Acclaimed Spanish director and screenwriter Pedro Almodóvar presents Strange Way of Life, a 30-minute experience starring Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke as an outlaw and sheriff, former lovers reunited under dubious and dangerous circumstances. Pascal’s Silva rides into town for the first time in 25 years moments after Hawke’s Jake was informed that his brother’s wife was killed by a man with a limp in his left leg. It can be only one man, and Silva’s auspicious timing is drawn into question.
I fear the rumors of a gay cowboy movie have been much exaggerated. As soon as Silva and Jake find themselves alone and drunk, ready to give the world the hot intimacy scene between two of Holywood’s (or at least the internet’s) favorite hot dads, we fade to black and are left with nothing but a shot of Pascal’s naked posterior as he lies prone on the bed in the morning. Almodóvar is a director famous for movies about and graphically depicting physical intimacy of all kinds. Why is his first wide-release American-made movie completely devoid of it?
Strange Way of Life is a film that’s all about things unsaid. That’s not a bad genre. Great romance is built on this very foundation all the time. And when the script isn’t too busy spilling line after line of exposition out of Hawke’s mouth, Pascal gets some lovely opportunities for dashingly romantic one-liners. But its abrupt ending will only make you think for about twenty minutes afterward about the countless ways another hour could have gone on before you likely cease to think about the movie in any deep way henceforth.
The sets and costumes are rich with life and color. The green jacket Pascal dawns is “steal his look-worthy” and the way the desert is framed full of dust in the extensive credit shot or colored while the characters trot across its grandeur reminded me how much I’m an automatic sucker for a good modern Western about three minutes in. The song we open the film with on guitar and the crooked teeth of our characters set a realistic atmosphere that makes up for the weird depth of the backgrounds in some indoor scenes that made me question whether they were standing in front of a greenscreen somehow.
But if the cut away from the one chance at a powerfully intimate scene began my irritation, the maddening flashback scene sealed it. The actors who portrayed the younger version of the two characters looked and sounded nothing like their counterparts and none of the five people in that scene could compare their acting to the two masters who fill the rest of the screen time. It was distractingly dissonant, and then the two younger versions of Silva and Jake got to have a hotter, more intimate scene than the actual stars. It’s a cruel fate for both fanservice seekers and moviegoers expecting something more intimate from a master of intimacy than the superficially romantic tale that is Strange Way of Life.
Strange Way of Life is certainly interesting as a curio and has no shortage of beautiful moments throughout. But its heavy-handed dialogue and bafflingly meager approach to visually depicting intimacy between two men, especially for an Almodóvar film, is vastly disappointing. It might pair well with some older Almodóvar features or make for an interesting, intentional comparison to Brokeback Mountain, but on its own, it’s hard to say Strange Way of Life quite fulfills its potential.
Strange Way of Life is playing now in theaters.
Strange Way of Life
Strange Way of Life is certainly interesting as a curio and has no shortage of beautiful moments throughout. But its heavy-handed dialogue and bafflingly meager approach to visually depicting gay physical intimacy, especially for an Almodóvar film, is vastly disappointing.