I resolve to watch more films in 2011. I begin this year's movie watching with Casey Affleck's I'm Still Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix.
The film chronicles a year in the life of Joaquin Phoenix who commits career suicide by announcing that he is “retiring” from acting, while at the top of his game, to become a hip-hop star. He shuts himself off from the protection and better judgment of his agent, manager and publicist, and sets out on a jaw-dropping journey into a decadent frenzy of sex, drugs and outrageousness, as he tries desperately to break away from his old celebrity persona to develop his rap career. Mired in self-doubt and harsh criticism from the media, he struggles to find his identity.
The film raised a lot of controversy from the very start. When Phoenix announced that he was quitting the screen, some were quick to speculate that it was just a publicity stunt, a hoax since he was always seen with Affleck with a retinue of production members filming his transition to hip-hop stardom. Controversy intensified when the film premiered at the 67th Venice International Film Festival with Affleck and Phoenix declaring that it is not a documentary, stirring the debate regarding the rise of questionable documentaries.
The film starts with a very quiet opening sequence which becomes a harrowing experience as Phoenix slowly and steadily turns into a neurotic mess, desperately trying to navigate the spectrum of his creative abilities in the full glare of the media, being an object of ridicule in the process, failing from one point to another. It is tiring as it is disturbing. But in the end it makes you realize that transformation is not easy, for celebrities and ordinary people alike. Only those who endure can win.
I'm Still Here is a film skillfully crafted by Affleck which makes the audience believe for two hours that what they are seeing is real. More than that, it demonstrates Phoenix's great acting ability. His performance of a tormented, miserable actor who has to confront the demands of both craft and business -having been introduced to showbiz as a child and losing his brother River in and to it– through the years have increasingly pushed him to the edge.