Master provocateur Lars von Trier divided audiences with this formally daring film about a woman on the run who finds a worse fate at the hands of her rescuers. Set in Depression-era America, Dogville was filmed on an empty soundstage à la Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, a mounting that literalizes the movie's metaphoric baring of the American soul. Like Emily Watson's Bess in Breaking the Waves and Björk's Selma in Dancer in the Dark, Nicole Kidman's Grace is the latest in a long line of von Trier's sacrificial innocents. Her march to martyrdom comprises the heart of this parable, which comments on the essential hypocrisy and meanness of America. By the climax, however, the movie enlarges its metaphor to suggest a more sweeping critique of human nature. The apocalypse that ends Dogville, signaled by Grace's reunion with her mobster father, carries faint echoes of divine retribution. Ending with a montage of photographs from the Great Depression, von Trier seems to tip his hand toward a more limited reading of his movie, which was denounced by some critics as an anti-American screed. Its political and philosophical subtext aside, Dogville is clearly the act of a filmmaker working with consummate confidence. The writing and the performances can be wooden, but the 177-minute epic remains compulsively, disturbingly watchable. Held together by John Hurt's brilliant narration -- perhaps the finest voice-over in movies since Barry Lyndon -- Dogville is a testament to von Trier's prodigious storytelling skills.
by Elbert Ventura review