not aware of his madness--though this feeling is of course dampened by a script that can't seem to make up its mind just how far gone he is from reality.
In the end, the general reviews around are essentially correct--the film is well put together and creative, but its reach exceeds its grasp, and it stumbles a fair bit of the time. While it's fascinating to have a main character so removed from our understanding, it also makes it difficult for us to appreciate his approach, and terribly difficult to believe his abilities as a detective, as if he is conveniently made not crazy at the appropriate points to let the mystery be solved. A schizophrenic detective is simply not plausible as filmed.
The Caveman's Valentine' has something to say about the diversity of a society in which everyone has a place, no matter what they may appear to be, and the fact that absolutely no one should ever be dismissed out-of-hand. It says that there are no `throw-away' people; that the value of an individual often cannot be measured until confronted with extraordinary circumstances, for it is that which brings out the best and drives someone like Romulus to exercise the latent capacity which lies within. One of life's lessons, told here with a profound clarity by Lemmons, through a medium that is the magic of the movies.
[originally posted 5Dec2001]
Lemmons, who gave us the well-above-average Eve's Bayou a few years back, helms George Dawes Green's adaptation of his own award-winning debut novel about a schizophrenic pianist, Romulus Ledbetter (Samuel L. Jackson), who wakes up one morning, walks out of his New York cave (yes, they do still have caves in New York, at least if you believe Green, and homeless people live in them), and discovers a frozen body in a tree. This may not be anything other than par for the course in winter in New York, but Ledbetter is convinced that the man's death is anything other than natural. Of course, Ledbetter is also convinced that the Chrysler building is inhabited by an evil overlord named Cornelius Beford Stuyvesant (groove on the name for a few minutes, if you're acquainted with the early history of NYC) who's out to kill him. So no one, least of all his daughter Lulu (Aunjanue Ellis, Cuba Gooding Jr.'s love interest in Men of Honor), wants to take him seriously. But Lulu, an NYC police officer, is a subordinate of the guy who ends up running the case. What's a girl to do? Add to this the fact that the dead guy's boyfriend, Matt (Rodney Eastman, of many indie films and a couple of Nightmare on Elm Street flicks-he played Joey, the mute guy), DOES believe Ledbetter, and provides him with the name of the killer, internationally-renowned photographer David Leppenraub (Colm Feore, who's been in most every movie made in the past decade). Ledbetter starts digging around to see whether there's a murder here to investigate, and, as we all know, complications ensue.
The movie is cast perfectly, from Jackson all the way down to the relatively minor part played by an almost unrecognizable Anthony Michael Hall (who really does deserve a lot more high-profile roles; the guy is just plain good). The script is well-done and moves along at a proper pace, never letting the action drop even when exploring its various subplots. Okay, Leppenraub is a little too obviously modeled on Mapplethorpe, but we'll forgive Green since the rest of it's so well-done. But the key to the whole performance is Jackson himself, who gives a career-best performance as Ledbetter. Schizophrenia may never have been filmed as well as it is here. Rather than go for the Hollywood-style nutcase one normally associates with filmed depictions of schizophrenia, Lemmons and Jackson take the DSM-IIIR route and hand us a character who's, ironically, not as believable unless you've read a whole lot of scizophrenia case studies. Then you realize just how perfect a depiction this is, and your jaw hits the floor, both at Jackson's wonderful performance and the fact that Hollywood let this movie slip through the cracks.
Very much worth going well out of your way to see, especially if you like Sam Jackson. Lots of interest from indie circles, too, as many indie-film darlings show up here. Hard to believe this movie got almost no press given the cast, but so it happened. Very highly recommended. ****